Monday, July 18, 2011

Paddling Trip to Michigan

June 15-24, 2011
I left home at 5 am Thursday and drove 14 hrs so I could spend the night in a cool campground. I arrived at Kankakee SP in Illinois at approximately 7:30. I had never taken a road trip that far before and I was surprised that I could make that many miles without getting tired. The campground was nice, but right off the highway, so I required earplugs and two Tylenol pm to get to sleep. It was a balmy 62 degrees when I left the next morning.
I headed out early the next morning and decided since I’d made such good time to head up the shoreline and take the scenic route. I stopped and had breakfast in Benton Harbor, stopped in Manistee, then headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes. While on the way, my hostess Lois called and suggested I hike the Empire Bluff trail, which I did.  Wow, what a view!  I would have liked to explore further, but as I was walking back toward the car my host John called and said he was on his way home and would meet me there and we’d go have dinner, as Lois had graduation parties to attend. 
I had planned on arriving Sat afternoon, but since I was ahead of schedule I joined them on a paddle on the Manistee River. It was interesting that there were six of us on the trip and three of them were from Texas. Besides myself there was John Walton from El Paso, and his daughter Claire. Claire was born with a condition that left here without the use of her legs and limited use of her hands. She is an amazing young woman who is currently working on her PhD in math. Along with Lois and John, was Tracie Lord. The Manistee is a beautiful river, with wild irises along the banks and the North Country Trail follows it for several miles. After the paddle there was an obligatory stop for ice cream. I have never seen a single cone that big! From there we drove to the Interlochen SP where we showered, then drove to the Interlochen Arts Academy to see a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion.  It was a great show, and afterward we stopped for dinner.  It was a long, but really fun day. We got home at 10:00 and it still wasn’t dark outside, which took some getting used to.
Sunday morning we got up early and headed to the Pine River, a beautiful narrow and twisty scenic river! On this trip I met several more of the members of the paddle club.  After the trip we stopped at the grocery store to pick up something for dinner. John grilled tuna steaks and asparagus that was delicious. We were all pretty tired after the long previous day and I finally said goodnight around 9:30.
We awoke Monday and once again headed to the river, this time the south branch of the Au Sable. On this trip there were 11 boats and 12 people. My hosts had chosen a section that was within the Mason tract, which was left to the state with the expressed stipulation that it never be developed. It was shallow and a little wider with less current than the Pine River and beautiful.
Our plans for Tuesday were rained out. So I missed getting to paddle the Boardman in the morning and then the Jordan in the afternoon, but with a 70 percent chance of rain, it just wasn’t in the cards.  I think we were all secretly a little pleased to have a day of rest without sacrificing a sunny day. John took it upon himself to raise the seat of my canoe in his wonderful basement shop. Later, we headed downtown to see an amazing exhibit at a local museum titled the Body Human, attended a meeting on the removal of a dam on a section of the Boardman River, and then walked a while on the waterfront. It was a very relaxed day after two days of driving and three days of nonstop shuttling, paddling, and eating!
On Wednesday, my last day, we did an afternoon paddle on the Jordan river, the most technical of the rivers we'd paddled. Shortly after putting in we were hit with a short thunderstorm, it rained so hard it became difficult to read the water, but once the rain stopped we were treated to the sound of white-throated sparrows, and thanks to Jocelyn's keen eyes, showy lady slippers. After the paddle we all drove to a nearby town and had a great meal. 

Thursday morning I loaded up and we said our goodbyes. It was a great visit! I made my way south stopping for the night at Ferne Clyffe SP. The River to River trail runs through the park but I only hiked a few of the main trails before heading down the road and stopping at an area of the Mississippi river that was unfortunately closed due to flooding .  I rolled into the driveway at about 6 PM. 
Thanks Lois and John and all the wonderful folks I met and paddled with for making my trip such a success!!! I hope we'll do it again sometime!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Eagle Rock Loop May 14-16, 2011

Once again I made the  early morning trek to Arkansas, crossed the upper Lil Missouri at 8:30 AM Saturday, and headed up the ABF trail in an attempt to complete the loop counterclockwise.  I had missed getting to do this with friends a month earlier due to knee issues.  Since then I’d seen an orthopedist, a podiatrist, tried a dozen pairs of alternative trail shoes and inserts, and finally settled on inserts from the doc in my present Salomon trail runners, which I was glad to get to keep. I'd started doing extra exercises for the knees and taking OsteoBi-Flex with glucosamine and chondroitin. 

Honeysuckle bloomed in spots along the trail, its fragrance a reminder of summer just around the corner. A new array of wildflowers were in bloom as well. I took it slow; there was no hurry, I had three days. I marked downed trees and campsites as I came to them. I sat and listened to a creek murmur, whispering to me how blessed I was to be there enjoying another magnificent day in the wilderness. I crossed 601 at 1:10. So far, so good, but I still had Brush Heap ahead.

The climb over Brush Heap seemed a little harder than the last time I'd crossed it, then I remembered the last time I hadn't climbed four others before it. I arrived at Eagle Rock Vista around 3:30, and spent some time taking pictures of the wildflowers blanketing the hillside,then sat a while looking out across the hills and valley below. I had considered camping here for the night but it was too early to stop, and the knees felt fine. Later I’d find out that I’d missed seeing a big black bear by about an hour.

While walking along Viles Branch, I came to my first snake, a cottonmouth, but something wasn't right, and upon inspection, found it had been killed. Why would someone do that? I was incensed that someone would kill a snake just because it was there. I believe it is a case of ignorance that some people think the only good snake is a dead snake. Ignorance is cured by education, stupidity is refusing to be educated. OK, I'm off the soapbox. I came to a suitable camping spot about 5 o’clock and decided to call it a day.

The next morning at 7:45, feeling relieved at making it over the hills, I headed toward Winding Stairs. I had camped just a few minutes west of the rock spring, spent some time there watching the spring bubble up, and reached the first river crossing at 9:20.  Both crossings were easy, as the water was lower now than it had been last fall, despite the recent rains. It was clear that all the spring vegetation was sucking up the water table. I made the last crossing at 11:40, having puttered around Winding Stairs, marking campsites, a couple of downed trees, taking pictures, having lunch and getting water.

As I made my way along the hillside toward the camping area ahead I came to another downed tree, then looking up the hill saw several uprooted pines. The farther I went the worse it got. The entire camping area was a mess of toppled trees. Pine trees have a shallow root system, and are top heavy as well which makes them especially susceptible to high winds.  There are many very large pines in this area, and it was disheartening to see them lying on the ground like fallen comrades in a war zone. The damage was so bad in one short area that I had to walk far around, sometimes walking down trunks, through branches, and watching for snakes before making my way back to the trail. I had to remind myself that Mother Nature isn’t good or bad, she just is. I reached Blaylock Cr. at 1:30, got water, ate a snack and kept going.

I climbed my last obstacle at Albert Pike, stopping for a minute at the trailhead at 3:15, and crossed Long Cr. at 4:10. I saw my second snake just after crossing. It was small, but alive and well. I bid it a good day and continued until at 4:50 I stopped at  a campsite I’d stayed at with TrailRelic and USAHiker last fall about 10 minutes before the next river crossing.

I packed up in morning after breakfast and hit the trail at 6:45 to continue the last section.  I arrived at the Falls at 9:15, stopped for water and a snack at the picnic area, departing at 9:40. I was thrilled to see that the dreaded tree just past the bridge to nowhere had been cut through!!  ULHiker, I thank you and my back thanks you too!!!!  I know that old hickory wasn’t easy to get through with a hand saw!
It was another gorgeous day, cool, clear and breezy and being Monday, I didn’t see another soul. I arrived back at my car at 11:35. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful weekend! The weather was perfect, there were different wildflowers blooming since my last trip, and my knees had no issues, so something I did worked!

Trail notes:Starting at the upper end and going counterclockwise was great, you get all the hills out of the way the first day, then it’s easy sailing the rest of the way. With a pack weight of only 14 lbs it wasn’t an issue to start there, and it was really nice to get it behind me early. I'd initially been reluctant, thinking it would stress the knees to much to start there, but it was perfect.

Gear notes: I took some different gear this time; a Steripen Adventure Opti, a Granite Gear Vapor Ki pack, a POE Elite AC sleeping pad, a Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag and Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid, with inner net.  I’d tested all at home, or car camping, and was excited to be able to get my weight down a little more. I never carried more than a liter of water the entire trip. I could have carried a ½ liter, but would have had to stop more frequently.  I heart my new Steripen!!!!! Of course I carried an extra platy bottle and purifying tabs as a backup. The shelter worked very well, although I prefer my hammock, but I saved about a pound taking it.I hope to make some changed to my hammock set up to lose a little weight, but sometimes the terrain calls for a tent, so I figured I needed to have one. The pack will work well for short trips where water is plentiful.  It’s still not as comfortable as my Deuter, but at a pound lighter, and smaller volume it was fine. The only problem I had with any of the gear was that the sleeping pad sucked heat from my body, despite the fact it has some material to reflex heat back.  Both nights were in the mid 40’s and I ended up adding my thermals and my dri-ducks to sleep in during the night. I sleep cold, and without the layers I would have been uncomfortable. I will look into coupling it with a 1/8" closed cell foam pad,which can serve as a sit pad. Something else that worked was taking my goosefeet booties in a tiny stuff sac for a pillow. Once I remedy the pad issue, I can leave the pillow and use the raingear for a pillow. Another thing that really worked well was taking one of the toggles I use for my hammock and using it in place of a stick for hanging my food. I'd seen a video showing how to use a piece of pvc instead of a stick, and thought, why not use a toggle, lighter than pvc, and I already had it. Perfect!  I love it when I'm smart!

Note on solo hiking: I'm sure there are those that think I'm crazy for hiking alone. I do not condone hiking alone. I like to hike with others, and when I can, I do. However, when the opportunity arises, and no one can join me, I refuse to stay home. Life is short, especially at 57. My mother died of cancer at 56; father, and younger brothers are gone as well. I just can’t sit around wasting time while there is a wilderness out there to explore! It's just not in my genetic makeup. I have to hike!  There is also something very spiritual about hiking alone, but that's another issue.
Is there a risk in hiking alone? Absolutely! And, I'm painfully aware that one misstep can be potentially disastrous. All I can do is try to minimize the risk. I carry a PLB, leave my itinerary with two friends. I go slow and pay attention to every footfall. If I look at something on the trail, I stop first. I walk through water instead of rock hopping unless I’m certain it’s safe. I practice good hygiene to keep from getting sick. I hang my food and toiletries, and carry bear spray most of the time. 
I take a risk every time I step into the wilderness alone, and given enough trail time I will likely push the envelope too far. But that beats the alternative of sitting around getting old and ending my life in a nursing home or alzheimer's unit. We all take a risk every time we get in a car and leave home to go to work or anywhere else. So for me, the reward is worth the risk.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Twenty-two creek crossings! Easter Weekend is the Ouachita’s

This was my fifth backpack trip, second solo. I left home early Friday morning and drove the four hours to the Buckeye TH arriving about 8 AM. I briefly considered leaving the car at the East Caney TH, but was a little anxious about leaving it so close to the creek given how unpredictable spring weather can be; forecasts can change a lot in three days. I also decided I’d rather haul an almost empty pack up the hill Sunday, than a full one that morning. 

The hike began with high winds, cool temps, and fog.  While the fog limited my vistas, it gave a surreal quality to the hike. 
I came to the infamous side trail that seems to stump hikers on this trail. I’d read about it in Ernst’s book and also Ouachita Hiker’s recent comment, so I was ready for it!
It wasn’t too long before I discovered the trail’s namesake.  
I’d seen Red Buckeye blooming earlier in the spring along the Little Missouri Trail, but this is Ohio Buckeye, and is more commonly found in the northwestern and western counties. Beautiful! 

I made it to Katy Falls in time for lunch. Last time I was here I walked across the top of the falls, not this trip! 
After lunch I headed down to the junction and turned west onto the Caney Cr. trail. I hiked down the junction to the first campsite, to gauge the water, as Ouachita Hiker had suggested. It was pretty deep. I decided to hike back up to the trail and continued west and see how far I got. I forded the first crossing with ease, but knew they would get deeper the farther I went. By mid-afternoon I came to the first of a long string of crossings, waded across, and  hiked a ways then decided to backtrack to a grassy area I’d seen on a hill side to camp for the night. According to the topo I’d be spending a while creekside, and decided it would be buggy and there was a chance of rain, so I just felt wiser camping higher. I’d start fresh in the morning with all the crossings. This would also give the creek several more hours to drop out as well.

I made camp early with the intention of journaling a little, and just relaxing in the hammock. It was fairly warm, and I laid my quilts out to air, along with the bugnet, which I ended up not needing. 
Later I found a nice spot away from the hammock and fixed some dinner. I retired back to the hammock and prepared the tarp for the possibility of rain, which came, but only lightly and intermittently. I enjoyed just relaxing in the beauty of my surroundings and listening to nature.
As darkness set in, a couple of Barred-Owls chatted it up for a while, then just as I was about to nod off, I heard what sounded way too much like the scream of a cougar, thankfully far, far off. I wondered the next morning if I’d imagined it.
One disconcerting (and embarrassing) thing I realized while dozing in the hammock, is that when sleeping on my back, I snore! I know this because I startled myself awake several times! This is a most disturbing discovery, not to mention most unladylike!!

The next morning I awoke, had breakfast and spent the day making lots of creek crossings.
 I started the day in my wading shoes and didn’t take them off until I came to the last crossing before reaching the Buckeye Junction sometime after lunch. The water was still up and there were some beautiful scenes.

When I reached the Cossatot I chose not to cross it. I play it safe when I solo and I just didn’t see the benefit since there’s only a half mile of trail to the West TH. 

Along the western trail I saw several animals. The first night's site was on a nice grassy hillside and while sitting in my hammock looking over my map I heard a faint rustle in the grass and looked down. About 3 feet from me was a beautiful black Rat Snake making its way through the grass, oblivious to this person sharing its territory for the evening. I had stuck my camera in my backpack earlier. Curses! I retrieved it later, but not until I watched, mesmerized, as the snake moved out of sight. Earlier that same day I’d seen a juvenile cottonmouth on the trail, with its flat stumpy body. It was that time of year, and gave a whole new reason for watching your step. I have a healthy respect for snakes, but also find them absolutely beautiful!
Just before the Cossatot, I startled four does, and a bit later watched as a tortoise made its way through the woods.

This was my first hike into the west end and I really enjoyed it. Despite all the wildflowers in bloom last weekend, I wasn't able to find any umbrella magnolias or wild azaleas in bloom, but now here were the magnolias! We don't have this type of magnolia where I'm from and they are a delight to see, and unlike our leathery evergreen variety, the new growth of these huge leaves is soft and pubescent. They don't smell as nice as ours but they make up for it by having beautiful bark and branching structure.
I made my way east and by early afternoon crossed Katy creek, stopped for a snack, and ran into the first people I had seen so far. They informed me that some others were camped ahead. I had my mind on the campsite above the creek between the two crossings that were left, and was quite happy to see it was available. I guessed the others had chosen to cross the creek farther ahead, were another great spot is. With a hammock, you really don't need a campsite, but since the snakes and poison ivy was out, it seemed prudent, and I would just like to say I would love to hug the persons that put that amazing camp furniture (ie rocks) around the campfire ring, they were the perfect height for sitting and cooking and flat!!

I made camp, relaxed in the hammock for a while then treated some water for the hike out the next day and cooked dinner. I retired to the hammock and enjoyed the birdsong and peace and watching the sky change color and intensity. It didn't rain overnight and the next morning after eating and breaking camp I headed down the trail. Sure enough there were campers across the creek on the hill, but at 9 o'clock I didn't see them stirring. I hiked quietly by and about 15 minutes from the trail head ran into a father son team hiking with a beautiful well behaved black lab. The first thing they said to me was "what trail are you hiking?"  I wasn't sure what they were asking until we'd talked a while and they said they'd started at the Buckeye TH and taken a wrong turn, and ended up bushwhacking their way down. They weren't sure where the were. I re-oriented them and they decided to hike west, and camp at the junction then head back up to the Buckeye TH the following morning. I thought about them when the weather turned bad Monday and hoped they made it out before the bottom dropped out.
I continued on to the trail head and up the hill toward the car. My only disappointment had been that I hadn't seen any wild azaleas. Then lo and behold they were everywhere along the roadside! The wind was blowing and the shot isn't good, but they WERE blooming!
I love that they chose not to blaze these trails. It adds to the wilderness feeling, even though the trail is quiet obvious in most places.
This was a perfect weekend to spend in the woods, but likely the last for me this hiking season in Arkansas. Soon the weather will heat up, the bugs, poison ivy and snakes will be thick as thieves. It's funny, my original intentions were to switch over to canoeing now that summer's approaching, instead I find myself staring at the large map pinned to the wall in above my desk in search of cooler hiking venues.

Cossatot River and Caney Creek Day Hikes April 16-17

Well the spring showers have begun and the rivers are up, much to the glee of the paddling world. It's been dry for so long. Thursday's storms turned violent over large parts of the south including Arkansas, and Friday was windy and overcast in its aftermath. I arrived at Shady Lake CG Friday mid-afternoon and had my pick of sites. Because of the wind I decided to camp on the Saline in the shelter of the trees. I car camped and got to try out my new POE sleeping pad. AWESOME! 
The Thermarest is now for sale :)

I'd missed getting to do the Eagle Rock Loop with friends the weekend before because of knee problems, and while I couldn't stand to stay home on this beautiful weekend, I'd decided to take it easy by just doing some nice easy day hikes and see how it went.

I got up early and headed for the north end of the Cossatot River Corridor Trail, arriving at 7:30 only to realize the day use area didn't open until 8. Park staff arrived to unlock the gates, I parked and quickly got on my way. So much for being an early bird. It was cool and breezy as I made my way south. I was hoping with all the rain the side creeks would be up and there'd be opportunities to see some waterfalls. What I did see were lots of wild irises in bloom.
My plan was to hike to Sand Bar and back, but when I got to Ed Banks, I decided it was not safe to cross. Silly me, I thought there was an actual bridge there, not a ford. I always err on the side of caution; it's a long way across, one slick spot could spell trouble, and I know a hydraulic when I see one. Instead I had lunch at the nearby campsite and headed back. On the way back I passed a couple of groups of college age kids and warned them about crossing. I recently checked the gauge for that day, it was over 4', having dropped out quickly from 8' after Thursday's storm.
 There were some great river views from up high and it couldn't have been a nicer spring day.

The CRCT is a nice trail and I've now done a section on the north and south ends. I don't care for all the blazes though. At one point on the trail I had each hand on a tree with a blaze. I recently found out that will be corrected in the future, as well as some backcountry camp sites added. There was a great deal of effort and sweat put into this trail and I hope to hike it in its entirety next fall.
My left knee had started giving me trouble again and I wasn't sure hiking Sunday would be possible. Grrr! Sometimes just getting off it overnight works.

The next morning I was up early again and heading for Caney Creek, having tested the knee out first on the hike up the hill to the restrooms. I strapped on the brace for good measure.
My first trip to Caney Creek was only six months ago. Leaf-off is a special time of the year when you can see forever, but Caney Creek in spring is simply amazing! One of my favorite trees, and there are many, are the umbrella magnolias. Not blooming yet, I find their branching structure fascinating and their newly unfolding leaves have a fairy like quality to them.
With all the tender new foliage, I felt like I was walking through a neon green cathedral. Just as I took this shot, a Barred-Owl flew overhead. How amazing to live in such a place!
They wildflowers were blooming, and the butterflies were out in force. I hiked to the Buckeye Junction and back stopping to have lunch where the trail crosses Katy Creek.
I made my way back to the car, disappointed that I hadn't spent a night in the woods. As I drove home I began planning for the next weekend that would remedy that!
I'd passed another solo hiker during my hike; we were both in meditation mode, so we'd exchanged quiet greetings and moved on. I'd realize later, thanks to a note left on my car, that he was a fellow hammock camper and that we'd corresponded before on the HammockForums and I'd introduced him to the Backpacking Arkansas forum. Small world.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Little Missouri River Backpacking Spring Break 2011

This was only my 4th backpacking trip and my first solo, although with it being spring break, it didn't really seem like a solo trip. I met folks from Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Indiana, Texas, four wayward boys from Louziana, (more about them later), even some folks from Arkansas. Met two separate young couples on the trail, both of which the women had shoe/foot issues. One was wearing flipflops, as her boots were killing her; it was her first backpacking trip. The second one was wearing a pair of Vibram 5 KSO's. Now I have a pair of these and they are NOT conducive to comfortable hiking in the Ouachita's. She'd accidentally left her boots at home. To her credit, she was on day three of the loop. Oh yeah, and Larry the Hiker Guy, a nomad living and working from his cabover camper while hiking all over the country. How cool is that!?
I had considered doing the whole ERL,and most that I met were, but after my left knee raising cain the weekend before the trip, I decided to play it safe.
After getting a late start from home and a short stop at a Walmart for knee braces, I hit the trail at 512 about 11:00. It was a beautiful day, albeit a bit warm. Before I got on the trail, four young guys (early 20's, I'd say) came over to ask me about the trail. They were from Lafayette, LA, and we had a nice conversation about one of my favorite parts of LA. They didn't have a map of the the loop, but I let them take pictures of my map with their cell phone. They were going to do the loop and be back to their car by Sunday night. Now, I really didn't think that was realistic, but hey they were young and who am I to judge? About that same time a family drove up and asked about Winding Stairs and the Falls....geez I was beginning to feel like a tour guide, LOL. It does amaze me that people don't bother to research an area before heading out. By 11:30 I was heading down the trail. I planned on spending the night somewhere on the other side of the falls. At Crooked Creek, there was a group of seven or so from Dallas, fly fishing for itty bitty fish. Well that's what they caught anyway. All in the group were novices, except for their guide, a young woman in her late 20's whose father guides flyfishing trips in CO. We talked a while and they said they were going on to Winding Stairs. I headed across the creek toward the falls, and in a bit they followed me. I mentioned they'd said they were going to WS, and they replied, "yes, but we're driving and our car's at the falls. I tried to get ahead of them, but the guide girl continued to ask questions about various things. I was beginning to think there was not going to be any solitude on this trip.
As I made my way through the falls day use area, it looked like a convention of ATV'ers. One of the guys made a comment about me packing solo, and I lied and told him I was actually meeting friends that had started at the upper trailhead, and that we were rendezvousing at a campsite for the night. I think they bought it. I hiked on about a mile and found a nice hillside to camp on above the river. The mosquitoes were out, so I was glad I'd brought the bugnet for the hammock. After a satisfying meal I fell asleep listening to the river's song and a barred-owl's call. One of the great things about solo camping is that I don't need to wear my one snoring around me, HA!  I dreamed of toenails falling off. HA, I'm still growing back a toenail from hiking in my boots at Big Bend. I have officially sworn off hiking boots except maybe in the dead of winter.

The next morning I got up at 7 left camp at 9 and ran into Larry the Hiker Guy. We talked gear and hikes for a bit, took pictures of each other, HA, then went on our way. Somewhere about a mile or so below the upper trail head, I ran into the Lafayette group coming back down the trail. This wasn't a complete surprise. One of the guys said he was sick so they were heading back. Well he did sound stopped up, but I suspect they misjudged their ability, or at least regained some sense of reality. Maybe they changed their minds after the first hill on the ABF. I didn't ask them how far they got.  I told them I'd think about them the next time I made it down to south LA. I arrived at the upper TH at 11, stopped and had lunch before going back the opposite direction. I passed a boyscout group from Mississippi, with boys ranging from maybe 8 to 12. I talked with a couple of the adults about the Sipsey, and they commented about hiking around Red River, NM.
I wanted to be somewhere back on the other side of Crooked Creek for the night. I made it to game plot 70 for the night. The sky had been overcast all day, which kept the heat down, but I knew there was about a 70% chance of rain for the night. A group of college guys from Denton passed as I was scouting trees for hanging. I can't get over how hard it is to find trees that aren't dead or have dead branches overhanging. I collected water for the next day and while walking along the river, found a beautiful creek, or maybe spring spilling over the rocks on the opposite side of the river.
It was cool enough not to have to use the bugnet, and after dinner I slipped into the hammock, but not before lowering the tarp sides and setting my backpack under it for the night. Somewhere around 1 AM it started to rumble and by 2 AM the storm hit.  The lightning was loud and near, but not so near as to scare the bejeezus out of me.  I'd found a spot below several ridges, and away from the tallest trees.  It's a great feeling to sleep in a hammock in a thunderstorm, and I was quite pleased that I stayed high and dry. Although I did dream of floods.
The rain was gone by morning, but the wind was blustery and cold, so I donned my raingear to stay warm. I am very impressed by how well they block the wind.  I headed down the trail about 9. Not long I heard the sound of an ATV, then came upon a campsite, that judging from the size of the two tents, were not backpackers. A guy and girl with a blue healer, were making breakfast as I walked by and said hello. The dog began to bark and run to me, I closed my hand and let him sniff, then deciding I was not a threat, proceeded to jump up on me, muddy paws and all. Fortunately, somehow he didn't tear my DriDucks, but nonetheless it ticked me off. I don't allow my dog to jump on people. I have no doubt the dog was smart enough to learn this, just guess the owners weren't smart enough to teach him. Needless to say they didn't apologize.
As I walked away I heard the ATV approach the camp. I know there is a FS trail to the game plots in this section, so I'm guessing that's how they came in.
I arrived back at 512 about 12 (actually 1 PM, with the time change that I forgot about). It was windy, grey and cool, and I was ready for a meal. I was also concerned about a noise that had plagued my right front tire on the trip up, so I headed to DeQueen, found a McDonald's, got a fish sandwich combo meal, stopped at a tire shop and had my lunch while they tried to remedy the problem. After that I stopped at the Walmart to buy a cheap watch with a glow in the dark face, and return the knee braces since they were too small. I then gambled and didn't get a larger size.  I started to head for Shady Lake campground then decided for a dollar more and the certainty of a nice hot shower, did I mention it was hot and sticky on Sat.? PU, I was standing in Walmart, wondering what that stench was....then I realized it was me! I dialed up Tom at Dierks Lake campground to check and see if he had room, and I was on my way. Boy is that water hot!! Just what I was hoping for.

Early the next morning I headed back to 512 to head in the opposite direction. Not counting 5 miles of upper ABF (the hard part), the only other part I had not hiked was the section between 512 and theWinding Stairs TH junction, and my plan was to hike down to the river crossing, have lunch, then putter around, make camp somewhere close to the river, and hike out the next day. I had considered crossing the river and continuing down, but was fairly certain the Winding Stairs area would be overrun with people, and I didn't really care about camping on the Viles Branch trail. I also wasn't completely sure I could negotiate, solo, the 3 ft bank at the river crossing. If the trail hadn't been so crowded I probably would have, but the rewards on the other side just weren't worth it this time. I did however have quite an entertaining show at lunch watching the boyscout group from Mississippi crossing the river. Talk about chaos!! What a hoot. 
After lunch I walked on down the trail past the crossing and found another beautiful creek flowing into the river complete with falls. After spending about an hour or so here I headed back up the trail, passing some day hikers. I hiked back up the hill to a campsite I'd seen on the way down, but after inspecting the trees a little closer, decided to backtrack back to the glade above the river, and made camp there. I didn't want to take up a designated campsite, nor did I want to camp too close to one, I spent what seemed to be an hour trying to find a decent place to hang, and finally found a nice spot above the river and set up the hammock. This exercise made me realize all the times as a tent camper that I never gave much thought to widowmakers. I sure do now. The weather was still cool, so I hadn't brought the bugnet this trip, and didn't need it. About 5:30 a small group of hikers passed by, on their way no doubt to Winding Stairs. After dinner I sat watching the sky change and the river flow. The day hikers I'd seen earlier were making their way below the bluff along a gravel bar in the river, and then crossed to the opposite bank and disappeared into the woods.

The next morning while having breakfast a small herd of whitetails came through camp on their way to the river. Seeing me, one of them began to snort a warning to the others, and there was a moment of chaos before they made their way down to the water. I left camp at my usual 9 AM, crossing Blaylock Creek around 10 or so.  Somewhere near where 106 and the trail run parallel, some campers had left a smoldering campfire, which I spent the next 20 minutes putting out. People absolutely amaze me!  And since I'm on a rant, let me also add that if I had packed up all the trash I found while on this section of ERL, the weight of my pack would have easily doubled!!! Disgusting to say the least. And while I adhere to a leave no trace philosophy, I'll be damned if I'll pick up after others! At least not while backpacking. I did entertain the thought of dayhiking for the express purpose of trail cleaning, but I seriously doubt it would have the slightest impact.  It was while I was making my way back and forth from the campfire to the creek (less than 25 ft away) that the inside of my right knee started bugging me, and by the time I made it over the hill at Albert Pike, it was definitely hurting. When I got to the car, I decided a good meal was in order (man I love that I can eat anything I want after a hike!!) I drove to Mena and had possibly the best vegetarian quesadillas I've ever had.....maybe I was just really hungry  :)
From there I decided to have another shot at the Talimena Scenic Hwy, since last time it was too foggy to see a thing. This time it was so windy I had to hold onto my cap! I made a big loop south and back east toward Shady Lake. My plan was to hike the trail around the lake the next morning to see how the knee was doing, and if it held up to do the Buckeye Loop Thurs/Fri.
The trail around the lake is very nice, although not very well maintained, and was hard to keep the trail at times, especially once it gets past the interpretive loop, but also just after it heads away from the lake. By the time I finished the knee was not happy.

I decided to drive east to the White Oak Lake SP, to try a flat trail that Tim Ernst mentions as worth the drive. I was also considering spending the night there, but once I saw how close the campsites were, decided to just hike and head home.
After talking with the gal at the park office, I discovered they'd added an extension to the trail, a new 9.8 mi loop called Fern Hollow. At the 1/2 way point are 4 pretty nice primitive campsites. I was tempted to hike in and stay the night, but it was 80 degrees, I'd already unloaded my pack, and I didn't trust me knee. Turns out it was a good call, I did the 3 mile Beech Ridge/Coastal Plain loop and really struggled with my knee on the last 1/2 mile. So, at about 5 PM I headed back home.
It was a great week, despite the traffic on the trail, and my knee. I was a little disappointed that spring wasn't more apparent in the wildflowers blooming; the next week or two should be much better. I was also happy to come away without any ticks and only one mosquito bite.
Now I've got to seriously work on both knees to get them ready for the full ERL in three weeks! Link to pics