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Home Backpacking A Superlative Return to the Green, Green Florida Trail! (And did I mention wet?)

A Superlative Return to the Green, Green Florida Trail! (And did I mention wet?)

by Staff

Eleven months after finishing my first third of the amazing Florida Trail,  here I was back where I left limping unhappily with a twisted knee last February.  I was picked up and delivered to the airport by a gallant knight on his steed, Batt6 in his pickup, after my sad phone call to this kind Trail Angel the previous evening. This time, I was back thanks to five friends. I recently met the first two, Cathy and Vikki, because, as the hosts of the YouTube channel, Chat and Chew More Plants,  Vikki interviewed me for their most recent podcast. After picking me up at the airport, we had lunch at a great vegan restaurant that was able to serve us meals without added salt, oil and sugar (“SOS-free”).

They hosted me overnight at Cathy’s beautiful ocean front condo, and we enjoyed cooking together a delicious WFPB SOS-free dinner.

 

An early morning walk on the beach started the day right.

They then drove me back to Tosohatchee, last year’s ending point, where I was met by three friends, Jiffy Pop, her husband Trail Magic/John Wayne,  and Just Kelly. The two ladies intend to join me my first 10 of 35 days on the trail.  As primarily a solo hiker, this has been a different, triumphant and most definitely fun way to start!

For our first day, we only had about 8 miles to cover to get to the tiny town called Christmas. Because of lots of recent rain, we chose to take an alternate route to the official Florida Trail, which we knew would be waterlogged. Guess what. So was the alternate route!  After hesitating at the first puddle, we just plunged in and accepted the fact that our feet, shins, and maybe even thighs would get wet for the day. Welcome back to the Florida Trail! With friends, it’s fun and let the laughter begin.

It continues to amaze me how deeply lush, green, tropical, and beautiful Florida can be.

 


After finishing our soggy but beautiful trail through the trees for several hours, we were suddenly back in civilization, walking through a neighborhood where we saw many feathered friends…


and walked a couple of miles on a two-lane highway through the wide spot called Christmas.

We soon came to the Baptist Church where kind Pastor Ken and his congregation welcome FT hikers with overnight accommodations in their fellowship hall. What fun that it was a log cabin!

With the kitchen, bathrooms, a hot shower and inside accommodations available, it would be a very comfortable way to spend our first night back on the trail.  Before entering, though, we did have some cleaning up to do in the heated outdoor shower.

Before settling down on our air mattresses and sleeping quilts, we had the pleasure of meeting several of his church members as we sat in on their Bible study. We were also able to see a launch from the Kennedy Space Center, as I had last year.

As we slept, the occasional sound of rain on the roof made us all the more appreciative of this lovely lodging and our gradual entry to full blown backpacking. Wet tents aren’t fun to deal with.

Day 2 had us walking back to the trail and between a residential RV camp and a field of cattle and buffalo, go figure.

We quickly were immersed again in green palms, pines, moss and I don’t know what else!

 

It wasn’t long before the dirt path disappeared beneath plenty of water, often with a good dose of shoe-sucking mud.

At one point, when going through a a portion of the trail that I’m sure is difficult to maintain by the local trail volunteers, I got completely stuck in nearly ankle deep mud, in thigh deep water. The more I tried to pry my feet out, the deeper I went. I was fortunate that Jiffy Pop who had been through this kind of situation and could advise that I wiggle my feet side to side to break the suction. That did it. I no longer felt like I magnetized to the center of the earth. I was never afraid because I knew I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life stuck there, but it was frustrating, and yet amusing once it was over.  I wish we’d taken a photo.  However, here’s another, shallower mud incident.

In easy sections when not concentrating so much on our footing, I have really enjoyed answering questions from both of them about the whole food plant based way of eating.  They have been very aware that they need to improve their diet and understand there are many benefits to this.  It’s actually astounding the numerous ways it can help, such as greatly reducing the possibility of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, high blood pressure, type two diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, among many more from eating plants!  Folks would willingly pay a fortune for easy-to-pop-down pills that did all of this but, for the most part, simply don’t want to go to the effort of adapting to a new way of eating.  This is all backed by countless research studies and I’m betting my life on it.

With all the walking in water and sticky mud, the day was running long, although we were only going 10 miles.  But it never kept us from marveling at the beautiful surroundings.  With an eye always on the sinking sun, we finally pulled into the rustic campsite which I had reserved through the Florida State Forest website.  After throwing  up our tents as quickly as possible, we appreciated the luxury of  having a picnic table at this backcountry site, at which we ate our dinners by headlamp.  Being January, sundown comes early.  We were tucking ourselves in by 6:30-7:00.

Before turning in, I found a group of trees about 50 paces away where I wedged my bear canister,  filled with food for the next 4 days.  The canister was festooned with a shower cap I had bought to keep rainwater from seeping in through the lid’s seal.  I also attached the orange reflector I’ll use on my backpack during long road walks.  This helps me find if it’s still dark when I get up the next morning, and just in case some animal played soccer with it. But don’t worry. After over a thousand  miles of using it, it has never been disturbed.

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We worked hard the third day for nearly 15 miles through yet more green beauty with plenty of water still.

There was plenty of unique vegetation to see. Kelly was able to identify a lot of it for us.

Deer moss, which a participate in the TV show “Alone” boiled several times and added to her berries:

Endangered rosemary bushes:

?

I always love the live oaks with Spanish moss blowing in the breeze:

Lush ferns (Duh.  I’m quite the botonist):

Picking oranges from remnants of the orchards planted long ago by early settlers.  Unfortunately, they were quite sour.  The oranges, not the settlers.  I assume.

Day four brought rain.  We all had the gear and the other two carried hiking umbrellas, so we were all fine and dry inside.

Kwasimoto collecting water from a river along the way.


After becoming totally soaked on the outside, we thankfully came to a town where we sought refuge and lunch in a cozy local restaurant.  I ordered their basic salad and a side of blueberries.

Boring as is, but a good start. I then added to the salad my intended lunch which had been cold soaking in my bag.  This is how I often supplement restaurant salads, making a hearty meal of them.  Now not boring, but delicious and good fuel for the afternoon.

Just before lunch, I had bought an umbrella and used it as we darted across to the street to the restaurant.  Half a block I used it.  When we came out from lunch, it was all sunshine and happiness.  Okay, I’m sure rain will find me again in the next 30 days.

We ended up spending the afternoon on a lovely bike trail.

Angels’ trumpet.  I held it in my hands for a good size comparison. Then we read more about it: do not touch, very poisonous. OK, out came the hand sanitizer.

The bike trail continued quite a long ways, until we came to the narrow opening in the trees (a blue blaze commonly means a side trail)….

that led to our hidden campsite, surrounded by suburbia but not feeling like it, snuggled in palms beside a lovely creek.


Well, our tents finally got wet.  I brought a separate plastic bag just for that, to keep the outer tent separated completely from the inner net tent, to dry out later.  We headed out for another day, all on the pavement of bike, trails, and city sidewalks. Nice to have a change, but harder on the legs in  some ways.

There was still beauty along the way.




There was also suburbia, with many homes with pool cages maintaining insect-free outdoor areas.


Sometimes we separate  as we’re walking, each at her own pace. I chose to stop for my lunch beside a small lake in front of an apartment complex.  I settled in beneath a tree, surrounded by what are called cypress knees, these protrusions that come up from the root system. Not really sure what purpose they serve, but very unique looking.

The afternoon felt long, although only 8 miles were covered all day.  Enough with the pavement.  Let’s get to our lovely, clean Hampton Inn!

 

But first,  a stop at a Publix supermarket for fresh food. I would eat that evening for dinner, and all the next day. It’s always fun finding fresh and frozen food that meets my demands.  It’s like I’m thwarting our present system that is encouraging me to become unhealthy and miserable.  Here’s my haul:


I do want to remind all of you to be sure to read labels carefully! I didn’t for the beets and discovered later that they had sugar and salt added. I’ll know to check every label next time.

And this was my delicious dinner, with a base of baked Yukon Gold potatoes, I created that night at the hotel, using the microwave for heating the veggies in their own microwaveable bags.  Normally, I would put them in a glass container at home. I don’t like to microwave plastic, but this is an unusual situation.

 

 

After a wonderful hot shower, and donning clothes after doing laundry, we all felt like a new people, like always.

It has been a good zero day here on our sixth day together. I did yoga by the poolside, using my thin foam, sleeping pad as a mat. The wet tent and ground cloth trashed up their lovely poolside as I dried them draped on chairs.

Thus next photo is of my lunch today, with a base of delightful Bird’s Eye frozen bag of brown rice and veggies I bought at a second Publix.  All great ingredients!  Warning:  don’t buy any of the shelf stable, cooked, ready-to-eat rices.  Oil has been added to all of them, to avoid sticking , I assume, as they do with rice at Chipotle..  This frozen item was surprisingly free of that.

Jiffy Pop went to the urgent care because of an infection on her leg, which they took care of. Just Kelly also had some important zoom meetings. So it was a very fruitful day. Then we all joined together in the room and sorted through our food boxes that had come from home. Once again, I managed to cram the grand majority of it into my bear canister, pushing hard. Tomorrow’s food is separate in the odor-proof Opsack.

Thunderstorms and possible tornadoes are called for north of here tomorrow. We’ve decided to wait until noon to begin and to skip the initial walk on pavement. Jiffy Pop’s, husband, Trail Magic, is here, and he will drive us to where the trail joins the forest. By then, we’ll know if it’s safe to continue, which it appears to be. We all agree on this decision.  We’re a good team.

And on we go!  More of beautiful Florida!

(Usually)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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