The world cannot live by GMC’s alone and there is more that drives us to do our best than the pursuit of the perfect coach. Here is a special note I wanted to share with you. I feel certain you have a similar drive element behind each of you. If you’re burned out with “GMC stuff”, click here for a read.
Winter Backpacking in Florida with a Twist
Winter is the best time for backpacking and camping in Florida. The mosquitoes are all but gone, the ticks are, well they are somewhere other than waiting to jump onto you and you don’t have to deal with sweating “like a stuck pig”. The packs don’t have to swell with gallons of water and does not have to rain every day. Yes, Mother Nature smiles of those braving the elements but there are other considerations.
You have to stow away more clothing, which while not as heavy as water still seems to poof out the backpack to the point that it looks like your backpack is full of helium and might float off. Of course it won’t and of course its heavy so don’t think you’ll go do winter camping with a light pack!
You can always find things to %$#@! about in most anything you do and backpacking is no exception but the big challenge to this campout was not all of the above although we were presented with them, no the big deal on this outing has its roots from the 4 hurricanes that came through Florida recently that rearranged the landscape of the state. If you will remember the news reports of this heavy weather beating down our beautiful state, not only were trees downed, many lost their homes and livelihood in the “100 year storms” that went through. Ocala Forest, while maintained by the National Parks Service, is not maintained to a recreational hiking condition by them. The trails we were on are maintained by the non-profit “Florida Trail Association”. They do their best but with the regulation of not being able to use motor driven saws on National Park land, clearing debris on backwoods primitive trails is way down on the list of expenses. My only defense for not thinking about this was that it has been some time since I hiked and concerning myself with preparing for the weather preoccupied me and I did not consider the terrain. A critical mistake which you will see shortly.
This outing was planned by one of the past Eagle scouts from the BSA Troop I was a Scoutmaster of. As in most events like this, there are many that would love to come but only a few find the time and gumption to dawn a pack and get out there and this was even more so with the cold weather and rain that the weather guys called for. Danny Dawson became the ring leader of a crew of 3, him along with my son John and myself. You can’t let a small turnout bring you down when going into the woods, its not like you need 5 guys on the floor for a team, after all you really need is 2 people and some even go out alone. Three is plenty and if the caliber of company make for a better trip, we should have a first class time.
We had made plans to meet up with Danny at Juniper Springs Park, maintained by the National Parks Service, we could secure our vehicles there (cost was $10 a night but hey, what can you do) and since the Florida Trail passed the park, we could hit the trail with little trouble. The trailhead looked promising although the twisted tree should have made us wary. The start of the trail had been cleared of debris of the short hiker looking for a little morning exercise so the first 1/2 mile or so was very nice, flat and clear. Then we hit the primitive area and an ominous sign greeted us. OK, thats no problem, since the sign was printed it was warning about the usual stuff, I still didn’t see any trouble ahead. Life was good and we all were getting our “trail legs”. A drink of water and off we went.
Then the troubles set in. There were little more than deer trails around fallen bushy trees, that was no trouble other than the chance that you might step on a snake or twist an ankle on a root or something. These bypass trails were not made by trail crews working the debris, these were necessity paths made by poor saps like us too proud or crazy to turn back. You don’t know how much you can take until you try, likewise you don’t know to stop until something stops you and we just kept pushing. Then negotiating the trail got a bit more interesting. John hit the nail on the head when he named the trail “Gauntlet”! With the foliage ate waist to head weight, trees that fell across the trail did not drop to the ground, they were held up at various levels of waist high hurdles. Some were low enough to high stride over but there were many that needed more attention. With no bypass path, some were only passable by stripping off the pak, dragging it with you under the log and then resetting the pack and straps. It was fun— but of a mild sort! All you can do when faced with things like this is take them one at a time. Don’t think about the fact that tomorrow you would go right back through it all going home, couldn’t help it though. About half way through I was thinking of how more we had AND then going back– ya just gotta not do that!
Pulling into Hidden Pond, the mileage done for the day, it started getting clearer why we pushed so hard. Hidden Pond is just that, totally inaccessible except by foot, this is one of those places still untouch by urban sprawl or the humanity that comes with it. We set camp on the shore, it was overcast and a bit of mist was in the air but hey, who cares we made it! Danny & John collected firewood while I set up my tent and relaxed a bit. Danny brought fixings for a wicked fish stew Wasn’t quite sure about the “fish” in the stew, I packed in a can of Spam– just in case— it wasn’t needed. After dinner, John was the fire warden and whipped up a great one for warmth. Can’t do that much anymore, fires on the ground I mean. It’s great camping with 2 eagles, you don’t have to tell them what to do, makes going out a real pleasure. Bedtime came early for me, somewhere near midnight there came a light rain– just enough that I flipped on the light to check for leaks. No leaks so it was back to sleep.
Just before dawn the rain stopped so I mixed up some cold process tea (great stuff by the way) and watched the sun rise. Overcast is fine, oh sure it was a little cold but it was quiet, clean and clear. The troop on the other side was still sleeping (mornings are my best time) and all you could see moving were birds. The stress of running the gauntlet will come soon enough, right now is my time.
Time never stands still and it was time to break camp and think about the walk out. I want to shake the hand of the guy who invented the “Pop Tart”. No matter how wet, hot, cold or whatever you find yourself, there is a sure way to put a smile on someones face— pull out a frosted pop tart! Right out of the bag, they are perfect. You can toast them up many ways. Even burnt they are a great meal or desert. Yes, let everything get wet, have chiggers in your shorts– if you have 2 frosted pop tarts still sealed and uncrushed— life is good– and good they were. I pride myself in packing out as neatly as I packed in (did my best to pass that on to the guys), Danny & John both went to Philmont with me so clean up and pack up was an automatic thing as soon as the decision was made.
“Anybody not ready”? Don’t ask if everyone is ready, the poor guy thats not can’t be herd over all of that enthusiasm. Single file, we hit the trail again. I usually hate to backtrack a trail and especially this time but the other trail lead us away from the truck so once again we faced the gauntlet and the other side of the logs we crossed the day before. Don’t get me wrong, there were good sections where the ground was carpeted with pine needles and afterall we had made the conscious decision to do this to ourselves so I’m not complaining– well maybe I am a bit but we had a great time anyway. Danny is in the Masters Program at the Univ. of Fla. in conservation and natural resources– a great guy to have with you in the woods. I’m not sure that his bird calls fooled anyone but hey, what do I know!
I recommend anyone who get so wound up in the day to day stuff in their life to get out in the woods, wear yourself out and enjoy the simpler pleasures dry shoes, a flat trail to follow and good friends to kid around with. The world and all of your perceived problems seem smaller and much more manageable. I need this once in a while— there I feel better now. Go camping, sweat a little, get some grit in the food and enjoy just being there.