The point of no return
Around noon of the second day, it came time for a really tough decision.
Having not planned for the extreme heat, I’d initially thought I might be able to do two 20-mile days and two 10-mile days for a total of nearly 60-miles – the whole trail from Woodworth to Valentine Lake and back – but it became obvious with the heat and the prolonged rest breaks that this was not going to happen.
I really wanted to see more of this forest, and I was almost through the most strenuous section, but I figured that the weather was not getting any cooler and I was not getting any fresher so this was the point of no return.
I could probably have made it to Valentine Lake but I would certainly not have been able to go there and get back to Woodworth during this weekend. So I turned back, and this turned out to be a good decision. By the last mile or so, it was the hottest part of the afternoon and I had to break even more often and for even longer.
By that time I was miserable from the heat and the slow progress and I was having a constant mental battle with myself about whether to try to hitchhike back to town. Part of me even wanted to totally wimp out and call the Sheriff to come rescue me but STOP saved me again.
I took my pack off, sat in the shade, and drank some water. I figured that I still had plenty of water, I wasn’t ill or injured – just miserable, and I had plenty of time so I could go slow and take long breaks and still get back to my roadside camp before dark. Plus, I reasoned that even if I couldn’t make it before dark, I had a headlamp and it’d just be cooler at night.
When I got back to my roadside camp just before dark, my tracker on my phone said I had walked for about five out of ten hours that day and that I only made about 9 miles.
After an uneventful night, except for constant relentless mosquitoes, I woke up refreshed but I still knew I’d made the right decision to turn back. I decided to avoid the briers I had encountered the first day by walking Forest Service roads back to the trailhead.
I set out before dawn, while it was still cool, walking the left side of FSR #208. This was much easier and faster walking than dragging through the thorns and vines in the woods.
Just around the bend of the road from where I’d camped, I walked into a little herd of six wild horses! They snorted/screamed at me and the alpha held her ground as the others ran off into the woods. After another look, the alpha ran off after her herd.
There was still not enough light for me to take a picture but that explains the spooky horse sounds the first night.
It sure pays to be quiet in the woods.
Back to civilization
As I was arriving back at Calvary Woodworth church where I’d parked my truck, the pastor, Christian Stubbs, was putting out welcome signs in the parking lot before the Sunday service.
When I threw my pack into the back of the truck, he saw my Pike County license plate and commented that his wife grew up in Marion County and that he had gone to school at USM. We chatted for a couple of minutes and he asked how I had liked the trail.
I loved it! In total, I got about 18 miles worth of exercise over the course of 3 days and 2 nights solo in 96 degree heat – and I did it safely. I got some good practice at silence and solo hiking, meditation and fasting. Did a bunch of journaling, got to overcome some adverse conditions, and sent a bunch of observations to iNaturalist. It was an outstanding trek!
Pastor Stubbs commented as we were parting, “There’s 26 miles of trail out there, so it’s got pretty much all the hiking you could ever want.”
I’ll definitely be back to see more of 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 side-trails sufficient to stretch it […]
Anyone around here familiar with this National hiking Trail south of Alexandria Louisiana? That’s where I’m at right now! I’ve had a fierce hankering to do this trail for a while now but haven’t gotten around to it so I figured to make a long weekend of it. Reports of trail length are variable, ranging from 24 to 31 miles. […]
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 I’ve ever done. It was […]