Juniper Prairie Wilderness

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9/26/08

Today I started my 3-day hike through the Ocala National Forest. We hit the trail at 9:10am and hiked about 1 mi. to the actual FT trailhead.

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I started with way too fast a pace. In no time my 40lb pack was really starting to wear on me. My feet and calves didn’t take long to burn. So much for all that beach training. 🙂 The trail starts with a nice run of white sugar sand. It helps speed up the burn in your legs.

As I got used to the weight things got a little better. I got into a good rhythm and was able to really enjoy the scenery. What really surprised me was the many burned out trees as well as those twisted by severe storms. My clothes are streaked with charcoal marks. Nature has really been busy at work here.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the first water hole. Water shouldn’t be a problem. It felt good to walk on the slightly damp trail. Sadly it was short-lived. It didn’t take too long to get back on the sugar sand.

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For most of the trail you only have a shoulder-wide path. In some sections you don’t even have that. I pity anyone trying to wear shorts and t-shirts. The fallen trees and saw palmettos grab at you with every step. Your pants and shirt continually get snagged and debris clutters the path. Each step could easily put you on your face.

We passed several more water sources along the way and had to traverse small sections of flooded trail. Balancing a 6′ person on a 6″ log with a 40lb pack is an interesting feat when you’re not used to it. But the real workout was still ahead.

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If you’re looking for a good workout, the FL Trail may be for you. Especially after some storms. The “easy” trail was replaced by a grueling dance alternating between duck walking and crawling on hands and knees to clear low-hanging trees covering the trail. After a lengthy section of this I find myself having to slow down my pace as fatigue sets in. Just when I was really sick of crawling it was over. Alas, as before, the joy was short-lived.

Note: this picture is misleading. You can actually see the trail here. 🙂
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If you ask someone, the camp site is always “just past that line of trees” or “right over the next hill.” Hill? But this is FL!

Yes, Virginia, Florida does have hills. On the trail, they’re covered with…more sugar sand. Up we trudge as the sand reflects the heat up to you and you start to feel the burn again.

I can hardly believe the amount of fire damage the area has seen. As a wilderness area if it burns it burns. No effort is made to stop it. No controlled burns are done. Whatever nature does is what you see. What wasn’t burned was twisted by high winds.

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Finally, it’s there. The lake. It’s not the final stop but it’s very close. The water is surprisingly clear. It’s much better than the other sources. We take the opportunity to fill up and I top of my hydration bladder and Nalgene bottle. Soon we take off again.

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We finally see more people. Well, at least a single woman right around the bend. Perhaps there was someone else in the tent. We didn’t stop to talk. We hike around another lake and make camp. We’ve covered about 6 miles in 3 hours. Not bad considering how cluttered the trail was.

I got a nice spot with three trees. I hang my hammock and tarp and I’m not alone. Out of 9 of us making the hike 6 were hanging. I use my third tree to attach a line to let my clothes dry out.

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After some lunch we just sat around chatting. I’m sitting here against my tree looking over the lake. I look down and see I have a little friend. A cocooned worm is crawling by. He’s slow yet somehow seems to be covering a lot of ground. I figure he’s stocking up before sealing himself in for good.

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I seem to have a blister on my toe. I’m surprised. I haven’t had this problem before and didn’t feel anything while on the move. Overall I’ve recovered well I think. I’ve refilled the Nalgene. The sun is going down so it’s not too cool now as it’s no longer blocked by the trees. There’s a slight breeze so that helps. We’ll see what happens tonight and tomorrow.

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9/27/08
Wow. Last night was cold. No, that would be an understatement. I knew it would be cooler than normal but it had to be lower than the 60 that was forecast. The fog and dampness made it worse. I had tried to clip my stock tarp as an under-cover for the hammock but it didn’t work. The cold, damp air crept through the bugnet and I often had chills despite the blanket. Oh well, I survived.

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Today’s hike was hot. We broke camp about 10am and struck out headed north. The trail was mostly open and unprotected from the scorching heat. We made our way through the burned out remains of a large pine forest. Aside from the palmettos it seems that very little lives out there. I can only imagine how long it will take to recover from the fires.

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We finally reached an oak and pine stand and enjoyed the relief the shade provided. We left the stand for more open but not burned terrain. The next stand was just ahead…uphill…with more sand.

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The hill was conquered and we took a break at FR10. After a quick snack and letting our feet dry out we hit the trail again. It only took about 45 min to hike the last bit to Hopkins Prairie where we were picked up and returned to Juniper.

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At Juniper Springs everyone dumped gear and relaxed in or around the cool natural spring. It sure felt good even though I only dipped my feet. My blister had reached epic proportions so I’d lanced and dressed it.

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I’m sitting at a tent site now. We finished a day earlier than expected. I was wiped out and ready for bed. I really wasn’t going to write tonight. However, on my way back from the bathroom a couple of woman stopped me. They used their flashlight to show me our neighbor. Watching a black bear near your site standing no more than 30′ from a large, wild animal seems to have given me a little more energy. I would say he was over 6′ based on the few times he stood up. Note to self: don’t blind the bear with your headlamp. I guess he got tired of everyone blinding him so he lumbered off. And I climbed into my hammock and turned on the MP3 player. If I can’t hear him he’s not there right?

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Hint: He’s standing behind the tree. My trusty Marine comrade wouldn’t get closer with his flashlight. 🙁

This ends most of the adventure for this trip. We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings.

9/29/08
Well, pretty much everyone has gone home. It’s just me and two others left behind. They’re headed to Orlando and have time to kill so I hang out for a while to see what else the park offers. We take a stroll down some random trail.

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Vist Fern Hammock Springs.

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And call it a weekend. It’ll be good to sleep in my own bed tonight.


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