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!
http://thebotanicalhiker.blogspot.com/2011/05/some-fun-stuff.html

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!

3 comments:

  1. Very, very nice post Heather. It sounds like you are having experiences that you will remember the rest of your life. Such inspiring people you have met along the way. As I said to you when you were here. You inspired me to do more hiking myself, not on a scale of you of course. Glad to see you had a nice time at your gathering with other hikers.

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  2. Looks like you're having a blast! You are correct that a trail is made much more memorable by the people you meet along the way. Enjoy the remainder of your journey!

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  3. Love seeing all of the photos with everyone! So many faces I recognize or have heard of!

    Now I need a Publix sub after all of that talk about Publix!

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