I slept well again all snuggled up in my hammock (that was expertly tied off to the pavilion beams :)) near the boat launch. There is however a cat that lives in the woods nearby and he eats out of the pavilions trash can, but he didn’t make too much noise when he dove in rummaging for a bite to eat (the one time that I heard). I had really expected for racoons to populate the place after dark, but I guess that cat has laid his dominance to the area and he must have ran them all off to find their own trash can.
As morning light came, so did the fishermen to launch their boats into the fog covered waters. I really didn’t need to set my alarm since the first of three trailered boats came bouncing down the dirt road just as I should have been getting up anyway, with the other two not far behind. I was actually happy to have the commotion all around us as we really had to get an early start if we wanted to finish the 18 miles on the docket before nightfall.
After driving to the next trail head, Mickey and I set off on our first full day of hiking in the woods in over a week. It felt great knowing that there would be no road walking, but my legs quickly reminded me that the trail is harder to hike than the road. I slowed my pace to match the conditions and I was able to enjoy the trail and not rush things. It was beautiful out today and the trail is in amazing condition. A wide path had been cut through the tall grass and bushes, which still flanking either side of the trail. Even every tree that had fallen across the trail had been cut back, and the trunks of the tree cleared out of the way. It was like walking on a manicured trail around an expensive campground, just for 18 miles! In fact, I don’t think I stepped over a single tree all day.
Another great section of todays hike was where the Florida Trail Association had done a lot of extra work to cut about a mile long path through the thickest growth so that it ran along side a flowing creek. I’ve hiked a lot of sections where the trail runs along the forest edge close to water, but here it is cut to experience the full beauty of the local area. We did see a massive magnolia tree that had been blown over and its roots took the ground and surrounding little trees with it. We stood in awe for a moment at the shear size of the root structure and took a few pictures before pressing onward.
A few miles further along the trail, I heard Mickey whisper my name. I turned around to see her looking rather intently to her left through the thick brush at something she couldn’t see yet. I focussed my attention that way, then I heard what she heard… something large, taking heavy, clumsy steps along the side of us, just out of sight through the dence growth but not far in distance. “Our first bear?” I whispered, and sure enough (although unseen) the bear noticed us and took to the swamp, running through the water making the same large sloshing footsteps that I remember hearing the night at Buck Lake when the dog died. This bear was big, judging by the time between each loud, clumsy, stomping/sloshing step, and although I really want to see a bear, I’ll take hearing this one over seeing it. The excitement was not over either, as not more than 200 yards from that encounter, I heard Mickey stop walking behind me. I turned to see her frozen mid stride with a curious look on her face and examining the thick cover to her right. Once she took a few steps, whatever was in the woods took a few steps, and paused as she paused again. I had to shrug my shoulders in confusion as she looked at me and asked “you hear that too?”. We laughed it off, but I’ve had that happen to me before while hunting up in Maine. I don’t know what kind of animal watches your feet and tries to step when you do, but it’s out there.
The rest of the day was just perfect as we hiked along the maintained trail. There were clear flowing creeks and big prehistoric cypress ponds, even boardwalks to keep your feet dry and soft pine needle covered ground to take breaks on. It was a great day, maybe too many miles as my legs are sore and body tired, but a fantastic day all around.
The morning fog floating on top of the river
A rare patch of muddy trail today with a cool twisted tree top cover
How much of the trail looked
Ine of the streams that we took a break at
A sinkhole where cypress trees took root and flourished
the giant magnolia tree that decided to lay down for a nap
a brand-new foot bridge through a “cypress river”
walking through the open prairie section.