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[ft-l] The Big 360: Green Swamp West (Part 2)

Green Swamp West (Part 2)
11 miles from River Road to Lacoochee Road

Rising early, I felt fine, and the pinch blisters on my feet had healed up, 
so it was back to the trail. We were glad to discover the combination on the 
gate at River Road remained the same. We started the hike from where we left 
off the day before.

Into the treeline, a fence of live oaks between old properties, giant 
sprawling things, ending at a survey marker. Beneath them, a wild gallery of 
strange plants, dry sticks topped off by perfectly rounded brown seed pods. 
No longer sand hills, the woods were deep and cool, fresh with new growth. 
Dense forest continues on, to our delight, past the campsite where we'd 
planned to stay, over yet another long, wide, waterless bridge, through a 
dozen types of oak trees. Over old Cedar Pocket Road, where a grand old 
gopher tortoise scampered until we got close.

Then, shock. The dead zone. Although this trail had only been dedicated in 
October, the state forest didn't stick to the certification agreement. Nearly 
a mile of clear-cut devestated the new trail, wanton destruction everywhere-- 
for what the loggers didn't drag out, they left spread all over the 
landscape, chopped up palmettos and the broken forms of spindly oaks. It was 
ground up and spit back out as though a giant cow had been munching on it, 
finding it wanting. Fallen limbs cluttered the landscape, still bearing green 
leaves. The only trees standing were those with blazes.

Emerge to the islands. Trail tucks to the right six times as it crosses the 
high ground in the cypress swamp. How is it we keep turning right and don't 
walk in a square? Huge cypresses in their spring green glory shade the trail. 
Mosquitoes buzz. Not a place to stop. Tripping over cypress knees in the 

We reach rolling hills, old meadows, open prairie, where sinkholes nudge the 
trail, empty bowls of leaves surrounded by thick palmetto scrub. A pause for 
lunch brings on the rain-- unexpected when we set off, but drawing closer as 
we walked. It turns into a downpour, so we continue, cooled off but well 
within our raingear, the rain filling our shoes with water.

The river! First glimpse a surprise, thinking it was yet another sinkhole 
along the trail. Languid low flow pools, where gar cruise near the surface. 
Huge rocks and rockfall down the cliffs. A great blue heron rises, beating 
its wings as it lofts above the sluggish green water.

The Withlacoochee twists and turns, the trail follows, rounding slow bends, 
re-encountering the water time and again. A cypress forest with ageless 
giants, rent by a curtain of barbed wire-- such a silly stupid way of marking 
the boundary between Green Swamp West and Richloam.  Trail wanders into 
cypress bottomland, zigzagging around knees. It must get very soggy here in 
the wet season. We cross a swampy stream on a bridge of well-placed rocks and 
logs, emerge up into the green tunnel through the forest, trail edged by 
blossoms. Then more devestation, more logging. Why does our trail have no 
corridor, no illusion of wilderness? The clearcut is depressing. It pains me.

We choose the blue blaze low water trail to get away from the clear cut. It 
winds amongst cypress knees, the grass especially high, making it easy to 
trip. The riverbank is shorter here, the river more intimate. Dense forest 
invites more thought on the ravages we've seen to these state lands. The 
river flows here-- a spring, perhaps, pushing it along? Sparkles in the 
sunshine, more blue than green. Lizards seek the sun. The trail is hard to 
follow in places, overgrown, false leads, fallen trees with key blazes. Yet 
we finally meet back up with the main trail, and immediately see a hint of 
blue ahead. A tent? No...it's the car! Relief.

We get back to River Road just in time, as a ranger is patrolling, looking 
for stragglers, hoping to shoo everyone out before nightfall. A successful 
weekend on the Big 360, bringing us only 3 miles south of SR 50. My feet feel 
better today than they did yesterday, and carrying an extra liter of water 
helped....as did the cooler temperatures and the unexpected cloudburst that 
cooled us down mid-hike.