A hot, dry stalk

Part 3 of a series – Where the Wild Things Roam

Looking for water

I had studied up on creeks along the trail so I was not surprised that first night’s camp was a dry camp – no water for washing or drinking. I brought 5 liters of water with me, slightly more than a day’s worth of water for one person exerting in hot weather – but I was down to one liter so the first order of business for the day was to find a creek with moving water so I could refill my water bottles. I gathered up my gear at first light and set off while it was still cool.

This next segment of the Wild Azalea Trail is rated as moderate-to-strenuous because of the frequent hill climbing and frequent creek crossings, but every bottom I came to was long dry – not too surprising for this time of year.

I checked my maps and they didn’t show any intermittent streams but there were still a couple of good-sized, year-round creeks indicated.

Although there was no water in the seasonal streams, there was no lack of salamanders. The bottoms in this part of the trail were chock full of them! I figured with such a host of amphibians around there must be water in these woods, so I walked on.

But the lack of water began eating at my mind. Every step I took forward was one step farther from a known water source back at town. But there had to be a creek just ahead, so I walked on.

Finally, during a long downhill, I heard the babbling of water and I picked up my pace – and ran straight through a banana spider web. Banana spiders (Nephila clavipes), also called golden orb weavers because of the yellow tint of their extraordinarily strong silk, are an ever-present part of hiking in the autumn in the south.

Labor day weekend is perhaps a little early for peak web-in-the-face season, but they were still plenteous. I’d been alternating holding one walking pole or the other up in front of my face as I walked, but when I heard the long-anticipated sound of running water I lunged face-first through a web.

I had finally made it to appropriately-named Loving Creek, a clean, clear, babbling, sandy-bottomed creek with large silver minnows and tons more of the salamanders and millipedes that I’d been seeing.

I slung my hammock and took a break as I drank my last liter of water, then I refilled my bottles. There are several safe and reliable ways to purify creek water for drinking during a backpacking trek. Here’s how I do it.

Scoop water from a moving part of the stream and strain it thru a bandanna into your water bottle then drop in a chlorine tablet. I was using Aquatabs brand tablets because I’ve found them cheap and effective. Each tiny pill produces enough chlorine to kill all the microorganisms in 2 liters of water.

After you add the chlorine tablet, wait 30 minutes (or longer if it is cold), then screw the lid on loosely and spill a little of the chlorinated water to wet the threads of the lid.

You can add an electrolyte replacement, especially if you are exerting in the heat, or a flavor pour-in if you don’t fancy the taste of river water and chlorine. I was using a lemonade-flavored electrolyte replacement.

With my water reserves replenished, soon I was back on the trail.

It pays to be quiet in the woods

I am accustomed to hiking with a horde of teens tromping and stomping and talking and banging on everything in the woods, so I am not accustomed to seeing much wildlife. This time since I was solo and was being quiet, I walked right up on a large whitetail deer. It made a trumpeting sound at me and lunged into the brush.

Another nice part about solo-hiking is you don’t have to put up with other peoples’ foibles and deadlines and goals for their hike and they don’t have to put up with yours. You can hike your own hike, walk when you want to and rest when you want to.

I was taking frequent rest breaks – in this heat you have to or you’ll be courting a heat-related illness. When hiking in 95+ degree heat and high humidity, you should reduce your walking intensity and duration and increase your rest duration. You may even want to walk as little as 15 minutes per hour and rest as much as 45 minutes per hour.

This was eating into my total distance that I would be able to hike, but I was spending the resting time listening and praying and journaling, so it was not a waste.

A good idea when you take a break or set camp for the night is to lay your walking sticks down on the trail pointing the direction you were going. It is easy to become disoriented after a break because the light will be coming from a different angle and you’ll be in a different state of mind after resting. Marking the trail with your hiking sticks is an easy way to help keep you on track.

During one such rest break, I was lying in my hammock between a magnolia and an elm at the top of a ridge, thanking God for the cool breeze and listening to the woods.

I could hear a repetitive hollow knocking sound nearby. It took me a minute to figure it out, but finally I realized it must be a squirrel trying to crack open a nut by knocking it against a tree or a stone. Later I came across what must have been squirrel heaven – a nearby spot on the trail where a squirrel had been opening hickory nuts and taking green pine cones apart to get at the seeds.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Where the Wild Things Roam

7 ways my Wild Azalea hike was unlike any other

Labor Day weekend 2019 I hopped over to the Wild Azalea trail at Woodworth Louisiana and did an 18-mile, 3-day, 2-night solo backpacking trek that turned out to be pretty much one of the most fun, challenging, and rewarding pack camping experiences I’ve ever had! So much about this trek was different from any other […]

How to see more when you hike

Famous baseball player and coach, Yogi Berra, said, “You can see a lot just by observing!” Like most of his Yogi-isms, this applies to a lot of life besides just baseball. Take hiking, for instance. It is easy to get into a sort of fugue state while you are walking and just let the miles […]

Where the Wild Things Roam

Part 1 in a series For a long time I’ve pined to explore the Wild Azalea Trail south of Alexandria Louisiana – a national hiking trail that stretches from Woodworth Louisiana 24 miles through the Kisatchie National Forest to Valentine Lake near the town of Gardner Louisiana. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout, and it has […]