Springer Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Measuring life in metrics, getting to the top of Springer Mountain was 8.3 miles from starting at Amicalola Falls State Park for travelers unfamiliar with the journeying to the Appalachian Trail; however, I had traveled so much further beyond maps or miles. I had carved out a mental image from films, a friend’s listing of favorite books, and a mutual wanderlust. The objective of the day was reaching the southern terminus, aka tip, of the Appalachian Trail (AT) on this mountain top.

At the start of this Sunday, the view atop Amicolola Falls had gave way to the Blue Ridge mountain range below a clear baby blue sky. The mind’s eye aside, climbing Amicalola Falls’ steps a second day in a row had become a welcome break from hiking in the cold damp darkness of the night before. After soaking in this gaze for a few moments, we had quickly retraced about two miles of progress from the previous evening. We had reflected on the decision to turn back momentarily being the “right choice” and “smart choice.”  With that in mind, the next revelation of the day had come in the discovery of a clearing for an open air camping area. It was just past the previous night’s turnaround point. Any second guessing our decision had quickly washed away with daylight illuminating a clear sight of stout mountains and leaf less trees. The day’s hike had continued from there in a rhythmic manner; ”up”, “then down,” “up,” and “up again.”

During our first major mountain ascent, this pattern was interrupted by a descending party of about ten people. Out of common courtesy and easy passage, we had pulled to the side of the trail. While eating a snack of pop tarts, a little blonde girl stepping down the path had wished us a Merry Christmas. This innocent act had colored our physical activity in a different range of emotions. A common bond of community had asserted itself beyond our solitary activity. Before starting up again, an elderly gentlemen had asked about the trail below. In his response, my travel companion had described the steep decline and his preference for stark inclines instead. The gentleman’s response was, “You’re going to get plenty of that shortly.” So we had begun our hiking rhythm again. Until late afternoon, we had marched taking impromptu breaks for water, food, bathroom, and of course photographic evidence!

Approaching the final three miles of our trek, we had started to experience cold gusts and snow flurries. At first, I had thought the snow some form of fungus or tree decay. Not seeing snowflakes since the age of 18, it had provided a degree of personal wonderment and euphoria. In contrast, the brooding grey clouds had sparked some personal concerns. Having lived in tropical zones most of my life from Florida, the Bahamas and Singapore, I had wanted to limit my exposure to the elements with the onset of dusk. The elevation and chill were one set of tenable question marks. I had thought, “What of water in its various forms; sleet, rain, snow?” Water had offered the greatest potential for transforming this rocky landscape into something seductively dangerous. Regardless of the answer, I had not wanted to find out in the dark of night.

Fortunately, we were close to reaching one of two trail shelters and our final destination. The first landmark denoting our proximity to this first shelter was a wooden blue sign pointing down to water. Navigating down the slope to a tiny creek, my friend had graciously volunteered for water extraction duty. At the creek, he had used a manual filter pump for collecting water. While waiting for his return, my mind had drifted into mischief. Up to this point, I was channeling a certain degree of seriousness, unwieldy for such an adventure. The idea of mooning him from a downed log had popped in my brain; however, the biting cold wind gusts had wiped that idea clear into oblivion.

With my buddy topside, we had walked about another half mile to signs pointing to the first wooden shelter. Scouting out the shelter for a few minutes, another pair of hikers had converged on our location. We had exchanged information relating to portions of the trail. After deciding to press forward, my friend had leveraged this opportunity for maxing out our water supply near this shelter. With the three of us remaining, we had stopped any physical activity while chatting. The immediate impact, we had all begun getting painfully cold in our hands and feet. During my wait, I had started moving about in circle compensating for walking on the trail. With my friend’s return, we had headed out on the last two miles of journey.

After picking up our walking tempo, we had arrived in short order at the demarcation for the southern terminus of the AT. In this clearing, two metal plaques had adorned rock along with a log book and statue. The only disappointment were the clouds obstructing the mountain top overlook. After breaking from photo ops, we had pushed on to the final destination for the day, a mountain top shelter. At this multi-level wooden shelter, we had encountered several other travelers. They had placed a tarp over the front opening to reduce the wind gusts. They had also attempted building a fire; however, the cold wet wood  had kept the fire from being viable. As far as sleeping for the night, the other travelers had conceded the elevated loft area for my friend and me. After eating some food, we had prepped our sleeping bags and clothes for slumber. During the night, I had focused on trying to keep my fingers and toes warm. I was bit paranoid with the rating on my Coleman sleeping bag. Before sundown, the temperature was around 30 degree F. What I hadn’t known, according to someone else’s gauge, the temperature dipping into the 20s.

Eventually, daylight had returned to the mountain top with warmer temperatures. Also returning, was our desire to move on from Springer Mountain. Our next destination, Hawk Mountain, was already brewing an image in our mind’s eye. Measuring life in moments, this was a start to another great day of wanderlust on the AT.

Read More:
Springer Mountain (Wikipedia)
Springer Mountain (GeorgiaTrails.com)
Review: Appalachian Impressions (GarzaFX)
Review: National Geographics’s America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail (2009) (GarzaFX)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
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phone:  407-333-8856

Pope Still Hunt Camp, Apalachicola National Forest @ Crawfordville, Florida

A few weekends ago, traveling through Tallahassee, Florida, one night’s final destination was the 500,000 plus acres of Apalachicola National Forest. After exiting I-10 east, we had headed south on US 319 for about 30 minutes. With dusk approaching, we had taken a detour for a quick dip in Wakulla Springs State Park.

After departing Wakulla Springs, our first concern was paying for a campsite. The solution my friend had dialed up, Freecampsites.net. With directions in tow, we had started moving toward Pope Still Hunt Camp. Not too far into Apalachicola National Forest, we had both lost cell coverage for T-Mobile and AT&T. Fortunately, Pope Still Hunt Camp site had sat close to the intersection of Florida Highways 13 and 350. Approaching this intersection, asphalt had given way to sandy dirt roads.

After parking at our destination, another vehicle had pulled into the camping area about 50 yards away. Unlike most other travelers in passing, they had seemed reclusive staying inside their van. Isolated moments like these had always invoked scenes from backwoods Hollywood movies like Deliverance or Wrong Turn. In an effort to get better feel for the immediate area, we had walked around for a bit before getting in our SUV. Driving down about a half mile, the road had become increasingly narrow and rough. Outside the driver’s side window had appeared a sign for “road closed.” After passing this signage, four ATVs had driven out on the road. The odd thing, they had all stopped moving in the middle of the road behind us. Proceeding for another half mile, I had turned around figuring to setup for the night back at the campsite. Upon coming around their previous location, the ATVs had parked at another turnoff. I was curious of their purpose but, more so in sleeping. This small bit of paranoia had clearly stemmed from exhaustion.

At the campsite, my friend had chosen to sleep in his tent in the cool dry air. I had decided to go it alone in the vehicle. I had surmised in the event of a bear or “crazy”, the path of least resistance, my friend’s tent! After taking off my shoes to sleep, I had noticed the lack of light and noise pollution. Initially, I had hoped to go hiking or visit Leon Sinks while in Apalachicola National Forest; however, the tranquil twilight environment had provided enough satisfaction. I had hoped to visit here someday again.

Read More:
Freecampsites.net (freecampsites.net)

Apalachicola National Forest (fs.usda.gov)

Apalachicola National Forest (Wikipedia)

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Wekiva Springs State Park – Apopka, Florida

Over the past year, I had started to spend a lot of time outdoors. Big part of that experience had been Wekiva Springs basin in Apopka, Florida. I had visited this park years ago but, this year definitely lost count the number of times hitting this wildlife area. Beginning with a canoe ride down the Wekiva River from King’s Landing, a buddy and I had kicked off a series of scouting runs. On the initial voyage, I had remembered, as a pair, being somewhat uncoordinated in navigating our rental. At a few points, the canoe had flung around some bends into some downed branches. The resulting chaos had generated some laughter and a brown scar on my back.

From that point, we had scoped out some of the primitive camp sites including Otter Camp ground. After calling in a $12 reservation with park services, we had decided to cut work early on a Friday. We had paddled up the 4 hour haul with quiet efficacy just before dusk. One of the pleasant surprises of that outing, Otter campground had happened to fall inside Volusia County. If on the Seminole side, the county had placed a ban on fires. With $5 bundle of wood in tow, we had satisfied our need for a display of pyromania. The fire and smoke had kept insects away, along with warming the cool damp air. Cashing out to sleep around 8 pm, the passing rain storms had picked up force. Occasionally, the noise and water had elicited a glimpse outside the tents for restroom breaks. Later in the night, we had woken to the remnants of a camp raid. A raid had occurred by a way of  some hungry river monsters, no. More likely it had been a pair of raccoons.

Cleaning up the campsite in the morning, we had headed back down the river to a pickup point for King’s Landing shuttle. After the previous night rains, the river and surrounding foliage had taken on a more vibrant look. Coming through the shallows, a few deer had moved into the river for a drink. Upon being noticed, the deer had quickly returned into the shadows of the Wekiva forest. With time to spare before pickup, we had moved the canoe toward Wekiva Springs State Park recreational area. Before making a turnabout, I had seen a large 12 foot alligator and few massive fish. In the distance, I had been able to see the park’s canoe launching point. This had been just around the corner from the springs’ boil. After moving back down the river, we had ventured past the pickup point and back. Around 2PM, the King’s Landing shuttle ride had driven our weary bodies past the entrance to Wekiva Springs State Park recreational area.

This week, we had decided to visit this specific area after a Saturday morning jog. Traveling to the spring head, we had come across a park official explaining the practice of controlled burns. He had described the unique fuel sources of swamp muck and scrub brush fires. For some reason, perhaps pyromania, I had keyed off those visual possibilities. I had asked about the burn schedules’ availability on the Internet. The official had responded, ”It’s not a government secret, but you can use the Freedom of Information Act.” I had thought, “Extended exposure to carbon monoxide clouds the brain.” Finally walking down to the water, the boil had been in plain sight. Of all the previous Florida springs, the Wekiva Springs State Park’s boil had resided in shallow water, easily accessible to anyone. In the boil, I had swam down the 20 foot crevice with varying degrees of success. On one descent, I had gotten a seizing cramp in my right calf. This had forced me out of the water for the day. Luckily, my friend had wanted to venture to these waters again during the week. This had provided the opportunity for another round of video and pictures.

Catching a glimpse of my brown scar this morning, I had reminded myself of the memories from Wekiva Springs area. There had always been an another adventure around the bend on the map. Though, get a map that scales to size, otherwise you might had chimed repeatedly ”Are we there yet?” With any luck, maybe you had found a chance for a connection with nature, God, or another human along the way.

To connect there:

Wekiva Springs State Park
1800 Wekiva Cir  Apopka, FL 32712
(407) 884-2008

King’s Landing (Canoe Rentals)
5722 Baptist Camp Road Apopka, FL 32712
(407) 886-0859

Read More:

Wekiva Springs State Park (www.floridastateparks.org)
Wekiva Springs State Park (Wikipedia)
King’s Landing (kingslanding.com)

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