Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 23/11: US 129 to Suwannee River State Park

March 30, 2017

Trail Angel Sarah Leigh met me early this morning while it was still dark out. Our rendezvous point was the intersection of a small street and a county or state highway. I parked my rental car on the side street for the day, then hopped in her car for the ride to my starting point.

Sarah Leigh got into hiking from a work colleague and is still trying to learn the ropes, so to speak. We had an enjoyable chat during our 45 minutes together. We found the spot on US 129 where I should have emerged yesterday, and after bidding her farewell (and taking a selfie), I headed out under the viaduct and into the forest.

The terrain was much like yesterday's: It wound up and down along the edge of the Suwannee River. There were lots of cobwebs in the morning -- ugh! -- but not many in the afternoon. Maybe they burn off/dissolve by then? They do seem to be worst in the mornings. 

There were a few spots where the blazes were down or not right in sight, so I had to retrace my steps a few times. But nothing serious. The weather was pretty warm -- 86 for the high, I think -- but it actually wasn't too bad because it got cloudy in the afternoon. There were even a few sprinkles for a few minutes.

Re: wildlife, a huge turkey was in the woods near me (I didn't see it) and suddenly flew off, which was startling. Ditto with a deer that was only a few yards away. But no snakes or bears or gators. Oh, I also saw a rather large (empty) turtle shell.

With about 2 or 3 miles left, the trail spit me out of the woods and into some dirt roads that eventually led to my car. 

Tonight, after showering and soaking in an Epsom salt bath, I found one tick on me about 2 hours later. Not sure where that came from ... 

Only four days left of hiking (100 miles!) before I head back home. For now. :)


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 22/10: White Springs to US 129

March 29, 2017

I drove myself to the parking spot by Highway 41 just outside of White Springs. I hiked about one-third of a mile when I realized I had left both my sunglasses and HAT in the car. Sigh. So I hiked back and got them, then headed back out.

Today was a fantastic day on the trails, despite the heat (about 88). The Suwannee River section is gorgeous. The trail follows the river a bit to start, then takes you through White Springs, a very pretty town. Then you go through Stephen Foster State Park, known for its carillon. I enjoyed listening to the bells, although all I could hear in my head all morning was the famous song, "Way Down Upon the Suwannee River."

I had to head down to the river and touch the water, just to say I had done so. About 5 minutes after I did that, I came upon a big sign warning about the alligators in the river. Yikes! The one thing you're never supposed to do if there are alligators around is bend down near the water, since that makes them view you as small and edible.

Shortly after that, I nearly stepped on a snake! Luckily it wasn't a "red on yellow kills a fellow" snake. Things settled down after that, and I enjoyed a true trail along the river. It was singletrack -- often hugging the edge of the river bluff -- and wound up and down and all around. It was the most strenuous hiking I've had on the entire trail to date.

I fell not once today, but twice; both times I slipped on very deep piles of leaves.

The river is very interesting. It looks a typical blue in many places, but is also very brown and tea-colored from the tannins in the trees, I think the sign said. In many spots wide expanses of very white sand line the shore. It was very pretty.

Near the end of the day, when I was .2 miles from my shuttle pick-up spot, the trail disappeared! There were no more blazes, and my app map said the route was through scrub. No way! So I hiked on the one path I did see, which spit me out on the highway about .3 miles north of where I should have come out. Not sure what was up with that!


Day 21/9: Turkey Run Trailhead to White Springs

March 28, 2017

Today I dubbed the Day of the Spider Webs. Ugh. The entire morning's hike was rather unpleasant because every 30 seconds or so I walked into those spider web things that wrap themselves across your face, neck and/or arms. When I'd stop to eat a snack, I'd see them draped all over my backpack, too. It was just so unpleasant, it kind of ruined the morning.

I popped out of the forest and onto connecting road routes around noon. But it was about 86 degrees by then and I was out in full sun. I used the hiking sun umbrella my kids got me, but when I had it tilted a bit (it was windy) it caused me to miss a blaze/turn/ and I went .75 miles out of my way before realizing it, so I logged an extra 1.5 miles.

Luckily things got better after that. I went through Randy Madison's little backyard camp, which was lovely. And then I began the Suwannee River section, which was quite beautiful. 

I intended to end the day at Little Shoals trailhead, but my shuttle couldn't find it so I hiked another 1.2 miles on up to the highway on the outskirts of White Springs.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 20/8: West of Lake Butler to Turkey Run Trailhead

March 27, 2017

This was an interesting day on the trail. I started in where the trail leaves SR 100 about 5-6 miles west of Lake Butler. The trail was a bit scruffy to start, but not too bad. At some point, though, the trail got strange. It was paralleling a soft, dirt road through the woods, but the trail itself was terrible. 

The terrain was very lumpy and bumpy and difficult to walk on. In addition there were plants -- little bushes, really -- about knee-high choking the path that you had to bushwhack through. Normally, I'm a trail purist. I try to walk the trail as-is, no cheating. But after plodding through about a quarter-mile of this, the whole time seeing the nice, flat, dirt road a few paces to my left, I realized it was ridiculous to walk on this "trail." So I switched to the path and never regretted it. If I had stayed on the marked path, not only would I have sliced my legs to pieces, but I probably would have averaged the swamp's mile-per-hour pace.

After maybe 16 miles I crossed SR 90 and entered the Osceola State Forest. Ahhh! The trails were glorious here, and the scenery superb. I walked another 10-ish miles, enjoying every step, save for those spider web things that kept wrapping themselves around my face and arms.

Oh, I did start noticing a few mosquitoes -- the first real bugs since I started this trail in January. But it was just one here, one there, so I didn't even put on bug spray.

Trail Angel Janie Hamilton picked me up at the Turkey Run Trailhead. She was so sweet! She had some flavored water and regular water for me, plus didn't mind that I was a sweaty, smelly mess. She gave me a little tour of some parts of this area and is trying to help me arrange future shuttles a few days hence, when I have nothing lined up. This is the best of humanity at work!


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day 19/7: West of Hampton to West of Lake Butler

March 26, 2017

Ten-Miler had to go home today, so she first helped me drop my car at the finish point, then drove me to my starting point. I wasn't looking forward to walking along more of the Palatka-Lake Butler rail-trail, as yesterday's portion was so rocky. But today wasn't too bad. Yes, there were still some rocky stretches. But there were quite a few stretches with soft dirt or grass.

The day wasn't too hot (80) and was partly cloudy, so overall it was pleasant. At one point the path takes you off the rail-trail and up onto State Highway 100 for a mile or so because a bridge is out on the rail-trail. When you get back on, it's a paved path the rest of the way into Lake Butler.

Walking through Lake Butler was pleasant, and the day ended with about six miles on Highway 100 heading west out of Lake Butler. That wasn't the greatest, naturally, but it is what it is. 

Looking forward to tomorrow, which should be real TRAIL!


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Day 18/6: Gold Head Branch State Park to West of Hampton

March 25, 2017

Yay! Another partly cloudy, not-too-hot day. Ten-Miler and I started off hiking together through Gold Head Branch State Park. She turned back about halfway to move her truck to the main entrance. I passed through before she got there, though, and entered Camp Blanding while she was back at Gold Head Branch. No worries; she simply moved the truck to the opposite end of Camp Blanding and began walking in toward me.

I wasn't sure what to expect at Camp Blanding, which is used by the National Guard as a training center. Luckily no military exercises were going on (if there were, we would have had to take a detour). The Camp was gorgeous, with lots of tiny trails and others that were spacious and wound past some pretty lakes. G.I. Jane was filmed here, and it is the site of state park beaches that were once segregated. 

Once through here Judy drove on up ahead to a gas station/mini mart while I hiked through some neighborhoods. Right before I reached Judy, a nice man in his yard offered me any cold drink I wanted. I asked for ice for my water, which he gave to me. He said he was a transplant from Pennsylvania, then told me to watch out for drunks on the road tonight, since it's Saturday.

After meeting Judy at the gas station, she decided to go up to Hampton, park the truck and walk back in towards me. Immediately after leaving her the trail went through this awesome little area of thick vegetation; the trail was the only break in it. Unfortunately it eventually led to many miles of walking along a rail-trail that would have been lovely except for one thing: the base was made up of rocks. It was uncomfortable from the start, and after something like 10 miles of it, the bottoms of my feet were KILLING me.

Tonight we're staying at a new and very nice Best Western in Waldo. (And yes, we've been making "Where's Waldo?" jokes all night.) We had a fantastic dinner at this little Mexican place down the road. I had the best quesadillas I've ever had.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 17/5: SR 100 Near Palatka to Gold Head Branch State Park

March 24, 2017

Lucky me. Today was another cool (70s) and cloudy day on the trail. Not that I don't love the sun, but sometimes it's nice to hike in cool, cloudy weather.

The first part of my hike was along the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail, a rail-trail. As soon as I started I came across a bridge over a creek that was blocked off with a sign saying the bridge was closed because it was too dangerous. Luckily I had read Late Start's trail journal; she said she deemed it safe enough, and a better option than wading through the fairly-deep creek below, or walking along the busy highway that had no shoulder. Sure enough, the bridge was plenty sturdy.

There was a bit of road walking after that along sandy trail, then I was led into the woods for several miles. It was very lovely.

Judy was joining me on and off during these segments.

The last half of the day was along a paved road and then a sandy road around the Christian Camp and Gold Head Branch State Park. At one point some dogs were threatening me, but a guy drove up in his pick-up and blocked the dogs from me until I got past. This was the second time I've been so saved here in Florida.

During this trip I've been plagued with iPhone email issues; my mail app got accidentally deleted during my fourth day on the trail, and when I reinstalled it it won't send any emails (although it receives them). Today my laptop wasn't working, and as I work at night in my motels, this was a serious issue. I think I finally have both fixed. I sure hope so!


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 16/4: Just Past Lake Delancy Campground to SR 100 Near Palatka

Today was forecast to be cloudy with a high around 70. Perfect hiking conditions!

Judy and I got a late start on the trail, heading out from just northwest of Lake Delancy on the trail. It was a gorgeous stretch of trail with pines and lots of palmetto. Judy turned back after 30 minutes to get the car and move it up the trail. I forged on ahead.

One part of the trail had been burned; smoke was still coming out from one hole. I imagine it's some kind of prescribed burn. It was actually beautiful in its own way -- the inky black ground around the trees, with the trail a little ribbon of light. This section ended around Rodman Reservoir, a beautiful body of water complete with osprey nests.

Judy and I hiked a little road section here near the Rodman Dam. There were all sorts of large tree trunks clustered on one end of the reservoir that reminded me of the trees/logs we saw last summer in lakes around Mount St. Helens. They were trees that had been mowed down by the eruption back in the 1980s, and still were in the water today. Well, these logs, we later learned, were from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, i think it was.

Judy drove ahead to Buckman Lock while I hiked there. We learned from Late Start's trail journal that the locktender is Arthur. We met Arthur, who told us about the trees in the Rodman Reservoir. He said there are lots of manatees that pass through the locks, so they leave them open at night so the animals don't get stuck. Unfortunately no manatees were around when we were there, nor any boats going through the lock.

In the afternoon I hiked through an area near Caravelle Ranch. It was very sandy, and I got a lot in my shoes. Ugh. There was also some area where people dumped trash. Sad.

After that the trail was phenomenal, especially the area through Rice Creek Sanctuary. It was this beautiful woodsy area that had hardwood but also all of these tropical plants like palmetto and palms. I also crossed lots of boardwalk, including the Hoffman Crossing, an 1886-foot boardwalk! 

Looking forward to what tomorrow brings!


Day 15/3: Pat's Island Trailhead to Just Past Lake Delancy Campground

March 22, 2017

I had a wonderful morning heading out from Pat's Island. There was a 7-mile stretch around Hopkins Prairie that was just breathtaking. The more I hike our National Scenic Trails, the more I fall in love with prairies. The light was hitting the plants just right, and it made this amazing golden glow. 

BEAR! Shortly after exiting the prairie, I turned a corner on the trail and saw a black bear not more than 50 feet away. I was startled and so was he/she, and thank goodness the bear promptly crashed back into the woods. That's the closest I've been to a black bear in the wild. 

Things began to heat up in the afternoon, so I made sure to stop at the 88 Store, a recommended pit stop in the FT guidebook. Great move! I bought an ice-cold beer and an ice cream sandwich, then enjoyed both with a group of men sitting out on the porch. One of them said it was 87 out. Yikes! 

A woman was out there with her toddler, who was trying to "shoot" everyone with his plastic rifle. As I was getting ready to leave, I heard the mom saying, "Just ask her. Just ask her." I turned around, but the little boy was too shy to ask me anything. So the mom said her son wanted to know if I had a rifle on me, too. What?! Turns out he saw my new hiker sun umbrella, which was in a black sheath, and thought it was a gun. Ha! 

I used that umbrella quite a bit today, as it was so warm.

I ran into Judy Kirkwood, aka Ten-Miler, at Lake Delancy Campground. She drove all the way up from Boca Raton to join me for a few days. I had two more miles to go to finish my day, so she drove up ahead to meet me where the trail crossed a dirt fire road. Except she only had a partial map and ... we were separated for more than an hour, as I didn't have cell service at this dirt road, and had to hike back (and hitch a ride) to Lake Delancy, where I had one bar.

But, as always, a fantastic day on the trail.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 14/2: Billies Bay Wilderness to Pat's Island Trailhead

March 21, 2017

What a lovely day. The temperatures started off in the mid-40s, and I had gloves on and wished I had a headband. My toes were frozen. But that only lasted an hour, max. Soon the temps climbed up into the 80s. But the humidity was low, there was a nice breeze and it was sunny.

Today was enjoyable on so many levels. I was in a beautiful forested area for much of the day. I'm sorry I'm not that into plants, so all I can tell you is there were lots of pine trees, palmettos and a prairie.

I passed about five groups of people out hiking; the Ocala National Forest is a popular spot, and the place where the Florida Trail was birthed. 

Some of the highlights came when I was jogging a stretch and startled an enormous turkey in the brush right next to me; it flew up in a great fluttering of wings and scared the heck out of me. I also saw an eagle on the drive in, and several lizards. 

I kept imagining I heard a wild boar rustling in the vegetation; Florida and Texas have big issues with wild boars. But nothing was there. I don't believe there are alligators here, but there are black bears. I got a tad nervous when I realized it's spring -- what if I somehow got in between a mama and her cub? But I saw no bear skat, no bear prints, nothing. 

There's a lovely scent in the woods here. I can't quite pinpoint it, but it's sort of like cedar. Yet not quite. Anyway, it's lovely.

The only negative, if you can call it that, is that the entire path is sand. Much of the way it's easy walking, but there were some spots where the sand was deep and it was a bit difficult. Oh, and this area has some hills. Nothing much to most people, but for Florida (which is a very flat state) they were definitely hills.

Had one huge blister today by the only toenail I lost during January's hike. It had just grown back in, and obviously wasn't tough enough yet for a hike. The toenail itself is fine -- just got a blister on the toe. 


Day 13/1: Clearwater Lake Recreational Trail to Billies Bay Wilderness

March 20, 2017

It's so great to be back on the trail! I ended in January at Prairie Lakes, so next up is an eastern swing through the Orlando suburbs. I decided to forego that for now, as my husband is supposed to go to Orlando for a work event in May; I figured I'd tag along and hike the Orlando area while he's at his conference. So I skipped ahead to the Clearwater Lake Rec. Area in the Ocala National Forest. Trail Angel Tammy helped me with my shuttle.

The day didn't start off too well. I had booked a $50 one-way ticket from O'Hare to Orlando (yay!) for a 6:30 a.m .flight, but realized too late that that meant I'd need to take a bus at 1:45 a.m. from Madison to O'Hare. I couldn't sleep a wink. It seems this particular bus is very popular on Monday (businesspeople traveling for work, plus kids on spring break), so it kept stopping in various cities to pick up people. Every time the bus stopped, the lights went on and there was a general hullabaloo. 

Then the flight was 90 minutes late, and I was delayed another 30 minutes by the rental car people and one wrong turn on the Interstate. I started my 13.8-mile hike at 3 p.m., not 1 p.m. as I'd planned, and busted my butt to get done before it got dark.

I did, thankfully, but I couldn't soak up as much of the atmosphere as I'd like. But I've got 13 more days to hike, and I will make the most of every moment.