Thursday, May 25, 2017

Day 34 / 7: Royal Trails to Clearwater Recreation Area

May 21, 2017

I had to catch a 2:55 p.m. flight today out of Orlando. No problem; I just had 10 miles to hike from Royal Trails to Clearwater Recreation Area. 

I got to Royal Trails, which is a sprawling subdivision, around 6:30 a.m. It was so nice and cool at this time of day, especially after starting so late most mornings. The first 1.2 miles of the hike were on paved roads in the subdivision, but then the path pushed me onto trails. Ahhh!

The first portion of the trail quickly led to sand, which isn't the greatest for hiking. But a fair portion of the sand was reasonably compact, so it wasn't too tough.

In one area the trail dipped into this jungle/swamp-like section, which was a bit difficult to walk through. Thank goodness Florida is having a dry spring. There was not a drop of water here, although the area was very damp, and there was not a single bug. I'm sure this section is horribly buggy when it's wet.

After this spot, I was on another sandy trail studded with animal prints. All of a sudden I saw a few that were very distinctive -- bear prints! Yikes! My last day on the trail in March, I saw two cubs. Would this happen again? 

Not quite. Not more than five or 10 minutes after seeing the prints, I rounded a corner and saw a black bear. Luckily, it immediately ran away. But I had to go right past the spot where it had rushed into the woods, so I began talking and singing. I kept up the nonsensical chatter for about 10 minutes before I relaxed enough to quit.

Near the end of my trek, the path went through a large cattle field owned by the Boy Scouts. You had to hike blaze-to-blaze here, as there was no set path. The blazes were pretty far apart, and sometimes I couldn't spot the next one. But it was clear that you had to cut across the field, so if you just kept walking you'd soon spot it. 

My friend/Trail Angel Tammy picked me up in the Clearwater Rec parking area. I'd met her last March when I started here, and she graciously shuttled me two days. Today she shuttled me back to Royal Trails. From there, she and a friend and Tammy's grandson were going blueberry-picking.

I made it back to my hotel with just enough time to shower, then caught my flight home.

Now I'll be waiting until November or December to pick up where I left off in March, at St. Marks up in the eastern panhandle. But I won't be idle. I'll be hiking my first portion of the North Country Trail in late May/early June, and then thru-hiking the (short) New England National Scenic Trail this September. 

Stay tuned!


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Day 33 / 6: Soldiers Creek Park to Royal Trails

May 20, 2017

I think long-distance hiking is trying to teach me a lesson: patience. Every day, something seems to go wrong. But every time something goes awry, I'm less shaken or annoyed by it than I would have been a year or two or three ago. In the grand scheme of life, if my rental car gets locked in a county park or I accidentally hike 26 miles instead of 24, is that really such a big deal?

So guess what happened to me today? My schedule called for hiking from Soldiers Creek Park to Royal Trails, a total of 24.3 miles. The weather was pretty intense again today -- highs in the low 90s with lots of sun. I couldn't find a shuttle or cab that could bring me from one end of the trail to the other, so I had a dilemma. But then the answer seemed easy. The first half of the hike was along a recreational trail and roads, while the last half was trails. I'd park at the trailhead where the second half of the hike began, then hike out and back. That way I'd hike the same mileage, and hike every trail mile (the important stuff). 

But I did the math the previous night, when I was tired. I thought that my out-and-back hike on the Florida Trail was 3 miles short of the road walk I was skipping, so I decided to hike 3 more miles on side trails so I'd get the exact same mileage. Perfect!

And so I began my day. There was a huge search-and-rescue training going on at the trailhead at Lower Wekiva, so it was hard to find a parking spot. About 3 hours into my hike, I ran into Lou, Betty and Yvonne, hikers from the Florida Hiking Syndicate Facebook page. It was so nice to have hiking buddies! We hiked together for about an hour. They were ending at the Cassia trailhead, while I was continuing on to Royal Trails, then turning around the repeating the hike with some extra loops to get in the required mileage.

After hiking on the blue loop and nearing my detour on the white loop, the timing seemed to be off. I figured I'd finish after 7 p.m., which seemed quite late, despite my slower pace in the heat.

I re-calculated the mileage and discovered I'd erred. It's too convoluted to explain, but suffice it to say I over-hiked today by two or three miles. But, as Beerman says, all good!


Friday, May 19, 2017

Day 32 / 5: Chuluota Wilderness Area to Soldiers Creek Park

May 19, 2017

I love hiking because every day is so different and wonderful in its own way, even if it's difficult.

So today I started out from the Chuluota Wilderness Area parking lot. I first dropped my car at Soldiers Creek Park, my ending point, where a taxi driver picked me up. He said it was fine to leave my car there.

During our shuttle back to my starting point, I quizzed the driver on those spiders I saw yesterday. He said they are banana spiders, not poisonous, although they do bite. He said they weave ginormous webs (saw those!) and that they're active now but disappear by fall.

I started off today at 8:30 a.m. Still late, compared to my Ice Age Trail forays. But here it's different. At least in May. If you start really early, the temps are lower but the humidity is higher. So it's almost better to start later. 

Anyway, I thought the first 2 miles were on Curryville Road, then the trail cut in when Curryville hit a T intersection. Wrong; the trail cut in part-way up to the intersection. But I missed it, because I wasn't looking for it. Luckily when I hit the T intersection, there was a spur trail onto the FT just up the road. So I got back on pretty quickly.

The morning was warm and humid, yet cloudy with a little wind. So it wasn't horrible for hiking, yet the humidity definitely slowed me down. The one scary time came when I nearly walked right into a banana spider and its web. It would have been right at mouth level! Thank goodness I saw it in the nick of time.

At 2 p.m. I finished the trails and popped out onto the roads. The rest of the day (until 6:30 p.m.) was on roads around Oviedo and Winter Park, and most of those roads were a bike path. Unfortunately the signage here was sparse, and I got off the trail a few times.

I used my sun umbrella here, and switched to a long-sleeved shirt to protect my arms from more sunburn. The highlight was stopping at a gas station/mini mart and purchasing a small ice cream cup AND a cup of ice for my water bladder. Cold water helps so much on hot days! 

This trip I also made up a few gallons of Chrystal Lite lemonade. That has worked well for me; I drink it in between the water. 

So I got back to Soldiers Creek Park at 6:30 p.m., excited that my lodging for the night was just 8 minutes away, and that I had ended at 6:30. But then I saw I was locked in! The county park had closed, and both exits were barricaded. I called the police, who notified the sheriff. A deputy came out and said they did not have keys to the locks, and the park officials would not let them (or the fire department) have keys for emergencies. I said, "I'd think you could just demand keys!" and he said, "Yeah, you'd think!" Luckily he found a bike path wide enough for me to drive on and I escaped the locked parking lot after 30 minutes.

Hiking is always an adventure.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Day 31 / 4: Tosohatchee State Preserve to Chuluota Wilderness Area

May 18, 2017

Another late start today: 9:30 a.m. But while it was still hot out, I was again blessed with wind and low humidity. 

I was worried about ticks and chiggers in the Tosohatchee State Preserve, but due to this year's dry "rainy season" there were no bugs. 

The first part was on sandy footing, so that was hard. But then the trail went into the woods and was delightful. For a while, anyway. Then I started walking into spider webs. Those are pretty common on any hikes, but these were made of some super-sticky webbing that was pretty gross. Even worse, a lot of the webs had spiders in them. The spiders were yellow and black and maybe red, and vertical. That is, they weren't fat, but tall and lean. 

I began swinging my sticks in between any trees that were close together on either side of the path, as those were the areas most likely to have webs. It was mentally taxing, as you had to keep your eyes peeled every second. 

Then suddenly the webs were gone and the trail was beautiful again. Until they resumed! This time there were more webs, and I saw one spider that was probably five inches long. ICK! 

But again, they disappeared when the trail opened up. The last 6 or so miles were very enjoyable. The terrain was prairie-like, then through a proscribed-burn area where the palmettos were regenerating, then through a very serpentine path, and so on. The terrain kept changing and everything was gorgeous. It also helped when the sun and heat went down.

It was a long day, due to the late start; I didn't finish until 7:30 p.m. But I'm so thankful to be able to explore such a beautiful part of our nation.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Day 30 / 3: Hwy. 419 (3 Miles In) to Tosohatchee State Preserve

May 17, 2017

We got a late start today for various reasons, so I didn't start walking today until 9:40 a.m. It was another hot, breezy day. The humidity wasn't too bad.

Today's 25-mile hike was all on roads. Now, many people hate road walks. I don't necessarily. Well, I don't care for hikes on busy highways. But quieter roads are fine.

I started off on 419 and then Nova Road. Both roads had steady traffic, but it was light. I decided to make the hike fun by seeing what I could find along the shoulder/grass where I was walking. Here are some of the things I spied.

  • Five work gloves, one fancy glove, one purple elastic glove and one fancy plastic glove
  • One pair of coral swim trunks
  • A paintbrush
  • Three hardcover library books. One was a neat how-to-sketch-kids book.
  • A turtle
  • A raptor
  • A dead turkey
  • A dead black snake with its mouth open
  • A dead red-on-yellow, kill-a-fellow snake (coral?)
  • A dead possum
  • A Starbucks cup (Starbucks patrons don't usually litter)
  • A really, really long clump of string/rope
I forget everything else, but it was an interesting way to pass the day.

The last 6.6 miles were along a busy state highway, and that was not too pleasant. The wind died down and I was frying in the sun, no matter how much sunscreen I applied. As soon as Ten-Miler drove up and I got my sun umbrella, it got windy again and the wind turned it inside out.

My final mile was along sleepy Yates Road, which led into the start of the Tosohatchee State Preserve. I'm really excited to hike there tomorrow, although Sandra Friend said there's been a tick and chigger hatching. I'll have to start off in my bug suit and see how bad it is.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Day 29 / 2: Forever Florida to Hwy. 419 (3 Miles In)

May 16, 2017

The thought was to start hiking early every day to avoid the worst heat. Except Sunday night I had only gotten 2 hours of sleep in order to make my flights, so I really needed to sleep in. So 10-Miler and I didn't hit the trail until just before 9 a.m.

The morning hiking was gorgeous. I was in the Forever Florida land, so much of the hiking was on wide roads used by the group's tourist vehicles. Some areas got pretty sandy, but every time I was getting annoyed by slogging through the sand the land changed and the footing was firmer.

I met an employee of Forever Florida at one point. He said this was the driest spring in Florida since the 1800s. Normally the area I was walking on would have many puddles and my feet would definitely be wet, he said. Also, there would normally be a field of yellow Bachelor's Buttons now, but the drought left them unable to bloom.

Sometime around noon until maybe 3 p.m., the trail got a lot scruffier. This was after leaving the Forever Florida territory. Some areas had had prescribed burns, others were just scruffy. One area was very sandy, and you couldn't make out the trail. Everything and nothing looked like trail. So I had to hike blaze-to-blaze. Another area was filled with dead palmettos, which made surprisingly tough footing. I tripped on a lot of them.

10-Miler met me with about 3 miles left to go. She was really struggling with the heat. We both ran out of water, despite having packed a lot.

Back at her truck, I jogged the remaining 5.3 road miles left. It was a hot day, for sure. But once again there was enough wind and low humidity, so it wasn't that awful. And -- YAY! -- no ticks again!

Judy and I are staying at a motel in Melbourne. La Quinta. It's very nice.

Day 28 / 1: Prairie Lakes Station to Forever Florida

May 15, 2017

I'm baaaack! Caught an early flight from O'Hare and got to Prairie Lakes Station by 3:15-ish in the afternoon. But I didn't actually get going for another 30 minutes because I was trying to reach someone who could tell me if the gate to this parking spot would be closed at night or not. I knew I wouldn't be shuttled back here until 8 p.m. or so, and I definitely didn't want to get barred from my rental car and suitcase. I called the numbers on the Florida Trail maps, but I kept getting transferred to different groups because no one knew. Finally some guy drove up pulling a boat; I asked him and he said the gate was always left open. Case closed.

So I started hiking where I left off in January. If some of you recall, I skipped a week-long section around Orlando when I returned in March, because my husband was supposed to have a conference in Orlando now. The thought was I'd hike all day and stay with him at night. But he was pulled from this conference in lieu of his boss, and I'd already bought my plane ticket. So here I was.

The day was sunny and warm (86), but luckily low humidity and windy. So I had a great time hiking through more palmetto-and-pine woods. My Florida hiking pal, 10-Miler (Judy), met me where the trail dumped me onto Highway 441. It was pretty late by then, so I tossed my pack and trekking poles into her truck and jogged the last 2.7 miles up to Forever Florida.

Oh -- I'd heard from some people that it's tick and chigger season here. I'm deathly afraid of ticks, so for the first time I used Permethrin on my clothes and backpack. But this little piece of trail didn't seem to have any bugs, so one day down, six to go!