Florida National Scenic Trail 2017

  • Florida National Scenic Trail: Another Adventure Awaits (1/5/2017) - My New Year's resolution, if you want to call it that, is to hike all 11 National Scenic Trails before I die. Ambitious, I know. Probably too much so, as I'm well into middle age and a lot of these trails are tough. But, well -- there's only one way to find out. And the human body is capable of so much more than we give it credit for.
  • Day 1: Oasis Visitor Center to 10-Mile Camp (1/7/2017) - I got crap sleep last night. Not because the hammock wasn't comfy -- it was actually quite nice -- but it was about 70 and muggy with absolutely no breeze. Despite my bug net I got bitten all over my legs and shoulders. Oh well. Made it easy to get up at dawn.
  • Day 2: 10-Mile Camp to Oak Hill Camp (1/8/2017) - Before arriving in Florida, a bunch of us had been communicating through the Florida Trail Class of 2017 Facebook page. I'd made a deal with a hiker named Beerman -- also a writer -- that if he gave me coffee each morning, I'd drop some water for him on a subsequent stretch of canal, where there's no water to be found (filtering the canal water isn't so great). So Beerman had coffee for me on this frigid morning, which is all I needed. Soon our little troop was up and off.
  • Day 3: Oak Hill Camp to Billie Swamp Safari (1/9/2017) - My friend, Judy, was scheduled to meet me today at I-75, where hikers emerge after the swamp. I'd told her to meet me at 10-11 a.m., based on me hiking out of Ivy Camp. But our group had stopped earlier at Oak Hill Camp the previous night, so I knew I'd be a little late. No problem, I thought. I can make up a lot of time once I hit Ivy Camp, as all of the intel we had said the swamp pretty much ends at Ivy Camp.
  • Day 4: Billie Swamp Safari to Deer Fence Canal (1/10/2017) - It was cold out last night, and cold in our little chickee, which isn't heated and has screens, not windows. I put my sleeping bag on top of the light blanket that was provided and fared well, but poor Judy was pretty frigid. We filled up on a hearty breakfast of pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream, then set off.
  • Day 5: Deer Fence Canal to South of Clewiston (1/11/2017) - This morning we had a whole table full of hikers at the Billie Swamp Cafe. Judy was getting into it! I said I felt I had to change my trail name since almost no one knew the name "Valderi" nor the song "The Happy Wanderer" from whence it came. Eagle Eye said I should be Ice Age because of my love of the IAT. That sounded too cold. She then suggested Ice.
  • Day 6: South of Clewiston to Northwest of Clewiston (1/12/2017) - Today was tough. Mentally and physically. Judy and I had stayed at a Clewiston motel last night; she drove me a bit south of town to get started. Then she left for home and I was alone on the trail, carrying about 10 pounds of water in my pack. My first 4.8 miles were along another levee. But today the footing was scruffy, the sun was in my eyes the entire way and I walked into a headwind. So those miles were unpleasant.
  • Day 7: North of Clewiston to Indian Prairie Canal (1/13/2017) - I took a cab from my motel in Clewiston to the spot where I left off on the detour yesterday. Trail angel Mike Gormley is going to pick up my bags from the motel later today, then grab me at Indian Prairie Canal and take me to a car rental place in Okeechobee. What a nice guy!
  • Day 8: Indian Prairie Canal to Platts Bluff Boat Launch (1/14/2017) - Moon Shadow dropped me off this morning at Indian Prairie Canal (I picked up a rental car last night) and I continued on the levees for about 10 miles. At 9:30 a.m. I ran into four people and two air boats up on the levee. What the heck?! Turns out they were boating for the day and taking a break. The air boat propellers can push the boats up on land, and there's a protective coating underneath so the hulls don't get ruined. So they were just chilling out on the levee (and drinking beer already!).
  • Day 9: Platts Bluff Boat Launch to Starvation Slough (1/15/2017) - Today's destination is Starvation Slough. But poor Moon Shadow! Her knee just isn't healing well, so she's decided to go to her sister's house for a few weeks and rejoin her hiking partner, Barb (aka Late Start), at a further date. For today, anyway, she's still here and shuttling me.
  • Day 10: Starvation Slough to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (1/16/2017) - Today, my destination is Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. To fuel my hike, I ate a big breakfast at my motel. Well, one of the employees saw me prepare a large waffle with lots of whipped cream.
  • Day 11: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve to River Ranch (1/17/2017) - Today was a loooong day. Got up early to shuttle Late Start past a bad detour that required highway walking, then took Moon Shadow to the rental car office to pick up a car. Her knee just isn't getting better, so she's going to her sister's for a few weeks and seeing a doctor there. Moon Shadow then followed me up to Yeehaw Junction (love that name!), where I dropped my car. She then shuttled me to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. So a lot of shuttling going on, but that's part of long-distance hiking.
  • Day 12: River Ranch to Second Bifurcation (Orlando) (1/18/2017) - I've almost reached Orlando on this first hike along the Florida Trail. But I had to stop at the end of the day today. While I'm anxious to get back home, I'm also sad to leave.
  • Day 13/1: Clearwater Lake Recreational Trail to Billies Bay Wilderness (3/20/2017) - I'm starting my second chunk of the Florida Trail at Clearwater Lake. But this isn't where I ended in January. Back then, I stopped my hike at Prairie Lakes, with an eastern swing through the Orlando suburbs up next.
  • Day 14/2: Billies Bay Wilderness to Pat’s Island Trailhead (3/21/2017) - Today's goal was Billies Bay. The temperatures started off in the mid-40s, which was a little cool since I had shorts on. I did have gloves, but wished I'd had a headband, too. And my toes were frozen.
  • Day 15/3: Pat’s Island Trailhead to Just Past Lake Delancy Campground (3/22/2017) - I had a wonderful morning heading out from Pat's Island. There was a seven-mile stretch around Hopkins Prairie that was just breathtaking. The light was hitting the plants just right, and it made this amazing golden glow.The more I hike our National Scenic Trails, the more I fall in love with prairies. 
  • Day 16/4: Just Past Lake Delancy Campground to SR 100 Near Palatka (3/23/2017) - Today was forecast to be cloudy with a high around 70. Perfect hiking conditions! Judy and I got a late start on the trail, heading out from just northwest of Lake Delancy on the trail. It was a gorgeous stretch of trail with pines and lots of palmetto. Judy turned back after 30 minutes to get the car and move it up the trail. I forged on ahead.
  • Day 17/5: SR 100 Near Palatka to Gold Head Branch State Park (3/24/2017) - Lucky me. Today was another cool (70s) and cloudy day on the trail. Not that I don't love the sun, but sometimes it's nice to hike in cool, cloudy weather.
  • Day 18/6: Gold Head Branch State Park to West of Hampton (3/25/2017) - Today was an excellent day heading out from Gold Head Branch State Park. Yay! It was another partly cloudy, not-too-hot day. Ten-Miler and I started off hiking together through Gold Head Branch. She turned back about halfway to move her truck to the main entrance.
  • Day 19/7: West of Hampton to West of Lake Butler (3/26/2017) - Ten-Miler had to go home today, when I'll be heading toward Lake Butler. So she first helped me drop my car at the finish point, then drove me to my starting point. I wasn't looking forward to walking along more of the Palatka-Lake Butler rail-trail, as yesterday's portion was so rocky. But today wasn't too bad.
  • Day 20/8: West of Lake Butler to Turkey Run Trailhead (3/27/2017) - This was an interesting day on the trail, heading to Turkey Run. I started in where the trail leaves SR 100 about 5-6 miles west of Lake Butler. The trail was a bit scruffy to start, but not too bad. At some point, though, the trail got strange.
  • Day 21/9: Turkey Run Trailhead to White Springs (3/28/2017) - Today, while heading to White Springs, this became The Day of the Spider Webs. Ugh. The entire morning's hike was rather unpleasant because every 30 seconds or so I walked into those spider web things that wrap themselves across your face, neck and/or arms.
  • Day 22/10: White Springs to US 129 (3/29/2017) - Today's destination was the exotic US 129. First, I drove myself to the parking spot by Highway 41 just outside of White Springs. I hiked about one-third of a mile when I realized I had left both my sunglasses and hat in the car. That would not do.
  • Day 23/11: US 129 to Suwannee River State Park (3/30/2017) - Today's agenda was to make it to Suwannee River State Park. Trail Angel Sarah Leigh met me early this morning while it was still dark out. Our rendezvous point was the intersection of a small street and a county or state highway. I parked my rental car on the side street for the day, then hopped in her car for the ride to my starting point.
  • Day 24/12: Suwannee River State Park to I-10 (3/31/2017) - I had no shuttle today, heading to I-10, but that was O.K. The day's itinerary called for about 12 miles of trail, then another 12 on roads. Since the road walks along the Florida Trail are spots where the Florida Trail Association is hoping to buy/build trail in the future, it's not critical to walk every step of a connecting road route.
  • Day 25/13: I-10 to West of I-10 (4/1/2017) - Today's schedule called for 25.5 miles along county roads just south of I-10, heading to the west of I-10. I had no shuttle again today, so I did an out-and-back of 12.75 miles on those roads. 
  • Day 26/14: West of I-10 to Long Suffering Road (4/2/2017) - I started my hike at a T intersection in the middle of a long road walk. Interestingly, I parked in front of a home that had a fully functioning Pepsi machine out in front, near the road. Alas I didn't try it, as I'd just finished my coffee and it was a bit cool this morning. Not for long, though.
  • Day 27/15: Long Suffering Road to St. Marks Visitor Center (4/3/2017) - My last day on the trail for this trip. I had planned to hike all the way to St. Marks today, a hike that should have ended at the St. Marks River, where I could either hope to hail a boat to take me across the river and into town, or book a $25 boat shuttle across with a local business. 
  • Day 28 / 1: Prairie Lakes Station to Forever Florida (5/15/2017) - I'm baaaack! Caught an early flight from O'Hare and got to Prairie Lakes Station by 3:15-ish in the afternoon. But I didn't actually get going for another 30 minutes because I was trying to reach someone who could tell me if the gate to this parking spot would be closed at night or not. I knew I wouldn't be shuttled back here until 8 p.m. or so, and I definitely didn't want to get barred from my rental car and suitcase.
  • Day 29 / 2: Forever Florida to Hwy. 419 (3 Miles In) (5/16/2017) - The thought was to start hiking early every day to avoid the worst heat. Except Sunday night I had only gotten 2 hours of sleep in order to make my flights, so I really needed to sleep in. So 10-Miler and I didn't hit the trail until just before 9 a.m.
  • Day 30 / 3: Hwy. 419 (3 Miles In) to Tosohatchee State Preserve (5/17/2017) - We got a late start today for various reasons, so I didn't start walking today until 9:40 a.m. It was another hot, breezy day. The humidity wasn't too bad. Today's 25-mile hike was all on roads. Now, many people hate road walks. I don't necessarily. Well, I don't care for hikes on busy highways. But quieter roads are fine.
  • Day 31 / 4: Tosohatchee State Preserve to Chuluota Wilderness Area (5/18/2017) - Another late start today: 9:30 a.m. But while it was still hot out, I was again blessed with wind and low humidity. I was worried about ticks and chiggers in the Tosohatchee State Preserve, but due to this year's dry "rainy season" there were no bugs.
  • Day 32 / 5: Chuluota Wilderness Area to Soldiers Creek Park (5/19/2017) - I love hiking because every day is so different and wonderful in its own way, even if it's difficult. So today I started out from the Chuluota Wilderness Area parking lot. I first dropped my car at Soldiers Creek Park, my ending point, where a taxi driver picked me up. He said it was fine to leave my car there.
  • Day 33 / 6: Soldiers Creek Park to Royal Trails (5/20/2017) - I think long-distance hiking is trying to teach me a lesson: patience. Every day, something seems to go wrong. But every time something goes awry, I'm less shaken or annoyed by it than I would have been a year or two or three ago. In the grand scheme of life, if my rental car gets locked in a county park or I accidentally hike 26 miles instead of 24, is that really such a big deal?
  • Day 34 / 7: Royal Trails to Clearwater Recreation Area (5/21/2017) - I had to catch a 2:55 p.m. flight today out of Orlando. No problem; I just had 10 miles to hike from Royal Trails to Clearwater Recreation Area. I got to Royal Trails, which is a sprawling subdivision, around 6:30 a.m.
  • Day 35 / 1: Shell Island Fish Camp to St. Marks Visitor Center (11/24/2017) - This is it! I'm going to finish the Florida National Scenic Trail in my fourth and final trip here in 2017! Woot, woot! Ideally, I prefer hiking a long-distance trail in a linear fashion, going from Point A to Point B. This didn't happen with the Florida Trail, but that's okay. Nothing in life is ever perfect.
  • Day 36 / 2: St. Marks to Jack Crum Road (11/25/2017) - Today was an 18-miler through much of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. I started in tiny St. Marks on a recreational path created from an old railroad that once ran from St. Marks to Tallahassee. Temps were in the upper 40s, so it was a tad chilly. But in an hour I had perfect hiking weather.
  • Day 37 / 3: Jack Crum Road to FR 348 Trailhead (11/26/2017) - Today I entered the Bradwell Bay Wilderness area in the Apalachicola National Forest. The weather was great, with the highs around 70. I came upon a trail journal early on -- I love those! -- and it was fun to see the names and messages from my peeps back from my start in Big Cypress last January.
  • Day 38 / 4: FR 348 Trailhead to the West End of Bradwell Bay (11/27/2017) - Today was a short one -- just 12 miles. That's because five of those 12 were in Bradwell Bay, a swamp hike where you typically average one mile per hour. I wanted to give myself plenty of time.
  • Day 39 / 5: West End of Bradwell Bay to FR 107 (11/28/2017) - Wow, this was a day for the record books! I had one of my longer hikes planned, a 23.5-miler. But due to various circumstances, I didn't get started on the trail until almost 9:30 a.m. With sunset around 6 p.m., I figured I'd have to hike a little in the dark. I had a headlamp with me and wasn't too concerned.
  • Day 39 / 6: FR 107 to 3 Miles Up SR 65 (11/29/2017) - Today I bandaged up my poor, blistered heels and put on my hiking boots. That felt much better! The day was pretty awesome. The first few miles were a bit scruffy, but then the trail became just lovely -- wonderful footing and beautiful scenery. The best part of the day was having lunch lakeside at beautiful Bonnet Lake. There was even a bench there.
  • Day 41 / 7: SR 65 to SR 71 (11/30/2017) - I thought I was going to have to take a zero day today. Both of my heels are sporting huge blisters from those newer running shoes of mine that don't work well with my orthotics. At least not when it comes to walking in them 20 miles at a time. A little slipping in the heels is one thing when you're casually walking around the house or walking the dog, but quite another when you're hiking an NST.
  • Day 42 / 8: SR 71 to Scott Road Trailhead (12/1/2017) - Today's hike was 99% roads. But it wasn't all bad. The first few miles were along a curving, hilly, scenic road. It always amazes me how you can be in the countryside near only tiny towns, yet cars and trucks are regularly whizzing by on these back roads. These aren't all retirees. Who are these people, and where are they driving?!
  • Day 43 / 9: Scott Road Trailhead to SR 77 and SR 20 (12/2/2017) - What a (mostly) great day! Judy slept in and I drove myself to Scott Road, where I left off yesterday. It was a nice, cool morning (mid-50s). I had about 18 miles of hiking through the beautiful Econfina Creek Water Management Area ahead of me.
  • Day 44 / 10: SR 77 and SR 20 to Bruce (12/3/2017) - Judy slept in again today while I headed out to the trail early. I had nearly 8 miles of hiking along SR 20 to start the day. I was hoping that since this was Sunday, there would be little traffic. I'd say the traffic was moderate. But the temperature was cool, so all was good.
  • Day 44 / 11: Bruce to Hwy. 331 (12/4/2017) - Today started off with a 5.6-mile road walk north of Bruce, continuing from yesterday's road walk along Hwy. 20. But as I started off, following my paper map, I realized my app map showed a different route - a trail. Hmm. Turns out a new trail segment was developed in December 2016 that isn't represented on my maps. The maps I paid $100 for! They could have at least put a sticker on that page and said there was now a trail to replace the road routes.
  • Day 46 / 12: Hwy. 331 to Bob Sikes Road (12/5/2017) - Today was a big day because I entered Eglin Air Force Base. Eglin is an Air Force base, but also a place where they practice explosives, as in they practice exploding ordnance. Yet the place also has hiking trails open to the public -- not where they explode the ordnance -- plus hosts the FT. Interesting! I would have thought the two were noncompatible.
  • Day 47 / 13: Bob Sikes Road to Jr. Walton Pond (12/6/2017) - For the last two weeks of hiking, I've had nothing but temps in the upper 70s and mostly sunny skies. That changed today. It was 58 and gray when I started out on the trail in Eglin, with the forecast for rain and falling temps.
  • Day 48 / 14: Jr. Walton Pond to Holt (12/7/2017) - So far I've had nothing but sunny, warm days during my fourth and final trip here. And in fact, during my previous three trips I can't recall any rainy days. Today, however, marked the start of two days of rain.
  • Day 49 / 15: Holt to Yellow River Trailhead (12/8/2017) - This was one of my more difficult hiking days. The weather was gray, rainy and 40 degrees all day long. I began in the town of Holt and headed south on a 3.5-mile road route toward the Yellow River Water Management Area. It was drizzling most of the time, but nothing too bad. The wind was at my back -- yay!
  • Day 50 / 15: Yellow River Trailhead to Navarre Beach (1/2/2019) - Last night we got a little snow(!), so today started off chilly. Nancy met me at a small parking lot in Navarre Beach, which is a small tourist area on Navarre Beach and Santa Rosa Sound; I dropped my car and she shuttled me back to the Yellow River Trailhead.
  • Day 51 / 16: Navarre Beach to Northern Terminus (1/2/2019) - Last night we got a little snow(!), so today started off chilly. Nancy met me at a small parking lot in Navarre Beach, which is a small tourist area on Navarre Beach and Santa Rosa Sound; I dropped my car and she shuttled me back to the Yellow River Trailhead.
  • The Adventure Is About to Begin (1/6/2017) - I flew into Fort Lauderdale airport yesterday and was picked up by my friend Judy. Stayed with her overnight and learned about the horrible shooting in that very same airport the next day, not 12 hours later. That was a bit chilling, and made my trudge through an alligator-filled swamp seem tame by comparison.

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