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!

3 comments:

  1. I'd be glad to help when you get close to Oviedo. Shuttle/grocery run/shower/laundry all possible .Message me on FB . Joan Jarvis

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  2. So glad you are able to meet up with trail angels, ones you know and don't! Love KPPSP! The FT didn't run through there when we hiked, instead it was on the west side of the Kissimmee in a lovely area called Hickory Hammock.

    Happy hiking!

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