Sunday, January 3, 2016

Backpacking with the boys

The scout troop decided they wanted to do the backpacking merit badge, which includes 3 three-day trips of at least 15 miles each, and a week long trip of 30 miles. On Saturday we had the "warm up" hike of 7 miles with full packs along the beach to see who was really serious. Then we left at 5 a.m. Monday for Myakka River State Park near Sarasota for the first three day hike.

Here we are checking the maps and starting out the trek.

The trail was swampy at times with some wildlife. The baby alligators were hidden away in the swamp water so well that we couldn't get a good picture from the bank and no one wanted to get in the water for a closer shot. The snake may be a pigmy rattler who has just swallowed his meal. Some saw a bear in the brush just after dark. Needless to say, they saw the importance of hanging up the food in a bear bag at night to keep the night critters away.
The first day we hiked for 8 hours for 14 miles with rest stops every couple of hours when we found a spot of shade and a wide spot in the trail. Sometimes when I would lie down on my backpack to rest, one of the boys would come over and ask this 74 year old, "Are you dying?" lol. I told them "Thompsons are stronger than that. I'm just pacing myself!"
Everyone was told to carry enough water for at least two days since there would be no water available until the last night. The leaders all carried 8 liters of water but the boys thought that seemed like too much so only brought 2 liters each. That means they ran out on the first day. The leaders shared their water and then we showed them how to purify swamp water so we could make it through the next two days. I don't have a picture of the last filter stage, but you can see that the water looks like watered down Dr. Pepper. It had the taste of mushrooms. The last two days we filtered water for 10 two liter soda bottles each day for everyone to have at least two liters of drinking water to carry plus some extra for cooking to keep 6 scouts and 3 leaders hydrated.
Do these look like happy campers? You don't see me by my tent the first night as I was so exhausted at nightfall (5:30 p.m.) that I crawled in my tent and immediately fell asleep for 13 hours. The second night our campsite had an old fashioned well with a hand pump. I put on my swim suit and did a wash down in the cool water while grandson David pumped the water. I was immediately refreshed and ready for the last day of hiking. The well water had to be treated too. Everyone thought the swamp water actually tasted better even though the well water was clear!
Here we are at the end of the hike. Because of which campsites we were able to reserve, it was going to be a 35 mile rather than the required 15 hike. But with short cuts that the patrol leaders identified on the map, it was only 28.7 miles according to the pedometer that one of the leaders carried. The park rangers warned us to stay on the hiking trails, biking trails, and roads because otherwise we might be wrestling gators, snakes, wild pigs, and bears while walking chest deep through the swamps. We found lots of traces of all of these animals along the trails. The scouts now know how to read a map to find the most efficient and safe route through the wilds of Florida.
Since this was a "winter" hike in Florida, it was only in the low 80s in the day and 60s at night--hot enough for me to sweat 10 lbs of water in spite of drinking 6 liters each day and cold enough to get chilly at night if I hadn't brought dry night clothes. Everyone is excited and ready for the next hike, which may be in the mountains of Georgia or Tennessee during spring break--perhaps even in the snow. Can Florida boys do that?


  1. So does it still count even though it wasn't quite 30 miles? Also, it looks like you found your way to sleep through the night! You just have to hike 15 miles a day!

  2. This was one of the 15 mile hikes. Two of the older boys hiked David out to the highway the second night so his dad could pick him up to fly to Australia the next morning. That was 2 miles each way, so they did 30 miles.