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[ft-l] The Big 360 Hike - Update



Days into hike - 26 

Latest segments hiked:

Richloam - 10.1 miles

Croom-a-Coochie to Hog Island - 9.3 miles

Hog Island to Floral City - 13.5 miles

Cumulative miles hiked - 261.6

Miles to go - 98.4

Comments:  Under a 100 miles to go!  We've done three more day hikes since 
the last report and are now in Floral City in Citrus County on the 
Withlacochee Rail Trail.  That makes 8 different counties hiked in so far 
with one or two to go.  (I'm not sure if we'll cross Putnam County.)

It's been a busy and fruitful month. Unfortunately making time for the Big 
360 hike has been difficult especially since each hike at this stage involves 
a three hour round trip drive for two cars.  (This hasn't been a cheap hike!) 
 We spent a wonderful two and a half weeks in Colorado and Utah glorying in 
the natural wonders out there, hiking, camping, mountain climbing, white 
water rafting, and being just plain ol' gape-eyed tourists.  We came back 
refreshed but Sandy had to turn her attention to her seventh book which she 
completed on Saturday.  She constantly amazes me how energetic and focused 
she can be with her writing since she has a full time job as well.

A net fisherman catches his fish while his nets are underwater.  He doesn't 
get to see the catch until the nets are gathered in.  So too with hiking, it 
seems to me.  Writing about the hike afterward uncovers the gems that were 
experienced, makes the experience richer and more memorable.  While we fight 
with the heat, humidity, sweat, chiggers and spider webs, it's not surprising 
that the little things don't mean much in the moment -- ah, but later, when 
we are clean and comfortable, the mind can take a better measure of the day's 
"catch." 

Here's Sandy's account of the first of these three day hikes:

Richloam to Croom-a-coochie:
Just north of Lacoochee Rd, the trail dives into a dense forest of pines and 
oaks, winding along the deeply eroded watercourse of a dry streambed littered 
with rocks. It's like walking on a carpet, the pine duff is so thick on the 
trail. We spy a sign that says "tractor," but follow the arrow into the 
bushes and find nothing. A few blueberry bushes still ripe with fruit at this 
extremely late date.  After crossing a sand road and skirting a cypress 
swamp, we emerge into a massive clearcut where three swallowtail kites play 
overhead. Good thing the loggers weren't going for cedar -- an entire dome of 
red cedar breaks up the landscape, busy with birds. An unusual sight.  The 
trail constricts through the sandhills, crowded by shrubbery, and we flush 
out dozens of quail, large and small, growing fat on ripe blackberries along 
the trail-- which we, too, sample.  Chopping down golden orb spider webs as 
we go, we finally emerge at Old Clay Sink Road, a badly eroded pavement 
stretching out to SR 50.  We walk through fields of wildflowers on the berm 
of SR 50, passing a billboard for Weekie Watchee. We're less than 20 miles 
from the Gulf of Mexico!

After a rest at the Blimpie on the corner of SR 50 and US 301, it's roadwalk 
along 301 -- mean, hot, shadeless except for a romp through the Ridge Manor 
Golf course, where we watch sandhill cranes digging for dinner.  We leapfrog 
the cars up the highway, turning off at the blinker for Croom-a-coochie, and 
finish the last segment within sight of the Croom Store.

Here's Sandy's account of the second of these three day hikes:

Croom-a-Coochie to Hog Island:
It was bound to be a hot day, so we hit the trail early, arriving at 8:30am 
after our hour-plus drive from Orlando. The 2.5 miles of paved and sand roads 
leading up to River Junction sped by quickly, although it was surprising to 
see nudity along the trail -- a young fellow, perhaps 2, running up to the 
fence to see what his older sisters were gawking at (hikers! oh my!). 

Our hike on the Croom Trail was done in two jumps. We knew due to the heat 
and humidity we'd need a lot of water, so the first section was Iron Bridge 
to River Junction. We had the woods to ourselves. A good thing, since 
windstorms since March had toppled numerous trees, including one grand old 
rotten oak just south of Iron Bridge. A lot of blowdowns and branches 
littering the trail; the grass and weeds had grown tall since the spring.  It 
felt good to pass under I-75 and know that we were truly WEST on the Western 
Corridor. It had rained recently enough that the forest shone in a green, 
jungly glow, and the spiders grew enormous to match. Sweeping the trail was a 
must, and we still managed to run into webs.

After two weeks in Colorado, it was culture shock to walk Florida's woods 
again. The dense growth, the damp smell, molds and fungi growing underfoot. 
Is it any wonder the USDA Center for Subtropical Plants is just up the road?

Our second section, from Hog Island back to Iron Bridge, seemed to take 
forever. Perhaps it was the oppressive humidity, or the fact that we were 
breathing in too much oxygen after getting used to mountain air. The trail 
just south of Hog Island is a delight, thick pine duff, seriously tall trees, 
sinkholes, and ancient live oaks bending their fern-covered branches to the 
ground. But then the clearcut starts, and parallels the trail for several 
miles, just off within sight. At least the trail is in the woods, unlike 
those segments we hiked in Richloam and Green Swamp that had been trashed by 
loggers. By the time we pulled into Iron Bridge, I was exhausted by the heat 
and humidity, glad to call it a day.

My account of the third hike:

Hog Island to Floral City:
The first few miles was a road walk to connect with the Withlacochee Rail 
Trail. The weather had made our plans for this hike somewhat ambiguous.  
Although cloud cover is very welcome, as is even a light rain, we've found 
that heavy rains get feet wet, and wet feet develop blisters, which we try to 
avoid.  The forecast called for a 50% chance of rain, so being the optimists 
that we are, we figured we'd have cloud cover and good luck with the wet 
stuff. Well, we were almost right.  The rain did hold off, until we were 
driving home, when it came down in buckets in scattered but intense storms.  
But, as the morning waned, the clouds burned off, and the sun shone through, 
making the hike hotter than we would have wished since there was but little 
shade in this section.

We like exploring by car the areas we hike through because much is the "old 
Florida" we miss here in the city.  The sights are often humorous, profound, 
and sometimes just inexplicable.  Into the latter category I would place the 
fifty foot long hollow concrete brontosaurus butt.  Yes, I repeat, 
brontosaurus butt, right there along side the road not far from a mobile home 
in a residential setting.  It was just a couple miles from Floral City.  Now, 
having read this, your mind is obviously formulating several questions, such 
as:

Just the butt?

Where's the head?

Was it part of some now defunct commercial enterprise?

Why?  Why?  Why?

All great questions, but it just stands there by the side of the road unable 
to answer those questions -- for it has no head!  :)  It stands there, and 
its weathered state indicates that it has stood there for decades, silent and 
without any context to its surroundings.

Moments after passing the brontosaurus butt, an amphibious car passed us in 
the opposite direction.  Yes, it is unusual to see a boat driving on four 
wheels coming at you on the highway, but hey! -- this is "old Florida" and 
whether it be brontosaurus butts or amphibious cars, it's best just to enjoy 
the wild sights as they come.

Even though it was a Sunday, not many people were out on the rail trail.  We 
only passed two walkers and one roller blader.  The rest were cyclists, two 
of which looked strange on their recumbent bikes, something I'd very much 
like to try because my fused neck doesn't allow me the necessary posture for 
regular biking.  Only wildlife to speak of were lizards, turtles, snakes and 
squirrels.

As always, we finished the hike in our preferred manner, finding a Dairy 
Queen, and then resting aching muscles in the hot tub after the rains ceased. 
 Oh, it's a tough life!  ;-)

In case some of you didn't catch the subtly of the fishing net story, HOW 
ABOUT POSTING SOME OF YOUR HIKES!  :)

Happy trails,

Rich and Sandy
aka Solar Bear and Navigator