Banana Spider State Park or Brazos Bend

AT Prep Update

In six months, my family will be on a plane to Atlanta. Plane tickets, rental car, and overnight accommodations for March are all in place. My husband and son will join me at Amicalola Falls State Park to goof around for a few days before they fly home and I walk north alone. Buying a one-way ticket is such a strange feeling. There’s no chickening out now! I still have so much left to do to get ready but actually purchasing plane tickets is somehow different. It’s the biggest commitment I’ve made so far. This is happening and I’m filled with such mixed emotions. It is exhilarating and terrifying all in the same breath. Now if I can just get through the following without losing my mind, I’ll be just fine:

  • Make a loose schedule for my brothers so they can start their own planning for the sections they want to join me for.
  • Learn as much as I can at the Gathering in October.
  • Knock Lost Maples off my Texas State Parks Checklist.
  • Take what I learned at the Gathering and apply it to the 96-mile Lone Star Trail.
  • Decide on limited mail drops.
  • Buy my last two gear items: Spot and guidebook.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something but I guess I’ll find out soon enough. :)

Let’s Play Find the Alligator!

It’s best to stay alert at Brazos Bend State Park. You can startle them just like they can startle you. It makes everybody feel better to spot them before this happens.

Round One:

Alligator far away.

Alligator closer.

Alligator up close.

Round Two:

Alligator far away.

Alligator closer.

Alligator up close.

Instead of looking for alligators, I’ve started looking for eyes. It’s going pretty well so far. A lot of the time, it’s just the top of their heads that are peeking out above water.

Brazos Bend & Experimenting With Rain Gear

I got to Brazos Bend in the late morning, threw on my pack, and headed out. The plan was to do six miles and hope for rain. If it rained, I could try out my Packa in something other than my shower at home, and set up my tent in the rain. I took the Campground Trail to the north side of Elm Lake Loop, and then strung together the Horseshoe Lake Loop and Big Creek Loop before doubling back. Everything went exactly as planned… except for maybe the 56 banana spiders (I counted just so I could give my husband nightmares) that covered the Elm Lake Loop. Those are only the ones I counted. That’s not including the ones I didn’t notice before I walked into the first one and all the other types of spiders and webs I ran into. Most of them were well above my path but not all. I’m not afraid of spiders but they were so big and there were so many in such a concentrated area that it definitely slowed me down. It was kind of creepy but maybe just because I was by myself. On the bright side, I feel fairly confident that I can now successfully navigate a laser security system to steal the town’s prized jewels.

After I made it out alive, I treated myself to lunch on a bench under a tree. I sat down and got swarmed by mosquitoes. Then my heroes showed up in dragonfly form. They swarmed the mosquitoes that swarmed me and I enjoyed my lunch in peace with my new friends. I know they eat mosquitoes but I’ve never seen them do it. They were swooping in and eating them right off my pants. It was very cool to watch.

The rain came as promised soon after I got back on the trail. This was my first time hiking in the rain and it was actually pretty fun. I know it was only fun because it wasn’t freezing and it didn’t rain for a week straight … but it was still fun. I stomped through intermittent puddles at first and soon splashed my way through the trail as the entire thing turned into a river. I learned quite a few things. I don’t think I care for waterproof trail runners. I still got wet, even with gaitors, and they take sooooo long to dry out. I need a new pair anyway since these have turned out to be just a little too small. No blisters but both of my big toes were sore by the end of the day and I only went six miles. If I’m going to get wet anyway, I think I’d prefer something that dries a little faster. I, also, don’t think I care for gaitors. I’m going to give them another shot, though, since it was my first time trying them out. It’s possible I didn’t secure them tightly enough or didn’t line the Velcro up completely. The last thing I learned is not to raise my arms when the pit zips are open on the Packa. So, yes, basically I was completely soaked with all of my fancy rain gear but I am humble enough to realize that a large part was user error. Even though it didn’t go exactly like it was supposed to, I still had fun and I’m glad to have had the chance to find all this out while I was laughing hysterically in the cool summer rain instead of  crying my eyes out in the freezing winter rain. Next time will go better for sure!

Setting my tent up in the rain was not nearly as comical. The Packa works fantastic while you’re hiking but gets tricky when you want to make camp. Not having a separate jacket and pack cover means having to choose between protecting myself or my pack if I need to take the pack off my back. I got greedy and decided there was more than enough room to pull my arms in through the sleeves since the Packa is pretty roomy. Then I could slide my arms out of the pack straps and turn the entire thing around so the pack was against my front, take out my tent from the mesh pocket, drop it down through the bottom of the Packa, turn the pack/Packa back around onto my back, push my arms back out of the sleeves, and set the tent up. Haha, it sounded really simple in my head… and it would have been if I had thought to pull the hood down first. Instead, I pulled my arms in through the sleeves and the pack straps, turned everything around, and got a face full of hood. With my trucker hat on underneath the hood, there wasn’t enough slack for the hood to just slide off. It was a disaster. I laughed this off as well until I accidentally dropped the stake bag into a different pocket than the one I was pulling it out of and spent about fifteen minutes looking for it. I looked on the ground, in/on/under the tent and the footprint, in the pocket it was supposed to be in, and all of my clothes pockets. I was so frustrated because I just had it. Where could it be? By the time I found it in the other pack pocket, everything was wet. I brought a small sham type towel in my car in case something like this happened so it wasn’t that bad. Lessons learned.

I crawled into my tent, defeated, and was beating myself up about things I could do better next time, when a herd of white-tailed deer came into the clearing right in front of my awning. There were nine of them – stags, does, and fawns. The rain slowed to a sprinkle and they grazed and ran around playing for almost an hour. I could’ve watched them all day. I mean, I’ve seen deer plenty of times but it’s always either been as they are fleeing into the woods because I didn’t even know they were there or as I drove by in my car. I’ve never seen how they interact with each other until then. It was pretty cool. Too bad it was interrupted by a woman (I’d gone the entire day without seeing anybody) who came up out of nowhere. She said she talked to the headquarters and asked them if I could use one of the screened shelters and they said it was okay. I politely told her thanks but I was fine where I was. It wasn’t until she left that I got really offended. She invaded my bubble, scared the deer, interrupted my tranquility in the aftermath of all my frustration … and then I realized she probably witnessed my comedy of errors earlier from the warmth and dryness of her RV down the street and thought she was being nice. Now I was offended AND embarrassed. It’s pretty funny now but it really wasn’t at the time. I calmed myself down by eating absolutely everything I had left in my food bag. The deer came back and I watched them until I fell asleep.

I woke up at 4am to the sound of a zillion mosquitoes stuck under the rainfly. Found a downside to the LightHeart Solo tent. I’ve had tons of bugs end up under rainflies before but they always seem to find their way out by morning. The lengthwise ridge where the rainfly is connected to the tent seems to make it harder for them to get out. I put my earplugs in and went back to sleep. I got dripped on just a little from condensation and sleepily ran the towel up along the top of the tent and accidentally squished all the bugs that were stuck up there and went back to sleep again. I didn’t know until I woke up for good and saw the line of wet, squished, bugs above me. Sorry, guys! This may just be something I have to get used to. I don’t really see a way around it, other than leaving the rainfly up. We’ll see.

Since the majority of the trails I did the day before were through forests, I decided to pack up and hit the major alligator lakes before I headed home. If you really want to see the alligators, the best places are 40 Acre Lake and Elm Lake. Well, they must have read my last blog post because I had just started into the 40 Acre Lake Trail when I noticed a medium-sized alligator waiting next to the trail to say hi. He wasn’t very big but big enough for me to be concerned about the safety of my extremities. With water on both sides of the trail, there wasn’t a way around. I waited for a bit and gave up when I realized he wasn’t going to budge. You win this round, gator. I could’ve just walked back and started with the other side of the loop, but if he was still there, then I would’ve had to walk back around, essentially doubling the length of the loop and I wasn’t up for that. I passed by another, much larger, alligator in the water during my retreat and decided two was enough for one day by myself. They’re so beautiful but there is definitely a different vibe when I’m by myself and my car is the only one in the parking lot.

Despite my fumbling, I had a great time. I was only there for 24 hours but I saw 56 banana spiders, 14 deer, 2 alligators, a bunch of birds I can’t name, some cool beetles, and a rabbit. Oh, and my dragonfly lunch buddies. Can’t wait to go back. :)

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