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[ft-l] Trip Report: Backpacking the Suwannee

Sandy, when are you planning to be in Okeechobee with Deb... plan on
stopping at our house. I would like to hike some of it with you. Doug McCoy
-----Original Message-----
From: FTCracker@aol.com <FTCracker@aol.com>
To: ft-l@backcountry.net <ft-l@backcountry.net>
Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 11:15 PM
Subject: [ft-l] Trip Report: Backpacking the Suwannee

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>Trip Report: Backpacking the Suwannee
>Sandra Friend
>Last weekend was the culmination of several months planning a backpacking
>trip along the Suwannee River. We started out with nearly a dozen people
>intending to attend, and as the date drew nearer, the group trimmed back to
>six, a mix of hikers of different speeds and styles-- and members of five
>different chapters!
>To simplify the logistics, we dropped off 4 hikers at 10 AM near Spirit of
>the Suwannee, moved two cars to the end of the hike at Suwannee River State
>Park, and shuttled back to the starting point. Since Bob and I were the
>fastest hikers, we took on the task. Heading west from US 129, the trail
>swings out along the river with incredible views of the horseshoe bends,
>white sand beaches, and limestone bluffs. A surprising number of chunks of
>private property through which the trail crosses. Recent trail maintenance
>made putting on speed a breeze, although the undulating terrain --
>all the drops down and back through deep ravines -- were rugged. After 15
>minutes or so, we caught up to a lengthy line of Boy Scouts stretching
>through the forest. Hearts sank. "Where you headed?" I yelled, as their
>leaders asked them to step aside and they half-heartedly complied.
>Creek," they answered. After we were out of earshot, I turned to Bob. "What
>relief!" We'd be camping 6 miles further down the trail.
>A marvelous parade of natural wonders spiced up our route, from the giant
>bluff oak ("that's Mr. Oak to you") standing tall over the trail, to the
>whirlpool in a bend of the river, to the incredible tall and wide waterfall
>dropping at least 15 feet down into the river. Sinkholes yawned, showing
>rocky throats leading to caves. We caught up to a couple of our gang taking
>break, and soon reached Mitchell Creek. What a relief to see the new
>especially after taking a look at the mossy log that once served as the
>bridge!  Surprisingly, the creek was dry, so it fouled up some plans to
>filter water. We pressed on. The forest, the river: just magical. The most
>beautiful and mysterious terrain I'd yet seen in Florida.
>I'd set an ambitous plan: 12 miles each of the first two days, and an easy
>couple miles the last day. When we finally reached the broad flat spot
>Holton Creek that formed a great campsite for our six tents (and could have
>fit six more), folks were dragging; the sun sinking low. Gathering water by
>the last of the light, I gazed up at the mother of all cypresses, a grand
>giant surrounded by the swirl of Holton Creek. The GPS said we'd hiked less
>than 11 miles; the map claimed a little more than 12. After setting up
>(Paul had a cool hammock tent swaying in the breeze), we gathered around a
>communal kitchen area to cook dinner and chat as night set in. Comfortable
>temps and a lack of bugs made it a wonderful evening, as did the moonlight
>seeping through the trees. "Why don't we go for a hike?" asked Bob, and I
>couldn't resist. Headlamps at the ready, we used moonlight to trace the
>trail's path up towards the head of Holton Creek, pausing after hearing
>something large jump into the water. I almost stepped into a sinkhole in
>middle of the trail in the dark. We went looking for what the map described
>as the "official" campsite near the creek's head, but didn't find it. After
>returning to camp, we saw a light way out in the bushes and heard a lot of
>crashing about. "Wonder if it's a poacher?" Then the light went out. I got
>little nervous and asked Bob to keep his light on, just in case. Thank
>goodness we didn't go out in the woods to find out who it was, because a
>minutes later one of our own sheepishly emerged after trying to find a
>privacy for the privy...so much for the poacher theory!
>Clouds moved in quick, the storm front approaching 12 hours earlier than
>expected, and the patter of rain fell on and off during the night. In the
>morning, gray skies greeted us. Two of the group weren't feeling too well,
>perhaps pushing too hard the day before. Another was a little shaky. We
>camp and straggled out, intending to make the 2.5 miles to the county park
>before breakfast. Well, the 2.5 miles turned out to be 4.5 miles, and on
>way, the heavens opened. Torrential rains. By the time we reached the
>roadwalk, the roads were a muddy mess. Rain gear out and on. At the park we
>gathered in a picnic shelter, wind and rain blowing, and ate breakfast. Two
>hikers didn't want to go any further: they weren't feeling well and weren't
>having fun. The question was, since this was meant to be a 3 day trip, what
>to do? We consulted the map. It looked like 10.5 more miles to where the
>were parked. Bob and I felt we could do it, even with the rain, and Sally
>game to go too. We lightened our backpacks, took only what we considered
>necessities in case we had to stop and set up camp along the way. And then,
>out into the rain!
>Splash splash splash plop was the order of the day. I pushed a hard pace,
>close to 3 MPH much of the way, feeling a certain urgency as activity
>for having left three people behind. The section of trail along the Alapaha
>River was lovely, although wet, and then it was roadwalk. Mud ankle-deep in
>places, particularly through an area dubbed "Mortgage Acres" that was all
>ripped up by a developer. Roads through farms were nice, but it was a
>to reach the sign that said "Suwannee River State Park" and be on trail
>again. Little did I know how BIG that state park is! Wish we'd had the time
>to stop and marvel at more of the incredible views through this section,
>the rain kept on incessantly. We found an ideal campsite around the 10-mile
>mark for the day, but kept going, no breaks. My oversized pack cover
>collected a puddle in the bottom; my pack soaked out, adding even more
>weight. Shoes soggy from the massive puddles in the trail. And the rain
>rain came down down down...I had that song from "Winnie the Pooh" running
>through my head for hours.
>I was shocked when we reached the Big Oak Trail junction sign, realizing
>already hiked 12 miles (according to GPS) and I knew, having measured it
>here, we had 4 miles to go. Yikes! Sally kept up with us and never made a
>peep, but when we finally made it to a place we could duck out of the
rain --
>the bridge over the Withlacoochee, which underneath was a nasty little
>junkyard but dry -- she opted to stay so Bob and I could push harder back
>the cars. And we did. Almost running. Nervous at leaving our friends along
>the trail. It rained so hard that my Marmot jacket finally didn't keep it
>anymore. We passed what I'd planned to use for the campsite that night, it
>would have been 14 miles rather than 12...yikes again!
>After 16 miles, feet aching, we reached the cars. Dry clothes! Warmth! A
>quick duck into the restrooms to change and then it was hit the road, pick
>our fellow hikers. Alas, I'd forgotten dry socks. My feet froze by the time
>we got back to Ocala. But dinner out at Chilis with steak and margaritas
>helped ease the chill. Thanks to all who helped plan and share the
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