From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eglin Portal Campsite to Red Deer Campsite---April 5th

As I settled down to sleep last night I kept seeing these faint flashes of light illuminate the top of the tarptent.  I thought perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me or that I was in some r.e.m. state.  That's when I heard Jon say that we were going to be in for it.  As I got up to look outside I realized that those flashes were part of some massive electrical storm, arcs of light moving from cloud to cloud traveling the length of the sky.  The strange thing was the eerie silence, the only sounds really were our own movements attempting to hurriedly batten down the hatches and secure all our gear.
Minutes more of anxious anticipation followed as we lay in our sleeping bags waiting.  After some time, angry rumblings started to be heard in the distance and a few moments later massive gusts of wind hit the camp.  With a loud POP, Jon's tarp was lifted and two of the rope tie downs failed.  My little tarptent bent but remained standing.  Trees were bending, branches swaying, dead leaves blowing and then the rain arrived in torrents.  It was so bad that in order to keep the water from blowing in through the screen of my tent, I had to deploy the front rain shield for the very first time.  We certainly knew we were in the center of the maelstrom when the lightning struck close by and the crackling thunder boomed like a gigantic bass drum.  All in all, I weathered this violent storm much better than the one at Hidden Pond.  Outside the tent, the elements reigned, but inside it remained dry and toasty. 
When I awoke this morning, I quickly realized through Jon's repeated cursing and sounds of shivering that he had not been as lucky.  His tarp had failed to prevent the torrential wind-blown rain from soaking pretty much everything he had.  To make matters worse, as a result of the cold front passing over, there had been a significant drop in temperature.  It was now in the high 30s and Jon was wet, freezing and in my opinion mildly hypothermic.  Yes, even in Florida.  I lent him my polypro mid-weight thermal top, my Marmot Precip jacket and neoprene aqua socks.  Packing up quickly, we were soon on the trail hiking.  The increased physical activity combined with the dry clothes made a huge difference in Jon's condition.  The shivering had stopped and he was beginning to feel much warmer.
The sun, rising higher into a clear blue sky, was doing its part as well.  Almost hard to believe how bad the weather had been only hours before.
It was a brisk yet pleasant walk passing through forest of beech, pine and scrub oak.  There were lots of small streams to cross, the first of which had no bridge (I think it was the Alaqua).  We were forced to look for its narrowest point, which we found a short distance from the trail, then make a giant leap to the other side, landing on the other side with only inches to spare.  The best named features on the Florida Trail were in this section.  Demon Bridge crossing Hellfire Creek.  How classic is that?!  The swift water was crossed on one hellaciously long flat-topped log. :-)
In the early afternoon we passed into a drier area of scattered pine and scrub, some parts of which were fire-scarred.  It was dificult to maintain the illusion of being in the back country with helicopters and F-15 fighter jets flying overhead.  In addition, the sound of traffic was plainly audible from Interstate Highway 10.  Nevertheless, at one point, we crossed paths with a Diamondback Rattlesnake that was lying right smack dab in the middle of the trail.  Luckily, I spotted it well in advance so it wasn't a startling encounter. Tongue flicking, the beautifully colored snake knew we were there and after some time coiled up into a protective striking posture.  Not wishing to disturb it further, we gave it a wide birth and continued down the trail to Red Deer Campsite.  Situated on a side hill, the camp is suitable but not ideal.  It was sort of hard for me to find a level enough place to set up my tent.  Before long we had built an improvised drying rack for our socks and shoes and every spare bush had clothes or sleeping bags draped over it.  The late afternoon sun did its job well and by evening all was relatively dry meaning Jon would not have to suffer through another night shivering in his sleeping bag.

Demon Bridge over Hellfire Creek
Eastern Diamondback

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