Well, I'm just back from my Ocala National Forest solo backpacking trek. I did a section hike of the Florida Scenic Trail, the Ocala South section.
I had intended for the trip to be four days, not three, originally. Unfortunately, events in the forest convinced me that an early exit would probably be a good idea.
Trip report follows, pictures (and, hopefully, video) will follow sometime tonight or tomorrow...
Edit: Here's the video...
Day One (Clearwater Lake to Dora Pond, 16.4 miles):
Day one started uneventfully, and waaaaaaay too early for me. I had left work at midnight the night before and route timing necessitated a 4:45 AM wake-up. I think I got something like three hours of sleep that night...maybe. Anyway, Mrs. FLRider trucked me out to the Clearwater Lake trailhead like a champ and dropped me off at about 7:30 AM. I'm really lucky in the woman that chose to love me; she tolerates me even Before Coffee . Goodbyes were said and my hike itinerary was confirmed, along with the emergency contact numbers, and I got moving.
About an hour into the hike, I settled down for morning snack. The previous mile had been muggy and warming up. The low for that night was somewhere around 73 degrees, and it didn't stay at that temperature for very long. About an half a mile into my hike, I finally gave up on moving the banana spiders and their webs out of the way with my hand and started carrying a trail stick to do it with. These things can get to be the size of my palm and look like something out of an opiate-fueled nightmare authored by H.R. Giger. Fortunately, they're not venomous to humans--the worst you'll get from a bite is a rash or maybe some blistering and pain. Still, I'm now considering carrying trekking poles, not for the boost they give your stride, but to have something to knock the durned spiders out of the way with. I fought the spiders the whole trip; there were sections of the trail where I had to stop every fifteen steps to knock down a web.
I had been carrying five liters of water on my back, bringing my total pack weight up to just over forty pounds. It turned out that I wouldn't need that much water along the way--I could've gotten along with just three. Which is fine; I'd much rather have extra and avoid dying of heat prostration, especially on a solo hike. Minor details like that...y'know... Anyway, about six miles in, I found a stream just where the trail data book said it would be. I refilled the Camelback and continued on. The Katadyn worked as advertised, and even though I had a set of iodine tabs in my pocket, I didn't wind up using them on this trek.
Much of ONF is relatively flat; this is what comes of living on what's, essentially, a giant sandbar that's been lifted out of the ocean long enough for wildlife to populate. Still, with the heat and humidity (the afternoon temps never dropped below ninety degrees, even on the rare occasions that it was dry), even a slight up or downgrade feels worse than it does in relatively cool temps.
Moving on, I stopped in at Alexander Springs Recreation Area for a quick dip in the spring and a Nutella flatbread sandwich for lunch. This is where my tick count begins at one. Despite Permethrin on all of my clothing and 100% DEET on my legs, I found six ticks in three days. Florida in the summertime, I guess . Refilling my water bladder, I continued onward to my first campsite.
I stopped at what I had thought was Brook Pond; it turns out that it was Dora Pond. Which I would have found out if I'd continued on around the pond a little further; there's a big sign there. I filled the Camelback from the lake here, which entailed wading through black, ankle-high mud, and set camp. I suppose that water would have been easier to get to at Brook Pond, but I couldn't see an easy way to get at it there anyway--which is one of the reasons I pushed on to Dora Pond. This was to be a theme for the whole trek.
It was about six or seven in the evening by this point (you don't push yourself faster than you feel you can go in this kind of heat, not if you want to come home to tell about it), and I was fairly wrung out. I made a quick dinner of instant mashed potatoes and bacon bits, hung my bear bag, and hit the sack.
The first night was hot and humid, with no breeze whatsoever. I didn't start feeling cool enough to pull the poncho liner over me until just before dawn. The sandhill cranes hanging out in the pond woke me again around seven-ish, and I decided to get up and hit the trail.
Day Two (Dora Pond to Whiskey Creek, 16.8 miles):
Day two started with the sandhill cranes calling to each other in the foggy dawn. I piled out of my hammock, stretched out the kinks, and settled down to a breakfast of peanut butter and espresso fudge (it sounds disgusting, but actually tastes pretty good, has a lot of fat and sugar, and has the espresso beans in it so I don't have to hassle with coffee in the morning). An hour later, I was on the trail again--maybe 8:30 or so.
This was to be another day of knocking down banana spider webs. After about an hour and an half, I stopped in at Farles Campground to get some water and eat a brunch of faux-chicken fajita noodles. Unflavored TVP, low-sodium powdered chicken bullion, fajita seasoning, and a ramen noodle pack make for some tasty eating. Packing my things back together, I continued onward and--well, not upward--onward some more.
My campsite for this evening was supposed to be at the north rim of Farles Prairie; there's some water there and quite a few good campsites. Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way. I was hiking through a burnt-out and blown-down section of trail just south of Farles Prairie when I got the feeling that something wasn't right. I don't know; maybe I heard something below the threshold for conscious notice. Maybe I have a guardian angel, or ESP. Maybe I got lucky.
Anyway, one of the things that is taught about hiking in bear country--which ONF definitely qualifies as--is to make some noise as you hike so as to not come upon the bear unawares, surprising the thing. That's how a lot of black bear attacks occur, or so they say. So, I started in on a (terrible; I'm not tone deaf, but I am tone mute ) rendition of Whiskey in the Jar. Sure enough, not fifty yards from my spot on the trail, a black bear takes off like a shot the other way . I'm just really glad that he wasn't interested in meeting me, since I sure wasn't interested in meeting him!
As I was now somewhat shaken by the encounter, I continued singing along as I walked. I never thought that all of those weekends spent at Durty Nelly's, singing along with the the pub songs, would ever be of practical use. Turns out that old Irish drinking songs are just about perfect for hiking; most of 'em are in 4/4 time.
After reaching what I thought was the north rim of Farles Prairie, I was disappointed by the lack of water. It's been a very dry summer here in Florida, and the water sources along the trail reflected that. I continued along, singing every fifty or sixty yards. 'Twas a good thing that I was; less than a quarter-mile from where I'd met Papa Bear, I met Mama and Baby. Again, fortunately, they decided to run rather than pick a fight--I'm told this is normal black bear behavior, but I've never met one up close before this trip to find out.
Once my heart slowed down from trip-hammer to normal speed, I thought seriously about whether I should camp at the north end of Farles Prairie. The lack of easily-accessible water and Baby Bear's presence decided me. I really didn't want to become a bear attack statistic, so I pushed on to Juniper Springs Recreation Area. I called my wife from the pay phone there, catching her on the second try, to tell her about my itinerary change and ask her to pick me up the next day instead of Wednesday. I was going to push on to Whispering Creek and camp near there, since the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area allows camping pretty much anywhere within it.
That was a hot afternoon. There is very little shade in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, and it had rained immediately after I left Juniper Springs, which brought the humidity up to nearly a hundred percent. The heat index had to be in the low hundreds, if not higher, and the sun was merciless. Still, it has an odd, eldritch beauty to it, full of scrub oak and the skeletons of old, burnt-out longleaf pine trees. I enjoyed the hike, even as I was cursing the heat.
I passed Whispering Creek by without realizing that it was Whispering Creek; there was no water flowing through it. Only when I reached the remnants of the bridge that used to go over Whiskey Creek did I realize that I'd passed it. It was just as well; with no water there, I wasn't going to be spending the night nearby. Fortunately, Whiskey Creek did have a trickle flowing through the streambed that I was able to filter from. I grabbed a liter from the creek and scouted out a campsite that had been used before; someone had built a fire there and not used LNT practices for it. The pair of scrub oaks that I hung from were perfectly spaced, though, and the rain earlier in the day had convinced me that it would stay clear through the night. I slept under the stars that night, with a nicely cooling breeze flowing down from the ridgeline to the northwest.
Day Three (Whiskey Creek to the Yearling Trailhead, ~6 miles):
I rose with the dawn this morning and ate a sketchy breakfast of protein bar and tannin-rich water from the creek. Looking at my legs, I realized that the chiggers had gotten to me, despite 100% DEET on my legs and ankles. I guess long pants will be in order in the future. I just hate to have to do that; it gets so hot here that I begrudge every extra square inch of fabric covering me during the summer. There's got to be a better way...
After retrieving my bear bag and packing the bedding, I rolled out on the trail. This was to be a short hike, with a stop in at Hidden Pond for a swim and a nap. After about an half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, I found myself at Hidden Pond.
Someone had left their bedding there while they left on a day hike, so I picked a spot out of the way to set the Hennessy up and catch a nap. After filtering some water from the pond, I took a quick swim to cool off and fell into the hammock, setting my alarm for two in the afternoon.
The hot sun overhead woke me at about noonish, and I decided that sooner was better than later to hit the trail. I packed my things, filtered some more water from the lake, and pushed on.
This area had the most elevation change of anywhere I'd been in the forest; forty to sixty foot ups and downs, not too bad. About an hour into the hike, I hit an area where blowdowns had been a bit of a problem, and the trail blazes were difficult to see. I managed to find my way around the falls and get back to the trail, but it cost me some time.
Pushing on harder, I must've passed the blaze for the Yearling Trail without noticing it. I suppose that's what I get for trying to make good time in the heat of the afternoon, though. Entirely my fault, and the road hike that resulted wasn't much fun. Cursing my lack of attention under my breath, I hiked along Forest Road 46 (old FR 10; ONF is in the process of switching it's numbering system over to something rational from the previous haphazard one) for about a mile and then backtracked for about a mile of road hiking along State Road 19 until I hit the Yearling Trailhead and Silver Glen Springs.
Walking across the street, I paid the day-use fee for the springs and jumped in to cool off. I spent about an half an hour drinking a Mountain Dew for the caffeine and watching the vultures try to steal someone's blue tarp that they were using as a tablecloth. It was rather funny watching those birds be so brazen. Fortunately, the owner saw them doing this before I had to get up and do something about it.
Listening to the kids splash in the spring and the Russian family joke with each other as they played badminton behind me made me realize just how much I missed my wife. I packed my things up, dried off with a bandanna, and headed across SR 19 to meet her at the trailhead.
Here, my trip report ends, with the greatest wife in the world picking me up on time and even offering me a clean shirt and some cold iced tea for the ride home. I had a good time, for the most part, and learned a lot about my hiking style and how to cope with problems. I also learned that my misspent youth in Irish bars wasn't quite so misspent after all...
Photos (and hopefully video) to come soon.
FLRider, signing off.
Edit: First set of photos attached. These are from Day 1 & the first half of Day 2, through to the north rim of Farles Prairie. See my post below for the second set.