Yesterday I returned from one of the most fun weeks that I’ve had in such a long time. My grandparents came back east to Myrtle Beach, SC to visit with some of our family members who came down from New York. Grandma called me about a month or so ago and asked if I’d like to come visit and stay with them. Um..heck yes!
However, the trip from my area of Florida to Myrtle Beach is quite the distance. It’s about an 11 hour drive, and it gets closer to 12 hours when you factor in rest stop breaks and eating. I figured it would be best to split the trip into two portions, stopping in Georgia for the night to camp.
I decided to camp at Fort McAllister State Historic Park in their backcountry campsite. They have two campsites set back about 75 yards from different points on the Redbird Creek Trail. The day I pulled in, the weather was close to 80 and the clouds were low and heavy with rain. While the forecast called for rain, I felt that I was safe for the time being. I checked in, and the lady at the desk gave me both my parking pass and an incredulous look, unable to believe that I was going to be camping alone without some sort of protector/husband alongside. Giving a haughty toss of what little hair I have, I turned and marched out of the center, ready for whatever this camping trip threw at me.
The first thing I noticed while pulling my pack out of the car was that the gnats were thick – if you stopped moving for even a moment, they’d swarm around your mouth and nose and ears. I put on my rain jacket, and cinched the hood up tight. After that they mostly left me alone, though I was upset at having to wear a rain jacket when it was so hot and humid out.
About half a mile into the very flat Redbird Creek Trail, I began to hear small drops of rain. I couldn’t feel anything (obviously thanks to my rain jacket), but I began to pass people running off of the trail, maps held over their heads for protection. On I trudged, following the blue blazes, tripping on a root here or there, and walking on bridges that passed over the wiregrass-filled salt marshes.
Then, in typical Southern fashion, the sky exploded and rain poured down in torrents. The spindly sand pines offered no protection from the downpour, and both myself and my pack were soaked within seconds. Making a mental note to buy a pack cover, I attempted to seek shelter and wait out the storm under a small palm tree. When that failed to protect me, I decided it would probably be best just to get to camp as quickly as possible and pitch the tent.
I arrived at backcountry campsite 1, right on the edge of the salt marsh. I found a spot near some trees and began to pitch my new REI tent. Thankfully, the REI Passage 2 person tent is very quick and easy to set up. Every time I stood still in an effort to clip the tent to the poles, the gnats would immediately swarm, covering both my glasses and my airways. I would step back, swipe furiously at my face, and attempt to finish setting up. It took longer than I would have liked, but in the end there was minimal rain inside the tent and absolutely no gnats.
I set up my mattress, my sleeping bag (a Marmot Angel Fire), and my Thermarest compressible pillow, and then turned my attention to dinner. Thankfully, the rain had slowed and the firewood I had strapped to the bottom of my pack wasn’t too wet. Within moments, a roaring fire was before me and a kettle of water was boiling for both dinner and tea. I’m still not a huge fan of the freeze dried dinners (especially when meat is involved), but the mashed potatoes and chicken dinner from Mountain House was a nice treat after being soaked to the bone in the rain. The rest of the night included reading Into the Wild while attempting to lay out my clothes in a way that would enable them to dry a bit before morning.
I woke up early the next morning. It had rained all through the night, and the rain was still coming down steady. I lay in my warm down sleeping bag, hoping that there would be a break in the rain that would give me a moment to pack up. Instead, it began to rain even harder, and the breeze picked up. I finally gave in, packing up the inside of my tent. I placed my full pack underneath a tree and quickly tore down the tent. Within minutes I was back on the trail.
Unlike the easy trail I hiked in on the day before, I found a completely flooded trail. In places where the trail was worn down by the hundreds of visitors to the park, the water was nearly ankle deep. I found myself unable to see some of the roots which had tripped me up the day before. My headlamp helped to spotlight some of the trouble areas, but 1.5 miles of puddles and leaves made for a slow and slippery hike. I found myself wishing for the trekking poles that I had left in my trunk the day before. Thankfully, the rain had done away with most of the gnats, so I was able to move slowly without being eaten alive. I arrived at the car, quickly changed into dry clothes, and hit the road at about 5:30am.
I loved camping by myself. Don’t get me wrong – I love having my husband and my dog out with me. However, there’s something special about having silent time in the wild. My grandparents were pretty worried about me being out there alone, and the fact that I had a knife didn’t seem to alleviate any concerns (though I have a really great knife). There was even a point where I became a bit skittish; the sounds of the rain striking the leaves in certain points sounded like someone was walking through my campsite. Of course, there was no one there, and after acclimating to the sound my heart eventually stopped racing. I’m not the type of person who wants to live life in fear of an attack by a human or an animal. Of course I’ll take certain precautions, but living fearfully is no way to live.
That said – If I had listened to grandma, I wouldn’t have had a 4:30am hike in the rain. Oh, well. My socks and shoes dried eventually, and I sure had some great stories to tell when I arrived at Myrtle Beach!