Blackwater State Park

The following morning I was feeling slightly worse for wear after the gig and wanted an easy day. We spent some time trying to find a better place to camp for the night, as this Walmart was right on the dual carriageway and very loud. It also meant we couldn’t let Aimee out, and she spent some time in the morning howling at us for our poor parking choices.

Having done some research on various free apps, it seemed they had really cracked down on free camping with loads of people being given $100 fines for trying to stay overnight in car parks. We didn’t fancy risking a massive fine and found one campsite around an hour away that was only $5, but you needed a permit. This was heading back East, but as we had several days to kill we though we would go back a little way and check out some of the surrounding area while we waited for Colin to return. We got to the office for permits just in time as they close early on a Saturday, and paid for our permit. We then had to watch a safety video as the campsites are on a active military base and there is a risk of finding shells and bombs around! All sorted, we did the 5 minute drive down to Anderson Pond campsite. It was a peaceful place, with only a handful of other people camped there. We set up the van and enjoyed the beautiful sunny day, while Amy was free to play around us and get stuck in trees. 77273161_10157329374999713_3508178477633241088_o

Later on we got a fire going, after have to clear out a whole pile of cans that the previous people had left in the fire pit and scattered around the bench. It’s a shame that some people have no respect for places, but we always try to leave somewhere tidier than we found it. We made jacket potatoes in the fire, and one of these days I am determined we will make smores!

Feeling much more human the following morning after a very peaceful night, we packed up the van, deciding to go and see Blackwater State Forest, which is only about a half hour drive from where we are. Ian had told us of a free campsite there and we thought a nice walk around Bear Lake sounded like a good plan.

We stopped off on the way at Starbucks as we needed to get some serious wifi usage in, and after several hours I had managed to catch up my slightly neglected blog and very neglected Youtube channel.

After not having moved much for most of the day, we wanted to get off to the start of our walk. Arriving at the lake, we realised that it was also a campsite, and were contemplating try to blag a free night when the camp host came to speak to us. He was called Kenny, and he kindly told us that he was a host for another campsite a few miles away that was free and even had showers! I have never seen a free campsite here with any facilities apart from a pit toilet and we were definitely sold. We said we’d head down there after our walk, so parked up and got ready to leave.

We were planning to do a 6 mile hike around the lake, but it was getting late when we got there and having changed time zones means that now gets dark here around 5.30pm. We decided to do the 4 mile hike instead and try to take Aimee along with us. I brought her backpack, and hoped that when she got tired enough to use it she wouldn’t make such a fuss about it. We started off walking around the perimeter of the lake, with some pretty views out over the water, and Aimee on her lead.75439549_10157329375084713_8440554564293230592_o

She’s never really followed a path with us before, and although she is used to being on a lead, I wasn’t sure how much walking we would be able to do before we carried her. I thought she might spend her time getting wrapped up around trees and trying to go the opposite direction as she had done previously. Initially, she took a bit of encouragement, but as soon as we got onto a clear path she trotted happily along next to us.

Occasionally she needed a few treats and some encouragement to keep her in the right direction, but on the whole she was happy to walk with us and walked about 3 miles out of the total 4 on her little legs. This made both of us very happy, as the more she can walk with us the less we will leave her in the van.76762524_10157329375369713_3165430522520272896_o

Towards the end she got tired and we put her in her rucksack. She stayed in there a good half an hour before she started whining to be let out and went back on her lead. This is a massive improvement on the first time, where I only managed to walk a matter of feet before she was screaming at me. I think we’re definitely training a successful van cat here. So many people are surprised to see a cat on a lead, but she really is more like a dog in that respect and certainly trainable.

It was pretty around the lake, with the still day giving some good reflections.

We saw some pitcher plants growing, which is the first time I’ve even seen these in the wild. I thought it was pretty cool.

The sun was starting to get low in the sky and gave us some nice views as we walked around.

As we arrived back at the car park, the sun was nearly setting giving some more picturesque views of the lake. As we headed out on the road a woman stopped us and asked if we were going to see Kenny. Here name was Gemma, and she told us she would be staying on that campsite later. She also reminded us of the directions Kenny had given us earlier, but warned us to hurry as we were losing the light and it’s not called ‘Wilderness Landing’ for nothing. We kept driving, and got to the point where we thought we must have missed it. We were out in the middle of the forest on dirt tracks with no sign of anything. Lee has used up all the data on his sim card, so I was in the process of trying to swap them over as my phone’s signal is rubbish. I managed to get the GPS co-ordinates and realised that we were right and actually less than half a mile away. We kept going and soon saw the sign, before heading down the track into the campsite. As we arrived we saw a big open space, but no clear indication of where to camp. In the distance a torch bobbed towards us, and soon Kenny appeared. He invited us to pull up next to another van and come and join their fire, which we gladly did.

Sat around a blazing fire, we met Mark and Terry. We sat there for several hours chatting, and Mark kind giving us some beers, as we hadn’t planned very well for the wilderness. It was getting late by the time we turned in for what I anticipated to be a very peaceful, if cold, night, out here in the wild.

The morning brought a glorious sunny day, and I was keen to try the free showers which I was told had an unlimited hot water supply. Having checked out the bathrooms last night, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and well kept they are, Kenny is clearly doing a great job here. Feeling distinctly more human, after not having had a proper shower in nearly a week, we decided to head out and get some supplies. We spent a large portion of the morning having various people come over and chat to us about our trip and the van. I was showing someone the engine when I realised we had another minor coolant leak, which I’m glad we sorted before we left as we would have got another airlock. much to the amusement of Terry, I tightened up the offending jubilee clip, while Lee passed me tools. Small issue sorted, we headed out to Pik n Save as this is the nearest shop. The roads heading out are mainly dirt tracks, and this campsite really is a gem in the middle of nowhere.

An hour or so later we were restocked and back at the campsite. Pik n Save is my new favourite shop as it is the cheapest groceries I have seen the entire time I’ve been here. We had planned to go for a walk around the area that afternoon, but so many people came to speak to us and chat, that it soon was too late. We instead concentrated our efforts on getting some firewood for the evening. Lee and Terry push over a dead tree, which we hauled back to the fire pit.

We tried to chop it, but despite being long dead the oak centre was rock hard and we settled for the ‘feed it in’ burning technique. We spent another pleasant evening chatty to Terry and some of the other campers, Kate and Paul. This time we heard to coyotes calling to each other and enjoyed a clearer night for the stars. We definitely hit lucky with this spot, and we decided that we stay one more night while we waited for Colin to return to Pensacola.

The following morning we were determined to go on a walk. Kenny said we were invited to his cook out that afternoon, so we decided to have a walk around beforehand. It took us a while to get going as every time we were about to leave, another person came over for as chat. We had just finished talking to a couple called Bubba and Manny from Alaska, who also had a van kitty, before we managed to get away for a nice walk. We had been told to go down to the river and then pick up a trail from there. We took Aimee with us, even though she was pretty tired from spending a morning mad tree climbing. She has just discovered trees and climbed all possible ones within easy reach from the van, getting stuck twice and having to be rescued by me sitting on Lee’s shoulders.

The river runs just begins the camp site and is only a few minutes walk away.

It is definitely picturesque, and with such a nice warm sun, paddling looked appealing.

We tried to encourage Aimee into the water, but she wasn’t too impressed.

The trail the led to the right to walk along the river bank. We were about to set off when Aimee got herself wrapped around a leg of the bench. As I went to untangle her, she pulled the lead out of my hands. It’s one of those retractable ones which means that as she moved away it chased her. This naturally led to her completely freaking out and legging it down the boardwalk with me chasing her. There’s no way I could keep up and I watched her vanish from sight around the corner. As I caught up she was nowhere to be seen, Lee arrived a few seconds later and we tried to see where she had gone. I walked a little further down the boardwalk and as I turned back I saw her hanging from the edge by her harness. Lee hauled her back up while she hissed at us, and we took her back to the van. Fortunately minutes later she purring again and seemingly unfazed and unhurt by the incident. I think in the end I was more traumatised. Having left her safe in the van we went back to continue our walk.

The path keeps close to the river for a short way, then cuts back in.

It’s a very well maintained path, and a lovely day for it. It’s takes us around an hour to complete a loop of the outer edge of the campsite.

Once we’re back we starting making some bean burgers to take to the cook out later. Around 4pm we head over and join in with everyone. There’s cornbread and mashed potato, as well as sweetcorn. We make a salsa out of the last of our star fruit and add that as our contribution.

After enjoying a good fire and some good conversation, the evening winds down and people head back to their respective campers. We have planned to meet Colin the following afternoon for some assistance with our sliding door.

In the morning, Kenny gets out the hosepipe for us to fill up our water tanks and I make the most of those lovely free hot showers. Then it’s time to say out goodbyes and move on again. This is definitely the best campsite we have started on so far, I have paid for places where neither the spot or the facilities are as good. It’s quiet and peaceful in the middle of the woods, with some lovely people too.

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