Friday, February 15, 2008

The Eighth Largest Cypress in Florida

The next morning was, once again, brutally cold, and I woke up shivering. I got an early start on the trail, skipping breakfast to get on the trail quicker and warm up. I did eat some Pop Tarts and granola bars to have something in my stomache, but eating cereal was out of the question because I ran out the morning before and cooking a dinner was out of the question because I was too cold to want to wait around for a meal to cook.

My bottle with denatured alcohol collapsed overnight, like opening an empty water bottle at a high altitude then brining it down to a low altitude, except my altitude never changed. Just the denser, colder air was enough to crush the bottle I used for my fuel. Even on the AT, I can't remember that ever happening.

After a half hour of hiking, I felt comfortably warm, though I continued to wear my fleece jacket to stay warm. I figured Snap and Gretchen were probably 30 to 60 minutes behind me given their usual morning wake up time, so I scratched a message to them in the dirt road with my trekking pole: "Good morning, Snap + G! =)" (including the happy face, but it wasn't sideways), and signed it GT. I was lazy about writing out Gretchen's lame.

About 15 minutes later, I wrote another note, this time including the time I wrote it so they'd have an idea of how far ahead I was.

Five minutes after that, a truck drove by in the opposite direction, and I knew it would run over my first two messages, so I scrached a third message into the dirt, including the time once again.

The trail finally left the dirt roads, crossed over SR 20, and into the woods at the Rice Creek Conservation Area. My guidebook explained that it was a rice and indigo plantation by British loyalists in the 1780s.

There is a lot of water in the area, but due to the amazing work of local FTA volunteers, the trail was high and dry. And the work truely was amazing.

Hoffman's Crossing is a narrow boardwalk 1,886 feet long (about one-third of a mile!), crossing over deep sections of water they would have made you walk through if it was in Big Cypress.

Over 30 boardwalks and bridges were built along a two-mile section of trail, if I remember correctly, to help keep hikers' feet dry. And my feet did stay dry. Amazing work! I've done some trail work in California and Washington, and I know what an incredible effort was put into this place.

Further on, the trail splits. Well, kind of. The Florida Trail turns left and heads to the eighth largest cypress in Florida, but a white-blaze trail led right to a shelter commonly called the Hilton.

I was torn--which did I want to see? The eighth largest cypress in Florida, or a shelter? I decided on the shelter since I figured it probably had a picnic table and I could cook a proper meal easily to get me through the rest of the day. Not to mention that it was only the secod shelter on the trail so far. I wished I could spend the night--it's a shelter!--but it was far too early in the day to stop there.

So I stopped for a late breakfast and early lunch.

The shelter is wonderful. It's a two-story design, screened in to keep out bugs, and even included comfortable lounge chairs upstairs. Cosy little place.

Someone left behind a newspaper about a month old, which I enjoyed leafing through while my Hamburger Helper meal was cooking.

I ate, cleaned up, and packed my pack again, leaving the fleece in the pack since the day had warmed up plenty warm at this point.

I stayed at the shelter for about an hour, wondering if Snap and Gretchen would drop in on me or stay on the Florida Trail and perhaps be ahead of me by now.

I had two choices I could make: Follow the white blazes northward to wher it intersected the Florida Trail again, or backtrack to where I got off the Florida Trail. I'm not nearly as 'pure' with this hike as I was on the AT where I was determined to walk on every foot of that trail.

Because of the poor blazing at times, I'd already missed small sections of official Florida Trail, and other areas didn't even have a physical trail that could be followed with the 'any path between blazes' mentality.
So I had little qualms about missing the mile or so of official Florida Trail by following the white blazed side trail that led to the shelter. The trail wasn't noticeably shorter, easier, or different than the official Florida Trail.

Except for one thing--the eighth largest cypress in Florida was on the official FT trail, and I knew you all would want to hear about that. I wanted to see this legendary cypress.

I backtracked 0.4 miles to where I got off the trail, grumbling about the backtracking. Couldn't they have put he shelter and eighth largest cypress in Florida on the same trail?

At the cypress, I found Snap and Gretchen laying at their tent to dry and preparing lunch.

"Hey guys! I was wondering when our paths might cross again."

Gretchen asked, "How did we get in front of you?" then, before she finished her question figured out the answer. "You went to the shelter?"

"Yep," I confirmed.

They had found two of the three messages I scratched in the dirt for them, which they enjoyed finding--a friendly, unexpected surprise.

We chatted for a few minutes and I took pictures of the eighth largest cypress in Florida, which didn't really look all that impressive to me overall--it looked kind of dead, in fact--but then I did grow up in the land of the giant sequoias where the largest trees on earth grew. The eighth largest cypress in Florida didn't really stand a chance compared to that.

For a cypress tree, however, it is definitely a larger than normal one!

I only chatted with Snap and Gretchen for a few minutes, though, because I wanted to push on another 13 miles to the next shelter on the trail, Iron Bridge shelter. (Two shelters in one day! I may be getting spoiled out here!) But I had to push hard if I was going make it before dark.

At Old Starke Road, I once again decided to forgo a resupply--a one mile off-trail, one-way hike to Bud's Groceries. I couldn't if I wanted to still make it the shelter by dark.

I did, however, stop long enough on Old Starke Road to write more messages in the dirt for Snap and Gretchen. =)

The trail followed along dirt roads for miles. Happily, traffic wasn't heavy, but a couple of places there were agressive dogs that came out to bark at me which I didn't much like. Is it so hard for these people to keep their dogs on a leash or in an enclosed area?

The trail, near the end of the day, ducked back into the woods again, and followed alongisde Etonia Creek ravine, with a real, honest-to-goodnes ravine. I was shocked. It was the steepest, heighest, natural viewpoint so far on my hike.


Anonymous said...

Ryan, I just found your blog last night while looking up some info about hiking the Florida Trail.

Is there anyway you can give a list of what gear you are using on the trail?

What's your pack weight?

Anonymous said...

You're so kind to backtrack on our behalf, Ryan. Thanks for checking out the tree for us. (BTW, I think cypresses are deciduous trees and that's why it might have looked dead. Of course, I might be wrong...)

Knit Wit

Anonymous said...

Backtracking so we can see the tree was very kind of you, Ryan.

Would you be a peach and backtrack back to a bakery? And get some pie? mmmm... pie...

Es, pirate on a diet and needing a fix

Anonymous said...

Most Excellent that you took the effort to backtrack. Looking forward to seeing the photo of "good ol'#8".

How are the shoes holding up? No update since Plantation......

DC Stones

Anonymous said...

Yup, cypresses lose their needles in the winter. It'll look nicer in a month or two. You can see photos of the cypress and the boardwalks/bridges in this gallery:

Anonymous said...

ryan, your backtracking is something my kids would smile about as they are always telling people if mom misses a turn or anything, she never turns they say it isn't in my genes (jeans) and i refuse to get a new pair!
i laugh everytime they tell someone that story.......i would have found a different route the crow flies if need be to avoid backtracking. it is so funny i take one route to take the kids to school and on the way home i automatically go a different route. if for some reason i need to stop someplace on the way home that requires me to take the same route home as on the way to school i have to drive in the other lane to make sure auto pilot doesn't just take me home without making my needed stop.
i am so proud of you to do that for us!!


Anonymous said...

Ryan I came across your blog site good write up. I am one of the volunteers that do work out there. I also helped build the Rice Creek Hilton. The real workers out there are 50+ years of age and can out work/hike anyone of us! One of the guys have hike over 10,000+ miles.