Monday, January 14, 2008

Walking Through Fire

I set up camp near the end of the airstrip, just outside of the visitor's center. I could even hear the traffic from Highway 41, though it was a distant, muffled sound and posed no threat to my sleep.

The morning dawned, bright and cheerful, and it wasn't more than a couple of miles along the trail I saw the first evidence of a recent fire. Certainly nothing for me to be concerned about, though. It was pretty well burnt out, and looked like it could have occurred weeks ago.

The trail stayed high and dry, and I reached Seven Mile Camp a little before noon where I stopped for lunch. I decided to get throug Big Cypress using only the water I filled up with from the drinking fountin at the Osasis Vistor Center--the muck in Big Cypress didn't look too appitizing--so carefully conserved my water during lunch. Even going so far as to rinse the pot with water, then drinking it! Better to have that water in me than evaporating into the air, and I probably needed the few extra calories the food particles provided anyhow.

Then I threw out my ground sheet and went to sleep for two hours. This napping in the middle of the hottest part of the day was really appealing to me, and seemed to rest my feet for the next big push. The campsite didn't provide much natural shade, so I used the umbrella to shade my head once again.

A little into my nap, a small plane flew closely overhead, and I wondered if Jack was in it, doing a fly over to monitor hot spots. I wanted to wave, but didn't. Even if he did see me, he might think I was signaling for help--something I definitely did NOT want to happen. So I watched the plane fly overhead, then turn and bank flying over another parallel stretch of terrain.

At two o'clock sharp, my break was over. I packed up, and moved out.

Wasn't long before I came across my first still-smoldering log. The fire through here was VERY recent--it was still going! That's all it was, though, an occasionally log or tree smoldering like a spent campfire.

Until about an hour later, when I saw a thick, black smoke billowing into the sky. That's the kind of smoke, I thought, that Jack warned me to turn around if I saw. It wouldn't hurt to get a closer look, though, would it? Just to make sure the trail wasn't passable?

In a way, I felt strangely safe walking through this burnt-out smoldering wasteland--it had already burned! If the fire was as bad as it appeared in the distance, I could come back here--the fire would have nothing to burn to follow me back.

Finally I could hear the fire, crackling and consuming the forest. Occasionally, a heavy crashing sound pounded the forest, as if a tree finally fell to the firey onslaught.

The trail seemed to skirt around the edge of the fire, but heavy smoke and ash blew onto the trail and I pondered my choices. There was the prudent thing to do, like Jack suggested, and turn back. I, of course, did not do that.

Instead, I pulled out a hankerchief, with lots of survival advice printed on it--a small bit of irony there--and saturated it with water, then covered my face with it and charged through the smoke and fire.

The fire burned along perhaps 100 feet of the trail, but the smoke made my eyes water and I breathed through it for about 300 feet before escaping the channel of smoke. I was through.

The trail wound through Ten Mile Camp, smoldering logs and trees still burning around camp. Ironically, despite the fact that the camp was still on fire, it seemed like a safe place to bed down--the worst was already over here. There wasn't much left to burn--just the smoldering remains that were still burning.

Still, that wasn't my intended stop for the night. No, I pushed on to Thirteen Mile Camp (about seven or eight miles beyond Ten Mile Camp--not the three one would normally expect after subtracting ten from thirteen).

Ten Mile Camp pretty much marked the end of the burn area. There was another mile or so of trail that had burned, but the rest was easy going.

I still had to pay close attention to blazes--it was very easy to lose track of the trail if one didn't pay close attention to the blazes. Often, there would be no visible footpath at all, and you made your own path from blaze to blaze. The burned areas required even more attention since some of the blazes had burned or were on trees that fell after burning through at the base.

Several times, I spent ten or fifteen minutes scouting for the next orange blaze, and I could imagine a lot of less experienced hikers getting lost out here.

I made it into Thirteen Mile Camp near sunset and set up camp. The camp had a register, which I signed and warned about the fire near Ten Mile Camp for southbounders coming through, and so if Jack or anyone else from the park service were worried about me, they'd know I made it to Thirteen Mile Camp in good condition.

Then I wrote up some more adventures on my PocketMail device and went to sleep. It would be my first night at an official, designated campsite. The stars were twinkling, no motorized vehicles around, and the nearest person to me was probably half a dozen or more miles away. It was a beautiful night.


Anonymous said...

glad to hear you made it through safe and without having to deal very much with the fire itself. sounds like your shoes held up better today without all the muck. hope you have a well rested night. and look forward to the next adventure.......even though i know they soon are to be further apart.
can only imagine what the next chapter will be about.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear you got through safe and sound. What an adventure so far! Keep up the great work Ryan and thank you for the updates!

♥ Lady Lilac

Anonymous said...

Ryan you are a brave man;) A little strange, but brave;)LOL

I'm glad you made it through the fires safe and sound. It must have been a site to see.

Thanks for updating, I was wondering after your last post if you would make it through the fires.

Be Safe:)

Anonymous said...

Fire in the Big Cypress - sound like the original Steam Heat! You sizzle, Ryan. Happy Trails.
Grumpy Grinch

Trailtracker said...

Glad you were able to find your way from blaze to blaze. I wondered about that. Glad to hear you were going to get a good night's sleep!

Anonymous said...

What in the blazes....?! Just had to give you a good *finger shaking* in case you didn't already get one from Amanda and your mom! Us 'moms/wives' need to stick together... Naughty you! Don't know what would be worse-a crispy Ryan or a digested Ryan...

Happy trails- and stay safe!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're an experienced mailman - through rain, snow, sleet, hail..., fire, water, crocodiles, fish....!

Keep safe and have fun! We're all living vicariously through your adventures!

Midnight Adventures