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[ft-l] Ocala National Forest Trip Report - Chapter 3
- Subject: [ft-l] Ocala National Forest Trip Report - Chapter 3
- Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2000 12:24:05 EST
- Reply-to: email@example.com
Day three would be the momentous day of the trip, when the trail fairies
would give us plenty to smile about. Since Jeff had been singing the praises
of Store 88 from the beginning of the trip, we decided to set that as our
destination for the day, rather ambitious since it is almost a 20 mile hike
from Hidden Pond. On this day, we paired up. Jeff and Not To Worry were
both having blister problems and were hiking a slower, but steady pace. Dark
Star, on the other hand, is a hiking machine, and I enjoyed the physical
challenge of trying to keep up with him. By the time we reached the upper
reaches of Hopkins Prairie we were about a mile and a half in front of Jeff
and Not To Worry. We could see them in the distance across the prairie.
Then we noticed that they had left the trail and were navigating directly
toward us across this pristine wildlife Mecca. Yes, my friends, they prairie
blazed about a mile off of their hike for the day, smugly satisfied with
their ingenuity while Dark Star and I expressed our disbelief at such an
outrageous maneuver. As they came within hearing range, I yelled "G** D***
BLUE BLAZERS!" I took several photos as evidence for the authorities who
will no doubt be wanting to incarcerate these ne'er-do-wells. Needless to
say a lot of razzing took place when they joined up with us, and we all
decided that this incident would finally earn Jeff his trail name. After a
bit of discussion, the name Prairie Dog was bestowed on Jeff in honor of his
trip across the prairie.
During the afternoon we walked through the most beautiful scenery of the
trip, an open pine forest carpeted in ripe golden honey-spun wire grass.
Made me feel as if I was walking through heaven on earth. The wire grass in
winter has always been a favorite of mine!
Prairie Dog alerted us to the fact that Joan Hobson had recently installed a
blue-blazed trail directly to Store 88 cutting out about a half mile road
walk. None of us was sure how formal or well-blazed this trail would be.
Later in the day when we were feeling worn out with the day's long hike and
anticipating the barbecues and beer at Store 88, Dark Star and I eventually
came to a blue blazed side trail heading in the right direction. Still it
seemed a bit soon, so we decided to wait until PD and NTW arrived. We waited
about 25 minutes in the rapidly declining daylight but they failed to show.
After a conference, we decided to push on. We scratched an arrow with our
Lekis pointing down the blue blaze with "BEER" as the caption. About a
hundred yards in the path became difficult and made a 90 degree turn to the
left -- not a good sign. We still followed the blue blazes and trail tape
and bushwhacked our way through. Yet more turns to the left. Suddenly our
bushwhacking ends as we emerged back out on to the orange blazed Florida
Trail. We were seriously disappointed and trudged up the trail. We thought
about the arrow we left for PD and NTW, but after their little prairie stunt,
I suggested that the extra walk would do them justice! :)
Knowing that the trail paralleled Forest Road 88, and fearing our ability to
find a blue blaze in the dark, we took a jeep trail to the right that we
guessed would come out on the highway. Figuring that we were short of Store
88, that meant that we should turn left at the highway and eventually we
would reach our destination. After about a tenth of a mile walking, Dark
Star says, "It would be awful if we hiked past Store 88 and now were heading
away from the store. How about checking the map?" Store 88 isn't on the
map, but in trying to piece together some clues, I came up with the brilliant
deduction that we were heading away from Store 88, so we turned around.
After about a half a mile, we crested a small hill which gave us a sight of
the next mile down the road -- no Store 88! Again the map came out, this
time, I used both brain cells and confidently (?) asserted that we must turn
around -- AGAIN! -- and hike two more miles in the dark to Store 88. We were
despondent. We trudged along, thumbs out, trying lucklessly to yellow blaze
our way there. After an eternity, the flashing arrow on top of the message
sign beckoned us to end our 20 mile ordeal.
Store 88 is a combination bar/convenience store/gas station/barbecue joint in
the old country store fashion. This place is long on character and short on
phoniness. What you see is what you get. The long front porch had numerous
tables and benches, a perfect place from which smelly hikers can observe the
colorful locals, their dusty pickups and the big dog riding in the back.
Despite our aimless wanderings, we arrived before Prairie Dog and Not To
Worry, giving us time to put our orders in for barbecue dinners and Cokes.
After about 10 minutes, they finally arrived, having successfully found the
blue-blaze side trail. They admitted to having followed what we dubbed the
"beer loop trail" and were now eager to return the grief we had given them
for the prairie shortcut. Our further mishaps while road walking and
attempted yellow blazing only added to the merriment. Dark Star and I got
the final laugh, however, because the last two pieces of garlic toast were on
our plates! The restaurant sadly informed PD and NTW that they were out of
Dark Star bought a couple of rounds of beer for those who partook. I took a
peek inside to see the band that was onstage. It was a 5 piece fiddlin' band
-- somehow string quintet doesn't seem the appropriate description. Through
coincidence we managed to show up on Saturday night when things get exciting
in the Forest. I listened to a few tunes and watched some of the dancing.
At one point, to shut up a howling dog in one of the pickups, its owner
unleashed it and let it come inside. It didn't seem to matter. Nobody
cared. I imagine we 4 smelly hikers would have been greeted likewise, but we
still felt it best to remain outside. We asked the waitress how late they
were open and she said "2 am." Great! It was 8 PM and we were already beat
from our hardest day. We decided we had better camp beyond the store's
campsite because of the noise, mostly from the howling dogs in the pickups.
We found a level spot in the pine plantation and pitched our tents. I told
my buddies I was tired and I'd be sleeping in, that we had three grueling
days and tomorrow should be a day to relax and not be concerned about miles.
"The true profession of a man is to find his way to himself." Still looking,
but I'm not finding any blazes. :)
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