Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Florida Trail Thru-Hike

Me and Scott last March on the Florida Trail at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

We are hittin' the trail again! And we're going big. 1,100 miles big. This winter we are leaving the snowy lands of the Northeast and journeying to the Land of the Flora, where we will thru-hike the Florida Trail, all 1,100 miles of it from Big Cypress National Preserve to Fort Pickens near Pensacola. I have stalled on this post because I have been feeling that oh-so-familiar blend of excitement and apprehension, and have been pondering just how to put into words the journey we plan to undertake. 

Allow me to begin by giving you some background on this trail. This trail was first cut through the Ocala National Forest in 1964, dreamed up and proposed by a man named Jim Kern. Supported by the Florida Trail Association and the Florida Trail Alliance, it has come a long way since then, with just 300 miles of road-walk remaining along its route. Including side trails and alternate routes, it is a trail network now encompassing 1,400 miles, although a thru-hike consists of 1,100 miles from end to end. Despite its magnitude, few people outside of the long-distance hiking subculture are aware of its existence and even fewer set out to hike it. To put it in perspective, nearly 4,000 people attempt the Appalachian Trail each year...a mere 5 to 20 people attempt the Florida Trail each year. 15,000 people have completed the AT since its creation, however only 254 people have completed the Florida Trail, and of those people, only 160 of them were thru-hikers. We hope to bring that number to 162. 

Trail through Big Cypress National Preserve - photo credit Brian Kaprowski (flicker)

We chose the Florida Trail for a number of reasons. Firstly, we wanted to pick a region in which we were unfamiliar. As I have on my previous hikes, I will be researching the wild plants that we encounter. We will by all means be strangers in a strange land, but there is nothing more wondrous than meeting a plant for the first time. We are hoping to learn an assortment of these plants well, including their ethnobotanical uses in both food and medicine. Secondly, We are interested in these trails less traveled. Here is solitude and wilderness and the opportunity for creative thought to percolate. As we travel through small towns along the trail too, we will mingle with locals and similar to the Long Path, likely people who know nothing of the trail. We look forward to experiencing these tiny towns as well as some of the big ones with lots of amenities like restaurants, laundromats, hotels, and grocery stores - gems for the thru-hiker! Thirdly, where else can you go hiking in Winter? Comfortably that is. 

Latana camara

We are planning to begin mid-December in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Big Cypress is a highly protected part of the Everglades, encompassing over 700,000 acres of biodiverse freshwater swamp. Therein are plants that I have never encountered, but of which I have tried hard to conjure images when reading about them. This past spring I read for the second time John Muir's journals documenting his tribulations in the Everglades, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf. He described otherworldly beauty and walking more difficult than he had ever imagined...he also contracted malaria. I am hoping for a better outcome for us. He was not following trail, but rather clawing his way through Mangrove thickets never explored. We on the other hand, will be afforded the luxury of the Florida Trail, however we will likely be doing more wading than hiking. The first 30 miles are swamp, of which roughly 10 miles are guaranteed to be under water, with depths reaching ankle- to thigh-deep. We will share waters with snakes and gators and hookworms. But still, I am hoping when we get to our tussock for the evening and pitch camp, to do some botanizing.

Gators in mid-day sun

Once we emerge from the swamps, our hike should become easier as we make our way through the Seminole Reservation and around the western side of lake Okeechobee, with views of Sugarcane fields as far as the eye can see. We will walk the elaborate levee system that makes Florida habitable as we know it today. In Central Florida we will hit familiar turf, given that we hiked a week through this region last March, hiking through vast Saw Palmetto prairies, old growth Live Oak forests and beneath Palms that reach for the sky. 

Scott walking prairie through Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area


Scott walking amongst Live Oaks and Palms
Traveling northward we will then travel an eastern route around Orlando through yet more open prairies and Pine savannas, then through Palm hammocks, past old-growth Live Oak and Cypress trees, and beneath Long Leaf Pine, brushing shoulders with civilization along the way.

Live Oak draped in Spanish Moss
In the Ocala National Forest, where the first miles of the Florida Trail were laid, we'll trek for over 70 miles through sandhills, Pine flatwoods, and the world's largest Sand Pine scrub forest. Likely we will take a dip in one of its first-magnitude springs that are reportedly extraordinarily clear and filled with tiny bubbles. Just what the hiker ordered!



In Northeast Florida, we'll trek through another unique wilderness, Osceola National Forest, home to carnivorous Pitcher plants and Sundews. Connecting our route from Ocala and Osceola is a diverse array of terrain from bike paths to swamps to road-walks and forest roads through timberlands.

Sundew - a carnivorous plant
Along the Suwanee River are waterfalls and white sand beaches and further west along the trail is the Aucilla River dotted with sinkholes. Here in the Panhandle, we will begin our journey into the St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge and Apalachicola National Forest. At this point, our exact route through this portion is still questionable due to the damage wreaked by Hurricane Michael. Trail crews have been hard at work rehabilitating the trails and forest roads through these wilderness areas and as of now there are less than 100 miles of trail closed...a big leap from over 300 miles initially following the storm. It will surely be heart-wrenching to see the destruction this storm has left in its wake.

If all goes as planned, nearly three months into our trek, we will wander through a number of small towns and natural areas along the Chipola River, cross into Central Time Zone, and tramp through old-growth forests in the Eglin Airforce Base, with permission of course, and finally reach its northern terminus on the beaches of Santa Rosa Island overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. 

I hope that you will follow along with us on our journey. As always, I'll be posting regularly here at the blog. If you'd like to receive these posts by email, please type your address into the space provided beside "Follow by Email" on the righthand side of the page. These posts, as well as pictures, and videos will also be posted on our facebook pages: www.Facebook.com/thebotanicalhiker and www.Facebook.com/HikeLocal. Tune-in for botanical musings and muddy swamp trekkin' shenanigans!  

To learn more about the Florida Trail visit: www.floridatrail.org and www.floridahikes.com 

















Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Herbal Autumn Activities 2018

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) ripe with minty tasting berries. Sprinkle them atop a bowl of yogurt, blend into granolas, or add to batters and doughs. The leaves are rich in methyl-salicylic acid, evidenced in their minty aroma, and effective when prepared as an infusion, in relieving muscular aches and pains.

The Honey Locust tree that shades our little home is releasing its now golden leaves and they lay scattered like confetti after an raucous party on our front porch. And it's true, that the bright heat high energy season of Summer is nearing its end. Although it's always a bit of a let down in these northerly climes, its also in a way, a sigh of relief. With Autumn comes a quieter time, a time for appreciating those persistent sunny flowers of Goldenrod before an end of the year harvest, patiently picking the reddening berries of Wintergreen one by one, and listening to the sound of all those acorns dropping to the forest floor following a strong gust of wind.
It is the perfect time too to take your interest in the plant world deeper. Learn to recognize these plants in their seed and stalk stage to begin plotting your picking for the spring as well as choosing your deeper studies for the winter. I've got a host of classes and walks coming up to help you do just that!   

Crystal Springs Resort, Vernon NJ
Seasonal Foraging Class and Wild Plant Walk recurring throughout the Season

Saturday, September 22nd, 10 - 12 pm
Saturday, September 29th, 10 - 12 pm
Saturday, October 13th, 10 -12 pm
Saturday, October 20th, 10 - 12 pm
Saturday, October 27th, 10 - 12 pm
Join me for a 30 minute class about our seasonal plants followed by a 90 minute walk on the Nature Trail at the Grand Cascades Lodge.
Cost: $10/person, open to the Public (you do not need to be a guest)
Pre-registration required, contact Crystal Springs Resort to reserve your spot:
https://www.crystalgolfresort.com


Milford Readers and Writers Festival, Milford PA
Journeys by Foot and by Word
September 28th, 3:15pm
Join me Under the Tent, in a discussion about the value of journeys. Learn about my long treks on national long-distance trails and my process in researching and writing my two books on edible and medicinal plants. All questions welcome. Books will be available for purchase.
Cost: Free
For more information about the festival please visit: milfordreadersandwriters.com

Tusten Mountain Hike with the Delaware Highlands Conservancy

Narrowsburg, NY
October 6th, 10 - 1 pm
Join me for a guided botanical hike on the Tusten Mountain Trail. We will begin with an easy stroll along the shores of the Delaware River, then wander through an old growth forest of Eastern Hemlock trees and ascend along switchbacks between stone cliffs and heaps of bluestone, finally summiting Tusten Mountain complete with vistas of the River Valley. 
Cost: Free
Pre-registration Required. To register please visit: 
https://delawarehighlands.org/events/fall-hike/

Plant Walks, Herbal Workshops, Long-distance Hiking Presentations
The Lodge at Woodloch, Hawley PA
Wednesdays and Sundays throughout the Season
As Woodloch's Naturalist and Certified Herbalist, I offer an assortment of activities centered around our natural world and holistic health. Book your stay and check out their outdoor activity schedule for list of dates/times at:
https://www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com

Botanical Hike with the Skylands Sierra Club

High Point State Park, New York
Saturday, November 3rd, 10 am - 1 pm
Join me for a hike through the botanically unique niche of the Cedar Swamp in High Point State Park. The trail is well-maintained and winding, complete with boardwalks over wet areas and benches on which to take a rest. We'll discover just what makes this part of the forest so special, especially when it comes to the medicinal plants.
Cost: $20/person, children under 13 years, free of charge
Pre-registration is required. Please contact David Alcock at dwhoob@hotmail.com to register.

Book your next outing with Hike Local
PA/NJ/NY
Do you have a group that would like to learn more about the edible and medicinal plants through a guided hike on a local trail? Perhaps you and your family would like to take a walk on your own property to learn more about your very own plants? Do you have a group that has varying degrees of endurance? We also offer slideshows and workshops. Contact us and allow us to tailor a hike or activity specifically suited to you and your group. Great for children and school groups as well!
Visit: www.Facebook.com/HikeLocal to learn more
Email us at HikeLocal@gmail.com to ask questions or schedule an activity

New hikes and events are still being added to the Autumn schedule so be sure to check out www.Facebook.com/thebotanicalhiker for the latest info as well!

Looking forward to seeing you on the trail this Fall!





Saturday, June 30, 2018

Summer 2018 Upcoming Events


A plant walk in Stokes State Forest with the Sierra Club of Skylands, NJ
Summer is here! The vibrantly colored blossoms of Red Clover and soft-ball size clusters of Milkweed are punctuating our green meadows, the palm-sized furry leaves of Burdock are now as large as palm fronds along our roadsides, and in the woods the white flat tops of of Yarrow and bright green leaves of Sweet Fern line the trail. We are in the height of growth, energy, and the light and there are so many ways to embrace it!
Take a look below to see a list of ways to hit the trail and better get to know and appreciate our regional plant life!

Crystal Springs Resort, Vernon NJ
Hikes recurring throughout the Season
Tuesday, June 26th, 10 - 12 pm
Tuesday, July 3rd, 10 - 12pm
Saturday, July 7th, 10 - 12pm
Tuesday, July 17th, 5 - 7 pm
Saturday, July 21st, 10 -12 pm
Tuesday, August 7th, 5 - 7 pm
Saturday, August 11th, 10 -12pm
Saturday, August 18th, 9 - 11am
Tuesday, August 21st, 10 - 12 pm
Saturday, August 25th, 10 -12pm
Saturday, September 8th, 10 -12 pm
Saturday, September 22nd, 10 -12 pm
Join me weekdays for a hike on a wooded Trail on-site at the Grand Cascades Lodge, identifying the edible and medicinal plants. On Saturdays, join me for a 30 minute presentation about our seasonal plants followed by a 90 minute walk on an on-site trail at the Lodge.
Cost: $10/person, open to the Public (you do not need to be a guest)
Pre-registration required, contact Crystal Springs Resort to reserve your spot:
https://www.crystalgolfresort.com

Plant Walk and Presentation with Great Swamp Conservancy 
Canastota NY
Saturday, July 28th, 1:00 - 3:00 pm
Get to know the pristine wetlands located on the shores of Oneida Lake through a slideshow presentation and guided plant walk. Walk will be easy to moderate in nature and is open to all.
Cost: $10/person
Pre-registration required:
http://www.greatswampconservancy.org

Plant Walk on the Keuka Outlet Trail, Dresden NY
Sunday, July 29th, 10:00 - 1:00 pm
Take a hike on a portion of the Keuka Outlet Trail - a lush greenway in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region - and learn about the edible and medicinal plants that call this region home.
No Cost and open to public
For more information visit:
https://www.keukaoutlettrail.org

Festival of Wood at Grey Towers Estate, Milford PA
Saturday and Sunday, August 4th and 5th, 10:00 - 5:00 pm
Visit me in the educational tent at the Delaware Highlands Conservancy booth. I will be there with a host of information about how to preserve our valuable land and signing copies of my two books offering tips and tricks in utilizing our regional edible and medicinal plants. Peruse the many artisan vendors with their array of unusual wares.
Free admittance and open to all ages
For more information visit: http://www.greytowers.org/festival-of-wood/

Milford Plant Walk with Earthly Treasures
Milford, PA
Sunday, August 12th, 9:00 - 11:00 am
Join Hike Local for an edible and medicinal plant walk through the streets of Milford. We'll take a look at our useful and beautiful plants that enjoy the edges of civilization. No need to walk into the wilderness when these plants live in you own backyard! We will depart from and return to Earthly Treasures located at 149 Sawkill Avenue in Milford - the perfect place to procure all of your all natural and spiritual specialties!
Cost: $20/person, children under 13 are free
Pre-registration required
Contact Janine or Tiffany at Earthly Treasure to sign-up
https://m.facebook.com/earthlytreasuresmilford/


Plant Walk with the Skylands Sierra Club and Angry Erik Brewing
Sussex County, NJ
Saturday, August 18th, 1:00 - 4:00pm
Back by demand and this time, the Sierra Club and I are teaming up for a walk with Angry Erik! Join us for a plant walk along the nearby Paulinskill Trail, a beautiful level greenway lined with wild plants. Departing from and returning to Angry Erik, we will finish our hike with complimentary draft beers served up by the awesome staff of Angry Erik! Learn tips for proper plant identification as well as methods for how to prepare edible and medicinal plants. Hike will be easy to moderate in nature, appropriate for both the beginner and expert plant enthusiast, and deliciously refreshing for all!
Cost: $25/person (includes 1 Angry Erik draft beer)
You do not need to be a member of the Sierra Club, hike is open to public
Pre-registration required, contact:
David Alcock at dwhoob@hotmail.com or Ashley at Angry Erik
For more information visit: http://www.angryerik.com

Firefly Picnic with the Delaware Highlands Conservancy
Swan Lake, New York
Saturday, September 15th, 4:00 - 7:00 pm
Hang with the Delaware Highlands Conservancy at their annual community picnic. There will be food, craft beer selections, crafts and I will be leading a guided plant walk on the property. A celebration of our land and community.
Cost is free but pre-registration is required.
For more information visit:
https://delawarehighlands.org/events/community-picnic-members-friends/

Plant Walks, Herbal Workshops, Long-distance Hiking Presentations
The Lodge at Woodlach, Hawley PA
Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays throughout the Season
As Woodloch's Naturalist and Certified Herbalist, I offer an assortment of activities centered around our natural world and holistic health. Book your stay and check out their outdoor activity schedule for list of dates/times at:
https://www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com

Book your next outing with Hike Local
PA/NJ/NY
Do you have a group that would like to learn more about the edible and medicinal plants through a guided hike on a local trail? Perhaps you and your family would like to take a walk on your own property to learn more about your very own plants? Do you have a group that has varying degrees of endurance? We also offer slideshows and workshops. Contact us and allow us to tailor a hike or activity specifically suited to you and your group. Great for children and school groups as well!
Visit: www.Facebook.com/HikeLocal to learn more
Email us at HikeLocal@gmail.com to ask questions or schedule an activity

New hikes and events are still being added to the Summer schedule so be sure to check out www.Facebook.com/thebotanicalhiker for the latest info as well!

Looking forward to seeing you in the woods and on the trail!



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Spring 2018 Upcoming Events

Plant walk in Stokes State Forest with the Skylands Sierra Club
Just when we thought Spring might have been cancelled this year...it is indeed that time again! The season for tiny Chickweed sprouts beneath the damp leaf litter - I saw them the other day, it's true - Wild Mustard greens gathering their momentum to unfurl, and coiled fiddlehead ferns. The days have grown longer and the sun warmer, the Spring peepers are peeping, and the hungry awakening bear have already rummaged through our trash. A sign of good things to come! 
This Spring, join us in getting outside. Feel that sun on your skin, get your hands dirty, and eat some delicious edibles! Check out the upcoming events below!

Plant Walk with Crystal Springs Resort, Vernon NJ
Hike recurring roughly twice a month:
April 21st, 9-11 am
May 12, 10-12 am
May 19, 9-11 am
June 2, 5-7 pm
June 26, 10-12 am
Join me for a stroll through the woods and fields near Crystal Springs Resort, identifying the edible and medicinal plants.
Cost: $10/person
Pre-registration required, contact Crystal Springs Resort to reserve your spot:

Eating Wild: Identifying the Edible Plants in your own Backyard
Mother Earth News Fair, Asheville NC
Sunday, April 29th, 11:30 -12:30 pm
 Learn about our many edible springtime plants, aka the weeds, found just outside you doorstep. Attend a host of workshops on homesteading and peruse the many vendors.
Cost: $20/person, includes all presentations/workshops for the weekend

Spring Foraging: Easy to find Edible and Medicinal Plants
Food and Wine Festival, Vernon NJ
May 5th, 11-12pm
Take part in a slideshow presentation describing our regional and seasonal edible and medicinal finds! Learn how to forage and utilize your local plants. A wild-crafted tea and wild edible treats will be provided.
Contact Crystal Springs for more information:

Medicine Wheel Festival, Wantage NJ
May 19-20th, 10-6pm both days
Get into the Spring swing with a host of workshops and plant walks about our regional plants. Peruse the many vendor tables offering arts, crafts, and plants. I will be offering a plant walk on May 20th and will be available all weekend with signed copies of my books on wild edible and medicinal plants.
Cost: $7/person entry fee, workshops/walks included in fee

Herbal Weekend at the Lodge at Woodloch
Hawley, PA
Friday, May 25 - Sunday, May 27
Learn about all things herbal while in the lap of luxury! Throughout the weekend I will be offering seasonal presentations, workshops, and guided hikes featuring our edible and medicinal plants. Wild-crafted infusions and wild edible treats will be provided.
To learn more visit: https://www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com

Plant Walk with the Skylands Sierra Club, Walpack NJ
May 26th, 10-1pm
Join me for a plant walk around beautiful Blue Mountain Lakes and learn about our regional edible and medicinal plants, with tips and tricks for harvest and use.
Cost: $20/person, children under 13 are free.
Pre-registration required, contact David Alock at dwhoob@hotmail.com

Plant Walk along the Finger Lakes Trail with Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor NY
June 2nd, 10:30 - 1:30
Explore a small piece of the 1,000 mile Finger Lakes Trail on a plant walk around pristine Alder Lake, located near Hardenburgh NY. Worry not, we will be walking roughly 2 miles on an easy to moderate trail. There are a number of rare plants that call this portion of trail home.
Cost: $25
Pre-registration required, contact Lisa at info@morgan-outdoors.com
For more information visit: http://morgan-outdoors.com

A Tale of the Trail at The Frisky Goat Coffeehouse, Milford PA
June 9th, 7:00 pm
Join me for some tales from our 400 mile hike along New York state's Long Path and sip some delicious coffee at Frisky Goat Coffeehouse's open mic night. A number of inspiring and unusal artists will also take the stage offering music and poetry - don't miss it!
Cost: free of charge

Girl's Hike Out: a plant walk with Frisky Goat Coffeehouse, Milford PA
Saturday, June 16th
Come for a plant walk with the ladies along picturesque wooded trail nearby to downtown Milford. Although this hiking group is predominantly women, men are not excluded and regularly attend as well.
 Cost: $20/person
Pre-registration required
Contact me at HikeLocal@gmail.com or call the Frisky Goat at (570)409-4848

Plant Walks, Herbal Workshops, Long-distance Hiking Presentations
The Lodge at Woodloch, Hawley PA
Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays throughout the season
As Woodloch's Naturalist and Certified Herbalist, I offer an array of activities centered around our natural world and holistic health. Book your stay and check out their outdoor activity schedule for a list of dates/times at: 

Book your activity with Hike Local
PA/NJ/NY
Do you have a group that would like to learn more about the edible and medicinal plants through a guided hike on a local trail? Perhaps you and your family would like to take a walk on your own property to learn about your very own plants? Do you have a group that has varying degrees of endurance? We also offer slideshows and workshops. Contact us and allow us to tailor a hike or activity specifically suited to you and your group!
Contact us at: HikeLocal@gmail.com
Visit: www.Facebook.com/HikeLocal to learn more


Looking forward to seeing you on the trail and in the woods!







Monday, April 2, 2018

Hiking the Florida Trail


Hiking the Florida Trail has forever changed my perspective of the state of Florida. A born and bred northeasterner, I have always perceived Florida as a place for the weak and the elderly. As a girl who loves mountains, it was nothing more than flat and hot. I know, it's harsh and really terribly untrue, but my only knowledge of Florida before this was informed by my trip to Disney World when I was 8 years old and all those snowbirds I had encountered over the years who found the snow too much to bear. Allow me to personally extend a sincere apology to all those snowbirds, some of them dear friends and family, who I misjudged. Your state of Florida proved to be unimaginably and sometimes even indescribably beautiful. The people we met along the way were also so very friendly and honestly seemed a whole lot cheerier than we scowling people from the land of snow.

Scott and me at Florida Trail marker in Kissimmee Preserve State Park
So given this preconceived notion what made me want to hike the Florida Trail you ask? Well, firstly, I had learned from a fellow hiker and trail angel, Johnny Massey, when I was hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail, that this trail was over 1,000 miles long. Any trail of this magnitude catches my interest. Secondly, his tales coupled with those of my dear friend, Rachel Horn, whose love of Apalachicola filled my head with  images of completely alien plant life, plants on which I had never yet laid eyes, kindled my curiosity. Thirdly, Scott and I seem to be creeping ever closer to the ranks of the "weak" or perhaps in reality the "wise."  Quite frankly, these born and bred northeasterners have lost all interest in the snow. You tough souls can have it. So when Scott suggested we visit his mother in Sarasota, Florida with our few weeks of vacation, we got to thinking...we would be awfully close to that Florida Trail. Plus maybe it was time we looked into a trail we could hike in the winter instead of playing the painfully long waiting game until Spring to get our legs moving again. That was it...we were psyched. Florida or bust, baby!

The Cracker Trail Country Store in Okeechobee, Florida
We planned a 100 mile route from Okeechobee to Kissimmee through Central Florida that we figured would take us about one week to hike. After some help from folks on the Florida Trail Hikers facebook page, we decided we would ask permission from the owners of the Cracker Trail Country Store located just one mile from the trail if we could park my car there. The owners were easy-going and happy to oblige even when we told them our plan to hike all the way to Kissimmee, hop an Amtrak train and cab it back to the car eight days later. They didn't blink an eye and seemed used to accommodating we crazy hikers, "Better you than me!" said the woman working the register.

Roadside palm in Okeechobee bearing orange Florida Trail blaze
Our hike began with orange blazes painted on the smooth trunks of Palm trees lining an asphalt road that stretched on for miles. We hiked with heavy packs laden with eight days worth of food and over 12 liters of water between the two of us in hot sun for 9.5 miles, stopping roughly every two miles to collapse in the meager shade of a palm. Periodic 18-wheelers piled high with purple cabbage and sod rumbled by flinging cabbage leaves and grass at our feet. This first day was far harder than we had anticipated given our winter weary bodies that felt like they had just crawled out from a dark cave of hibernation seeing the sun for the first time in months. Yet despite the struggle we marveled at the expansive acreage of cow pastures filled with curious cattle that would lift their heads in unison, chewing their cud with an unflinching gaze as we walked by. With little else to look at, we found were doing just the same back at them.

 Just a couple of the many cows along roadwalk

Scott road hiking
Yet the thrill of beginning a long hike still filled our hearts and we reveled in passing these orange blazes on Palms and the first of both new and lesser seen plants along the roadside.

Woolly Paw Paw (Asimina incana)

Starrush Whitetop (Rhynchospora colorata)
The second day when we awoke in our tent at Oak Creek campsite to birdsong so boisterous and unfamiliar we reminisced on our time in Guatemala, we felt ready for a new day and when we stepped finally onto real true trail just a couple of miles later, we nearly skipped on down the path. Walking the woods of Florida was quite a different experience from walking the road. Above us was a canopy of interlacing grape vines and Spanish Moss tufts that hung so low from the outstretched branches of the Live Oak that they sometimes grazed our heads.

Scott on trail

We came to our first water source here, a pond filled with algae blooms - not ideal but water nonetheless - and the most incredible plant community that called it home. Carnivorous Sundews nearly blanketed the sandy ground, while here and there sparkled pink Meadow Beauties, succulent Saint John's Worts seemed luminescent, and waxy white flowers arose on tall stalks at the water's edge. After sticking our trekking poles in the water first, hoping the resident alligators would snap at those and not our arms, we dunked our bottles for water and rested by the shore eagerly flipping through a Florida Plant guide.

Sundew (Drosera)

Meadow Beauty (Rhexia)

Four-leaved Saint John's Wort (Hypericum tetrapetalum)

Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia)

At some point in the day while hiking through the Florida jungle, a sweet gust of wind swept through the thick palms and Oaks, carrying the strong scent of Orange blossoms. We halted in our tracks when the wind blew and the scent remained. We looked around us intoxicated by the aroma and then saw them...bunches of ripe oranges hanging from the tree tops. Wild Oranges! They were not easy to pluck from the high branches but we were determined and sat down atop our packs to devour the fruits that left our fingers literally dripping with juice. We quickly learned that oranges gone wild revert to their sour state when they are no long tended to, but they were delicious none the less. We stashed away one in our pack before carrying on.

Scott beneath our found Wild Orange trees
We stopped early for the day after eating lunch at the pristine Starvation Slough campsite. We had failed to put on sunscreen until later in the day and were both feeling burnt and tired in the 80 degree temps. We had little desire to hike on after we had reclined on the picnic table and benches surrounding a fire-ring. We decided an early day with a leisurely dinner around a campfire later that evening sounded better. Through the palms golden prairie land stretched out to either side of us as the sun seventually set low behind our patch of palm forest.

re-enactment of battling the the wild jaguarundi
We were had just began eating dinner when we heard it...a rustle in the palms...then a charging a sudden halt. By the light of the campfire we saw the palms shake. It was probably just a deer...until the palms continued to rustle and whatever it was rushed again and halted. Okay...maybe a bear. We got to clanging our hiking sticks and yelling to scare it off. It proceeded around the edge of the palms now closer to our campfire. We clicked on our headlamps and shone them into the darkness only to see nothing but palm fronds. This curious animal continued to make a semi-circle around our camp as we jumped atop the picnic table and banged pots and shoes and hollared as loud as we could. This went on for over an hour as we shoveled noodles into our mouths as quickly as we could and hastily hung a bear hang. It then ran a circle around our camp. This was no bear...could it possibly be...a panther? "Get in the tent." Scott ordered. We scurried inside our nylon shelter and we listened as whatever it was seemed to run off into the brush. For two hours we heard nothing and so began to finally drift off to sleep when it returned running a full circle around our tent. Somehow that night...we did eventually fall asleep and awoke in the morning to find no evidence of any creature ever entering camp. We have decided it was a a rogue jaguarundi looking to eat us or play, whichever we were somewhat glad we never actually saw it.
Duck Slough - yes we did retrieve water from here!

Alligator along a slough
On our third day, our trail legs suddenly kicked into gear as we trekked 15 into and through the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. Our morning began with alligators basking in the sun along a slough that ran parallel to a thin strip of trail and late in the afternoon we lunched along the boardwalk atop the magical Duck Slough, where the water was blanketed with duck weed and the all was shrouded in green. We ended the day with an seemingly interminable five mile walk down a sandy road termed the Military Trail with Saw Palmetto prairie stretching out for miles to either side of us, tiny ponds teeming with bird and plant life our only mileage markers.

Five mile Military Road

A prairie slough
In the evening we were rewarded for our efforts with a pristine campsite at the Prairie Loop Junction complete with a water pump providing our first water source in which we didn't have to first break the surface of green. The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is nationally renowned for its darkness given the lack of light and air pollution and so that night we gazed up at the sea of stars, more stars than I had seen since my visit to Utah almost a decade ago, and teetering in our tininess amidst the immensity of existence.

Covered platform with picnic table at Prairie Junction Loop campsite


Dirty feet after three days of hiking
On our fourth day we hiked another 10 miles through endless Saw Palmetto Prairie, both of us wondering how we had never learned of the Florida prairie lands. Their vastness was breath-taking while at the same time psychologically challenging given that the landscape seemed never to change although we continued to hike.

Saw Palmetto (Serona repens) Prairie
So psychologically challenging apparently that we resorted to talking to that wild orange I was still carrying in my pack. We named him Reggie - think Castaway's Wilson the volleyball - and he became our traveling companion for the rest of the trip. He is quite the jokester!
Reginald aka Reggie the Wild Orange
The temperatures had significantly dropped, remaining in the mid-sixties all day with a wind that blew so strong across the open prairie that I had to wrap a bandana around my head to shield my ears from the ceaseless whooshing. I believe we found this wind more tiresome than the actual hiking. After hiking atop clods of grass and sand along a firebreak we finally reached the private road that lead over the S-65A Lock.

Crossing S-65A lock over the Kissimmee River
Looking out over Kissimmee River
We crossed the Kissimmee River on a marvel of human engineering - essentially a dam and lock system. The views were long here and we noted the multitude of birds that happily called this river home, each one perched atop its own bouy that floated on the surface of the water. Near the entrance to the lock sat a simple house all on its lonesome, and we wondered what it must be like to awake every day to river and its wildlife and nothing else.

Kissimmee River - a haven for the birds
Once on the other side of the lock, we walked through tall grass on a levee high above the Kissimmee. In the water below we could see evidence of alligator holes in the sand and we hiked a lil faster. It wasn't long before we encountered the free roaming cattle that also live their existence by the lock. Most all trotted away from us at first sight, all except for one big bull that mirrored every step we took towards him. He kept us busy for about 20 minutes as we tried to find our way around him, considering it was just us and him and a concrete weir with no where to go but through the marsh on either side. Finally in the setting sun, we scurried by him while he busy chewing on some grass and hustled our way to the Town of Kicco campsite.

Trail angels at Town of Kicco campground
This particular group of campsites abuts the shores of the Kissimmee and is actually the remains of a thriving cattle town that existed roughly a century ago. Remnants of the sidewalks and some metal pipes still remain, but sadly the last structures were destroyed some years ago. Here in this little cattle town we met three kind souls and a dog. We had no sooner got our tent set up for the night that a man from a nearby campsite walked across the way and offered us a giant ziplock of lo mein. We were running lower on fuel than expected and so his offer couldn't have come at a better time! To top it off in the morning, another one of these generous campers invited us back over to camp for eggs, potatoes, toast, and coffee. Way better than the granola bars we already had in our hands! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and learned that every year this group of men meet for a week long camp at Kicco. This group has a number of members and formed through a meetup forum nearly a decade earlier. Each one of them was from a different walk of life with his own perspective, yet all had a love for the outdoors. We didn't realize until we left to hike our miles for the day, that none of us had ever bothered exchanging names even if we had exchanged stories. I guess names just weren't all that important.

Kissimmee River alongside cattle grazing land
Fueled by the best food we had yet had on our hike, we cruised along effortlessly. We walked a sand road through free roaming cattle, paralleling the Kissimmee River that shone clear blue, reflecting the cloudless sky above us. After a few miles, we spent the rest of the day criss-crossing a white sand road and walking through patches of shaded forest filled with Live Oaks, Palms and Saw Palmetto plants. The trail beneath us remained sand and it was easy at times to forget that we were in Florida and not out west in desert. Then we reached the dude ranch...

Teepees at the River Ranch Resort
Fellow hikers....meet the River Ranch Resort. This is the lap of luxury for all you country folks out there, complete with glamping teepees each with its own king sized bed and air conditioner. This place not only has a saloon, restaurant, cowboy clothing store (Scott did manage to pick up a hat here), general store, rodeo, adventure park, and golf course, but its own post office. Keep this in mind for your mail-drops...because to buy a resupply here will break your wallet...think $8.99 for a block of Kraft cheddar. Nonetheless we did enjoy a delicious reasonably priced pizza and the employees we encountered were friendly and accommodating, filling our water bottles for us and such. After a lengthy rest we hiked into the sunset, passing the resident buffalo along the way.

Buffalo at the River Ranch Resort

Scott donning his new hat near the River Ranch Resort
We climbed a stile into KICCO north and that night camped beneath the boughs of a Live Oak shrouded in Spanish Moss and adorned in air plants. From the evidence of the cow patties throughout the our meadow, we wondered if we might have moo'ing visitors in the night. We rested easy though and in the morning walked a grassy levee in the early morning sun, following a lone cow through the tall grass. The walking was pleasant until Scott had to literally run a black snake gauntlet the last tenth of a mile to SR 60. After catching our breath, literally, we then endured a 5 mile roadwalk along the busiest road I have ever hiked. 18-wheelers blew past our shoulders and cars zipped along our narrow strip of sloped grass, as we walked hemmed in by a fence shielding a gas pipeline its entire length. We counted the miles down and gritted our teeth, however along the way we still managed to admire a few of the native plants!

Pennywort (Hydrocotyle umbellata) - edible in herb proportions

Frog Fruit (Phyla nodiflora) - useful as a medicinal tea for easing an upset stomach.
We were relieved when we turned left onto a sandy gravel road that ran hot and long, leading us into a Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. Within a couple miles we reached a surprisingly busy hunt check station that provided some much desired shade. It was the first morning of the youth turkey hunt and the hunters were out in full. However all that we encountered were friendly and talkative and even shared their ice cold water with us from the back of their pickup trucks while we lunched with the hunt check host - a fellow New Yorker who told us he now spent his days in the warmth of the Florida sun.

Walk through prairie in Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

Burned Saw Palmetto (Serona repens) in flower - Saw Palmetto is true to its name with saw-like teeth along its lower stalk. 
From here we walked another three miles through vast prairie, much of it recently burned for management. Our last mile however wove us through pristine forest that felt more like a jungle with old growth Palms towering overhead, Live Oaks craning their branches for the sun like a spiderweb above, and dried Palm fronds and Oak leaves crunching beneath our feet. We were left speechless by the beauty of this ancient forest.
Scott in old growth forest

When we reached the Godwin Hammock campsite, we were rewarded with a recently built tent platform, picnic table and fire ring, along with another pitcher pump that gushed clear, clean water. This would be our last night in the wilderness and even after just a week, that bittersweet feeling of finishing our hike was already filling our hearts. Although our skin was puffy and red from sun and wind and our legs dusted in dirt, we hated to leave.

Godwin Hammock campsite
In the morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and hit the trail, walking through some of the tallest grass yet. Along the way we stepped over more than one rattlesnake skin and so kept our eyes glued to the ground, being certain to place our hiking sticks before our feet. When we reached woods and took a break in the shade of an Live Oak, we decided we would walk the sandy gravel roads for a bit with the prospect of catching a ride to cut off some miles. We were behind by half a day's miles given our slower pace earlier in the week and so we were looking at a twenty mile day. With the grass through the prairie so tall and the sun shining scorching hot, we thought a little trail magic might be in order.

Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii)
We reached a white hot roadwalk and stopped within a couple miles for a lunch break.  We had no sooner set down our packs when a pickup truck came rumbling down the road. Scott gave a wave and the pickup truck slowed to a halt.

"Any chance, you're going to Canoe Creek Road?" Scott asked.

"Sure are." The man said from behind the wheel, two small children beside him in the front seat.

"Mind if we hitch a ride in the back?" Scott asked pointing to the bed of the truck.

"Sure. But we're looking for shark's teeth, so we might be awhile."

We hopped in. Turns out this is a common thing that locals do - looking for shark's teeth and fossils in the sandy roads. The man informed us that all of the now dry land that we hiked atop had at one time been underwater and so artifacts from that time remained. We ended up joining the treasure hunt and one of the little ones ended up uncovering the fossil of a snail body, once wet and fat now turned to stone. Afterwards that nice family ended up giving us a ride 20 miles down Canoe Creek Rd as we clenched for dear life to the low tailgate, our trailhead disappearing in the distance at 60 miles per hour.

And so after our drop-off, we walked another couple of miles to a nearby Shell Station, lunched on bean burritos and Dr Pepper on the cool pavement outside and then cabbed it another 10 miles into the town of Kissimmee. We managed to land a room at the luxurious Satisfaction Resort Hotel for just $65 and after very long showers hit the nearby Mexican restaurant, El Tapatio, for dinner. There we stuffed our faces full of fresh veggies and guacamole, and chatted for an hour with the family beside us. Even if this part of the city seemed rather seedy by appearance, the interactions we had were stellar. In the morning, our of hopping an Amtrak train didn't quite pan out when we were alerted that it was four hours delayed, making our five hour train ride's arrival in Okeechobee even later in the day. So on a whim, we called Uber. Within minutes our driver arrived, and drove us for the same reasonable price of $95, back to Okeechobee in just an hour and a half's time.  Our driver, originally from Columbia, told us of his mountains and we told him of our walk across the prairies of his present home. As we neared Okeechobee, he remarked..."Seems there are more cows here than people." Sure 'nuff.

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) adorned in Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)

And so our adventure on the Florida Trail was an adventure indeed. We trekked through jungle and prairie, across slough and sand, meeting new plant faces, encountering wild jaguarundis and alligators, relentless sun and blowing winds, and generous souls. Florida, you unveiled a world to us unimaginable and with it a new trail to further discover...our wheels are already turning and our feet itching to see what lies at the edge of the next prairie.