First Trip Report - Cross Florida Greenway
Everytrail GPS Data Link
I decided a few weeks ago to hike across Florida from West to East using the Cross Florida Greenway. It is a 110 mile swath of public land originally acquired by the Federal Government as a depression era public works project. The intention was to build a barge canal from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic across the North/Central part of the state to reduce shipping time from between the Gulf States and the Northeast. The canal would connect on the Eastern terminus into the St Johns River which is navigatable to the Atlantic at Jacksonville. The program was tabled in the 30’s even as much of the work had been completed. It was restarted and stalled several times over the decades and finally cancelled permanently in the 1970’s citing environmental impact. At that time only about a 9 mile section had been completed from the Gulf to Lake Rousseau and another 8 mile section on the East side from the St. Johns river to the Rodman Reservoir. In 1991 the canal and the land corridor was ceded to the State of Florida creating the Greenway.
Cross Florida Greenway
The trail system in the Greenway is really a disjointed set of district trails that converge at road-crossing trailheads. A section of the Florida National Scenic Trail utilizes the Greenway (and the adjacent Ocala National Forest) for approximately 70 miles. Hiking, while a major consideration in the Greenway’s development, is secondary to both equestrian and mountain biking. There are few trails in the Greenway other than the FNST (Florida Trail) that are dedicated solely to hikers.
Last weekend, on Saturday, I drove to the Greenway (approx. 1 ½ hr drive) to check out a road-walk section and road-bridge crossing that has some major construction underway. The trail is still open and safe. While there, I decided to walk the first leg, a 4 ½ mile stretch of multi-use (bike, hike, skate) paved trail along the canal from the Gulf of Mexico to US19 (construction site). It is a great afternoon walk that was highlighted by a manatee swimming in the canal adjacent to me. Here’s the Western most point – The starting place:
On Friday (the 3rd) I hiked 2 sections (separated by a set of working canal locks) around Lake Rousseau. An uneventful 16.6 mile road-walk to Dunnellon, FL; a village of about 4-5 thousand. There is no Greenway (and thus no trails) on the land around Lake Rousseau because the barge canal would use the existing lake. My wife met me in Dunnellon for dinner, retrieved my truck from the trailhead and we crashed at the local motel (not hammock appropriate, I know) http://dinnerbellmotel.com/
On Saturday (the 4th): Early in the morning, before there was much traffic. The FL Trail intersects my route at the hotel and I will continue on it for the rest of the weekend. I hiked the remaining road-walk. Pruitt Trailhead is approximately 6 miles from Dunnellon. Again my wife met me at the trailhead, we had breakfast and shuffled my truck (again) to the other end of my planned route – dropped me off for the last time back at Pruitt. (Thanks dear!!)
Late Saturday AM - Pruitt to Ross Prairie (~6.2mile): Very cool! Even though the canal was not finished, “pit channels” were complete for half mile or so stretches and then missing for a half mile or so. The trail meandered up and down into the diggings and atop the spoil-bank. It was hard to believe the construction, having stopped in this area almost 75 years ago, was so massive. There were very large diameter trees growing throughout and very little evidence that these “hills” and “pits” were manmade. The growth is thick enough that you can only tell that you are walking along a ridge-edge – but no hint of it’s rectangular uniformity. You can see the rectangular “diggings” clearly in the everytrail.com Google map link above. The map shows them as lakes or ponds but they were dry on the bottom and had no sign of water ever collecting there. Refill water @ Ross Prairie.
Saturday PM – Ross Prairie to 49th Avenue Trailhead (~7.2 miles): Low flatlands wandering about very thick underbrush and huge oak hammocks. Ate some dinner; Tuna (from the foil package) on flour tortilla with ranch dressing (from the packet). Getting late – only have ½ liter of water left. Arrive at 49th Ave trailhead about 1 hour before dark – equestrian well is turned off for the night!! Fortunately they left the spigot on the well tank unlocked – so I tapped off 2 liters from the tank. The water at some trailheads is clearly posted as “not potable, for equestrian use only” but it is good well water that is fine if treated with a filter or tablets. There are no other water sources. Continued down the trail to get away from the road and dangers civilization bring and set up camp in the near-dark. Had a great nights sleep (except for the fact the I forgot to discard my trash at the last trailhead so I was sure a raccoon (or maybe a bear – there are bears on the Greenway) would visit me in the night to get my empty, smelly, Tuna fish wrapper!
Sunday AM (the 5th) Camp to Landbridge (~3.5 miles): Woke up well rested (shaking my fist at Brandon – see why in my gear review below) and took of down the trail. Crossed I-75 on the first-ever constructed landbridge in the US. It is kinda cool but really just a bridge with grass and trees instead of pavement. There are high sides so the horses (and presumably wild animals) don’t get spooked when crossing traffic. Resupplied water for the last time at the Landbridge trailhead and headed out to the final trailhead.
Sunday Late AM – Landbridge to Santos (~7 miles): Rained on and off and made the last few miles difficult. It’s funny how your psychology changes at the end of a hike. With only a few miles left, you go from loving every minute of the experience to counting down the steps remaining. I guess your point of view changes when you are resigned the fact that this trip is over.
Conditions: Sunny and hot 90-95 degrees during the day and 80-85 at night (too hot). No water on the trail available other than trailhead equestrian wells and restrooms at trailheads.
Distance: 45.4 miles (this trip)
Gear Reviews: Some of the gear I purchased here in the forum used – you might recognize it. I took a lot of CRAP that I didn’t need or eat “just in case”. I will reconsider what I really will eat and what I really “just in case” might need next time. I won't list the non-essentials.
Osprey Aether 60 pack: Load weight was approx. 25# including food and water. The pack carried this weight with ease and was very comfortable to tote. The big downside to this model is the lack of accessible pouches or pockets. I had to take my pack off to get a snack or access anything. The 60 pack is also too big for this amount of gear. I will consider getting a smaller pack for 2-3 day trips. BUT – it was so comfortable to tote I might regret a new model.
Warbonnet Blackbird: I have never camped in another hammock so I have no comparative analysis to make. I’ll just say that I took this forum’s advice on a hammock and am very happy. Set up very easily in the dark. I am a little upset with Brandon however as I planned to be up on Sunday AM and on the trail by 6 or 6:30. I never have to set my alarm because I wake up just before 6 every day….. except Sunday when I didn’t get up until after 7:30!!!!! Very comfortable – I am very happy with my Warbonnet!
Tarp – Walmart 8x10 Blue: Did the job. It is a pain in the a$$ to refold into a manageable shape and size for packing without getting it wet and sandy. I will buy an OES when I can. The ridgeline and Prussik set-up found here was awesome. I made the Prussik loops at home ahead and they are fantastic.
Poncho – Walmart $5: **** near worthless. Rigged it to cover my pack on Sun AM rain. Was full of tears and holes from catching sticks along the way.
Fleece blanket/bedroll – Dick’s Sporting $10: Great buy! For $10 you get a decent fleece blanket that zips like a bedroll (stuff sack included). If you only zip the bottom, it makes a great foot-box to use in the hammock. Unfortunately it was too warm to use as a blanket this weekend.
26” wide Sleeping Pad – Walmart $15: Worked. It’s a bit wide to carry but comfortable in the hammock. I cut 15” off the bottom and used it as a “welcome mat” under my hammock so I wouldn’t get sand and pine needles in my beddings from my feet. Good idea.
Florida Trail Data Book – Worthless on the trail - interesting reading at home ahead of time. A waste of weight in your pack.
Bug Spray - Worth its weight in gold.
Next report, I'll post pics of my hammock setup. It was too dark this trip - sorry.