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[ft-l] Ocala National Forest Trip Report - Chapter 3

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.

Happy trails,

Solar Bear

"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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