NCT Mile 803 to 823

The strangest noises of the forest happen right around dusk.  Large lumbering creatures test the boundaries of your campsite while smaller critters do a quick pass for food.  All of that stuff happened last night but the best nature show didn’t start until midnight.  A large bird that Brianna initially thought was a “confused goose”, did circles around the blacksmith bayou, calling out into the night.  The bird call sounded like, “HOOONK, hoonk”.  Obviously, my well written description of the bird call has lead you to have figured what it was on your own… a sand hill crane!

The crane seemed to annoy Shauna and Brianna, but I found it oddly relaxing with a touch of sadness.  He landed after his circles and continued calling out into the night.  No one answered.  (We did see him/her fly away in the morning, with a friend :-)).

Our plan was to leave camp by 0700 this morning, which turned out to be more like 0715.  Fifteen minutes late isn’t bad.  Shauna felt bad because she was the last one out.  I tried to explain that it makes total sense to me.  Brianna and I are two people with a simple setup.  Shauna was one person with a fairly complex hammock tent setup.  By the time Brianna has everything rolled up in the tent, I’ve got her coffee ready and the water bottles filled or situated.  By the time I take down the tent, Brianna is drinking coffee and has breakfast ready or has already eaten.  We just need to learn how to work as a three person team and get better.  This was the first time I began to doubt whether or not Shauna would make the entire trail with us.  She mentioned on several occasions how out of shape she was and how she might need Rick to pick her up on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I tried to talk her back up, she was kicking butt, but it’s hard to turn the mental train back in the right direction once it has started going backwards.

The day was long and hot, but forest cover make it enjoyable for the first 10 miles.  The road walk we had been so concerned about was really just a dirt road, not bad at all.  We had some water concerns as the heat turned up but were richly rewarded by the Nine Mile Bridge.  A beautiful spot to grab cold normal color water while we worked out a new plan.

A new plan?  Yes, we wanted to go to Bear Track Campground about 17 miles into the day.  That plan had been kiboshed when the Ranger Station finally called me back.  There are no natural sources of water at that campsite and I wanted to be absolutely sure that we would have water after a 17 mile day.  The Ranger lady told me that while the website said the water had been turned on, it was in fact not on.  She tried to explain to me that websites take time to update and that COVID had made a mess of things.  I understand that… but the water was turned off for the winter, last winter, before COVID.  If anything, the site should have still said water was not available rather than the other way around.  Anyway, I digress.  We needed a new plan.

It was about this time that Shauna informed us that she would not be continuing on the trail and that Rick would be picking her up at Nine Mile Bridge.  Brianna and I were both sad because she was doing really good, but we understood.  Sometimes knowing when you need to get off the trail and doing it is harder than starting in the first place.  And really, in hindsight, I’m so glad she did not have to endure the second part of this day with us.

The first half of the day was warm and lovely.  The second half of the day was hot and fucking terrible.  The trail will teach you humility by breaking down your soul with the sandpaper of truth.  I say that, but the trail doesn’t care, it’s just a trail.  The reality is that if you put yourself in a situation where crazy shit can happen, crazy shit will eventually go down.  That’s what long distance hiking is, putting yourself out there and figuring things out.

We left Nine Mile Bridge fully stocked with water and into the second part of our hike by around 1pm.  This was our first mistake.  We thought it would be good to make more miles sooner and get to the new targeted water source at a decent time.  Unlike the morning, the trail was a forest of baby oak trees and provided little shade.  It was too hot to keep hiking and the mosquitos would not allow us to stop for very long.  We submitted after about an hour and threw the tent under the shade of a larger oak tree and took turns napping on and off for about an hour.

As the day wore on and we approach the first possible water sources, it became clear that they were bogs.  Possible to filter, yes, but disgusting.  Mosquitoes got worse and just wore us down to each of our breaking points.  It’s weird when you get to the point of a mental and physical break down but can’t stop because you’re in the middle of nowhere.  Brianna eventually remembered that we have mosquito nets for our heads and we charged on.  Our last hope for water that day was a place called… Muckwa creek.  And yeah, it was mucky, but not a bog.  We marched past the creek for a bit and hastily threw the tent up in a less than ideal spot, slanting in a less than ideal way.

We cooked dinner and laughed about the sweaty mess we found ourselves in.  A 20 trail mile day and this is how it ends.  We are about to go to sleep to the sounds of a million mosquitoes chomping at the bit to bite us.  Brianna says it sounds like a nascar race and I have to agree.  Too bad neither of us like NASCAR.  There is also something with hoofs lumbering and snorting relatively close to the tent.  This should be an interesting night.