Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Walking Through Fire, Yes, Again

I always knew Florida had a water problem--lots of it with nowhere to go. For most people, it's no longer a problem. They've built canals, dikes, and levees to control the worst of the problem.

But it seems this state has a regular problem with fires. In Big Cypress, they were set deliberately. This day, I don't really know. There was no sign warning that the trail was closed or that prescribed burns were going on.

For the first hour or so, I'd smell that mysterious 'campfire,' on and off, and wonder where it was coming from.

Near Hopkins Prairie, though, I suddenly noticed smoke--visible smoke--on the trail. This fire was much closer than I realized!

And that's when I found my first smoldering log.

Continuing on, I found much larger burn areas, much of it still smoldering, and I now realized there was another fire on the trail. I'd find the occasional tree on fire, but mostly just smoldering remains of logs, brush, grasses, and trees. The grasses made a satisfying crunch sound every time I stepped on what was left of them as the burned remains crumbled under my foot.

A half hour into the burn area, I finally found a piece of paper tacked to a tree, dated the day before, warning that the north end of Hopkins Prairie had a wildfire, but firefighters were monitoring it and apologizing for any of their fire fighting equipment ruining the quiet beauty of the area.

Huh. I guess that meant the trail was still open. =) From the tone of the message, it suggested there was a genuine fire--not a controlled burn--but who knows?

So I continued on through the smoldering remains of the wildfire. I didn't find any hot spots like I did in Big Cypress--just smolders.

I noticed what looked like recent bulldozer tracks over much of the trail at the edge of the prairie, and I assume they must have ran some bulldozers through yesterday to control the fire. Many blazes had burned or been felled, and trail itself wiped out where bulldozers went through, but the trail largely followed the edge of the prairie and I was able to continue following it without too much trouble.

It's still kind of unnerving to walk through the smoldering leftovers of a wildfire, though.

Further on, I reached the trail junction for Salt Springs. Originally, I planned to resupply and call Amanda from there, but it would have required a three-mile one-way hike into town. I decided to skip it and go to the 88 Store instead hoping it had enough to resupply my needs for the next few days.

Another seven miles up the trail, the east and west corridors of the Florida Trail around Orlando merged, and I walked into Region 5 of my guidebook.

The 88 Store was 0.4 miles beyond the trail junction, or rather the blue-blazed trail to the store was. The store itself was another 0.4 miles down the blue-blazed trail, and I arrived there a little after 3:00 in the afternoon.

The store's owners are Jack and Annie, and apparently have a 1,200 pound hog named Elvis that drinks beer and chews tobacco. My guidebook suggested that hikers should ask if Jack is around to show off the hog, but that seemed a rather weird thing to do and I didn't.

Annie was behind the counter tending the bar, and I read and signed the hiker register. I didn't talk to Annie or the customers much, though, because the smell of them smoking bothered me. They might be friendly to hikers, but the place reeked of smoke.

I looked through their limited selection of foods and was disappointed with the choices. I expected something similar to a mini-mart of a gas station, but the selection here was even less. I grabbed a multitude of snacks, a box of mac 'n' cheese for dinner, and a cold Coke to drink on the patio.

The thing I really needed was breakfast. I had finished the last of my cereal that morning. There just wasn't any real breakfast material in the store, so I grabbed the box of mac 'n' cheese thinking it might have to do in a pinch.

All my chores done, I hit the trail again, hiking out to Grassy Pond for the night.

I was surprised at the size of the place, off the side of a dirt road. It looked liked a place where large, wild parties with alcohol took place, and in fact saw the reminds of several beer cans and fires.

It wasn't an ideal place to camp in my opinion--far more exposed than I liked to be--but it was too late to reach the next camp at Lake Delancy before dark. I'd camp here for the night.

I no longer expected rain in the forecast, but waking up dry was a nice habit of getting into so once again I set up my tarp.

Shortly before sunset, two other hikers stumbled into the campsite. They looked older than the usual hikers, but they're packs were lean and light. These were experience backpackers, and I called out, "Are you guys thru-hikers?"

One of them was. Snap, the man, was thru-hiking the Florida Trail. Gretchen, the woman, was not. I told them if they made a fire, I'd invite myself over. If they didn't, though, they were welcome to come by and visit any time. =)

I didn't want to follow them out to where they were setting up camp in case they really didn't want to chat, but I wanted to make sure they knew they were welcome to do so with me. It's not often I have people to talk to at night!

After setting up their tent, they brought their dinner over to my tarp and we chatted long into the night.

Snap got his trail name after breaking his arm while trying to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Even with a cast on, he continued hiking, only calling it quits when his doctor recommended that it wouldn't be a good idea after getting the cast off since there would be nothing to support it.

He wisely deduced that I had hiked the eastern corridor around Orlando after noticing my footprints in the sand only after the junction of the two routes. He had hiked the western route.

You'll see a lot of animal tracks on the trail, but after awhile, you also start analyzing footprints from people. So few people hike the trail, it often warns you when people are ahead, how many, or even how tall they are.

Before catching up with Mountain Laurel and Mosey just before the 30-mile roadwalk, I had noticed two distinct sets of footprints, definitely no older than the last rain a couple of nights before, and I wondered if it was them.

And earlier in the morning, I passed a set of footprints that were absolutely enormous. I never found the owner of those prints, but I'm convinced that Shaquille O'neill was on the trail. The shoe prints were three or four inches longer than mine!

On the trail out here, you're always keeping your eyes open for fresh prints, especially those headed the same direction as you.


Anonymous said...

I hope you didn't get hit with rough weather last night. I heard that Central Fl saw some storms. I'm enjoying hiking vicariously through your blog. Keep it up and BE SAFE!


Anonymous said...

Yes, Ryan, I too heard there was rough weather and even a tornado in Central Fl., thought about you and worried you may have been in the middle of it. I too hope you are safe. I know these posts are a day or two behind so maybe you will mention it in the one tomorrow or the next day. Anyway, bet it quelched any fires you may have encountered otherwise.
Take care,
Okie Dog

midlandtrailblazer said...

"or even how tall they are." ah, a true Sherlock Holmes moment. wonder if those huge foot prints belong to the guy with the headlamp?

Anonymous said...

well, now you know where the smell of the campfire came from the night before. hope you have seen the last of fires. i give you credit for continuing on....not knowing just what you were going to find farther up the trail as far as an all out fire was possible.
be careful.


Anonymous said...

Could be thoes HUGE foot prints were from the Skunk Ape! LOL Legend has it he inhabits those parts!

K from WadadliSun

Anonymous said...

I did ask, and found out that, sadly, Elvis the hog passed away not too long ago. ~~ eArThworm

Anonymous said...

The Orlando area is the lightening strike capitol of the lower 48. Maybe that is why there was a fire.

Larva Lady/ZZ

Trailtracker said...

Ryan---I LOVE that you added your comments about analyzing tracks of any kind---animal and human! Music to my ears! =) I'm also glad you didn't have trouble following the blazes through this burned area like before!

Anonymous said...

My 10-year-old swears that he saw a Skunk Ape at Mike Rouss Gold Head Branch State Park in N. Florida. I don't think they wear sneakers, though.


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

My guess is that the large footprints belonged to Ronald McDonald. Have you ever seen his shoes?
He and the Hamburglar were starting a new exercise program back then.....


Hike on!
~Twinville Trekkers