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[ft-l] Travails on the Florida Trail

We almost didn't make it.

After a couple of days of urban hiking through Orlando, a section we thought would be a walk in the park turned out to be a nightmarish endurance contest. Would the sun set before we reached Black Hammock? Would Rich's car get locked behind the gate at Big Tree Park? Would the rain fall harder? And where the hell was the trail?

Just another installment in the saga of Hiking the Big Loop.  Now I regret suggesting setting out after 3 PM on Sunday, now that my legs are covered in red patches and briar scratches, and my soles ache like the dickens. But with work and all, we hike when we can.

We thought it would be a nice hike.  The section along Soldier's Creek was a marvel, south of Big Tree Park. Water shimmering in shades of iced tea. Trees blocking the sun. A good bit of mountainbike damage, true, but the woods were beautiful.  

It took a little patience to find the trail into Spring Hammock Park, despite the map. And here's where our trouble began.  Dodging mountain bikers and ATVs hogging the trail, we got to the utility easement. The trail should have gone south. It went north.

Some time later, we found ourselves back out at the railroad tracks, having walked in a circle. We tried it again. Went to the utility lines again. The blaze indicated a southward turn, but there was no trail. Blazes, yes, far off in the distance, but between us and them, weeds over my head.

So let's follow the bike paths south, we thought! Got to a spot where the weeds didn't look as bad. Pushed south. Hit weeds taller than Rich -- and he's a tall guy. Without tools, there was no way to press forward. We retreated to the woods, hoping the bike trail would keep going south. Alas, it went in a circle, too. Back to the railroad tracks.

So it was a hike down the railroad, feet grinding over hunks of Georgia granite, for miles. Past the cement plant. Scanning for blazes. Found 'em again in an industrial park. And damned if they didn't come right back to the railroad again. The rails ended; the trail continued, weed-choked and wet. Lightening struck in the distance. The sky thick with clouds, night was falling early.

We upped the pace. Abandoned the trail in places where it was too weed-choked, instead sticking to the road, the sidewalks. A chill descended.  Walking past Winter Park High School, watching the electrical storms.  Hoping it wouldn't pour.  Pushing hard, making up for hours and miles lost in Spring Hammock Park.  Watching the sun drop quickly.

A fox dashed across the trail, red tail waving high in the air, white muzzle gleaming in the last light of day. 

We reached pavement. Realized that Big Tree Park might close before we got there.  Started walking, jogging, running.  Despite the thunderclouds and lightening in every direction, we stayed in a zone of safety. A few drops of rain, perhaps, but no danger.

But we pushed hard. My feet ached. I ran out of water. We reached the car with 13 minutes to go to get back to Rich's car, and I poured on the gas trying to get there. And we got there at 7:59.

It's humbling when it takes you 12 minutes by car to cover the same distance you just did in an agonizing four hours on foot.

It shouldn't have taken four hours to hike this section. It's only 6.6 miles. So, here's my rant:

As a new member of the Central Chapter, I want to know why the heck no one has bothered to maintain the thru-trail through these "not so pretty" sections like utility lines and rail beds. I couldn't believe the total lack of trail maintenance on the utility easement from Spring Hammock south, and the same on sections of the old railroad bed south of Winter Park High School.  Those weeds were more than 6 feet tall, so they haven't been cut in a long, long time.

Heck, if I had a mower I'd be out there today. As it is, we'll likely go back with scythes someday and chop that stuff down so as not to miss a section. I hate blue-blazing. So why is our chapter spending so much time on upkeep of well-maintained trails (Wekiwa, Rock Springs, etc) and ignoring the thru-trail?

Frustrated, itching, and sore...
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