Critters and Springs abound!

So here we are, a month into our hike. Up until this point, we have seen maybe a few dozen gators, miscellaneous amount of birds, a few deer, and fields of farm cows. No cougar sightings, no bear sightings… just a bunch of poo here and there. Well, today was the day. In one day, we tallied up: a family of raccoons, a few deer, a little tortoise, a snake, an adorable armadillo, and a whole family of wild boar piglets! The little piggies were tussling with each other as others rooted around in the sand. We watched them for a while before making our presence known so momma didn’t come charging out at us!

This day was also an “ask and you shall receive” type of day. As we were tromping through some previously burned field in the scorching sun, Steve said, I really just need to sit in the shade and rest. Not 20 feet further, we crossed a road, and bam – 2 lawn chairs in the shade! Luckily, the owners of the house were about to leave, so we waved them down to thank them for the place to rest, upon which they gifted us with some candies, snacks, and a gatorade! We chatted a bit, unknowingly teaching them that this Florida Trail that runs along their yard is a long trail that is 1100 miles long! She thought it was just a local hiking trail around the forest areas. What sweet people!

The next day brought us into Paisley, where we were able to resupply, charge our batteries, blog, and most importantly – eat pizza (Palermo’s Pizza)! Once we had our fill, the rest came with us to the nearby campground where we swam in the lake, chatted with neighbors from Wisconsin, bathed in high-pressure showers, and lounged in our hammocks until nightfall. We passed the “Birth place of the Florida Trail”, which started as the Ocala Trail back in the 60s by Jim Kerr (who had just friended me on FB that day, coincidentally).

We set out the next day armed with a weather report that some high winds and thunderstorms were supposed to kick up that night. We had our sights set on Alexander Springs for a lunch break, and potentially ice cream and a swim. While preparing lunch on an already breezy afternoon, 2 other hikers came up from the springs. Jane & Jared had started the trail the day after us, and had camped just a mile or two from us the night before. It just goes to show you can be within a few miles of someone on trail, and if you’re hiking the same pace, it can take over 400 miles to meet! Crazy!

We chatted with these native-Floridians regarding the upcoming storm and decided it looked better to stay in the safety of the campground, rather than camp under some sketchy, brittle trees we’d passed on the way in. This decision meant we had the whole afternoon to set up camp and go swim in the spring! The scuba crew there earlier reported 200+ feet visibility. What?! I can’t fathom that. We just splashed around, cooling off, and cleaning up, but it was pretty dang clear and indescribably blue.

The storm rolled in around 11:30 that night, blowing the trees around and dumping buckets of water at a time. Our Z-Packs Duplex tent proved to be a pretty good shelter, with mostly just some splash up under the screen door coming in. The peace of mind that came with sturdy trees was worth the cost of a campground. The next day as we hiked out, we had to climb over and move many trees along the trail. A lot of these match stick pines were broken and tossed about like pick up sticks.

Later that day, as if the thought of falling trees through the night wasn’t enough for one’s nerves, we hiked past the military bombing zone where they were actively doing practice drops at the minimum safety distance – no more than 5 miles away. A bit unnerving for me!

We enjoyed the beautiful trail through the Ocala National Forest alongside many weekenders out for a beautiful hike as well. Lots of families, scout groups, college groups, and folks out to get away from the nearby urban sprawl and enjoy nature. It was great to check-out from the world more than before since there wasn’t much cell service through the depths of the forest. Until now, the Florida Trail allowed for good phone connection, versus the remote feeling from out west on the PCT.

After our stop at Alexander Springs, we had to hit the well-known, highly sought after Juniper Springs.  We arrived later in the day, and it was already a cool day, so this was just a nice foot soaking spring.  The fully-developed spring is much more public-friendly compared to the last one.  City folks flock to this place on warm days, but it was still a full house on this cold weekend.  The CCC developed this place and built a nice water wheel, mill house as well.  Very scenic & peaceful.

Though we had a resupply box waiting for us on Monday, our half day off for the storm preparation cut us close on our rations and into our back up foods. We figured we would grab a hot lunch at the 88 Store everyone talks about and that would put us on track to have sufficient foods til our boxes at the campground. We felt good that morning, and also motivated by the thought of baskets and baskets of fries, we flew through our morning hike to get to the bar/restaurant. We arrived at 10am, knowing it didn’t open til 11am. No problem, that gave us time to charge the battery and plan our upcoming meal. Well, 11 came and went… so did noon…. no answer from the restaurant crew. The bartender was very apologetic to the hangry hikers. We opted out of waiting any longer. We munched on the last chips they had for sale in the store, signed the trail log (which dates back to 2006!), and set off at 1pm with empty stomachs and frustrated minds.

Our frustration powered us through the afternoon, and our small food bags motivated us through the last part of the day – making for our longest day on this trail at 21.1 miles. My legs and feet definitely felt it. But that only left 1 mile into the campground the next morning where our food boxes awaited. We opted out of showers since it was a chilly morning and we didn’t have towels yet to dry off. Also, the dryer was broken, so laundry wasn’t an option here either. We repacked our bags with a few days of food to get us to our next town, and set off.

Just over the hill from the campground, we came across a bright orange cooler that said “Open Me”. Inside was the precious sight of sodas and stickers! We happily took a Mountain Dew and signed the log book with profound thank yous which made up for the disappointment of yesterday’s lunch. The trail provides. (And Abigail, who was the angel responsible for this magic).