Sorry to hear about that, JaxHiker. Take care of your family first. Best wishes.
My story begins, as with Black Wolf, approximately a week before the hang. My initial plan was to ride down on the bike Saturday night, after work. Unfortunately, research indicated that there were no twenty-four-hour gas stations along the way east of Ocala to get water at. I'm willing to ride ninety miles, but I am not willing to do fifty of it with no chance to get water. It turns out my research was wrong--there are at least two that are open along that stretch of road...meh, maybe next year...
Anyway, with my wrong impression that I was not going to be able to make it down on the bike, I started working on alternate transportation. I was going to ask the wife if she'd be willing to loan me the car for the weekend, but as it turns out, serendipity struck. My co-worker Kat has been wanting to hang for quite a while now, and her boyfriend Jackson is a fairly experienced backcountry camper--if not an experienced hammocker. So, the secondary plan was to drive down with them and camp near the US 19 trailhead after work on Saturday and then hike in on Sunday.
When I mentioned this, ItsAndy spoke right up and offered to drive all the way up to Gainesville late on a Saturday night to get me and then drive all the way back down to Ocala. That deserves a special mention for him being a stand-up guy. I told him thanks but no thanks; I've got a ride.
Since this was to be the plan, the pack I had was not going to work--not with all of the insulation I was going to have to carry for mid-thirties. So, having gotten my "new" 70s-vintage Husky on Tuesday, I sat down behind it and became a one-man sewing machine. I spent maybe twenty-five or thirty hours behind that thing finishing my pack for the hang over four days. It was an experience, but not necessarily one that I'd care to repeat. Still, the pack was done on time and ready to go.
Well, Murphy raised his head on Saturday night. Kat came down with a migraine and wasn't feeling well at all. Now I was wondering if Jackson would be going at all--after all, from my point of view, he was doing it to spend the weekend with Kat. I guess I shouldn't have worried, despite only having met the guy twice. He was going, true to his word, like the great guy he was and is.
After making sure that Kat was a comfortable as possible, we piled into the car and headed south into the coldest night I've spent in a hammock. I guess I shouldn't pay attention to the weather forecast; I was expecting temperatures in the mid-30s. What we got was low-20s.
Due to my expectations, I didn't bring my big, loose acrylic socks or my extra sweatshirt. I was cold before I got into bed, and my feet never really warmed the whole way up. Not cold enough for frostbite, but cold enough to be uncomfortable. An extra sweatshirt and my sleeping socks would have gone a long way towards alleviating that.
Jackson had his 20 F mummy bag and some very good cold weather clothing. He set the bag up as a makeshift PeaPod and stuck the night out like a trooper, not complaining once.
Come the morning (and the absence of howling hunting hounds), we ate a hot breakfast, packed up, and began the three mile hike down to Buck Lake. Due to our inexperience with the side trail that led to Buck Lake and the blue blazes having faded over the last couple of years, we wound up bushwhacking around the edge of the lake. It was fun; I managed to come out of it with only one decent scratch from a hidden stump, despite wearing shorts to hike in.
Upon reaching the campsites proper, we walked right into Duffy, JohnnyWalker, and KC's camp. Go figure; the few folks I'd met in person from here are the ones that I saw first! Duffy gave us directions back to the actual trail, and we followed it right into the campfire area past everyones' rigs.
Once at the fire area, RictorFla insisted that we finish off his Dutch oven egg dish--it was wonderful! I've never had as much food pushed on me at a single event as this one, and I've been to some cooking competitions over the years! After spending an hour or so jawing with KC and a few others, Jackson and I went to find a decent hang spot. It wasn't hard, what with so many folks packing up to head out on Sunday.
Once we were hung, I re-built the load on my pack for a day hike, and we headed out on the Florida Trail down to Alexander Springs. Leaving at about 1:00 in the afternoon, we didn't get back until about an half-hour after dark. Not too bad for our first day back on the trail, and we were really pushing fast at the end there.
Sunday night around the fire was fun and chill--in both senses of the word. Chatting with OldDog, ItsAndy, MAD777, LDCakes, FLB, and others around the fire will be one of those memories that sticks with me. Great camraderie, and everyone was exceptionally nice.
That night got cold as well, but not freezingly cold. I figure it was in the low thirties or high twenties, since my feet didn't freeze all night. Once I got into the hammock, I warmed quickly.
The morning light over the lake woke me around eight-ish, and I got out of bed to go cook near the fire. After a little while spent around the fire jawing and cooking up breakfast, folks started drifting away to pack everything up and go.
Thanks, OldDog, for giving me a look at your set-up. It gave me a few things to think about as I go on with my design.
By the time Jackson and I were ready to head out, it was down to FLB, his wife (who I don't think I ever caught the name of; you have my apology for that), and Gumbo near the campfire area. After helping to get everything into a pile for quick pick-up, Jackson and I said our goodbyes and headed out down the trail to US 19 again. Packing up, we headed out and home to Gainesville.
After reaching home, greeting the wife, and going out to dinner, I crashed hard. I haven't had that much fun in a good long while, and my bed was calling my name. Waking this morning after fourteen hours' sleep, I feel the best that I have in waking memory.
Thank you all for a wonderful hang, and special thanks to the organizers for getting everything together!