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Lake Wales Ridge State Park Beginner Backpack Outing, February 28-March 1, 2015

March 18, 2015

By Gail Bagley

Have you wanted to backpack but didn’t because of inexperience? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have an easy one-night “beginner” trip where experienced backpackers help you learn basic backpacking skills? That is exactly what the Ancient Islands Outings offered the participants on our Feb. 28th Lake Wales Ridge State Forest Beginner Backpack outing.

Start of the trial with Gail, Melanie, Rakib, Tom and Mary Kaye

Start of the trial with Gail, Melanie, Rakib, Tom and Mary Kaye

Four adventurous participants- Tom, MariKaye, Melanie, and Rakib- plus leaders Gail and Andy- assembled at the Paula Dockery trailhead Saturday afternoon, then proceeded to hike about 3 1/2 miles- some along Livingston Creek- to our Lakeside primitive campsite.

LWRSF consists of four tracts. Portions of the land were purchased with Florida’s Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program funds. As the name suggests, the land is managed for recreation, protection of endangered and threatened species, and maintenance of natural communities. Our outing was in the Arbuckle Tract, which is located 5 miles south of Frostproof, on Lake Arbuckle Road.

Andy teaching foot care

Andy teaching foot care

The hike took us through scrub oak and pine forest and Tom helped identify a number of warblers and other song birds along the way. We had known in advance that it might “sprinkle a little” this weekend, and we had prepared by bringing rain gear. That was a good move! The closer we got to the site, the bigger and darker the clouds to the East grew. When we reached the end of our trail we were stopped by a stream between us and the campsite. Thankfully there was a fallen palm which had been previously placed across the stream and which enabled us to nimbly cross to our campsite.

A light rain started just as we arrived. Assistant Leader, Andy, taught the first lesson: put up the tarp shelter! When that was done we scurried to set up our tents. In the drizzle, we devoured a yummy dinner of southwestern chili. Leader Gail had previously cooked and dehydrated the chili at home, and it was easy to prepare at the campsite by simply treating and heating water from the creek, then rehydrating the chili. Dehydrating food in advance makes it conveniently lightweight for backpacking and prevents spoilage. It was remarkably tasty!

With amazing teamwork, participants gathered firewood and soon we were enjoying a roaring campfire. This was a welcome treat, allowing us dry our hair and clothes. We shared stories, sang a Native American song led by Melanie, and poked at the fire. Before we retreated to our tents- warm, dry and cozy- we spotted the moon peeking out from the clouds. The rain was passing!

Andy and Rakib on the trail

Andy and Rakib on the trail

When we arose Sunday morning, the sky was gloriously clear and the temperature was perfect. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast of steel cut oatmeal with cinnamon, nutmeg, fruit and nuts. Hot coffee was prepared with treated creek water. After breakfast, Andy took a few minutes to teach a lesson on foot care. It is critical to take care of your feet while backpacking; you can be quite miserable if you don’t. Wet skin increases friction, and friction causes blisters. Dry, moisture-wicking socks and comfortable “broken-in” shoes are essential.

Since we had plenty of time, we did not have to rush to leave camp. We cleaned up, extinguished the fire, put on our backpacks and headed out. The trail was a bit soggier from the rain, but not enough to cause any problems. New flowering plants had popped up on the trail that were not there the day before. When we arrived back at the trailhead, we did what good Sierrans do – we picked up trash and left the trailhead area cleaner than we found it. A leisurely lunch was enjoyed as we sat by the creek; then we said our goodbyes and headed home. Participants were all good sports about the weather. They talked about their new backpacking and camping skills, and were excited about putting them to use on future trips.

It is our hope to have more “beginner backpack” outings, so please think about it if you want to give backpacking a try!

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