Monday, October 24, 2011
On a cool Sunday morning (42 degrees) October 23, 2011 eight of us arrive at the start of our hike on Hwy. 20 in Bruce, FL. We take the obligatory starting photo and head out at 8:05 am. The first 4.9 miles is along the highway. We hike on the side of the road and make impressive time reaching our first turn by 9:40 am. Along the way we cross the impressive Choctawhatchee River.
We walk along several other roadways as we wind our way through a sparse but pleasant neighborhood finally reaching true trail at about the 6 mile point. We walk through a pine forest and see several natural ponds. The largest of the ponds must be named Sand Pond as there is a Kiosk with that name on it in a very pleasant State Forest Park located just south of Ebro. I will definitely be bringing Kim back her some day for a picnic and a stroll.
At 6.7 miles we pass the campground fee station and head back into the woods. we cross a blue-blazed trail called the Dutch Tiemann Trail. The map shows this to be a 5.1 mile loop. I'll have to return someday and hike it as well.
At 7.7 miles we join up with the new SR 79 to cross Pine Log Creek. The new overpass comes complete with a gravel walkway beneath the bridge and a private walkway over the bridge (separating us from traffic with a concrete barrier). Florida is apparently starting to take the Florida Trail seriously and planning for it in their construction projects. We follow beside Pine Log Creek as we enter the thickest woods we will hike through today. Even though the path is winding, it does not have many roots and we soon emerge at a sign that detail information about the oldest roadway in Florida. This old military road ran between Pensacola and St. Augustine serving to connect the Gulf Coast with the Atlantic Coast. Eventually, the state established its capital city, Tallahassee, along this roadway in between these two important trading outposts.
At 8.0 miles we reach another sign marking the roadway. at 10.7 miles we cross Ditch Branch on a small foot bridge. At this time we begin a hike along some power lines. After about a quarter mile we cross under the power lines and make a 180 degree turn in order to follow an old roadway that, eventually, leads us to our ending point on Hwy 20.
We reach the end at about 12:30 pm having covered just shy of 13 miles in about 4.5 hours.
Monday, October 17, 2011
On Sunday, October 16, 2011 we embark on hike number 10. This is going to be a long one of 15.5 miles. We begin at 8:00 am on a beautiful day with the temperature in the upper 60's. It quickly warms and we progress reaching a high of 89 degrees according to my car's external temperature gauge.
The first mile leads us through fields that have been clear-cut a couple of years ago. The terrain is sandy with lots of 10-12 foot pines and scrub oak. At 1.2 miles we cross Red Doe Creek and are now hiking in a pleasant pine forest. At 2.3 miles we arrive at Forgotten Creek Campsite. We are making great time.
At 2.7 miles we cross Lafayette Creek, at 3.6 miles we cross Little Black Creek and at 4.7 miles we cross Black Creek. all of these crossing are made on nice small timber spans of the water.
It is in this region we run into a problem. We cross a sandy road and begin to see recent clear-cutting activity. the clear cutters have had no regard for the trail and have cut and cleared most of the blazed trees. The pine boughs cover the trail and navigation becomes very difficult. We spend 30 minutes searching for the next blazes to lead us on before finding them several hundred yards away from the last blaze. If I were hiking this by myself I might have spent several hours searching instead of 30 minutes. So much for the fast pace.
At 6.4 miles we cross Golf Course Road (no sign of a golf course) and find a new type of sign marking the trail. At 7.4 miles, after a very pleasant mile long hike through a pine forest with a floor covered in fresh pine needles we pass an old sprinkler from a former sod farm that operated many years ago. We pass a second on at 7.9 miles and then come across a very interesting concrete pit in the middle of the woods. Years ago this section was a cattle farm and the pit was a Tick Bath for the cattle. It is about 30 feet long, 4 feet deep, and just wide enough for cattle to parade through one at a time. In its day, it was filled with a solution that caused the ticks to release their grip on the cattle. It is empty now, but I wonder what years of holding the toxic liquid has done to the surrounding area.
At 8.8 miles we cross an unnamed creek and it is a short 1.2 miles to the intersection of the trail with Hwy. 81. At this point we have a 5.5 mile hike south along the side of the road. The amount of litter on the roadway, especially empty beer cans/bottles is bothersome. Clearly the local ethic doesn't value keeping the area looking nice. We also pass an interesting sign telling us to "keep the hell out". I guess this is to be expected. The funny thing is not so much the language as the fact that this hand-painted sign is no more than 15 feet from a much more formal one. Redundancy is needed in this neck of the woods...
We arrive at the car at about 1:35 pm having hiked the official 15.5 miles, plus an extra mile trying to find our way through the clear cut. We've averaged over 3 miles per hour and feel worn, but good, about the effort.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
On Sunday, October 2, 2011 nine of us meet up to hike a 13.5 mile section of the Florida Trail. There are three new hikers joining us on this trek - Fresh Meat! We hit the trail at 8:10 am and expect to make good time across what we expect to be an easy trail.
The first 3.9 miles follow along the edge of Hwy 331. We are able to stay well off the road for most of this part - hiking along a telephone pole roadway. Unfortunately, some area are grown up with sticker bushes and other areas are rather muddy. I was wise and wore long pants today so "no problemo" for me. Most of the others chose to wear shorts (oh foolish ones) and when we reach the point to hike across 331 and enter the next trail section, they are scratched and bleeding just a bit.
The next couple of miles are unlike any we've hiked so far. The land has been stripped bare in most spots but no true development of the property has occurred. The result is that we must hike through grasses and weeds that cover the fields and make the trail barely visible. We cross a few unnamed creeks along the way and do see some rather beautiful fields of wildflowers.
At about the halfway point of the hike we cross Steephead Ravine on a small bridge and head up the ravine to Steephead Camp where we break for about 10 minutes to rest, eat and drink. Those in shorts survey the scratches on their legs and hope that we hit no more of that landscape. I'm feeling a bit guilty because this is the most undeveloped section of trail we've hiked and I've brought three newbies on the trek. I wonder if they will return. The "Steephead Ravine" by the way is as steep as those I hiked in Vermont. The difference is the climb lasts about 100 yards in Florida versus about 4 miles in places in Vermont.
We spend what seems to be several miles working our way around the edge of a large cleared field. however, we spend this time most in the woods along the edge of the clearing. along the way we cross Little Coyote Creek, Snake-eating Creek, and Tom Turtle Creek. I am in front at this point, fighting the occasional spider web, when a 3 1/2 foot black snake crosses in front of me. I remind myself to watch where I step and move on. We begin to follow a beautiful rushing creek. We walk right along the edge of the creek for 2-3 miles and, while the scenery is beautiful, it means we must navigate multiple twists, turns and many roots and Cypress knees. At one point it crosses my mind that, if I trip and fall, I'm likely to impale myself on a Cypress Stump. Jon Brooks, the leader of the Faculty Assembly at the College where I work is right behind me, so I pick up the pace to keep a few yards of space between us just in case he decide a change in college administration might be a desirable thing.
When we finish the march through the roots we reach a forest road and cross a bridge. We pause there and comment that we hope the roots are behind us as our feet are feeling the workout. It is supposed to be a short 0.4 miles to our finish but three of us, led by me, walk right past the stopping point and continue another half mile before we realize we've goofed. we backtrack and reach the finish point in about 5 and 1/2 hours having covered about 14.5 miles (1 of it by mistake). We are now well on our way to the Panama City area and will hike again soon.