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[ft-l] Back on the Trail

You may have heard that I was laid up with a bad back and the flu.  It caused 
me to miss a weekend of hiking with Sandy, but she found three friends who 
ably filled in for me in my absence.  Though my back isn't a 100% yet, I 
decided to test it with about 21 miles of hiking this past weekend.  Though 
I'm a bit sore, I think it was the right decision.

Friday -- Blue Springs State Park - 8 miles

You've heard a little about our Friday hike from Jeff Walters.  This was 
definitely our wettest hike to date where we waded through three foot deep 
waters of a lagoon still enlarged from recent rains.  No sane people would do 
this, but as it was only Sandy, Jeff and me, we plowed forward.  How else 
could one expect to see fish swimming in the trail?  I took a souvenir near 
where the trail ends at the St. Johns River, a small pumpkin Halloween 
whistle.  Since we had hiked almost 4 miles to get to the St. Johns and could 
clearly see the dock at Blue Spring a couple hundred yards away across the 
river, Jeff gave thought of swimming for it instead of the long waterlogged 
walk back.  Instead he settled on a different plan -- hitchhiking!  He waded 
out into the river and attempted to convince two boats going upriver to pick 
us up.  The fisherman looked on us as one would look on escaped inmates from 
the asylum and kept to his course.  The other was a party pontoon boat, and 
while we provided much in the way of entertainment to the drunken revelers 
aboard, it didn't seem they caught the drift of our need.  Alas!  We turned 
back and trudged and waded from whence we came.

Once we got back to a dry stretch of the trail a gopher tortoise was busy 
doing nothing in particular as we approached.  It was right on the trail. 
After an appropriate time while we attentively watched its busy portrayal of 
a statue, we made our way around it and returned to the parking lot.  It was 
decided (by those who didn't have a bad back!) that we should walk along the 
boardwalk and see if any manatees were in.  We were rewarded as we saw a big 
watery shadowy swim lazily upstream toward the spring, a nose occasionally 
surfacing to take in air.  What a regal, if homely and corpulent mammal!

Saturday -- Little Manatee State Recreation Area - 6.5 miles

It was a long drive to Sun City near the gulf, but this hike provided a 
pleasant time for us.  Just when the enormity of our task and our tight 
schedule seems to make this seem like work, Nature has a way of making the 
work fun.  This loop trail spends about a quarter of its length either along 
the Little Manatee River or its tributary, Cypress Creek.  I love walking 
along rivers, alert for the opportunities to spot the varied wildlife that 
reside or visit there.  At one point three large fish that I'd guess were 
bass swam quickly upstream in shallow waters clear enough to allow the fish 
no place to hide.

The orange blazed trail crossed Cypress Creek twice.  The creek is about 20 
feet across with a sandy vegetation free bottom with about 6 inches of water 
lazily making its way to the Little Manatee.  Sandy and I were both 
spellbound by its stunning beauty.  We've never seen a creek like this!  We 
took a break at the bridge that crossed it to let it sink in to our memories. 
 You'll have to see this for yourselves.  Reading about it just won't do.

A special tribute to the trail master here.  Though we passed countless 
downed trees that had recently toppled during the tropical storm, the trail 
was as well manicured as I have ever seen a trail.  If anyone knows who this 
person is, pass our kudos on to him or her.

Sunday -- Lake Kissimme State Park -- 7 miles

The wildlife knew that I was pooped and out-of-shape and achy from the last 
two hikes and endeavored to take my mind off it.  Sixteen deer cavorted for 
us during the first three miles.  Mostly laid back too!  Two were even lying 
down and took their time getting up as we approached.  It must be their 
intelligent smugness knowing they were safe from those rascally hunters.

This was my fifth hike of the Buster Island Trail and each time I look 
forward to the amazing spot where the trail ascends up and over the roots and 
knees of two huge live oaks.  When these oaks were young a couple hundred 
years ago, they were about 25 feet apart.  Now each sports a trunk about 8 
feet in diameter, and where their roots intersect and compete, the trail 
ascends about two feet right over the top of them.  Each oak is majestic in 
its own right.  Together they allow you to pass through a corridor the 
imagineers at Disney could never recreate.  I like that!  Nature is a 
superior architect.

During the last 4 miles of hiking another 2 deer showed themselves.  Then on 
the three mile drive from the parking lot to the park exit, we saw another 8 
deer.  In all, we saw 26 deer for the day.  I found this quite a coincidence, 
as I had just finished reading an old Appalachian Trail journal from a guy 
named Elmer Onstott who hiked the AT in 1968 at the age of 69.  He kept a 
list of all the wildlife he saw in his six month journey on the trail.  Yep, 
you guessed it.  He saw 26 deer, something we managed in one day.

Happy trails,

Solar Bear and Navigator