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[ft-l] FT Trip Report (VERY long)

Ocala National Forest
January 18-20, 2003

You thru-hikers can laugh if you want, but this 26-mile, 2.5 day hike was m=
y longest to date. My feet look as if I stuck them into a whirling blender =
and it would take 10 minutes to inventory everything that hurts, but I'm pr=
oud of myself.  My pack with food and water weighted 22 lbs, respectably lo=
w because my hiking friend carried most of the shared equipment.  I accepte=
d his help for now and because I=E2=80=99m just 4.5 months past a 6.5 hour =
second cervical fusion surgery.

Friday I decided to take the cats to the vet for boarding because the weeke=
nd lows were predicted to be so cold and because they are not trustworthy l=
eft alone in the house.  I had to pull the garage door halfway down to get =
L.L. Cool K off of it.  I grabbed him and took him into the house, where I =
stuffed him into his carrier.  As usually, he protested at top voice.  Whil=
e I walked him out to the car, I was talking to him in the carrier and ran =
head on into the half-down garage door.  Drove to work with ice held to the=
 rising goose egg on my forehead.

On Saturday, up at 5:00 a.m. on a near freezing morning.  Left the house at=
 6:00 and drove to Store 88 in the Ocala National Forest, pausing in Salt S=
prings for a hearty breakfast.  Left one car at Store 88 and then stated fo=
r Juniper Springs.  We stopped at a road crossing to stash water and a can =
of chicken.  As we pulled up, there was a hiker crossing the road.  Turns o=
ut my friend knew him from trail crews they had worked on together.  We bac=
ktracked and drove Jim to Store 88 and then continued on our way. Arrived a=
t Juniper Springs a tad before 9:00.  I had forgotten how expensive leaving=
 a car there is:  $20 for two nights!  Too late to worry about it now.

On the trail by 9:00.  By 9:15 I was stopping to take off my fleece cardiga=
n.  Hiked the rest of the day in a coolmax tee shirt, even though I don=E2=
=80=99t think the temperature ever got to 50 and there was a brisk wind mos=
t of the day.  All the morning=E2=80=99s tromp was through Juniper Wilderne=
ss, a narrow trail with lots of blow-downs, less well maintained than lots =
of the FT because no power tools are allowed.  It=E2=80=99s slightly hilly,=
 with patches of dreaded sugar sand that were familiar, but annoying going.

About noon we had made it halfway, Hidden Pond.  Hidden Pond was like a tru=
ck stop on an interstate!  As we pulled in, a man and woman were already re=
sting on the far side of the pond.  A group of about 8 older scouts and the=
ir leader were filtering water from the pond.  While we ate, other backpack=
ers started hiking in=E2=80=94one group of three, another scout group of ab=
out 10 plus leaders, a group of older (probably my age) hikers, three guys,=
 another couple.  We almost needed a traffic cop.

After a lunch of roast beef subs the scouts tried to yogi (said they were t=
ired of Ramen), we stretched out for a quick nap in the sun.  Then onward. =
 We ran into three more large scout groups, a large group of =E2=80=9Colder=
=E2=80=9D hikers, a couple of guys, a group of three FT members I knew, and=
 a few other backpackers.  I estimate we saw about 60 backpackers! This mus=
t be an FT record.   Somewhere after Hidden Pond we took a break and were t=
reated to a fly-in of several curious scrub jays.

The cool temperatures made the day one of the few times I=E2=80=99ve ever h=
iked in Florida and not gotten sweaty, especially given that a backpack ser=
ves as an on-board heater.  I was wearing my usual very broad visor, trying=
 to prevent a sunburn.  Consequently, I just didn=E2=80=99t see the low han=
ging oak limb 15 minutes south of Hopkins Prarie.  Wham!!!  Now I had TWO g=
oose eggs on my forehead, and unbeknowest to me at the time, a developing b=
lack eye.

It was getting chilly as we talked to the campground host at Hopkins Prarie=
.  The told us it was to drop to the mid 20=E2=80=99s that night---brrrrrr!=
  That=E2=80=99s C O L D in Florida.
Camped that night at the campground at Hopkins Prairie campground, free to =
walk ins.  Mike & Monique in the campsite across from us had apparently spe=
nt the weekend splitting wood for recreation.  They gave us plenty of wood,=
 so we had a fire in the fire ring.  M&M also saw we were using water from =
the campground pump (tested safe according to the campground hosts), and th=
ey declared the water unfit to drink, so they gave us a gallon of their pur=
chased spring water.  Our campsites were a study in opposites.  They had a =
Coleman heater in their huge tent, a Coleman stove, Coleman lanterns everyw=
here, chairs, a big cooler, plenty of beer, and even a bud vase with real r=
oses on their picnic table!  We had an aging Stephenson=E2=80=99s tent, a t=
in can stove, and hot tea to drink.  Our table decoration consisted of the =
contents of our packs. Using our Petzels and wrapped in our sleeping bags, =
we sat at the picnic table reading until about 8:30.

I awoke at 10:30 with cramps in both legs so horrible I was nearly crying. =
 Swearing, I drug myself out of the tent so I could walk off the cramps.  I=
 realized I was dehydrated and drank water every time I turned over the res=
t of the night.   I had to get up FOUR times to go to the campground's comp=
osting toilet, but I didn't have any more leg cramps.

Out of the tent about 7:20, the French Canadian man at the next campsite (i=
n a trailer) poked his head out to tell us the temperature was 23 degrees F=
!!!!!!  We were packed up and moving out by 8:00.  It was so cold my gloved=
 fingers hurt.  We stopped to photograph a young, three-foot-high pine tree=
 so encrusted with sparkling frost that it was a work of art.  Saw scrub ja=
ys, a pond icing over in Florida (rare sight), heavy frost, and lots of cou=
ntry pretty much the way God made it.  It's a different, peaceful, wonderfu=
l world out there.  Hopkins Prarie, filled with golden grasses and populate=
d with egrets and sandhill cranes, was beautiful in the sun.  I would have =
enjoyed the whole hike more if I hadn't worried so much about whether or no=
t I could make it the whole way.

We stopped to cook our oatmeal after we had warmed up and the sun was a bit=
 higher.  It was obvious I needed more water than we had counted on, given =
I had consumed 2 liters the first night.  We stopped and scooped up about 2=
 liters of pond water to use that night, purified by boiling before using i=
t for tea and cooking.  We had cached a gallon of water at a road crossing,=
 but it wouldn't have been enough.

On the second night we camped in the middle of nowhere, cleared a large spo=
t and built a campfire.  As we sat there after a dinner of cornbread stuffi=
ng, craisins, turkey, and peas (all blended together in a one-pot meal), we=
 saw an orange light between the distant pines on the hill to our east.  At=
 first we thought it might be hikers with lights, or maybe hunters with lan=
terns.  As the golden glow got brighter, we concluded it was a forest fire,=
 and I was about to panic.  Since the area we were in is on a long dry stre=
tch of trail, I was already trying to calculate how far we were to a road a=
nd possible escape route.  My friend was afraid we'd be blamed (why, I don'=
t know) and started throwing sand on our little fire.  Finally, we realized=
 the bright orange glow, strong enough to reflect off the charred distant t=
rees in a prescribed burn area, was the rising moon.  We really had to laug=
h at ourselves, the big time outdoors people who didn't recognize a rising =

To the sleeping bags a little after 8:00 and up again at 7:15.  We were hik=
ing by 8:00 again and stopped for breakfast in about an hour.  Breakfast wa=
s packaged dried hash browned potatoes, sauteed onion (a real treat--it was=
 cold enough that we could carry butter), and cheddar, a delicious meal.  W=
e topped it off with chai--and the last few brownies.

With one more break to shed another layer, we hiked in to Store 88 by 11:00=

I got home about 1:30 Monday.  No sooner had I gotten out of the shower, th=
an the phone rang.  It was an FT thru-hiker hoping for a place for the nigh=
t.  So much for a post-hike peaceful afternoon.  Now I=E2=80=99m planning a=
 February trip!