OLDS: Caving

For our next section we went caving and had a small primitive skills section.
Caving was a blast because it was essentially playing in the mud, but underground.
For the first two days of caving we split into two groups. Our first cave was mostly mud and dirt to crawl through and throw at each other (which was the best part and also). The caves were so dark and cool and damp, the opening of the cave even felt like air conditioning coming from the ground. Inside the cave we threw mud at each other, crawled through the dirt, saw bats, and turned our lights off to experience real pitch black darkness (literal actual complete darkness). We also had to administer WFR skills because a substantial amount of mud ended up in my ear.

The second cave was a more technical experience in that there was less mud fights and more squeezing through tight spaces. I definitely enjoyed playing in the mud more, but exploring rock tunnels was fun too!

The last two caves were a mix of both mud slinging and rock squeezing. There was also a room where people made mud sculptures, a huge mud slide, and an underground river that we swam through to get out of the cave.

In the middle of caving we did a couple days of primitive skills. During this section we covered debris shelter building, basic fire assembling, map and compass reading and orienteering, and to top it all off we each killed a chicken (most of us with our hands) and then skinned them. The point of this section was to teach us very basic survival skills should we ever find ourselves in a situation without the proper gear and shelter. On the very first night of this section we were given a paper bag with various survival items and had to use them to build a shelter and start a fire. My partner and I had a magnesium stick and cotton swabs for our fire.

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Our primitive skills location

During this section we also had a 40 hour solo. We were each dropped off in a section of the woods about 200 yards from our neighbors. This time was meant for us to reflect on our semester, spend time with the Lord, and relax. It came at a very opportune moment for me as I was sick as a dog and needed some time to recover. In the beginning of the solo I had to set the tent up by myself, which was quite a time.

During the solo I spent the day alternating between praying, reading from the book of Jeremiah, journaling, writing poetry, and singing worship songs (there was also a couple naps thrown in). I also spent some time listing out sins I struggle with and praying for the Lord to help me deal with them. It was a refreshing and incredible time of simply sitting with God and allowing Him to speak to me and help me process different things.

 

One of the poems I wrote during the solo sums it up perfectly:

I lay on the leaves and
watch the wind push them
from the sky to the ground.
They fall and dance
with the clouds and sun
before becoming a carpet
and place for me to rest
my body and mind as
I think on a Creator
who laid these leaves
down years before for
me to feel His peace
from and see His
power and experience
a love deep enough
to let me feel the
wind on the leaves
and know He gave them to me to remind
me of Him and me
and Him in me

This whole semester showed me how nature can be an outlet for worshiping God and spending time with Him, but the solo really showed me the value of going out alone into a completely distraction free situation with nothing to do other than spend time with the Lord.
That being said, sleeping alone in the woods was a terrifying experience, but nevertheless I prevailed.

Our teachings primarily covered Ephesians 4, 5, and 6:1-9.
Ephesians 4 talked about speaking with authority and realizing that we, as believers, are a threat to the enemy. Also, not letting anger have a hold on us but realizing that God can handle our anger so we should give it to Him.

Ephesians 5 discussed the importance of being precise in the way we imitate Christ; we are to represent Christ in a way that shows people exactly who He is.

Ephesians 6 covered the topic of marriage. We discussed this in a group, which was a good way to hash out our thoughts and learn from each other.

Overall, caving was an experience unlike anything I had ever done before. Being underground is like being in a whole other world, not to mention sliding down mud and swimming in underground rivers was a blast.

Wekiwa Springs

Taking a break from my wilderness semester blogging to catch ya’ll up on a more recent excursion!

From 12 May to 13 May my dad and I camped at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which is in the Orlando area. The park boosts paddling on Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run, camp sites ranging from RV hook ups, tent sites with water and electricity available, to primitive sites that can only be accessed by canoe or kayak, an educational nature center, hiking and horse trails, and a spring-fed swimming hole.

My dad and I arrived around 5pm, set up our hammocks at our campsite, and went for a swim in the spring water. The water was crystal clear and 72 degrees, which is where it stays year round. Because this park is so popular a small beach has been built around the water and there are steps that can be used to enter the water in order to make it more user friendly.

Our campsite was very populated with tents as well as campers and RVs, there was even one refurbished school bus. Every campsite had been reserved for the weekend so we had may neighbors.

For dinner we had Good to Go meals, which are dehydrated meals you add boiling water to and then eat! Not quite as satisfying as cooking over a camp stove, but definitely better than an MRE. After some chitchatting around a would be fire if not for a state-wide fire ban we each climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed.

For breakfast we had tea and coffee courtesy of an MSR pocket rocket and oatmeal, which I made bearable with a handful of craisins and some Nutella.

Wekiwa struck me as a very family friendly and easily accessible place to camp and hike. People of all outdoors skill levels and interests could find something to do here. I cannot speak for the primitive sites, but the sites with water access and electricity hookup were perfect for someone looking for an easy car camping trip.

Though being very populated and therefore noisy with much artificial light it was a nice place to sleep outside for a short, quickly planned one night camping trip. However, for someone looking for a more authentic wilderness camping experience I would recommend a less popular camping area or checking out a primitive site.

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Underwater selfie game strong

Summer Camping

Camping in the summer? In Florida?

Definitely as crazy as it sounds, yup.

Although not terrible 🙂

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27-28 May 2016
Withlacoochee State Forest, primitive campsite

My dad and I packed everything up on Friday and walked 4 miles into our campsite from the state forest parking lot.

We stayed at a primitive campsite, meaning there was no water source or close neighboring sites. We had a picnic table, fire pit, plenty of space for a tent, and almost perfect hammocking trees.

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After setting up camp we hiked over to the river (Withlacoochee River) in order to cool off. The river had a nice sandy shore and down a little from where we were a rope swing hung above the water. The water was murky and had an orange tint from the trees. Lots of bubbles attached to unseen river life appeared on the surface mysteriously.

 

After swimming we came back to camp and had a dinner of MREs and a fire building lesson. After hanging out for a bit we went to bed. It was terribly hot, almost too hot to sleep, but our insomnia was awarded with the nostalgic sight of fireflies lighting up the night sky.

On Saturday we hiked a ten mile loop off of our campsite. Hiking in Florida in the summertime is not necessarily something I say I recommend. The heat was almost unbearable, making the hike a lot less pleasant than it could have been. I also got a number of blisters from my hiking boots…not the best day spent on the trail.  Following another lunch of MREs and some more hanging out in our hammocks (ha ha, get it?) we packed up camp and headed home.

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2o-21 August 2016
Withlacooche State Forest, Crooked River campgrounds, site 63

For this camping trip we opted to stay in one of the tent only campgrounds, meaning each campsite was marked off with a number and came equipped with a potable water source, a place to park your car, a picnic table, a firepit with a removable grate, bathhouse access, and the potential for neighbors.

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On Friday afternoon we set up our tent and hammocks, but this time we had bugs nets for our hammocks as well. We hiked a trail right along the river, but I am unsure of the mileage. The trail was very canopied and the sky was a little cloudy and it was almost evening time, so the weather felt very pleasant.

After finishing the hike we attempted to build a fire. We started out with a cottonswab soaked in vaseline (it works, I swear), tinder, and twigs. Following that we added more twigs and then bigger pieces of wood, stoking the coals and flames along the way. All things considered, it should have been a great fire, but all the rain we’ve been getting had made everything damp so the flames never quite caught the bigger pieces of wood. We worked at the fire for almost an hour, adding lint, steel wool, more wood, trail maps, several more matches, and even toilet paper, but it never become a solid, roaring fire. However, we did manage to get enough flames to make a few s’mores and thats really what matters most.

After s’mores we had an MRE dinner and then played a couple hands of a card game called Spit that I learned at summer camp from some campers. Around nine we climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed (the tent was set up incase it started to rain at night). After about an hour of reading Harry Potter with my headlamp I went to bed. In my hammock (ENO double nest) I had a small inflatable backpacking pillow and a woobie, which is a poncho liner that is standard issue in the army. Essentially, its a poncho liner that can also be a blanket, rain tarp, insulator, something to sleep on top off, etc. Its thin and light but also warm and rain resistant. 10/10 would recommend getting one off Amazon.

I slept very well in my hammock. The air was cool so I wasn’t hot, the wind was minimal, and it didn’t end up raining after all. The moon was so bright it practically lit up the whole sky.

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The next morning after an MRE breakfast and coffee and tea courtesy of a small portable camp stove we packed up camp and drove to our next hike location. We hiked a short 2 miles in another part of the Withlacooche. The heat and bugs were killer, so we hiked short and then drove on the dirt roads cutting through the woods before going home.

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Camping in Florida in summer might be slightly insane, but, despite heat and bugs, not summer is complete without a camping trip.