After posting last nights blog, I used the barely there signal to check facebook to see what’s new on the Florida Trail page. The latest and hottest news for the whole 1100 miles of trail is that the Juniper prairie is closed due to aggressive bears in that area, and a reroute was posted to avoid the densely bear populated area. Can you believe that my destination for today just so happens to be Juniper Springs in the Juniper Prairie! Well, after finding out I was camped 10 miles south of the closed zone, and after listening to the dogs chasing something wild around the lake near me, I walked over to the concrete outhouse and tryed to figure out exactly where the dogs were at. There was one group at the opposite end of the lake that I wasn’t concerned with, but the dogs at my end of the lake were well within 75 yards of me, just past the dence underbrush and hot on somethings tail. Things eventually calmed down after awhile, so I went back to my hammock that was hung about 100 yards from the outhouse to warm back up. Well, I wasn’t under my sleeping bag for more than 10 minutes when a commotion at the waters edge made my skin crawl. There was a single dog and a bear in the water that were duking it out and I could tell by the dogs whimpers that the bear had the best of him. I jumped out of my hammock and started making my way to the protection of the outhouse all the while keeping my new 400 lumens flashlight scanning the brush line between the water and me. I could hear the dog whining where the fight took place and I could hear the bear making his victory lap along the shore, as his big paws splashed the shallow water with each step. I made it to the outhouse and kept scanning the brush line, but I think the bear walked down to the beach area (around a bend) for an easy exit. The dog, still alive, wasn’t doing well, so I was calling for it to come out of the water/brush so I could try to help him out, or at least see if it had a coller to call the owner, but I also wasn’t going to go in after it with the angry bear in very near proximity. I called for the dog for about 5 minutes, but the whining slowly quited down as the dog passed away.
I’m not ashamed to say it, but I slept in that outhouse lastnight. It was like a jail cell, pretty clean with about 8’x8′ of concrete living space with a toilet in one corner and a long empty space on the far side to lay down. I had went back to my hammock after the dog died and the bear was gone to retrieve my sleeping bag, woobie, and under quilt and snuck back to my own private prison. Lastnight I slept about as poorly as you would imagine on the concrete floor but it was safe, and with that comes comfort and peace of mind.
As morning came I took my time packing up my outhouse camp and then the remaining pieces of my original camp, then went to look for the dog. The shallows he fought the bear in were overgrown with about 20 yards of scrub brush and weeds and I couldn’t see much past the first few yards in. I gave up the search after not hearing or seeing anything and headed onto the trail for the 12 miles to Juniper Springs. When I called lastnight, they had 10 camping spots open, but they are first come first serve, so I wanted to push the miles as quickly as I could.
As I started out on the trail, my right Achilles tendon was still giving me trouble, and I was a little concerned. I made the first few miles to Farles lake in pain, so I took my sisters advice and wrapped it tight. I don’t have an ace bandage in my med-kit, so I used a long, thin nylon dress sock (one of my spare liner socks) and wrapped it around my ankle then folded my ‘darn tuff brand’ sock over it to hold it in place. I took a few steps and everything checked out okay and so I was back on the move.
The rest of the miles went pretty smooth to include the last 5 miles to highway 40 nicknamed “The Ocala Mountain”. It got its name because up until then, the past 430ish miles of the Florida Trail are flat, swampy trails and this is the first section with lots of ups and downs. So many that it feels like climbing a mountain in your legs. Well, I made it to Juniper Springs by 1pm but I was greeted with a sign that said ‘campgrounds full’! After all that push to get through the miles, I was too late. I asked the tenant about tomorrow, and she said to be first in line at 8am to get a spot. “No problem” I said as I planned to sleep right outside the gate on the trail. I did get a day pass though to check things out and get a shower, and to sit at a covered table to eat lunch.
As I was eating, a guy named ‘Socrates’ stopped over to ask about the Florida Trail as he wants to do it. He has done the PCT but has had his eye on the Florida Trail for awhile. As he was leaving, another hiker named ‘Bane’ yelled from across the pavilion “is that hiker trash I see!” He was really excited to see a hiker here as he has done the AT and PCT, but he too wants to do this trail. We talked for a long time about trail life, this trail and the ones he has done then we parted ways. As lt was getting to be late afternoon I figured it was time to leave the park and head back into the woods to set up camp.
My timing couldn’t have been better on my departure as while I was leaving, three guys were at the gate with packs on their backs trying to get a spot to camp. I walked up to them and started chatting with them about group camping on the trail since the campground is full and this place is known for aggressive bears (The ranger had told them that there is an aggressive bear specificly roaming right in this area that they are trying to catch). As we were coming up with a plan, the ranger called us over to tell us that the park was going to clear out an old camping spot, put in a fire ring and let us stay! Wow, that guardian trail really pulled through again!
As we were setting up our sleeping areas at “campsight zero” we all started to get to know one another what we were up to. They were two younger adult friends and the stepdad of one of them out on a few days trip through this part of the Ocala Forest. The older gentleman has a utube page called “followingwalkersworld” and he does videos on everything outdoors from hiking, camping, canoeing, fishing and product reviews. I haven’t heard of him, but I will definitely be checking his channel out soon. He even gave me a plug on his latest video that he is doing for a camping tarp that is used instead of a tent for ultralight campers.
After we had our spots set up, they went to swim in the springs and I set out on ordering a large pizza to pack in some extra calories before the upcoming long haul. Now it’s time to relax and get ready for bed as I have to be at the front gate by 7:45am to hopefully be the first in line to secure a spot for my planned zero day tomorrow.
the terain was still flat this morning, but quickly changed to the Ocala Mountain about 10 miles past this shot
the clear waters from Juniper Springs
where Juniper Springs comes out of the earth and into our lives