In The Heat Of The Moment
With support from North St. Bags
I'm rocking in my hammock at 4am, listening to two mourning doves, and I find myself being curious why the duo have started their day so early. While I'd been roused from my sleep by them, had they been roused from their own sleep by some even smaller critter starting its day? I try not to let my mind dive too deep on this, less I trap myself in my own Eames Powers of Ten peeling back of the universe from where I sleep. "That can wait until sunrise," I think. I roll over to my other side, my consciousness slipping from the mourning doves' calls back into slumber, and the last thought that slips out is on the pleasant coolness of my clothes, still wet with sweat, despite my brow being dry for the first time that night.
In hindsight, it's much more obvious that these mourning doves were merely saying "Enjoy waking up at sunrise, moron," and two hours later I'd wake again, the sky now turning light blue, and my whole body already slick with sweat. If birds are waking up when they do to beat the heat, maybe I should too.
But damn if waking up to this ain't a consolation.
By riding around locked gates the night before, half of the park is ours and ours alone. Though the sunlight hasn't found its way to Archusa's waters, the air above becomes steadily warmer, causing a fog to poor over us. I don't think I've ever packed my hammock up in a more dramatic environment.
We finish packing as the sun breaks above the horizon, the lake's humid air sticks to us and we head off on a route taking us deeper into Mississippi. A gas station sits just outside the campground, and I think to myself a gatoraid would be nice. I had no idea how that thought would come to rule my life the next few days.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with the heat, I suppose.
This adventure supported by
North St Bags
Mississippi churches' highest priority
is to hit passers by with the sign sass.
There's no ceremony to our entrance into De Soto National Forest. Hell, there's not even a sign, instead the road we're on turns to dirt and we go from being on my phone-map's grey area to my phone-map's green area. We've arrived into the woods in the middle of the day, and though surrounded by gigantic slash pine, the sun sits right on top of us.
If you're looking at these pictures of the roads and saying "Dang, looks kinda sandy," you're not wrong. We tack from tire tracks pressed into the sandy clay by trucks, and to be fair it's pretty firm in those tracks, but these roads are so lightly used one can look at the tire tracks, the animal tracks, the wash outs, and get a good idea of everything that's happened on this road in the last few days. This is a long way of saying these roads don't see a lot of use.
"Johnny, I can't sit up yet, but grab my camera. This is probably a moment that should get captured."
Because, uh, I'm not saying I have heat stroke, but I'm not saying my body feels amazing right now either. Despite this, the heat can't take away the insight that you, dear reader, need to see our suffering to really understand our plight.
In Which We Find A Fire Tower
Suddenly it's like 3pm. It was, at best, noon when we arrived at the fire tower, but the shade, the air conditioning, the ice cubes held us hostage. At first we were laying in the shade with water bottles refilled from a molten hot hose. When a ranger walked by, he asked if we wanted to sit in the AC. Their break room was basically a walk-in freezer. After a few minutes other fellas in forestry uniform showed up. They were curious about our bikes. They were curious about our bags and our tires. Mostly, they were curious about why the hell we're out here in this hellish heat. But there's no answer that really satisfies them. Instead, we shoot the shit. Along the way we find out a lot about the De Soto. How WWII POWs were held here. How Hurricane Katrina had nearly demolished the entire national forest. The rangers laugh at our annoyance of every single person we've encountered in the last two days warning us about snakes.
"When it's hotter'n shit, a snake'll find a rock to slither under and ain't budgin' unless something tries to eat it."
Like, that's fair. To work in the De Soto National Forest is to constantly be fielding questions about snakes. More colorful conversations about snakes take place within the ranks. For two city boys, we're now armed with information for the next gas station attendant who listens to our itinerary bewildered. Life is different here, and with each day we learn how to be more a part of it.
In leaving the fire tower, we're still five hours from sun down. And to be honest, those five hours have three core agendas:
Keep drinking water.
Cover more miles.
Don't pass out.
Hitting the hard, bumpy gravel is familiar and refreshing compared to the soft sand. But, it's the last of our Improved Dirt Roads for the day, and we turn off onto a road that's little more than two tire tracks through the woods. It descends deeper into the forest, and the further we descend the ground gets softer, puddles appear, humidity builds.
We climb a few dozen feet out of the dogs into hardwood pine highland. All cards on the table here, I called a stop to our day despite the lingering daylight. I was feeling god awful. I immediately put my hammock up, and laid down, waking back up sweating profusely. So, I did what anyone would do here and sat up real quick to drink some of my remaining 80º water. I doubt that water even made it to my stomach before it made an about-face. I remember specifically, alongside looking down at the pile of puke and reassuring Johnny that I'm fine, how pissed off I was since now I'd have to restock all the undigested calories I just lost and drink more of my hot water. My first though is to build a fire and boil water for pasta.
The problem, of course, is that a fire makes the air even hotter. It feels disgusting to stand anywhere near. Once built, and then rejected, I extinguish it and opt to just eat apples and trail mix until I'm full. I'm bordering on delirium, as evidenced by only taking a cell phone pic of our photogenic campfire here in the wilds of Mississippi. I return to my trusty hammock, throw sticks over the barf so I don't step in it should I decide to use the commode in the middle of the night, and pass out while in the final, pink glow of the day.