Olustee to Osceola Shelter
One word sums up this first day on the trail: rain. It rained all the way to Lake City with only brief intermissions. We left one car at Milton’s Country Store on US 441 near Deep Creek. Thirty minutes later we were at the visitor’s center at Olustee National Battlefield where we met Ranger Frank. We talked for a bit while he told us about the four hunters that had been found shot dead in their stands. Thanks Frank. As we hit the trail we heard a gunshot. Great way to start. 🙂
Despite the rain this first leg has been nice. The lush pines have given us the occasional woodpecker sighting. Also, contrary to what I was told the trail so far is in fine shape. I had the role of point man today so I got to clear all of the spider webs. The forest will be busy tonight with recovery operations. There were some very interesting spiders I’ll have to look up when we return.
We took our lunch break at the spur trail to Ocean Pond. We were both soaked and wanted to wring out. We decided to skip the 1 mile round trip to Ocean Pond and keep trucking to the shelter. After a 30 minute break we headed out again.
Our hike took us through some slightly varied scenery. We crossed several boardwalks. Our longest was through a beautiful cypress stand. The first section of this boardwalk was at an angle and it was very slippery. Both of us made it safely across, though. We crossed roads and walked down others. We stood over I10 and I even got a trucker to honk!
We finally made it to Osceola Shelter after 9.9 miles. It took us 3 hours 55 min per the GPS. It’s a nice shelter with a privy down a short path. The first order of business was to get a line up to hang our clothes. My laces were dripping for quite a while. The rain gear I have stinks. I’ll be taking it back. I was soaked inside and out.
The tent is pitched and the hammock is hanging. Dinner was early to get our food bags hung before dark. After a couple of hours sitting in the dark talking we decided to turn in. Tomorrow is another day.
Osceola Shelter to West Tower
Today we awoke to a damp scene. The rain started again last night and a damp mist hovered around the forest. We donned our long sleeved gear and got busy with breakfast. Nothing like a hot cup of coffee to warm you up.
We took our time breaking camp. Part of that was strategic. Starting a little later in the morning gave us more confidence that the hunters had already headed home after day break.
We followed the spur from Osceola Shelter back to the trail and began our day. It started off with a boardwalk into a palmetto field. I think we’ve seen enough palmetto to last a lifetime. The boardwalk took us to a shotgun peppered FTA sign and the Turkey Run trailhead.
We headed down a stretch of old timber road where we ran across the occasional butterfly and the overly abundant spider. Oddly enough at one point we found a burlap sack half full of palmetto fruit. It was just sitting on the trail. Maybe the bears had been out collecting them to manage their prostate problems.
After traveling through some slightly rougher sections of trail and battling every spider species possible we came into another palmetto field. We decided to take a break and that’s when I found we had company. I don’t know if he was hitching a ride or if he was on the tree I leaned my pack against but there was a large praying mantis. I haven’t seen one in years so that was a nice treat.
It was just a short walk until we crossed FR234 and made our way to the blue blazes leading to West Tower.
Not knowing what to expect I was surprised at all the campers and RVs for the hunters. Some seemed to be permanent as they were on blocks. We walked around the loop and finally found the perfect spot. We made camp and put out clothes and boots out to dry in the sun. We were still soaked from yesterday’s hike in the rain.
West Tower is a fire tower for the US Forest Service. I wish we could’ve climbed to the top. I’m sure it provides a magnificent view. There’s a real bathroom and a spigot with cold water. That was nice to have instead of having to filter water from the stream behind the shelter while fending off hungry skeeters. Despite all the vehicles, though, it was surprisingly quiet. Aside from the one droning generator almost our only other noise came briefly from a large owl nesting overhead.
We built a nice little fire as it got dark. The wet leave, tender, and wood made some good smoke to keep the voracious skeeters at bay. The fires also kept us warm as the temperatures dropped and helped further dry out our boots.
We finally grew too tired and turned in, settling in for a very cold night.
West Tower to Deep Creek
If “rain” was the word of the day for Day 1 then “cold” certainly fits the bill for last night. I believe we saw 48. Both of us were chilled. As long as I kept cocooned in my blanket I was warm. It’s still evident, though, that even my JRB WeatherShield does little to help in cold weather.
I was dubbed Red Riding Hood as I gathered my blanket around me to get the morning started. I seriously needed coffee and I needed it quick. I rushed to pull our food bags down.
I put water on my alcohol stove to get it ready for coffee. Then I fired up the Giga stove to whip us huevos rancheros. I felt like a hearty breakfast was in order to start the final leg of the trip.
After breakfast we set about trying to recover my good caribiners. They got wrapped in an oak tree last night while trying to hang the food. After many failed attempts to knock them loose with rocks and sticks I gave up and climbed the tree. I safely rescued by prized biners!
After breaking camp and topping off our water we walked a short bit down the road to find the trail. We skipped a little here. We didn’t see the point in going back to the trail we left just to cross the road we were already at. We saved a little time and distance but that would be lost later.
As we looked at the trail we realized we’d finally found the “bad” section we’d been warned about. Talk about overgrown! A machete would have been nice to cut through the vines and brush. Oh, and how could I forget the thorns?
To say the third day was a challenge would be too little. It felt as if, and the GPS confirmed, that we were meandering through the forest. It didn’t make sense but we kept to the blazes.
We finally made it to a timber road and got some welcome relief from the brush. I’d mentioned as we started the day to be on the lookout for snakes. I knew that with a cold night it was likely they’d be out sunning. It only made sense that I’d be the one to walk right past one without even seeing it. It’s a good thing it was friendly. Of course he didn’t move a muscle so I figure he was still too cold to do much.
The last section had us off and on timber roads. More off than on. We did have a couple of rare open spots that would make nice campsites though. We used one of these to take a break and tend to our feet.
At long last we stumbled out of the brush again and onto FR237. Unfortunately, the trail went cold. We’d followed the blazes the whole way but now they were gone. How could that be? It took a while but we finally found another trail on the same side we’d come from and the matching sign across the road. They were about 50 yards from where we exited. I have no idea how the two trails were so close to each other.
We picked up the blazes again and were thrilled to finally reach the power line leading us to the Deep Creek trailhead. Of course, our journey wasn’t quite over yet. We’d parked at Milton’s Country Store, not the trailhead. We still had about 2 more miles to go.
We started down the road and even the cows looked at us funny. There were still blazes, though, so we were doing something right. After long last we arrived at Milton’s, dropped our packs, and breathed a sigh of relief. Over the three days we covered 25.1 miles. It was tough at times but proved a rewarding experience. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.