Thursday, November 6, 2014

To Lake Moultrie and Back....

The heat was on and my legs were gone....that basically sums up how I felt with the upcoming CFITT  (Cross Florida Individual Time Trial) ride to which I had committed.   I was still spinning around in circles after TNGA, followed by Pisgah Monster CX, and volunteering at HellHole gravel grind race, and just felt like I needed about a month off the bike and on the couch.  Nonetheless, I needed to get up and outside to test out my rig since I changed the layout since I predicted much less climbing than I had experienced in Georgia.  I really wanted to check out the current status of the Palmetto trail, so I made up a simple ride leaving from my house and connecting into the Palmetto Trail Swamp Fox Passage at my earliest entry.  I planned on riding up to Lake Moultrie, and then returning.  Upon leaving my house, I realized just how heavy and sluggish my legs felt although I was riding further off the highway to better visualize the amount of resistance I would be experiencing in the boggy trail of Florida's wetlands.  After 10 miles or so, I entered the Palmetto trail and the bumpy lumpy trail let me know it was going to be a long day in the saddle.  There was so much erosion on the trail that it really allowed me to get much more intimate with my new Anatomica saddle than I was ready for.  My hands were also paying the price as I had way too much tire pressure based on the trail chatter.  I finally stopped and adjusted, but it took a along ways into the trail to stop and make the changes.  I was surprised at just how long this trail really is.  I hadn't even started at the very beginning of the Swamp Fox passage and I was already approaching my 5th hour pedaling along the twisty turny swervy trail before me.  I encountered 3-4 primitive campsites along the way and made waypoint markers for all of them on my GPS for future use.  One that really stood out to me was Cane Gully.  It had a nicely setup campfire ring, was near a babbling stream, and was setup high enough to be able to see for a ways.  I planned on returning to this spot to setup camp after reaching Lake Moultrie.  Crossing the narrow bridge at this point was also exciting as well as opened up a beautiful section of trail with brilliant colors and wide open single track.  I got lost mentally on this section as it let me experience the beauty of connecting with the forest.  Then I realized I was totally low on water and still had a few more hours to go before reaching Moultrie.  I was not concerned since the weather was moderate but I was imagining this happening in Florida and contemplated the amount of water I was carrying and whether or not to load up more reserves.  As I went deeper into the Palmetto and closer to Moultrie the trail grew more dense and harder to navigate without some careful hike a bike.  I knew this would get tricky with a fully loaded rig and looked forward to unforeseen issues to be able to handle them here rather than out in the middle of Florida.  Surprisingly, my Krampus backpacking rig held up quite nicely regardless of the saddle choice which was now doing its best to leave me transgendered.  I knew that if I wanted to put in more hasty miles, I would have to stand up pedal to avoid having that horrid saddle bash my taint and tenders once again.  So, after miles of doing the same in Georgia as well as up in Pisgah, I stood up, picked a neutral gear choice and rolled along at a moderate pace.  I love this trail regardless of the lumps and bumps since it seems to stand the test of time, thanks to the USFS men and women who maintain it of course, but it is nice to be able to experience it again after several years of only cutting through sections of it.  I was still on the trail when the sixth hour came and went.  I didn't really have a set arrival time, but I was surprised it was taking me this long, but I was fully loaded and only able to speed up to around 7 mph due to the rough trail conditions.  I would pull off 10-15 every now and then, but it was brief and nowhere near enough to gap a long distance.  As night enveloped my bike and soul, the lights came on and helped illuminate my way.  The dynamo pumped out more than enough juice to keep my Revo light shining bright.  I put my helmet light on mid power and rolled along confidently into each and every turn.  My pace turned up around the 7th hour as I tired of soft pedaling and grew a bit thirsty as I had now run totally out of water.  I neared the exit of the Palmetto and US 17 to the trailhead when I encountered a pair of fully grown PitBulls charging at me!  This situation had me on full alert and I immediately put my bike between them and I.  As they slowed and barked at me within a foot or two, I reached for my knife which was conveniently near my left hand.  I quickly opened it and kept it close for a last chance attack.  I yelled at them to get back, go to their couch, and several other things to try and confuse them.  It actually seemed to work for one of them as it went far back into a crate which they seemed to be living in.  There were blankets, a giant water bowl and 2 open bags of dogfood within sight.  The other Pitt was more protective and seemed more cautionary than vicious.  As I noticed their slight inclination to submissive domestics, I played my dominant card and walked forward and through them all while keeping a solid glance on them letting them know I was in charge with my bike in-between them and myself.  As I pushed through, I walked backwards and kept my eyes on them to the edge of the highway.  I was in shock that someone would abandon two beautiful animals in such a way.  As I approached the edge of the highway, I re-prioritized my objectives and focused on making it to a gas station about a mile or so down the road.  I loaded up on juice, an energy drink, some sugar loaded junk food and restocked my rig with gatorade and water.  I then scooted off from there since it was starting to get chilly.  After nearing the lake, I meandered over and realized I could not see since it was so dark, so I spun around and decided to make my way back to base camp, setup and try and dry off.
 It took me about an hour to make it back to the campsite as I was fully hydrated and able to put out more power.  As I selected my spot and started setting up camp, I realized I had less than 30 minutes before I would be shaking from the cold as it had dropped down into the low 40s and I was soaking wet from sweat and the humidity level around me.  I shuffled priorities and made a quick fire first to get some base coals going.
 Once the fire was crackling, I went back and setup my tent and laid out my thermarest and sleeping bag.  I then quickly tore off my wet clothes and into my dry camp clothes.
 It is amazing how much just switching into dry warm clothing can bring up your spirits.  After camp was setup, I setup a dry clothesline and hung my clothes near the fire.  I then setup another high line to hang my rear bag which was full of food.  I grabbed the foods I would be eating for dinner that night and scavenged enough firewood to last all night.  As the night grew long, I ate, relaxed and played on my phone since I had a great signal out here!  A few hours later, I was calling it a night and crept into my happy hut.  My super soft ultralite sleeping bag hugged my body well and I knew this was coming along with me in Florida.  I fell asleep in less than a few moments and thought I was gone until the morning, but I was wrong.  A few hours into my slumber, I am awoken by lots of rustling and heavy panting.  It does not sound like pranksters so I assume a bear or critters.  I hear a lot more rustling very close by and hear a yip or two and confirm coyotes!  I wasn't sure how close they were but it sounded like they were right outside. Then, before I can even roll out of my bag a bone chilling chorus of howls emit from right outside my tent!  It sounded like at least a dozen or so dogs scavenging about out there.  I had never really considered this situation and didn't have a clue as to what to do!  I quickly googled how campers handle coyotes and the consensus was that they mostly leave them alone, so I finally made an attempt to get out of my tent and slowly open a flap.  I could see lots of movement but not clearly, so I click on my flashlight and immediately see about a dozen sets of eyes looking at me!  I yell GET and they start shuffling and slinking into the shadows.  I take the opportunity to run towards the smoldering fire and stoke it quickly to get some sparks.  I throw a ton of kindling into it and quickly get a giant blaze going and stay close to it hoping it is enough to send them running.  I shine my flashlight through the woods again and fail to see any more eyes looking back at me.  I then setup heavy clubs around my tent to have something to reach for if they decide to come back.  It is crazy how quickly one goes into survival mode once there is a definite need.  I roll back off to sleep, but I am lightly aware of my surroundings and know I am going to be tired in the morning.  Morning comes quickly and before I know it I am breaking down camp and loading up my rig.  I am happy to have made it through that crazy night, but happier to know everything I brought along was used properly and I am not carrying more than I should.  A lesson learned from TNGA.  I set out at a nice pace and decide to navigate along gravel today since the grew tired of the bump factor along the Palmetto trail.  Before long, I am back home, showering and telling all about my crazy night with the coyotes!  Good times.

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