Bikepacking Overnight, St Patricks Day March 17th 2018
I have been inviting folks to bikepack for a few years now. JCs Bike shop has proven to be an excellent spot to start adventures from. This was now officially the fourth camp out ride we have hosted out of the shop and it was proving to be an extra adveturous occassion.
A few days before the ride, I neglectfully discover that Seminole Forest has a hunt going on. Normally I would do the event anyways. Sneak in, do our thing, sneak out. BUT, these days I am respectful of the power of keeping good relationships. AND with the growth of the routes, the growth of respect for the rules becomes paramount.
This was already upgraded from our Shuttle Shuttling party to Intermediate level, meaning you have to carry your stuff. AND NOW, it was about to be bumped up a step further. The cozy camps of Seminole Forest where dismissed and brought in its stead was the Remote and Private Camp of Turtle Mound.
I remember the first time I saw this open prairie on the map and could see faintly the bend of the trees that signifies a ghost trail, that leads to the camp.
A year ago, we made camp at this spot and it was truly spectacular. I decided this would be the venue for a trip and immediately informed everyone about the treat that awaited them.
There were a few obstacles and challenges that the group would have to conquer before reaching paradise.
- Leave Town and not get run over
- St Francis Hiking trail in the dark
- The Paisley St Francis Wagon trail in the dark, very sandy
- Navigating the old shell road that leads to camp
- Hike a sketchy Pipe to get to the remote part of the camp.
- Limited fresh water sources, either carry lots and ration OR filter and clean water.
- Survive the night
- Take on a hard hike a bike exploration of some lines I seen on the map.
- Make it back to town safely
I fully understood the challenges that awaited the riders and decided that the best way to start the ride was with good food and drinks. YOLO is a locally owned and super fantastic concept BAR and Restaurant that specializes in Grilled Cheese. It just so happens to be owned by a local Bikepacker and all around good guy named James.
Food was delicious, it was St Patty's day, so the place was full and there was live music blaring from the streets. It felt festive and was truly wonderful to sit, talk, eat and drink before beginning the ordeal to Turtle Mound Camp.
The Ordeal begins
The ride as you leave town quickly warms your legs. There are a few reasons that DeLand was known as Persimmon Hollow and one of the reasons is the hillyness of the land. Eventually we reach our first little dirt segment, designed to take us away from having to ride pavement. This trail part service track for the dump and part linked up to a powerline service road. Evetually you cross the double rail road tracks. Terrain is bumpy and unfriendly, but it takes you off the main road.
It's pretty normal to have to wait for folks. Most people had a good Alchohol buzz going so its completely understandable in both directions of the differences in speed. Before long we are on the road heading to The Ed Stone Bridge, to cross over into Lake County.
The darkness was coming, so at the next regroup stop I put on my helmet light. My good Friend Nick was in such a hyped mood that it was literally infecting everyone. You could feel the energetic buzz of excitement in the air. The trail started riding and a few crashes happened before the unfortunate injury sustained by my friend Bill.
On the Levee as you approach the ghost town of st francis there was an old log, pointing right at the trail. I called it out, but dont know if the folks behind me did and Bill hit his right knee. I turned around to look and could see that it was a cut that would need stitches. Quickly, Nick pulled out his first aid kit and after we picked a few pieces of pine out of his leg, I pushed the cuts together and began the needed task of stopping his bleeding.
Once he was patched up, I knew we had to get him out so the trip continued. The fastest way out was to link the old wagon trail to the well traveled forest road that leads back to 42. It was simpler to go out this way then turning around to venture backwards on the technical singletrack.
Mentally I was stressed, but focused on getting him out. And before long, I sent him and Ryan ahead to get him to safety. Found out the next day that it took 18 stitches to shut his wound, and as of now, there is no reported damage to the knee joint. Bill is a tough man, and at 72 years of age, he is on my short list of folks that inspire me. That injury really scared me and reminded me that I need to keep my first aid kit stocked and ready, emergencies are unexpected and everyone who travels the back country needs to STAY prepared.
After this sobering moment, we hit the Wagon trail and the sand started taking its prisoners. It was even softer than the death loop, and I had to hike a few spots. IT took time to reorganize the group, but it was necessary. Alas, this was the biggest challenge of the ride and it was key to stay together.
Before long, we got off the loop and started down the old abandoned shell road. It was so nice back there. Hard packed and so different then the blown out conditions on the death loop. On our way to the creek crossing I noticed cut down palemttos, and shifted around debris. Seen that someone moved the giant light blue drainage PVC to a key spot to cross the creek. The evidence was everywhere that someone had been back here since the last time I was out.
AT camp we found a tree stand. This part of the forest does not allow hunting. But yet, these gentlemen went thru a lot of trouble to put a tree stand back there. Not only build it at home, but then drive it and drag it to this remote spot. And then go thru the trouble to hide the entrance to the entire area. Admittedly this bothers me, but sometimes you have to just let certain things sort themselves out. As I Type this I am Secretly hoping they see our tracks and decide to move out there illegal Poaching Spot.
As if this wasnt enough. I discovered our camp that was once dry, Was now teeming with reptile life and all the associated symphonic sounds that accompany it. I was mildly bothered, but as the saying goes, we now had lemons, so we made lemonade. We strew out our tents along that abandoned shell road. Within five minutes of arrival I had a fire going and others where gathering wood.
Camp was exceptional. Everyone got into the spirit of the event. AFterall we were celebrating the day of birth of the patron saint of all things GREEN. How appropriate to be in a swamp, surrounded by frogs and owls, drinking in his honor. ICE T, eventually came into play. (ICE T is a large flask and meant to be shared with the camp) And we drank and conversated. The majority of the camp stayed up till 3am before we shut it down. Coffee cups where made, discussions where had, and overall fun was achieved.
The night got cold, but I slept really good in my new Big Agnes tent and then quickly made work of getting all my things packed up so I could sit quietly and make food, coffee and prepare for the exploration of the lines I had seen on the map.
Exploring the Lines on the Map
Chris Kyle and I mapped the Ghost Trail in the Ocala National forest in a short 26 hour effort. Since then, I have become quite adept at finding Ghost trails in all the corners of the forest. The process works on the theory that there are numerous paths that where once popular and have now become abandoned. So I chase them, I find them, we ride them. That was what was on the menu for the morning, a little exploration of the UNKNOWN.
Jerry was pedaling in front with me SO I volunteered him to help. Put them to work, LOL. VOLUNTOLD. We were looking for an obvious right, but alas, it was not obvious. I saw pilons in the entrance. This is a clear indication of an old road that they are trying to block. So we start down it. With some work, the trail would be a dowhnill smile inducing start to the traverse of the prairie. Currently, it was littered with dead fall. Sometimes Bikepacking is like Crossfit on a bike. It took some hiking, but before long we made it to the prairie.
The original distance of the route had been shortened. So I felt the pull to make the route Harder in light of how short the route was gonna be. AND sure enough, both the night before and today, the route was harder, but rewarding nonetheless. We made our way down and around the prairie, up the other side. Found the connector trail and then continued up and over and back to the Deerhaven ridge as expected. Although it was more hiking then I had hoped, there was a fair amount of pedaling. Get a few folks together, and we could increase the rideability in a day. It was a real good find and everyone got a feel of what scouting can be like. Sometimes, not so glamarous, but that's how you find the cool stuff, This segment we traversed will make a nice addition to the Death Loop and possibly presents the opportunity for some super cool mountain bike loops that are not littered with soft sugar sand, but remote and relatively private.
The Group ride ended shortly after our lunch at St Johns River Grille. Brian and I jumped on the CFiTT route and headed back to DeLeon. Just so happens that my house is just a stones throw off the Cross Florida Route.
These camp rides offer such a special opportunity to have good conversations, some laughs and some adventures with my personal guidance.
The next ride is in Georgia. Its a Clay Gravel road ride along some stunning terrain in a special area of Georgia that seems to stay transfixed in an era of years past.
Join the fun.