Sunday, June 9, 2013

Week One: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

The Spirit of Adventure has been with me on my first week of this small odyssey. I have always felt that if you plan a trip fully, with an itinerary for every day, and nothing goes wrong then you has simply followed  a list of "what to do and when to do it". Adventure is never had from following a checklist. One of the best definitions I have ever heard of the "Adventurer" is : "one who lives by their wits". The best of us, the most famous of us adventurers, are all capable of on the spot problem solving and quick thinking. Eventually these adventurous folks quit worrying about things all together and have a calm head in some of the worst situations, just because they know they got this. Week one has been full of its good times and of course its challenges.

Day One - 6/4/13

This week starts out with the Bad.  Monday June 3rd was my start date but I didn't get out until Tuesday June 4th. The third did not work out because I had some last second business with friends and family in town. The 4th was going to be a great day. I was going to visit every Masseys location and say goodbye to all the people who helped me along on this road to becoming a successful outdoors-man and adventurer. I got through the New Orleans store and the Metarie store and had a great drive across the causeway to the store in Covington. The clouds on the lake were fantastic, perfect gulf thunderheads but the weird thing is that they created a bit of a cloud halo over the lake.

At the Covington store I picked up my lunch and then left out to Baton Rouge. I got to Baton Rouge about 1:30pm. This is where the bad happens. Ross, one of the employees Masseys Town Center, asked to see my rig on my jeep. I brought him out to it only to realize that my keys to unlock all of my gear, my bikes, my canoe, my cargo box, and gear box, were not with me. Frantically I called the New Orleans Masseys asking about them. I had removed  my store key and given it to the new assistant manager and left the set of lock keys in New Orleans, 80 miles away. Brainstorming for a solution, the first and most economical thing that comes to mind is, I need to find some where to crash for the night in Baton Rouge and wait until 1pm on the 5th, when the keys can come in on the Masseys transfer truck, to get out of town. I committed to this for a while but had some trouble finding a place to crash and that is when I thought of a new solution: Robin, an employee at Masseys Metarie, lives in Covington and passes the Covington Masseys on the way home. Covington is only about 55 miles out of Baton rouge and I figured I could go north on I-55 from there and camp in Mississippi for the evening, if Robin could get me the keys by 7pm, that way I wouldn't have to waste a day and get on the road again. Robin met me by 6:30pm and I was on my way to camp for the night.

I never made it to Mississippi that night though. I went only as far as Bouge Chitto State Park in Louisiana. I hoped that because it was later I could stealth camp and avoid the nasty 25 dollars for over night. The patrol ranger caught me at about 830 and told me to pay up so I did and spent my night.

Day Two - 6/5/13

My second day was not exactly "smooth" either you could say. I was trying to stick to my rules on driving under 50mph and only going about 250 miles at a time. The only place I could find on the map that was in my general direction was this National Forest in Mississippi off HWY 61, the Delta National Forest. It wasn't exactly 250 miles, it was a bit under so I took the opportunity to visit Grand Gulf Military Historical Park that was on the route. I decided to go at the last second and turned around on the HWY after I had already past it. It was a Civil War site and I actually started camping because I wanted to visit these sites while working on my Southern History degree.

I never heard of Grand Gulf but I figured it played a part in the siege of Vicksburg. Sure enough that was the case. Grand Gulf is one of the few place in the United States where and entire community was destroyed entirely by War.

 Grand Gulf served as a placement for the some of the Confederates famous "flying battalions" which were highly mobile Artillery units. Remember that the Civil War was right at the start of industrial warfare and to be mobile with large cannon was quite a skill and caused some serious havoc to the Union forces.

The artillery were placed on this hill here (it was a plantation back in the 1860's and had no trees) with clear sight of the Mississippi river and, due to their height on the bluff,were unable to be hit by union ships on the River. The siege of Grand Gulf by the Union lasted four weeks. The gun placement here was protecting Vicksburg and before it could fall, Grand Gulf had to also. The Union landed on a near by waterway one night and snuck into the town and torched everything. Grand Gulf was over and in the next few weeks Vicksburg fell and the South lost control over the Mississippi.

I departed the park after my history lesson for the day and headed up to the Delta National Forest. I took the scenic route and ended up on the Mississippi River Trail the MRT. It was actually a one lane road that eventually turned into a gravel washboard road. Exciting. I managed to find my way back to the main highway through the help of a local farmer that I stopped and asked for directions. I found my way back to the highway but the ominous sign of rain was everywhere.

 I pushed it hard to the camp site so I didn't have to set up in the rain. The forest only had dirt washboard roads so I bit my lip and pushed on as quickly as I could. I got to my first site only to find this:

 Not exactly ideal right before it rains. I decided to head north in the forest on the dirt road and find another site but all of them were under water. This place wasn't a forest it was a swamp! It started looking real bad

and I was certain I was in trouble

but I managed to find a site and set up before it unleashed. I bolted out of my jeep and set up camp quickly only to realize that the brush and  foliage on the ground was all poison ivy. (its actually a miracle I don't have the Poison ivy, apparently I have finally developed my immunity after countless cases of having it)

 I was in such a hurry I didn't even realize that I also had a cloud of mosquitoes around me. The wind picked up and suddenly not more than 15 feet from my tent a large widow-maker (dead limb of a tree) falls from a tree and that is when I got a bit concerned. I hunkered down in the  tent

 and waited... and waited... and waited... and watched the pressure drop on my barometer and it never rained.

The rain threat subsided and I decided to spend my afternoon mountain biking just to enjoy the evening and to get away from the mosquitoes. I managed to find a drinking water spigot near one of the ranger stations in the forest and was super stoked to find that.

Right next to the spigot too was a 4x4 trail that I thought would be awesome for mountain biking. I got maybe 1/8 of a mile in the trail and got into trouble. Thorn bushes ripped off my flip flops (why did I even attempt something serious with flip flops I dont know) and I had to walk barefoot through the poison ivy. I returned to camp and called it a night.

Day 3 - 6/6/13

The first two days had a bit of adversity but it wasn't anything too serious. Day three however finally allowed me the luxury to relax and enjoy myself and so began "The Good". I made it to Bear Creek Lake in Arkansas and found a secluded campground that was empty of anyone. I picked the primo spot next to the lake and launched my canoe.

I explored the lake for a few hours and returned to camp where I got the setup rolling. Tent decked out inside with luxuries, Hammock set up with killer view, Solar setup, bikes in operation and use of the canoe. I could finally relax and even practice my photography with the local fauna!

A mostly uneventful day but very relaxing and enjoyable day. Nice temps and light wind, no more mosquito cloud either.

Day 4 - 6/7/13

The Good continues.  I had been swayed by my good friends Holly and Will, former Arkansas residents, to go back to Buffalo National River for a float trip. They had told me to go check out Buffalo River Outfitters for a good price on a shuttle. Good price? good price??!?!?! more like $160 to do the trip I wanted to even with my own canoe. "Screw that!" I said and my wits went to work. I had been brainstorming this idea of "Self Shuttle" and I had everything I needed to do it.  The plan is simple. Go to your launch point on the river and unload all gear and the boat. I went to Shine Eye launch and secured everything in the woods far away from wandering eyes. Step one was complete. Step two was to go to my recover point where I would pull the boat out of the water. I drove the jeep over to my pull out point at Sandy Hole about 10 miles down river and then proceeded to step 3 of the "Self Shuttle". Step three was to mountain bike back to the canoe and gear at the launch point. Now, it is worth mentioning that to get from the launch to the recovery point was a bit of a drive on dirt roads and with about 400feet of elevation gain. I was not to thrilled to get on my MTN bike pretty green and do this 8 mile bike ride. Looking at the map of the area revealed an old trail near sandy hole that lead about half the way back to the launch point. I found it and a marker that said "no mountain bikes" and I simply ignored it. This was an awesome idea because it spared me about 3 big hill climbs and about 40 min of time.

Even though this short cut saved me some of the jeep road action I still had to climb the main hill on the road out but the view was nice!

Coasting downhill at 35mph on a mountain bike for a 300ft of drop was pretty fun too I must say. Good thing I had my helmet! Step four of the self shuttle had no problems; the canoe and gear were all recovered safely and the bike was locked up where the canoe was. I got everything loaded up and prepared to set out!

The weather was perfect and the water temp was incredible it made for a great day on the river and my canoe handled everything just right.

Buffalo River was the first river to be labeled as a National River and incorporated into the National Park System under the Department of the Interior. Anyone who visits the river can see why, it is just a stunning place. I got to my sand bar that I was going to camp at and decided that it might be a good idea to just sleep out on the sand bar rather than pitch the tent. It was a great idea.

Day 5 - 6/8/13

Honestly, I refused to wake up this morning. I slept soooo well the night before. The only thing that got me out of the sleeping bag was the sun in my face and the idea that the river outfitters would be putting tubers and canoes in the water by 10am. I got up and decided to try out my kitchen set up that I invested in prior to the trip.

pancakes? anyone? bacon? yes I did.

I actually ended up underestimating the distance I traveled on the first day and realized fairly quickly that I was nearing my pull out point. I decided that it would be a good idea to just get to the jeep and load it up for the drive the next day and just camp at Sandy Hole. Now when I parked the Jeep at sandy hole I thought that it was a fairly remote  and off the main radar. It wasn't. My jeep was still there safe but there was another jeep and a church group that just showed up. I decided that it was only 2pm so I would load everything up and go to step 5 of the self shuttle. Step 5 of the self shuttle is to recover the bicycle. I had the option of hiking the hiking trail all the way back or just driving. I really wanted to do the hike but I rationalized it would take about 3 hours to hike and ride the bike back to the pull out point and that would put me getting to my camp for the night at a late hour past sunset. I did not want to do that so I just recovered the bike with the jeep. The self shuttle mission was a success and I had a cold one to celebrate completing a trip that would have cost $160 through my own ingenuity and tenacity.

My plan was to drive to the middle of Oklahoma for the night and cut clear across to New Mexico on Sunday, by-passing my mountain bike trip at Palo Duro state park in Texas. I got about half way to the site when I got tired and the sun was setting so I pulled into the nearest campground. Luckily it was a free campground but it was loaded with people and for the love of me I couldn't understand why this tiny campground in the middle of BFE Oklahoma was stacked with people. I found out why at about 930pm. Less than a mile away from the campground was a motor speedway. I just love the sound of drag racing and NASCAR at 10pm when im trying to sleep!

Day 6 - 6/9/13

Now the Ugly, can't forget about that. Leaving the motor speedway site prior to sunrise I was hoping to truck it out with the jeep all the way to New Mexico and maybe catch sunset in the actual mountains. That did not happen. I am in a hotel room in Stillwater OK currently. On the way into town from Tulsa I noticed a weird problem with the jeep. At 1100 miles into the trip the first vehicle issue has surfaced! If the jeep is under stress or load, IE accelerating, going up hill, at interstate speed, she would cut out for a second and then the engine would kick back with a jerking motion to the cab. I stopped immediately when I realized it was a problem and not an anomaly and pulled out my maintenance manual. Troubleshooting the issue I ruled out the transmission being that I have a manual transmission, shifting was smooth and there was no gear grinding. I called my father and talked to him about it  while consulting my shop manual and we came to the conclusion that either the timing was wrong or the spark plugs were misfiring. Luckily not a major issue. I noticed that it wouldn't do this "lunge" at speeds under 35mph. I knew I was about 8 miles outside of Stillwater and that it was a sizable town so I slowly drove in. As it happens a gentleman was working on a few hotrods in his own personal shop just outside of town. I discussed the issue with him and he concurred that it sounded like a spark plug or timing issue. He recommended a few good places in town to check out tomorrow being that all the shops are closed for Sunday. Stillwater has a fairly decent infrastructure for auto repair and a number of parts shops so I am not totally concerned. Looking around for a place to stay for the evening I found the University of Oklahoma and also its bar strip. I know where Im going tonight! My hotel wasn't ready until 3pm but I met a gentleman at a local coffee shop that warned me against a number of the auto shops here that prey on the ignorant college students. Very helpful information, he also pointed me in the direction of the local gear shop! I know where I'll be tomorrow as they work on my Jeep.

A good adventurer has the ability to talk to strangers and take advantage of their aid and help, this is key for anyone who wants to be successful on the road, trail, or their journey. I can not stress it enough that people can make an adventure. Seek their help. The guy who gave me the info about the bad shops even offered to let me lock my canoe in his yard while they work on my jeep (its a hindrance to accessing underneath the hood) but the hotel already covered that. I do want to call the gear shop Summit CO. in the morning and ask them to house the cane for the day. I want to see if their is some solidarity amongst us gear junkies!

It does suck that they jeep ran into trouble already at a week in but I figured that any real problems would surface early and hopefully this is the case. I am not letting this put a sour note on the trip though. It is an Ugly situation but i am optimistic that it is a relatively simple issue that can be fixed in a day for a minimal charge. I am committed to keeping this going as long as I can. Even if they say the engine is busted, I'm gona  have them find one and put a new one in and wait until its done here in Stillwater and then we are heading to the mountains! I will not be discouraged, I will not be deterred, I will persevere, I will conquer. As I hinted at with the beginning of this post, the way to judge the caliber and ability of an adventurer is their ability to deal with adversity while thinking on their feet.


Lagniappe? anyone?

Buffalo River from mumblefords on Vimeo.


  1. Enjoyed reading about your 1st week adventure!! Look forward to more post. Enjoy it all!