Things are still looking up on the Florida Trail
Since I last checked in with you, friends, countless steps have been taken, yet more water has been waded in, mud has again gripped my shoes and my tent has been set up six more times. Florida continues to present both beauty and bothers along the way, which is part of the picture of every long-distance trek. And I love it.
We last left off as I said goodbye to my restorative zero day in the town of Okeechobee. A local trail angel very kindly gave me a 4 mile lift from my motel to where I had left the trail.
Rather than going through the past week day by day, let me share with you, in general, what I have experienced.
A few more levees have been trodden upon, one large and long between a busy canal and pastureland
other very modest between marshes.
Birds have been seen every day, most often water birds. I wish I had memorized their names in advance, but I can still greatly appreciate their beauty and gracefulness when flying alone or in flocks.
Other animals have certainly been sighted, but not nearly as many gators as I would have liked. Breach of contract, Florida!
If there are other hikers somewhere ahead of you, this can frighten the animals away. I have seen but missed capturing photos of a raccoon and a fast, plump wild pig who darted across the trail. Not a real beauty, but fun to see. I suppose his mother loves him.
The landscape varied from huge expanses of prairies, such as the Kissimmee River Plain, which I spent two days walking across. It switched back and forth from swaths of grasses to short saw palmettos as far as the eye could see.
I particularly recall one cool afternoon when its openness particularly entranced me in the late afternoon lighting. Every so often, the trail takes the hiker into a palm or live oak hammock, meaning a grove of trees. So lovely! I felt like I was in a hushed cathedral or a dense green oasis.
The prairies could also be sloughs, pronounced “slooze,” meaning marshes that often are flooded by nearby rivers, giving the hiker wet and muddy shoes again. You just get used to it, and on a hot day, the wading in water is refreshing and trail runners and light wool socks dry quickly.
As mentioned, live oak trees, some amazingly wide spread, and some long-needled pine trees have come to the party, joining the tall royal palm trees that reach for the sky.
Clusters of shorter saw palmettos cover the prairies and taller cabbage palms (surprisingly evergreens) cluster in the forests and some fields.
Spanish moss has entered the picture now and gently sways in the breeze like lace curtains.
And, as an aside to native Floridians who know their plants, I apologize for any mistakes I make. I often forget names or precise facts.
Five “official” campsites were camped in this week, meaning hikers are supposed to register for free with the South Florida Water Management District (I usually did) for camping at a certain site, where cleared areas are available for tents, a picnic table awaits (yay!) and often a pitcher pump which required priming with some water left in jugs by previous users.
Often these are hike-in only with no road access, which keeps them quiet and free of partying locals. I really appreciated these places, almost always in a lovely wooded setting, although the ones also managed by SFWMD that I stayed at by the levees were tree free since that’s how levees are. Still very appreciated.
However, I found one campsite, Cowboy Crossing, to be rather creepy. Wild pigs routinely tear up the ground there (and everywhere else) as they search for nuts and other goodies, and barred owls communicated with each other at any hour with their spooky, non-traditional owl hoots.
I was very happy to have a pair of thru-hiking men show up for the night. We ended up walking and camping together the next day too. Leaving camp with them helped me get up earlier and speeded up my process of breaking camp. I now start packing up by 5:30-6:00 am to the light of my headlamp, and try to get going by sunrise at 7:15, a magical time to be on the trail.
It’s easy to get up early in the morning since it’s pitch black by 6:30 pm the night before, and hikers settle into their tents.
Great people were met along the way, so often surprisingly from our state of Ohio. Maybe not surprisingly, since there are 8” of snow back there and it’s 70 degrees here. We’re not stupid.
Even though I wish folks wouldn’t kill animals, I did enjoy meeting quite a few hunters on the trail, bedecked in their camo and orange, with guns (yuck) and interesting modern bows (not as yuck, but still deadly).
The trail had me climbing several times, but nothing major at all.
The only real downer of the past week was a 5 mile road walk beside a very busy two laner. For two hours, I had cars, trucks, motorhomes and strings of semis rushing past me. When there were lulls in the traffic, I hightailed it as fast as I could walk in the 4 foot wide paved shoulder, but quickly jumped off to the side onto the uneven grassy strip when traffic approached. I wore my orange neck sun neck-guard in front like a bib just to aid a bit in my visibility. Time passed, I wasn’t hit, and I welcomed the deserted dirt road I eventually turned onto.
After 5 nights in the wilderness, so to speak, I passed a nero (arriving before noon, nearly a zero mile day) at the unique Westgate River Ranch Resort, because of a food drop from home awaiting me at the registration desk. This fancy dude ranch has it all for those who want it all and are willing to pay for it.
I appreciated the campsite, the hot showers, the spacious, clean bathroom where I washed my filthy clothes in the sink using their hand soap, did yoga at 5 am, and helped myself to reams of their high quality Scott paper towels to use for wiping down my tent after an overnight rain shower. I got my $50 worth.
Having received a mail drop from home with two more days’ of food, I had one more night of camping, this time at a large oak hammock where folks camp but not at an official campsite, which is quite common. I actually find it surprising how comfortable I have become with camping alone the past few years. It’s not like I go out into the jungles of Brazil, never to be seen again. I’m in Florida and I could be at a road within an hour or two of hiking. Or three. Once I go in the tent at night, I don’t go out and wander around to get spooked by the dark. I only step outside of the tent briefly when nature calls during the night. And by nature calling, I don’t mean those spooky barred owls.
And now, here I sit in my sweet little motel room at Lake Marian RV Resort, enjoying a nero followed by a zero, the best way to really rest up, in my opinion.
I have to say, though, that I’ve been so very pleased with how well my body has performed on the trail. I’ve gradually increased many of my days to 16-20 miles, and I feel fine. I don’t walk faster, I get up earlier and simply have more hours to hike. Nothing hurts. I sleep very well, be it in a bed or in my air mattress. Why? The food. The advance training. Stretching every evening and yoga when possible. I am grateful for all of these.
I’m enjoying two nights in a bed, more nice people to talk to, laundry facilities, and some variety in my diet with some canned, frozen and fresh options from the modest camp store to add to my dehydrated food while I’m here.
This is my final zero day for this year’s 370 mile section of the FT. Each has been restorative and enjoyable.
In fact, yesterday’s nero was full of hours of holding my breath (figuratively), drama, excitement and joy, as I watched on my Peacocktv app with my next door motel neighbor, Chris,
As Bill’s and my son Jon and his racing partner competed in their Audi at Daytona Speedway, just an hour and a half drive from where I am presently sitting. Yes, that Daytona! They have competed for numerous years in the series of races organized by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) for high end specifically racing-equipped cars like these Audis and Porsches. Jon and Gavin are a great pair of drivers. Gavin first met Jon, a racing instructor, years ago as he learned the art of racing. He owns the car and hires the technical crew. The races always involve two drivers and are either 1 hour per driver or 2. The pro driver (Jon) is always the second to drive, but they’re both good. Long story short? They ****ing won!!!! Second time to win at Daytona, one of their favorites.
We’re so proud of our son for following his heart and doing what he loves. Want more? Check out jonmorleyracing.com or go to IMSA.com and look for them and/or their team, Roadshagger Racing. I sure had a hard time getting to sleep last night, because the race was a real nail biter. Very exciting to watch the competition, but every mother just wants her son to be happy and WIN!
So that’s it for now. I’m still really enjoying the Florida Trail and am already nostalgic for it while still ON it, go figure. Just six nights of camping ahead of me till I scrub myself clean, clean, clean at a hotel near the Orlando airport. But, truthfully, I do feel it’s just about time to wrap up this year’s section. Then I can begin anticipating the 480 mile Colorado Trail in August and my second third of the FT next January. So much amazing time in nature still awaits me! And thank you very much for going on this journey with me.
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