Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rare Specimans - both Plant and Human

The last five days have been a whirlwind! I've hiked just shy of 100 miles, weaving in and out of the Croatan National Forest on forest roads, walking long stretches of rural countryside, sharing the "trail" with Mack trucks on major highways, dodging cars in Walmart parking lots, Lowes parking lots, and Food Lion parking lots, accidentally sneaking onto Camp Lejeune Marine base, and have now returned to the beach here on Topsail Island!

I have begun the new route through the Coastal Plain...150 miles of rugged jungle-like wilderness contrasted, and sometimes very much complimented, with the constructs of modern civilization.

A sandy forest road through the Croatan National Forest
So one of the challenges of taking the reroute is not yet knowing where all of the services are or even where I'll be crossing a stream or a spring. None of this information has been documented in the directions that I'm following. So as I headed out from my motel the other morning in Havelock, feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world, I came to a gas station and knew that this may be my last water source before I headed in the Croatan following a maze of forest roads. However, remembering what it felt like to lug 4 liters of water down the Neusiok Trail and how I probably sweat out twice as much water as a result, I figured 2.5 liters would do it. Anyway, my directions did mention a ford, so I figured if I had to, I could get water from here.

As I made my way down not only the unimproved but unmarked forest roads, I marveled at the towering Long Leaf Pines to either side of me as well as their blackened bases. Long Leaf Pine Savannahs require periodic burnings in order for the species to thrive as well as for the health of the whole ecosystem. I could see this forest was doing well with these lil guys at my feet...

Me and a lil' Long Leaf Pine (Pinus palustris) - it was so cute, I just had to get a selfie with it

The carnivorous plants abounded as well, more of the tiny soil micro-organism loving Bladderwort as well as this find! This is the first I have seen in the wild and the only one I've seen on the trail since...I found it growing in a muddy tire track...

Green Pitcher Plant (Sarrancenia oreophila) - according to Wiki, this species is the most endangered of all the Pitcher Plants (Sarrancenia spp.) and it's range is limited to a handful of sites in Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina.

This is the rolled leaf of the Green Pitcher Plant which creates a tube. At it's bottom is a pool of digestive juices. Lining it's waxy sides are downward pointing hairs. The little insect I found in here (that black dot) stood little chance of surviving.

Backside of the Green Pitcher Plant's 5-petaled flower.

The day went on and the trail vascillated between easy gravel road walking and wide tracks of ankle-deep soft white sand. The day grew hotter and without a drop of water in sight. I did eventually ford that stream, but when I filled up my Nalgene, the water was literally the color of sweet tea. Therefore, I soon began to comb the woods for a place to stay for the night, thinking at least if I stopped moving I could conserve my water and then feel better to hike further in the morning. But the woods were either thick with shrubs and dense tuffs of coarse grass or blackened with soot. I stumbled upon a groundwater monitoring station with the most beautiful grassy lawn surrounding it...however also surrounding it was a barbwire fence and a sign that read "Tampering with this facility is a federal offense- report any suspicious activity to local police or 911" I thought, eh, probably not the best place...but I was very, very, tempted.

Blackened bases of burned Long-Leaf Pines

As evening approached I stumbled upon a sandy track that clearly had been used by vehicles at some point, but a sign now stood there stating, "No Motorized Vehicles Permitted." Good enough for me. I walked some ways back, where it forked, chose the lesser used track and set up camp. The wind began to pick up and the sky just above the waving tops of the Long Leaf Pines darkened. I actually hoped for rain. At least if it rained, I could get some water!

Although the winds stayed strong, the rain did not come. However, exhausted as I was, despite the thrashing walls of my tent, I soon drifted off to sleep. Next thing I knew I awoke with a start to the sound of a motor coming up fast behind me. I shot straight up and struggled to get the zipper open to my tent. As I did, and I fumbled to try and climb out, I saw a four-wheeler bearing a large headlight come barreling down the trail where, "no motorized vehicles were permitted." Then in front of me pulled in a pick-up truck and a little red sports car. Glad I had not been run over, now I was simply  frustrated that sleep would not be occurring. Luckily, after the four-wheeler conferred with the other two vehicles, they soon revved their engines and sped away. And so although shaken, I eventually fell back asleep, the wind still whipping.

Sometime in the early morning hours I awoke to the sound of thrumming rain against my tent walls and nylon in my face. The wind had collapsed my tent upon me and it was a torrential downpour. More scurrying ensued as I struggled to get my tent back up in the wind, I felt a like a sailor in a storm struggling with his mast. I soon did get it standing, the stakes shoved as best as I could in the wet sand, but not quick enough to have prevented giant pools of water from gather inside my tent. I clung to my foam sleeping pad like a life raft ...and put a pot out to collect some water.

By the time the storm ended, over 2 hours later, I had 12 oz of water to add to my remaining 8 oz and it was time to get the hell outta there! I shoved my sopping wet tent, sleeping bag, and clothes, into my bag and got to hiking as fast as I could towards paved roads and hopefully water...within 3 miles I reached this horse farm!

The hose hooked up to fill the horse trough...hey, good 'nuff for them, good 'nuff for me - afterwards I saw some workers peering at me from the roof looking rather perplexed at the girl collapsed against the fence chugging water

And then a gas station 1 mile later...ah well.

However, no matter how hard this day was...I knew I was hiking toward some trail magic...Wilbur and Jane.

Wilbur and Jane Gurgunas - trail angels - notice that big NCMST decal on the side of their truck!

I got linked up with these lovely people through Kate Dixon. They are dedicated FMST members as well as volunteers with the Mount Rogers AT Crew. Wilbur and Jane, you are a couple of the kindest folks I have ever met. They fed me, gave me an amazing bed stacked with pillows to sleep upon, assisted me in slack-packing for 2 days, and helped me decipher my directions in the evenings. And, I got to eat all the fresh pecans I wanted. Wilbur and Jane have farmed the land ever since they were little ones and amongst other crops such as corn, wheat, watermelon, and various veggies, are Pecan trees. I've never had pecans that tasted that good. Thank you so much Wilbur and Jane for all that you did and do! You are incredible people.

I'd also like to give a shout out to a woman I met at Camp Lejeune - you know who you are- that helped me immensely. So yeah, I've definitely gotten lost a couple of times in the last few days...it has begun...and on my first occasion I managed to take a sidewalk right past the guys with big guns in full military gear and past the maingate security at Camp Lejeune, . Upon their seeing me I just gave them a friendly nod and strode on by. They watched me, but never stopped me, so I thought, Okay, I must be good, rails to trails pathway here I come! But when the sidewalk petered out after a couple of miles, I soon realized I had taken a wrong turn. After hemming and hawing for sometime about what to do I ran into a woman who upon hearing what had happened exclaimed, "They just let you walk onto base? You have no military ID?"

"Nope." I answered.

After she tried to explain to me how to get back to my trail and seeing the blank look on my face, she offered to simply give me a ride...and added, "You know this is probably best anyway, if they catch you on here without ID, they're liable to hold you for questioning."

Now that would have been a story for the blog!

View from the bridge that led me from the mainland to Topsail

And now with all the restricted military areas finally behind me, I have passed onto Topsail Island...again returning to the beach. These waters are crystal clear and the sand fine and compact, easy for the walking. Not as many shells washed ashore as on the Outer Banks, but when the tide comes in, it forms little pools and rivulets that seem to have little habitats all their own as the birds crowd around them. Such beauty to be had and when you're moving at my pace...you get to just take it all in...

Close-up view of crystal clear water in a skinny stream on shore

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