Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Neusiok Trail

Oh Neusiok Trail, quite the trail you were! For about 14 miles the MST follows the Neusiok Trail. This trail travels through a Long-Leaf Pine Savannah and is breath-takingly beautiful as well as pain-stakingly difficult given it's environmental factors such as horrific amounts of bugs, lots of mud, and lots of sun. But back to the beautiful, before I give you some more details of the not-so-pleasant parts. You see, the thing I've learned about the Neusiok is that it is ever changing...

Beginning portion of the Neusiok Trail
 The picture you see above was taken within the first few miles, however the trail often returned to this kind of environment. A grassy surface thick with White Clover, along with so many wildflowers unique to this portion of the MST as well as familiar trees that I had yet to see on this trip that I could barely get my hike on because of all my picture taking. On this lil stretch, a frolicking river otter just about ran into me as he made his way down the trail and immediately following that, I startled some enormous bird with a wing-span of a good 5-feet, perhaps a hawk or an owl, I do not know. I felt like I had entered some land before time.

However, somewhere after mile 8, the mud began. I have no pictures of this. I didn't care to take a single damn picture of that mud or myself sinking in it. I'm talking black as night, thick as molasses, shoe-sucking, hiking-stick stealing mud. I traveled and periodically cursed my way through this for a good couple of miles. I wondered how I ever did hiking like this on the AT for states at a time. No matter my fashionable new Brooks Ravenna hiking sneakers and Smartwool PhD socks, just black clumps of mud down there for feet and splattered all the way up the backs of my thighs.

I was then flung from the mud on to this forest road. Oh sweet baby Jesus (to use a southernism), it was better than the mud, but this portion had the sun and a road that appeared to go into infinity. I poured sweat, at least cleaning some of the mud from my skin while the sun helped to bake and flake off the mud on my shoes. The wildflowers and river otter were a distant memory.

One of the many boardwalks on the Neusiok Trail
After a little over two miles on that road...these came to my rescue...oh sweet boardwalks! These are frequent on the trail and I knew they were bound to appear in frequency sooner. There had been a couple early on, but then all but non-existent. Again, I was a happy hiker, able to take in the plant life and cruise my way into camp at Dogwood Shelter - a lean to with ample tent space so that this hiker could escape the bugs. The last time I had been through here, just to give you a reminder, this is how I camped at Copperhead Landing Shelter...

My non-free-standing tent, rigged up with ropes found in the shelter - I pulled this off sometime around 2 am, after various other techniques failed to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

So now well rested and enjoying a room here in Havelock...let me give you a lil' slideshow of the plant faces of the Neusiok Trail...

Grass-Pink (Calopogon), a member of the Orchid family. I am not certain what species I have here, but I believe it to be either C.pulchellus or C.barbatus. Calopogon means "beautiful beard" referring to the scruffy yellow cluster of hairs. These hairs are there to attract pollinators, but an insect gets a surprise when the flower snaps shut on him, and he has to crawl his way out, in turn pollinating the reproductive parts in the process.
Orange Milkwort (Polygala lutea), a member of the Milkwort Family. These enjoyed the bright sun along the edges of grassy trail. 
Flowers of Inflated Bladderwort (Utricularia inflate)
Inflated stalks of Inflated Bladderwort, acting as a float. Leaves are beneath water. Bladderworts are actually carnivorous plants and to refer to their parts as leaves and roots and stalks in the typical sense is actually not entirely accurate. The reason for their name refers to their specialized "bladder" like parts that acts as a trap for underwater such as mosquito larvae and water fleas. When the insect brushes up against tiny hairs, it triggers this bladder which opens and sucks in the nearby prey along with the water it's in.

Another Bladderwort - I had some trouble figuring exactly which species this was as Newcombs only lists so many and the identifying features seem to come down to width of its lower lip. It seems to me this is Flat-leaved Bladderwort (U. intermedia). What's unique about this Bladderwort is that it grew in the soil from just one thread of a stem, none of it's "leaves" visible. Turns out this plants feeds off of protozoa that swim in water-saturated soil. Makes sense, considering I found this little yellow face in the black wet soil along one of the boardwalks. I spotted only a handful few of these on the trail!

And lastly the cone of Long Leaf Pine (Pinus palustris). See my blog post
for more information about how to make a medicinal tea and it's properties!

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