Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yes, you can take it with you. As long as you are in a kayak

     This is most of what I shipped in my kayak for a three-day, two-night exploration of Perdido Key in the Gulf Island National Seashore, Florida last weekend.  From left to right: blue bag has take-a-part steel sand chair, yellow dry bag has regular Therma-Rest, black stuff stack has down bag, red net bag has food, small Coleman ice chest has more food, big net bag has assorted outerwear that has no other home in the yak, the #10 clear dry bag, more clothes (I thought it would be colder), smaller #5 clear bag has electronics and wallet and keys and stuff like that, and every thing aft of that is tent, poles, tarp, extra sand pegs for tarp, ropes.  There is also a green #10 dry bag that serves the kitchen with a stove, two pots, two cups, and a bag for small stuff like forks, spoons, knife, matches, flashlight.  On the boat are my PFD, quart Nalgene water bottle, pump, paddle float, two kayak paddles, and probably a map but the picture has scrolled out of sight so I can't tell.  There may also be a deck compass but I don't see it.  What is not shown is the bug dope.  I will never forget that again.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jourdan River offers kayakers a challenge and some nice birding.

     Near Kiln, MS, a gin clear Bayou Bacon fans out inches deep over a tabletop flat, tan sand shelf.  The flow joins a slightly larger and cola-colored Catahoula Creek to form the Jourdan River, about 20 feet across here at the confluence.  Shrubs and small trees punctuated by the occasional tall pine tree crowd Bacon's bank, hiding the source of the clear flow from view.  But looking upstream at Catahoula the landscape is more open, the vegetation well back exposing lots of nearly white sand as if proud to display the pristine waters of the Catahoula at its center.
     Bacon and Catahoula flow through private land so both, and the land around them, are off-limits to the casual explorer.  But the confluence of the two creeks can be explored by the paddler--canoe or kayak--willing to make the effort to get there.
     Because all the land on either side of the Jourdan from Bayou Bacon to McLeod Water Park,  five miles down stream, is private, McLeod is the closest access.  There are no shuttles, no access across private property, no roads with bridges that cross upstream that could shorten the trip.  If you want to experience this little slice of heaven in Mississippi you have to paddle upstream for five miles.
     It's not that bad, really.  At McLeod the Jourdan is an estuary connecting to St. Louis Bay, off Mississippi Sound  Here tidal flows are measured in inches so there is little if any current.  And the current stays noticeably slack for about the first three miles toward Bayou Bacon; like a lake with dark, dark water.  Keep to the right after leaving the boat ramp then turn left as you enter the river.
     The scenery here is coastal flood plain.  Often there are marshes with cordgrass and wild rice, food for the many feeding, resting and migrating birds that visit the river.  The banks are low, with dense vegetation.  The rare sandbar is only a few inches above the river's surface.  But at at about the four mile mark, a slight current can be detected by looking at the upstream "V" formed by the flow around snags.  There are more sandbars here.
     The final push to Bayou Bacon begins about a half mile downstream from the confluence.  If your heart rate has not risen yet, it will now.  Paddling becomes labored and care must be taken that you don't loose your heading and are swept sideways to capsize on a snag.  But at this point the river really does look like a creek and it is beautiful.
     There are no signs of habitation the entire trip as this section of the river lies within the 212 square mile NASA  noise buffer zone, set up when the Stennis Space Center, a booster rocket testing facility was built in the early 1960's.  Landowners could keep their land but building on it was severely restricted.  Please respect the property rights of these landowners as you paddle the Jourdan.
     At the confluence there is a shady sandbar to stop, relax and have lunch before the trip back to McLeod.   Look for eagles.  How are your animal tracking skills?  Try to identify the many tracks in the wet sand at the sandbar. 
     The entrance to the park's boat ramp is easy to miss.  There are no signs.  If you pass a big sign warning of an underground pipline you have passed the entrance to the boat ramp.
     The water level in the river is fairly constant but can rise after rain on the watershed as the muddy leaves on the picture with this article attest.  A higher river means a faster current making a trip upriver that much harder or even impossible.  The only gage is near the river's mouth and that measures tidal fluctuations too.

Jourdan River Blueway

     About eight and a half miles of the Jourdan River has recently been named by the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain ( as a blueway.  The confluence of Bayou Bacon and Catahoula Creek--the headwaters of the Jourdan River--is mile zero.  There are mile posts along the river and occasionally every half mile.  They are set back a bit from the river's edge so look for them.  According to my GPS reading, up to mile post three the distances were spot on.  But milepost four appeared to be about a quarter of a mile short of the actual distance and this error was consistant until the entrance of McLeod.  A brochure about the blueway, with a map, is available at the land trust web site.  The map accurately posts the distance from the confluence to the park at five miles, actually about 5.1 miles.
     A word about motorboats and personal watercraft on the Jourdan.  WARNING!!!  The river below McLeod is a popular area for high-speed water sports.  The section of the river flowing past McLeod is posted a no wake zone.  But upstream there are no speed limits.  There are few snags here and it is not uncommon to encounter a speeding boat or more likely personal water craft--some PWC's are nearly as big as a subcompact car--roaring around a tight bend in the river.  Their wakes, if they do not slow down and some don't, can swamp a canoe or narrow kayak.  Stay out of the center of the river, don't wear ear buds, and if you have enough warning of their approach, turn your craft perpendicular to the wake waves.  Cool weather takes some of the PWC's off the river but I have been surprised by them in February.
     The blueway extends about three miles down river from McLeod but for the above reasons there is little to recommend this stretch to paddlers.
     Admission to McLeod is $2.  The single boat ramp (there is a double boat ramp too) is flanked by a grassy bank for those who need to launch composite boats.  The park offers full service camping and primitive camping.  In this case primitive really means primitive--each site has nothing, no table, grill or even a gravel road to it.  The bathrooms are a half mile away.  But at several sites you can be next to the river.   The telephone number of the park is (601) 467-1894.
     Hey kids!!!! Want to go to a big Halloween Party!!!  Talk your folks into taking you to McLeod Water Park for their WEEKEND LONG  Halloween party, this year set for October 20-21.  Sarcasm aside, the park's annual Halloween party is one of the few--but not the only--times the park is crowded in the fall and winter.  Most of the time in the months it is too cold to swim the park is pretty empty.  But if that is what you are looking for call to make sure.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Monthly TatoNut Bicycle Ride in Ocean Springs is best social ride in the South

NOTE:  The TatoNut ride for Saturday Nov. 3 will probably begin at the foot of the Ocean Springs Bridge, to the west of the regular meeting near the Ocean Springs Visitor Center.  This is probably a one-time deal and is necessary because of the crowds that will be attracted to the Peter Anderson Festival held at the same time as the TatoNut ride.  The ride start time is still 9 a.m. sharp.  Check the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club for the latest details.     

 Ocean Springs, MS, is a thriving artist colony with a hip, upscale downtown and plenty of open-air cafes and eateries.  It is also the venue for one of the best social rides in the South: The TatoNut ride held the first Saturday of each month.
     Cyclists from the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club lead the 17 mile ride which often attracts 50 to 60 riders from the Ocean Springs/Biloxi area.  Riders gather at the park across from the Ocean Springs visitor's center, leaving promptly at 9 a.m.   After a few turns through the Norman Rockwell-esque downtown riders are on a paved path along the town's sandy beach.  Across Biloxi Bay high rise casinos crowd the shoreline.
     Next the group spins past the municipal marina where fresh-from-Gulf shrimp is sold by the watermen who caught the tasty crustaceans.  After entering the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi District, riders pass a variety of coastal environments from salt marsh to piney uplands.  Most of route is flat, though you might enjoy having a bicycle with gears just in case the wind comes up.  The two park road overpasses serve as the "hilly" part of the ride.
     This is a no-drop ride, meaning experienced road weenies won't leave behind the less experienced riders who want to see more of the scenery than the butt and rear wheel of the rider in front.  The group is also followed by a "sweep" who knows the route and can round up any stragglers.
     A bicycle route using existing streets of the small town was mapped and brochures first printed about 20 years ago.  The Live Oaks Bicycle Route, as it was called, was a 15.5 mile loop with lots of turns and even a few low hills.
     The Tato-Nut ride eliminates many of the confusing turns and steers clear of the town's artsy-craftsy core.  (This area can be easily explored on foot after the ride is over.)    GCBC trip leaders keep a friendly pace with several stops during the ride for participants to regroup.
     Be sure to get your name in the hat for the pre-ride drawing for several free meal tickets good at a local Sicily's Italian Buffet. (A Sicily's manager is a GCBC member)  And, of course, after the ride are the TatoNuts.  These delicious morsels, made of fried potato flour, glazed or with chocolate frosting, are the perfect melt-in-your-mouth treat after a hard???? 17-mile ride.  It didn't take long for the October 6th riders to devour seven dozen.  That is why the picture is not of riders in their colorful "kits" eating TatoNuts in the bright October sun.  I was not quick enough with the camera.
     The TatoNut shop is at 1114 Government St. in Ocean Springs and opens at 5 a.m. selling coffee and pastries and, of course, TatoNuts.  The GCBC website is

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Survival food for fifty cents a serving

     You don't have to be exerting yourself to the max when bicycling, paddling or hiking to really turn up the calorie burn.  Just an hour of bicycling at 13-miles per hour can burn 600 calories.  So no matter how long you plan your trip to be, always carry a snack, you know, for just in case.
     But what?  I like Little Debbie snack cakes.  And my favorite is the Chocolate Chip Cream Pie.  The three ounce cookie, a delicious sandwich of two soft chocolate chip cookies with a white icing filling is a whopping 360 calories.  This breaks down to 16 grams of fat, five of those saturated and 58 grams of carbohydrates.  That's a lot of food for just fifty cents.
    Food, you ask?  Yeah, its food.  I recommend people stay away from high calorie, high fat, and highly processed snacky cakes pies and cookies most of the time.  This example has more calories and fat than some of the smaller hamburger offerings at McDonalds.  But it is because of that high sugar and fat content that it makes sense to pack one or two when leaving civilization for a long bike ride, paddle or hike. 
     Running low on sugar can cause problems.  Of the three nutrients your body uses for energy--carbohydrates, fat or protein, the brain can only use carbohydrate (sugar).  So when the brain detects sugar supplies are getting skimpy it moves to protect its supply by restricting sugar's distribution to other parts of the body such as heavily exercising arms and legs.  It IS good to be king!  Without the fuel they need, muscles in the body don't fire and you feel very tired.   If the body continues to try to burn sugar at an exhilarated rate the brain's sugar supply might become so low that decision making is impaired, bad news if you are alone or miles from anywhere.
     Preventing these bad outcomes is easy.  Just carry with you enough calories of carbohydrate to keep your body fueled.  And with 360 calories in just three ounces, the Little Debbie Chocolate Creme Pie is just the thing.  Doesn't take up much room in your pack or pocket and they stay fresh enough to eat for two weeks.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Life is in the details and that is especially true when it comes to camping.  For this reason do not casually choose your spoon.  Consider the usefulness of a broken spoon.  Not much.  So while Lexan and plastic spoons might appeal because, compared to metal spoons--ti excluded), they might be a bit lighter, beware the trade off might be having to eat dinner with your fingers.
Just to be safe I always carry a metal spoon, as a spare.  A spoon many might call an "ice cream spoon."  You know, a spoon strong enough to stand up to a carton of ice cream.  Hard ice cream.  That is the strength you want in a spoon when you are miles from the spoon store and the only thing that can bring that hot dinner from that pot to your mouth is the spoon you have with you.  If after that first or second bite you end up with half of an "unbreakable" spoon in your hand and the other half in the pot, you might wish you had "spent" a few extra ounces for a spoon that would hold up and be dependable.