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[ft-l] The Big 360: Green Swamp West (Part 1)
I'm a month behind in trip reports (among other things), so pardon me as they
slowly trickle out of my notebook and into cyberspace...
Green Swamp West (Part 1)
8.5 miles from SR 471 to River Road
With the exception of my little jaunt with thru-hiker Nimblewill Nomad in
March, Rich and I hadn't set foot on the Big 360 hike since January: work,
illness, and family matters took precedence. So it was wonderful to be able
to dedicate a weekend to the trail. Logistically, GSW requires a weekend to
hike...but the weekend unfolded in a very different way than our plans.
When I called for permission to camp along the trail, we were faxed back a
trail permit...and a combination to the gate lock. "Wow!" I thought. "We can
get a car in the middle and minimize the amount of backpacking we have to do
to get to the campsite!" After arriving at the River Road gate around 10am on
Saturday (May 12) and unlocking it, we plunked my car down at the FT crossing
on the main road and went to find the way out to SR 471 to start the hike.
Got down Main Grade to the gate. Combination didn't work. Went back to
Cumpresso Grade (all of this in deep sandy, major bumpy roads with our cars),
stopped to move a gopher tortoise out of the road, got to the gate, where
several equestrians were finishing a trail ride. Still no luck. Knowing it
was a good 20 miles by road around to the SR 471 trailhead, and we could get
there by walking 2 miles, I suggested we walk.
Not five minutes after we hit the pavement, one of the horse trailers pulled
off. "Want a ride?" Absolutely. The trail angels dropped us right off in
front of the SR 471 trailhead, where we'd left off in January. And we're off!
Figuring on 8.5 miles or so back to my car (where our backpacks were stashed,
so we could keep going on to camp), we hit the woods. Warm and muggy morning.
Came across Alligator Hole -- a spring with water, campsite nearby -- very
quickly. Mosquitoes rose from the sluggish water, which drained and
disappeared into the prairie. It was the only water we'd see all day.
Moss-wrapped trees stood as ghostly sentinels. But soon the trail wandered
out into dry, desert-like conditions, skipping along the edge of what felt
like the world's largest sand pit, and into wide open meadows, skirting
distant cypress domes. I hadn't expected it to be such an open trail after
the deep forests of Green Swamp East.
We came across a bridge, no water beneath. Then another. The Bridge. Amusing
sign on it. The heat was getting to me. I laid down and put my feet up on the
rail (it's a wide bridge), and fell asleep. Sure enough, here comes the only
hiker we meet all weekend, walking briskly southbound sans water bottle. I'd
already drank most of my water and we weren't to the blue blaze trail yet. My
feet hurt. They'd either swelled or my shoes had shrunk, as all my toes were
getting pinch blisters. I did a little doctoring, and we went on. Finally
passed the blue blaze.
Things got fuzzy. I know we were in pine scrub, and my water was gone, and we
hadn't crossed Cumpresso Grade yet. Rich had a lot of water left, so I kept
drinking, but I felt oddly dizzy and detatched. And hot. Very hot. Finally,
we crossed the landmark road. Hit the sand hills. Up and down. Another bridge
with a funny sign. I felt weak. We stopped and rested a bit. It felt dry,
getting drier. I noticed the clumps of yellow flowers, and the shades of
spring green in the cypresses. But I was just too hot, too dry. My lips
started cracking. I felt lightheaded. So very glad to see my car loom into
view on River Rd.
Decided between my temperature and my feet that pressing on to the campsite
wouldn't be prudent. So we went home. We left my car in Ridge Manor because I
was in no shape to drive any distance. It took a whole lot of vehicular air
conditioning and a soak in the cool pool to bring my temperature back down
again. Once I was lucid, I realized I'd probably been pushing heat exhaustion
again...damn these 86-degree days in full sun! I vowed to carry more water