Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Along the Suwannee River

Trail through Camp Blanding

This Florida trail is truly unique...a patchwork of swamp sloshing, road rambling, and meandering trail, and along its corridor so many helpful souls. We trekked through Camp Blanding where we spied more Spanish Moss than we had see since the prairie section and took a long walk along the Palatka Lake Butler Trail, enjoying its grassy terrain amidst the Long Leaf Pine timberlands and Cypress swamps and were pleased to find a welcoming town at its terminus in Lake Butler. We set up camp for the night outside of City Hall, thanks to Sara and Amy, and took care of all our resupply needs. This set us up perfectly for a walk through yet more Long Leaf Pines in Lake Butler Forest and in Olustee Experimental Forest. Through this section we had the help of two Florida Trail advocates - Janie Hamilton and Billy Luper.

Meeting Janie Hamilton outside of Keystone Heights
Billy Luper of White Springs bestowing upon us trail magic at the Fastway near Osceola National Forest

While night-hiking towards Cow Creek Camp we met Janie at a road-crossing. Janie is the section leader for this area and a long-time volunteer with the trail. She filled us in on what was to come and sent us on our way with Florida Trail memorabilia and well wishes. Just a few days later, when we decided to treat ourselves to a motel in Lake City, she kindly connected us with Billy Luper, trail volunteer and avid hiker. Billy oh so generously helped us with a ride back to the trail the next morning! Thank you Janie and Billy!

Trail through the Osceola National Forest

Oh Osceola, how do I describe thee...you were spongy and muddy with waters high and cold but you were also thick with Saw Palmetto, Long Leaf Pine, sunken Cypress trees and dotted with Saint John's Wort and Candy Weed. The Okeefenokee Swamp literally connects with Osceola - something we did not realize until we took a good long look at a larger map while on break - its waters draining into this national forest. So to say it is wet trail walking through here is an understatement. But the air smelled sweet like licorice from the abundant pine pollen that coated all the waters and our crocs in yellow dust. We became one with these waters and woods as we squished through carpets of moss, sunk ankle deep in its rich mud, and waded through knee-deep water when bridges led us directly into them as if we were walking the plank.

Wise Man getting ready to walk off the plank and into a now very wide stream crossing on the trail

Shin deep in Osceola mud
Walking, er' wading the trail

Saint John's Wort (Hypericum reductum) - Saint John's Wort is renowned for its depression alleviating properties as well as its ability to heal tissue and reduce nerve pain. However it is uncertain as to whether or not this species possesses such properties. Most often Hypericum perforatum or Hypericum punctatum are species that are used medicinally. 

As much as we got a thrill out of Osceola's obstacle course we were relieved to again hit road as we trekked towards White Springs. We were about to jump onto a new section of trail near Randy Madison Shelter until we were luckily forewarned by a farmer toting the biggest bail of hay I've ever seen in a very tiny pick-up truck that we had better only head into those woods if we liked to swim. We like swimmin' just fine but not with our backpacks on, so road-walking it was. The Suwannee was at flood stage just a couple of weeks ago, over 65 feet high, and has since dropped but not by much. So we have been researching our upcoming miles carefully. Wise Man unfortunately purchased our Florida Trail kits on a budget site - floaties and rafts not included.

Judith's White Springs Bed and Breakfast - perfect for two weary hikers!

Judith, Mark, Wise Man, myself, Jeanne and Kathy

In town we found shelter at the White Springs Bed and Breakfast owned by Miss Judith. This sweet woman opens her doors wide to hikers and provided us with a lovely room, laundry and a delicious breakfast in the morning. Here we met members of the Suwanne Bicycle Association, Kathy and Mark and Event Director, Biking Jeanne. Turns out Jeanne had been following our blog since we started and so what fun it was to elaborate on our journey thus far and to hear her tales of biking adventures as well. These three made breakfast special and it was hard to rise from our seats to get moving again.

Amos the traveler

But before leaving White Springs, we made yet another friend...of the canine kind. Meet Amos. Ever hear that song Amos Moses by Jerry Reed? It has been our theme song out here on the trail and we thought it a fitting name for this pooch who followed us out of town. We did everything we could to shrug him off after he trailed us from the Dollar General. We stopped in the Post Office and the convenience store, thinking surely he would forget about us and be on his way but both times he waited patiently for us outside. We stopped in the outfitters on the edge of town to see if he knew of anyone missing a dog or if he knew him to be a resident dog in town. He felt he was a discarded hunting dog that hadn't done his job well. We knew we had a long day of roadwalks ahead of us due to the Suwannee's high waters and did not want Amos to be in danger on the roads. As we made our way out of town we chatted with a ranger, hoping he could take Amos somewhere safe. He simply congratulated us on our adoption. And so we continued out of town with Amos happily following behind. When the roads got busy and Amos didn't seem to understand that he should be on the other side of the white line, we pulled out our bear rope and fashioned a leash for him along with a cloth Nike strap we found on the ground which made a good collar when tied in a knot.

Amos road-walking - he sure liked those cool culverts filled with water!

We worried about just how we were going to care for a dog on the trail or how we could possibly get him somewhere safe. When we hit quiet roads, we took him off the leash hoping he would turn and head back to White Springs. But he just trotted along and when we stopped to break, he did too. We passed farms with dogs and wondered if this one or that one might be a good home but each time the dogs seemed too aggressive while Amos just wagged his tail. Over fifteen miles later, as we grew closer to Suwannee Springs, Amos was still with us. I called a veterinary hospital in Live Oak and was chatting with them about our options which basically consisted of taking him to a shelter. Just then an off-road buggy came bouncing down the road with two clean-cut looking country boys at the helm. They complimented us on Amos and Wise Man asked if they would like to take him home. After explaining our situation they said, they would hate to see him walking all that way and so happily received him. We shed a tear upon having to part with our new friend but it seemed a happy ending.

Amos heading off to his new home

Now after a night camped beneath the stars at Suwannee Music Park, we are taking a zero with one of Scott's good friends from the biz, Bobby Barth. These two were texting and what d'ya know, Bobby lived just around the way! You may know Bobby from his many years with Axe or Blackfoot. He has so graciously spontaneously invited these weary hikers into his home where we are enjoying some R&R.

Wise Man and Bobby Barth - these two toured together in Louisiana Hoodoo Krewe (members of Blackfoot)

Tomorrow we finally get to walk alongside the rushing waters of the Suwannee that regularly carve an unpredicted path through this land. But like this river, our days on this trail have proved to be equally unpredictable and it is our task to go with the flow. Here's to what's to come!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Edible and Medicinal Botanicals of the Florida Trail

Wise Man traversing around flooded road in Plum Creek Timberlands - we were not always so lucky to walk around, instead having to wade right on thru!

We are over 500 miles in and nearly half way through our hike on this exceptionally beautiful and challenging trail. Since I last posted we have traversed Ocala National Forest traveling through Long Leaf Pine forests filled with blonde grasses and heaps of golden sand, evidence of the pocket gophers that call this land home. Here we also walked tunnels of Scrub forest, home to the Scrub Jay, a threatened species that resides amidst the Wild Rosemary and scrubby Oaks. In the Plum Creek Timberlands we slogged down miles of flooded forest road where the road and the cypress swamps were often indiscernable from each other. After wading through a thigh-high roadside culvert, we sloshed our way into Rice Creek Conservation Area traversing Nine Mile Swamp, where the beauty made up for the high waters as we were surrounded by a Florida jungle of towering Cypress and lush Palms. And all along this trail we have had the company of botanicals both edible and medicinal. I would like to take this blog, marking our halfway point, to fill you in on some of the plants that we have been appreciating along this trail.

Viola with heart-shaped leaves - any Violets that are blue and/or white with heart-shaped leaves have edible flowers and leaves
Lance-leaf Violet (Viola lanceolata) - questionable if edible due to lance-shaped leaves

I was thrilled when we began seeing the five-petaled faces of the Violets (Viola) in the prairie lands, reminding me of those that I know from home. However, these were different species, one in particular with grass-like leaves, Viola lanceolata, which we would never see up north. I have always been taught that all true Violets, except those with yellow flowers are edible. Some have a sweet flavor, whereas others may be minty or even spicy. However I have never encountered a violet with lance shaped leaves. Typically the leaves of Violet are heart-shaped. I have done some research and cannot find  anything confirming or denying the edibility of Viola lanceolata, therefore the jury is still out, eat at your own risk. The heart-shaped leaves of white and/or blue Violets may be enjoyed raw in a salad or tossed into a stir-fry or soup. They are a versatile green that never grows bitter – very unusual in the wild plant world. These violets have since persisted as we have hiked north and we have nibbled them here and there.

The colorful seeds of Coontie (Zamia pumila) which can be found near the base of the plant.
The Coontie (Zamia pumila) on the other hand, has been much more infrequent to see and we did not spot our first wild one until Ocala National Forest. This plant, endemic to Florida, used to grow in abundance but was overharvested and now found only sporadically or planted for ornamental purposes. All parts of the plant are toxic, containing cycasin, so not a plant to harvest while hiking. However the Seminole Indians employed it, carefully leaching this toxin from the roots, then making a flour and bread from the starch that they called sofkee. It was Coontie that provided nourishment as the US soldiers drove them deeper into the Everglades. We, Americans, later decided this might be a good money-maker and actually made an industry out of Coontie root, hence how it was nearly wiped clean from the Pinelands and Oak Hammocks.

The saw-tooth teeth of Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) found along petiole (leaf stem)
Fronds of Saw Palmetto - one of these is actually considered a whole leaf
Another plant that has been employed commercially however continues to proliferate throughout Florida, the Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens). We have walked through vast prairies of these palm fronds with their saw-toothed petioles. The berries can be pulverized and ingested in a capsule or submerged in alcohol and tinctured, useful as an adaptogen – to support and nourish the body – as well as an alterative – to cleanse the body of excess waste. Herbalists regularly use it to treat prostate inflammation and disorders of the urinary tract. The Native Americans regularly ate the berries, but I have heard that they taste like soap. There are no berries to be found this time of year, so will have to be sure to sample a few later in the season.

Spring Coral Root (Corallorhiza wisteriana)

This unusual parasitic plant, Spring Coral Root (Corallorhiza wisteriana), was quite the find beside a pond in Ocala. It is the only place that we have spotted it yet and it was enjoying a blanket of wet leaves and the shade of Cabbage Palm fronds. Spring Coral Root is indeed medicinal however because it is infrequent, not one to forage but rather revere. It is reportedly one of our best herbs for increasing the body’s temperature (diaphoretic), breaking up a cold, and alleviating pulmonary ailments, however it must be used regularly for several weeks to fully restore health.

Wise Man hiking through Long Leaf Pine (Pinus palustris) and Saw Palmetto savanna in Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area
Long Leaf Pine Cone with open scales - nuts already gone
Long Leaf Pine sapling

Most anyone who has spent time on the Florida Trail through Central Florida knows of this towering slender tree, Long Leaf Pine. If shared space with Saw Palmetto through Three Lakes Wildlife Management area and reached for the sky in Ocala National Forest. Pluck some long needles from one of the stubby saplings and steep in hot water as we did for a Vitamin C rich tea that is also highly antimicrobial. Pine nuts may also be harvested from the large unopened cones. If you wait until the scales open up, the critters will have already found them, but put some closed cones by a fire to release the seeds. Hence, one of the reasons why the park service prescribes burns to perpetuate the life of these trees. We have yet to try this method as we rarely build fires but seems as though it would work.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Here are two greenies that we know and love from our grassy areas back home in the northeast, Cleavers and Chickweed. We were pleased to finally see them here along the unpaved Palatka Lake Butler Trail. Cleavers are a considered a Bedstraw, however this species, Galium aparine, is one of the very few to bear many tiny velcro-like hairs. Throw it at your fellow hiker and it will literally cleave to their clothing. Chickweed, this species very small and unassuming, Stellaria media, is sweet and crisp with a taste reminiscent of corn. Chickweed can be enjoyed raw like sprouts in a sandwich or in a salad. Cleavers is better cooked to dissolve those rough hairs. Both are excellent pureed in a pesto. A retired railroad bed is never a good place to forage due to contaminated soil and foot traffic…but the next time we see it along grassy trail…it is going in our lunchtime cheese sandwiches! Every thru-hiker needs their greens!

Usnea, aka Old Man's Beard, growing on Sand Pine cone - Usnea is an epiphyte, therefore it does not harm the organism it grows on but rather uses it as a substrate

Have you spied this lichen clinging to the Live Oaks, Sand Pines, and Wild Rosemary? Meet Usnea, aka Old Man’s Beard. There are dozens of species of Usnea and each rather difficult to tell apart, however all are highly medicinal. This organism is the closest thing to anti-biotics one can find in a forest and it had been employed as such for centuries. Modern day herbalists use it as an anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-viral, especially good for urinary tract infections and pulmonary conditions. However field medics back in World War I, would pulverize this lichen and pack it into men’s wounds to both prevent infection and staunch bleeding. Steep it in hot water or tincture in alcohol to ingest. To be certain you have Usnea and not another genus of lichen or Spanish Moss, gently break a piece and look for a very slender white or light pink thread running inside.

There are so many more that I would love to feature but they will have wait until the next posts for surely you would be better outside seeing these plants for yourself than reading them here! From here we continue to hike north, into parts of Florida of which we know only what we have been told. This is the magic of a thru-hike…to wander.and to wander slowly into places which we could not even conjure visions of in our wildest imagination…and to enter them without expectations but rather wonder, sure feet, and open hearts. It’s gone from real dry out here to real wet seemingly overnight as we near flooded rivers and deep swamps. Here’s to the Suwannee River and whatever you bring our way!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Magic is afoot on the Florida Trail

Wise Man rejoicing on the trail!
This Florida Trail is something else. Since I have last updated, we have trekked through Long Leaf Pine savannas, swooshing through Saw Palmettos sometimes as tall as small trees, stepping carefully over their prostrate trunks that crawl like tree roots across the trail. We have walked roughly 30 miles of road and once back in the woods, welcomed the reappearance of Red Oak and Maple leaves reminding us of home, and the spikey seed capsules of Sweet Gum littering the boardwalks that we walked across the swampier parts of the trail through Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area and Little Big Econ State Forest. Small hills have begun to appear - I mean small - and the trail is well defined. But what I absolutely must highlight in this post is not the plants, but the people that we have encountered as we transitioned from the wilderness into the Orlando Metro Area.

Us with Trucker Bob during our long road walk through Deseret Ranch
Let's begin on a nearly 30 mile road-walk down busy roadways to start and then endless empty roads where the wind blew strong and cold and even the cows weren't to be seen. We set out from Jane Green Campsite, prepared to walk nearly 25 miles to the next campsite on Taylor Creek Loop. We had slept cold the night before as temps had dropped down to the low 40's and day was slow to warm. We passed fields that had been treated with biowaste, therefore the creeks we passed were all contaminated. The miles felt dark and long. Sometime in the afternoon, we decided we would try and get ourselves into the town of Cocoa which was a number of miles away, where we could get a room for the night. I stuck out my thumb and the few cars that passed over what felt like a very long time, sped right on by. We were just about to give up hope and keep on walking when a pick-up truck pulled over. A young man leaned out the passenger side window. "You trying to get off this roadwalk too?" He said.

Turns out this was a fellow hiker, Sunshine, who was hitching a ride up the trail from a ranch worker. Even though this ranch worker was heading the other direction, he gave a ride all the way into town where we were able to get a room at the Budget Inn. As soon as we started to warm up we began to wonder just how we might get back to our spot on the trail. Just then a text message came in from Trucker Bob. Before we knew it he had arranged to come pick us up in the morning and drive us back to the trail. But the magic didn't end there...when he appeared in the morning he offered to slackpack us the rest of our road miles into Tosohatchee. Oh sweet lordy, what a gift! We took him up on his offer without a second's hesitation. Thank you, Desert Ranch Worker, Sunshine, and Trucker Bob - sometimes it takes a village to get you down a roadwalk!

Sandra Friend, Wise Man, myself, and John Keatley
Just a day later, we had the great fortune of spending some time with Florida Trail experts, Sandra Friend and her husband John Keatley. These two wrote the guidebook that has helped to carry us down this trail. Sandra has also penned a number of other books highlighting the history of the trail, the botanical beauties to be found throughout the state, and its many trails to take you there. She is Florida Trail extraordinaire and recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Trail Association. She and John are two of the founders of the Florida Trail Alliance, the organization largely responsible for all the magic that we have been enjoying along this trail. What a treat to sit and talk trail, plants, and writing with these two. She has got my wheels turning for a plant guide to the Florida Trail. Hmmm...who knows what could be next in the Botanical Hiker series? Thank you, Sandra and John for your company and for sharing your wealth of experience with us!

Visiting with Aunt Kathy and George in Sanford
As we entered into the Orlando Metro area amidst a slew of stores, traffic lights, cars and the like, we were thankful to be welcomed in by my dear family, Aunt Kathy and her husband George. I had not seen these two sweet souls in many years and what better time for a reunion! And let me tell you, these two knew how to cater to two weary, very hungry, hikers. We stayed with them for two lovely nights, feasting, laughing, sharing memories and new stories. The food - oh the food - Aunt Kathy you are quite the cook! And George, so are you, those blueberry pancakes, wow!! Then as if they had not already done enough, they helped us to slackpack yet some more miles as we walked what we have now come to term the Publix Trail. I kid you not, there is a Publix about every 2 miles through the Orlando section of the trail. But who needs Publix, when Aunt Kathy packs you a lunch and healthy snacks? Thank you both so very much for welcoming us into your home and taking such good care of us!

Us singing some tunes for Joan

Just as we exited the Orlando Metro area, we got visited by another trail angel, Joan Jarvis, who has been active in the trail community for decades and is a wealth of not only knowledge but kindness. What a generous sweet soul, authentic in every way. With Joan, we shared tales, laughter, botanical tricks of the trade and just good time together. She did insist we play some music for her though! This was just fine with us as Wise Man wondered if his fingers would still work after the trail and it's not as easy to sing on the trail as one would think! Thank you, Joan for being you! While spending some time with Joan, we also learned quite a bit about the miles ahead from Cache 22, a Triple Crown hiker, chipping away at yet another and doing some miles of the Florida Trail. He gets his trail name due to his stocking a major cache along the Hat Creek Rim of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thank you Cache 22 for all the tips!

Us with Billy Goat
Just when you would think our time with this trail community couldn't get any better, we just so happened to have the opportunity to drop in for legendary hiker, Billy Goat's, birthday! He is 80 years old and has hiked a whopping 50,000 miles and counting (he made sure to tell me that he's not done yet!) Talk about tales to tell - this man sure has them - having hiked the Pacific Crest Trail more times than we could keep track of as well as a number of other trails and countless mountain peaks throughout the country and in South America. Every year, the Florida Trail Alliance brings hikers and volunteers together to honor Billy Goat. His birthday has become a sort of annual Florida trail reunion and celebration.

Ari Hirschman and Grey Beard at Billy Goat Days
There at Billy Goat Days we had the chance to meet up with the friends that we have made along the trail as well as make some new friends as well. We even got to meet up with trail experts, Chuck Norris and Tigger, also founders of the Florida Trail Alliance, whom we met way back in Moore Haven and helped us with a water drop. Finally we could thank Ari Hirschman and Chris Bell in person for their many water caches in the southern part of the trail. Also, we spent some time chatting with yet another trail superstar, Grey Beard. He holds the record for the oldest man to have hiked the Appalachian Trail. He, too, is presently hiking the Florida Trail.

Reuniting with Blissful at Billy Goat Days
But not only did we find our Florida Trail friends here, but some faces from trails past. I spotted this lady from across the pavilion and recognized her right away. Meet Lauralee Bliss, or Blissful as I know her. I met her on my very first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail back in 2007. She was out hiking with her son, Paul Bunyon (trail name of course), who was only 16 yrs old at the time. She remembered me as Micro, a trail name I had earned because I was always click-clacking away on a little word processor I was carrying on the trail - not much has changed that way I guess! She has since hiked the AT a second time and hiked the Florida Trail, and has published two books about these experiences. Check them out at: www.blissfulhiking.com. I know I will be picking them up! I also met up with familiar hiker faces from the Mountains to Sea Trail, Singing Sister, Timber Doodle, and Mr. Blister and remembered the song that Singing Sister sang to me on the trail to me!

What a special gathering this was for us, to meet so many members of the community, so many of which extended help further up the trail. Remarkable.
At the entrance to Alexander Springs - first magnitude springs within Ocala National Forest
So we are now over 400 miles along our journey along this magical trail. We have walked our way into Ocala National Forest, where the first miles of the Florida Trail were built. Just as the people faces have, the plant faces are becoming more familiar while new ones continue to delight us. Service has been slim to none, so my apologies for the delay in the posts, but we will get the next one out to as soon as possible!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Little Tent on the Prairie

This post was written on January 12th, but not posted until today due to service - I will be sure to post another update asap. We have presently hiked through Forever Florida and begun the Orlando portion of the trail...
Bot walking prairie
We are over one quarter of the way through our 1,100 trek along this stunning if at times, arduous, Florida Trail. This past week we traveled through the heart of the Kissimmee prairie lands, a place blanketed with tall grasses and patched with Live Oak and Palm hammocks, inhabited by herds of cattle, yipping coyotes, and wild boar, and speckled with wildflowers galore. Our entry into them was by deep sand roads and rugged footpaths that coated us in more dirt than I ever thought possible…and given the number of trails that I have hiked that is saying a lot.

Just a few of the many cows with whom we crossed paths

Wise Man loving the Live Oak and Palm Hammocks
Walking a nearly 20 mile hypnotizing road-walk, we left the town of Okeechobee behind, met the Kissimmee river and finally stumbled through sandy woods, setting up camp beneath the outstretched branches of a Live Oak. Here we spotted our first wild boar – a mama with two youngin’s – and then banged on a tin mug to scare them off from our camp as they rooted in the sandy soil and grasses surrounding us. Typically they are of no harm to people, but it is a little unnerving when they are right outside your tent door.

A wild boar track in the sand road in Kissimmee Prairie

Chandler Slough Cypress strand
The next morning we wandered into a Cypress strand in the dark waters of Chandler Slough – the first that we have encountered since the swamps of Big Cypress. Although we did get our feet wet, this place was enchanting and I spied the first large patches of large-leaved Wood Sorrel that we have seen yet along our trek- these here have deep purple flowers, very different than we have up north. The leaves are edible and have a lemony zing.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis violacea)
On day three we had the pleasure of meandering through a maze of Cabbage Palms in a newly cut tract from Micco Landing. Not only was the shade a dream to start off in during the early morning hours but the trail was filled with low-hanging wild oranges from orange trees now gone wild. We couldn’t help but slip a few in our pack and we sampled each one throughout the day – one of many was bearable to actually eat as they grow more and more sour without cultivation.

Wise Man diving into the orange tree, picking out only the best!
We spent the day walking beside grassy farmfields in the hot sun and welcomed the shade of the Oak hammocks, the trees of which were laced with Spanish Moss. Beautiful as it was, by day three we were already craving the luxuries that we had encountered along Lake Okeechobee. Thankfully, Florida Trail trail angel, Mike Gormley came to our rescue with two orange sodas and snacks from the Cracker General Store. He was already in the area caching water for us thirsty hikers. Better yet, we got to sit and talk trail with Mike until the sun was nearly setting. Thank you, Mike! What an incredible service you offer to the hikers and you lifted our spirits more than you know!!
Mike Gormley, Wise Man, and Bot

Finally we re-entered known turf that we had walked last March, hiking through some of most beautiful scenery we have encountered yet. Live Oak trees had littered their edible acorns upon the forest floor. Above our heads we admired the Wild Pine epiphytes and Resurrection Fern that call these tree’s wide- spreading branches home and stopped for awhile beside a pond surrounded by Beautyberry shrubs bearing ripe edible fruit. At our feet was a virtual carpet of Sundews – a carnivorous plant – which look as if they surely must be from another planet.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana)

Sundew (Drosera sp.)
Hitting the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, the botanicals continued to abound and repeatedly we had to stop to admire the Candyweed, Bachelor Buttons, and Long-leaved Violets dotting the grasses. Saint John’s Wort and Musky Mint were also on the scene.

Candyweed (Polygala lutea) - called Candy Weed for a reason, give its roots a sniff!

Bachelor Button (Polygala nana)

Long Leaf Violet (Viola lanceolata)
Later in the day we crossed the green abyss of Duck Slough and then walked the much dreaded Military Road – a miles long stretch of sand road with nothing in sight. Thankfully we enjoyed the reprieve that evening of a campsite with a pitcher pump and the more stars in the sky than we would ever see up north amidst the light pollution. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is known for its absence of light and its profusion of stars as well as its vast prairies of Saw Palmetto which we encountered the following day.

Duck Slough

Wise Man walking the long Military Road

Saw Palmetto - an effective adaptogen
Miles of sand road which was hard on the feet, as well as a prescribed burn that we came all too close too on this next day made our miles tough, covering our bodies in dirt and soot and my feet in blisters.
Approaching the prescribed burn which we hoped would not halt us in our tracks

You can imagine our joy at meeting up with our trail pal and dear friend, Star Left. If you’ve been reading my blog, you have seen her name pop up a number of times on both the Long Path and on the Finger Lakes Trail where we met. She and her husband, Ed, and son, Andrew were in a town about 90 minutes away for a wedding this past weekend. She thought it a fine idea to come meet us on the trail with goodies and then bring us back to her hotel for a shower and dinner out. My God…the Hampton Inn has probably never seen towels so black…sorry about that. Time spent with friends and a clean-up amidst a stretch of miles in which we thought for over two weeks we wouldn’t see a shower or laundry was beyond words. Thank you so much Star Left, Ed, and Andrew for being our trail angels!!!

Andrew, Star Left, and Bot
The prairie lands have continued and into Forever Florida we go, which from what we hear has lions, tigers, and panthers…behind fences! It is a privately-owned preserve and really this is all we know of it, so hopefully they won’t be roaming around our camp like the boar! And to tell you the truth, we know little about the environment and trail conditions we will be walking into on the coming miles…we are sure more adventure to come!