Thursday, January 24, 2008

Best Trail Magic--Ever!

I woke wet, cold, tired, and grumpy. It was a miserable night, but at least the rain had finally stopped.

I skipped breakfast since I wanted to hit the trail to get warmed up, and even wore my fleece jacket for the first several miles before warming up enough to take it off.

The morning was undeniably cold, however. I never did take off the nylon shirt I wore, which usually comes off within minutes of starting my hike in the morning.

Nor did the trail improve any. First it went through several miles of cow patures, then followed US 98 a ways before ducking into the woods for a brief 1.6 enjoyable miles before coming out on US 98 again, this time to follow the highway for 6.4 miles.

It was a terrible walk, with traffic barreling by at high velocities. I had to use the string on my hat around my chin to keep the hat from blowing off whenever a semi drove past.

Near the end of the road walk, I could see those railroad tracks on my left. If I had realized how horrible the walk was the day before, I might have reconsidered walking on the tracks anyhow. I could have skipped all those cow paddies and road walking, and enjoyed a nice mellow walk along the railroad tracks. Not to mention cutting five or ten miles off the hike. Illegal, yes, but oh so tempting....

Too late to do anything about it now, except watch as an Amtrack train passed me. Probably from Okeechobee. If only the passengers knew how easy they had it.

The trail left US 98 for good, then ducked into the woods. The first mile was overgrown and difficult to follow, then the trail curved onto a dirt road briefly, but things started turning around.

The trail became easy to follow--a JOY to follow, in fact, winding through oak trees and palmettos. No cows around, and no cars. Not even any spiderwebs crossing the trail.

The land was flat and dry, and deer and birds could be spotted wandering around with a purpose only they knew.

I had entered the Hickory Hammock, a hiker oasis of beauty and enjoyment.

Halfway through, the trail passed a campsite that even included a trail register, which I eagerly opened and started to read. I was stunned to see that the first entries in the register started in 2001. Nearly seven years worth of thoughts and ponderings filled the book, much too many for me to read them all, as much as I wanted to.

So I read a few pages from each year and different times of the year, to get a sense of how the area has changed, both over time and on a seasonal basis. Another thru-hiker signed in nine days before I did--perhaps I'll catch up to him before the end of the trail.

Mountain Laurel and Mosey had not signed in, and I assumed this meant they had temporarily left the trail for a day or two to be with family that lived near Sebring. I was probably ahead and of them now.

I left my own message, commenting that if the whole trail was as nice as the last two miles, I'd never have anything to complain about. =)

While returning the register, I discovered a geocache behind the post for the register. *shaking head* Okay, I guess everything can't be perfect. =)

The trail continued another two beautiful miles, then dumped me out at a horse camp. Camping was free, but hikers were supposed to reserve a spot ahead of time which I did not do figuring to camp further up the trail.

I did, however, stop to make use of the facilities, including covered picnic tables and a pump that retrieved well water. A sign by the pump said the water was not potable, so for the first time on my hike, I had to treat the water using a nifty little gadget that uses ultraviolet light to kill pathogens. I could have gotten river water, but I figured the well water was probably better than river water, relatively speaking.

The horse camp was practically empty. I saw two people at the far end, enjoying a campfire, and the rest of the seeminging large establishment was completely empty. Seemed odd for a holiday weekend, but I wasn't complaining. I liked the quiet.

Near the center of the camp was a neat looking barn that now doubled as stables for horses.

I took out my tarp, ground sheet, and sleeping bag and threw them each out on picnic tables to dry. The sun still had not come out so I figured they might not dry completely, but ever little bit helps.

Then I decided to make dinner, since it was such a nice location to do so. Plenty of shelter, plenty of picnic tables, and plenty of water. Bean and rice burritos. Delicious!

While cleaning up dinner, the only two other folks in camp wandered by, and I told them about my thru-hike. They'd followed the orange blazes while riding their horses around, but had no idea they stretched across the state of Florida and people like me existed who would hike from one end to the other.

They suggested I spend the night in the barn, which given the circumstances, was pretty darned tempting. It looked like it could still rain at any moment, and the weather was still frightfully cold with a strong wind. The barn seemed tempting indeed, but I was worried about getting caught camping illegally. I never even bothered to get a permit to camp at the camp much less in the barn!

But the two kept insisting, saying they were the only ones there, and they'd only use the far end for their horses. I could camp out on the other side of the barn, and who would care?

So this was my introduction with Dan and Bonnie, a couple of horse-lovers out for the weekend enjoying their horses.

I walked over to the barn to check it out closer, both the first floor where the horses were kept, and the second floor that was empty except for a lot of owl dung (I suppose!) on the floor.

The second floor intrigued me, since it seemed unlikely that a ranger would see or notice me camping without permission up there. =) By golly, I was sold--I'd spend the night in the barn tonight!

Dan and Bonnie invited me over to their campfire where we swapped war stories for the next few hours. They were absolutely stunned nobody else was around, saying it's ususally like a New York traffic jam there on a good day, and they figured it would be terribly conjested with horse campers on a holiday weekend, but no, it was just those two. The bad weather the night before must have scared everyone else off.

After dark, they made a steak dinner with ice cream and pie for dessert, which they invited me to eat as well. =) Bonnie let me use her cell phone to call my mom and wish her a happy birthday (it was, indeed, my mom's birthday). And the campfire was awesome--my first on the trail, no less.

As bad as the night before was for me, that's how good this night was becoming. I needed a little happy trail magic to lift my spirits.


Anonymous said...

That's Awesome! Glad this day made up for the day before!

Anonymous said...

That probably would have been owl vomit on the second floor of that barn. There was an episode of Dirty Jobs that dealt with the owl vomit.... :)

jjjaker said...

What a wonderful evening you had! I love hearing about all the people you are meeting on the trail. I think that just adds to adventure.

Anonymous said...

I just read an article that said "researchers" (whoever/whomever they are) have found that for every hour of vigorous excercise you perform you extend your life by two hours. I figure that if Ryan stops now he should live to be about 213.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, we are so glad you are enjoying your current life adventure, and are allowing us to share it with you. Thank you. The lows are truly a part of the entire experience, and make the highs that much better. What rich stories you will have to tell the next generations in your old age - if they can slow you down long enough to tell them.
Grumpy Grinch

tricia said...

If that was owl vomit (owl pellets) could you grab about 36 of them for me? I need them for a science class I am teaching. I'll meet you up the trail for them!
Just kidding, don't need to add any weight to that pack! We're glad you are getting lots of trail magic...hope there's more to come!


Anonymous said...

Those owl cough pellets are really interesting! One year for science class we got some from a local nature center and dissected them. We found mouse fur, bones, a skull, toe nails, and even part of a tail. My 4th grade students were fascinated! So... if you're still near that barn, dissect one of those things!

Finding owl pellets are much better than running into snakes!

Kiddy Writer

Anonymous said...

I got curious and checked some caching sites to see which one you found by accident at the campsite. There are a couple at the trailhead area next to 98, then nothing between there and the equestrian camp. Now I'm even more curious.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Those darn geocachers just drop boxes like breadcrumbs, anywhere they fall. bah!

The night with Dan and Bonnie sounds sublime. Horse people are good folks. I can vouch for that!