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[ft-l] Florida HATT Hike Trip Report

After looking at what was open along the FT for F-HATT Pam Glass, Pat Watts,
Rick Watts and I (all of Halifax-St Johns Chapter) decided to hike close to
home last weekend and selected CR 42 to SR 40 - Clearwater Lake to Juniper
Springs - in the Ocala National Forest.  After contacting Debbie Akins who
was doing FR 88 down to Juniper about a handshake on Monday  I set out for
Clearwater Lake Friday evening with an AT hiking buddy - Magellan, '99 AT
thru-hiker and Maine resident.  We met Pam at Clearwater Lake and spent the
evening preping Magellan for hiking the FT.

Saturday morning it was probably a good thing we didn't have anyone to shake
hands with!  Magellan had left her boots at my house and after hiking the
13-mile loop at Wekiva Springs in tennis shoes, she really didn't want to go
out for 3 days without her boots.  I called my father who agreed to drop by
my house, pick up the boots and meet me half-way, but he couldn't get there
until 9:30. So that's how I spent the morning - retrieving boots - and
finally was ready to hit the trail about 10:30.  Meanwhile, Pam drove
Magellan up to Alexander Springs to picked up Pat and Rick, took them all to
breakfast and drove around visiting the Rainbow camp along the Alexander
Run.  It certainly beat my morning!  But I wouldn't have wanted to hike for
3 days in the sand in tennis shoes, so I was happy to do it for Magellan.

Anyway, back at Clearwater the five of us set off.  In October/November 1999
Dick Schuler and I had inventoried the section of trail from Clearwater to
Alexander.  I'm sorry to say that it seems like everyone living adjacent to
the forest in Paisley has since acquired an ATV or trail motorcycle and uses
them frequently to cut through to Clearwater.  The FNST from CR 42 up to FR
538 has been deeply rutted by the vehicles and little forest litter remains
on the trail, with the trail in many places being 4-5 inches of soft sand.
This area definately needs more signage indicating Hiker-Only, altho it
would appear ATV'ers can't read or even understand symbols.  :-)  It was a
pleasant morning and we enjoyed the hiking after crossing FR 538 and getting
into more undistrubed areas.

It was neat hiking with Magellan who was new to Florida.  She had questions
about palmettos, sandhill cranes, gopher tortoises, etc.  All things we take
for granted after a while.  It's nice to be reminded of our unique ecology.

We only met one other group of hikers on Saturday - a troop of boy scouts
camping in the area and doing a day hike along the trail.  The little creek
at the southern-most bridge was running - not much flow, but enough water to
filter from if we had needed it.  No other water was available between
Clearwater and Alexander, so we had cached 3 gallons of water near where the
blue-blaze to Alexander meets the FNST.  We camped in the woods near the
trail junction and had a nice "campfire" around a candle lantern.

Sunday we were on the trail a little earlier.  Pat and Rick left to walk out
to their car at Alexander and were kind enough to take the empty water
bottles and our trash with them.  The Sunday hiking was marvelous.  Warm
with a cool breeze blowing.  We tramped along, taking breaks every hour or
so for Magellan to cool off.  Since we weren't sure whether there would be
water at our camp that night we took a long break at Buck Lake (best tasting
water in the forest!) and cooked our dinner there about noon.  There was
another group of Rainbows at Buck.  Seems this year they are spread out in
various places rather than congregating in one spot.  Don't know whether
that's better or worse for the forest.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed
to the Rainbows philosphically.  As far as I'm concerned they can do their
thing.  But the large groups they congregate in and the impact they have on
the forest can be major.  The only people we met on the trail Sunday was a
couple camping at Yearling Pond who were out doing some bird-watching.  The
guy was a '95 AT thru-hiker so of course we had to stop and chat for awhile
and exchange trail tales and discuss AT hikers we both knew.  The gal was
the bird expert and I was able to get from her the name for the Florida Pine
Warbler which for some reason I just can never seem to remember.

>From Buck we hiked past Farles and camped for the evening on an oak hammock
island on the north rim of Farles Prairie.  Or rather, usually it's an
island that you have to slosh out to.  Now it is high and dry.  One of the
prairie ponds had a tiny bit of water left in the middle of a large mud
hole.  Lots of animal tracks in the area as it's the only water source for
several miles. We made a dry camp and ate lunch for our evening meal.  We
went to bed early to the rattle of sandhill cranes.

Sometime during the night a large raccoon came into camp and stole Pam's
cooking ditty bag which she had left out on a fallen tree trunk.  Inside the
stuff sack was her stainless steel cup and cover that she uses for a cook
pot, a wind screen, an insulated cup and her soda-can stove.  We looked all
over the area for it in the morning, checking out everything that looked
shiny, but had to leave it behind.  Hope the coon wasn't too disappointed
that there was nothing to eat in there.

>From Farles Prairie to Juniper was a pretty easy hike although it was warmer
on Monday - no breeze to keep us cool.  The trail through this area is new,
having been relocated last year to avoid a timber sale area.  We got into
Juniper Springs early, about 1 pm, and headed immediately for the concession
stand.  Magellan took a dip in the spring, but Pam and I contented oursleves
with several cold drinks and ice cream to cool off.  Around 2 pm Debbie
joined us and we had a nice chat after shaking hands.  We had lots in
common - FTA, hiking, Girl Scouts, love of the Ocala.  We talked about doing
the hike again next year.  Pirate, whom we knew from the AT, was also there
and came over to talk.  He was heading up to Hidden Pond for the week to try
to catch Nimblewill Nomad when he comes through.  Another hiker joined us
and asked for a lift back to his car near Alexander. He had planned to do
the entire Ocala but his hiking partner had hurt his foot so they were
pulling out early.

After dropping the hiker at his truck we picked up Pam's car at Clearwater,
then Pam drove Magellan up to north of Buckman Lock.  Magellan is hiking
back south this week and we'll pick her up again at Juniper on Sunday.  I
hope she has the chance to run into Nomad.  Being an accomplished AT
long-distance hiker, Magellan originally had planned on us taking her up to
Goldhead Branch SP for her walk back.  From the maps she figured in flat
Florida she could easily do 20-mile days.  After walking in our sand, heat
and humidity she wisely scaled that back to 10-mile days.  Always
interesting to get outsider's views of our trail  :-)  She was impressed
with the trail and facilities, tho, and enjoyed the hike and the springs if
not the heat.

Next week she plans to travel down to take a look at the Everglades.   Maybe
I'll let her find out about the mosquitos on her own.     <LOL>

Cricket, ready to go again next year.