There’s nothing like being on vacation…
Before Christmas, I found stupidly inexpensive flights to Florida for early February and knowing how much I long for warmth come late January, I jumped on them. Winter was been disappointingly warm, but a nice warm vacation was welcome nonetheless.
I had brought some work with me on the trip, and because I got somewhat caught up with trying to close out some work issues followed by the fact that we had to stop and buy some food for our trip after we landed, we wound up getting a fairly late start on the Florida Trail.
It’s been 3.5 months since I had my second hip surgery, this time correcting hip dysplasia on my left hip, and I only got off crutches just before the 3 month mark. I was still using crutches occasionally for longer walks and hikes, and I hadn’t done anything over 4- 5 miles before heading out to Florida. From the road crossing where we could park at the Southern Terminus, the nearest designated campsite on the Florida Trail was 7 miles away. I had no idea if I was going to make it, but I was pretty nervous that I might not have a choice.
So we parked at the Southern Terminus, but because of our late start, we didn’t arrive at the parking lot until about 2:30pm. So much for taking it easy, I thought to myself.
We packed up our gear. Dirt Stew carried just about everything, and I packed my little Gossamer Gear day pack with just some water and a few snacks. I have been grateful that Dirt Stew has been so willing to carry extra weight so that we can go backpacking together while I’ve been dealing with my hip issues.
It was warm out, but not as warm as it was last year when we visited in May. Also there were fewer mosquitoes. It was maybe in the high 70’s perhaps even 80 degrees. The sun was strong though, and I was grateful that we picked up some sunglasses when we stopped to buy food (one of the several things we forgot to pack on this trip). We registered for a back-country permit inside the ranger station, then walked past the canal full of alligators, fish and birds where all the tourists were leaning over the railing trying to get pictures, and signed the register at the beginning of the trail. The last person to have signed in did so two days earlier. We weren’t going to have company.
I started off using my hiking crutches (these are crutches called mobi-legs, but I took the top parts off so that I could use them more like hiking poles). The trail was quite overgrown in some areas with saw grass growing waist high on either side of the trail and touching in the middle along with other plants, many of which looked suspiciously like poison ivy. I tried to avoid touching them. I knew that there was another poisonous plant called poisonwood, but I was not familiar enough with it to identify it while hiking along. A lot of the plants there had oval shiny almost waxy leaves, and to me, they mostly looked a like. This was obviously not my home turf. I decided to switch to my hiking poles. It was easier to navigate the narrow, overgrown trail with them, and since there wasn’t going to be any up or down, I figured I didn’t need the extra support. Dirt Stew took my crutches and carried them in his hands the rest of the hike.
The ground was mostly quite dry, given that winter is the dry season in Florida. I had been afraid that we would be walking through huge sections of swamp, but in fact it was easy to avoid the small sections that were wet. For the most part the trail was covered in large rocks made of limestone or coral, and this wore me down because the stabilizer muscles in my hip weren’t quite there yet.
I let Dirt Stew walk ahead of me, and I took my time, occasionally calling to him to wait up for me. At one point I came across a snake right in the middle of the trail, and it wasn’t moving. For a moment I thought it was dead, and I shouted ahead “did you step on this snake?” It wasn’t dead. I guess it was just very afraid. I don’t know how Dirt Stew didn’t step on it- I guess he probably somehow stepped right over it without seeing it, but this snake was really taking up a lot of space right in the middle of the narrow trail. It didn’t want to move either, and so I wound up picking it up with my hiking pole and placing it into the grass next to the trail.
We passed one or two ATV trail junctions and then passed an actual trail junction that indicated that we had hiked about 3 miles. Just past this intersection, Dirt Stew jumped backward and then laughed. There was a statue of an alligator right next to the trail. I don’t know who thought this would be a funny joke, but it definitely scared the bejesus out of Dirt Stew.
After maybe 5 or 5.5 miles, we found a somewhat flat spot in the grass where the grass was compressed in roughly an area the size of a tent. Someone had obviously used this site before, and since the sun was setting, and there was certainly no way we were going to make it to the designated camping spot before sundown, we decided to call it home for the night. The sunset was beautiful. I took out my sleeping pad and rested next to the trail while Dirt Stew set up the tent. We had somehow forgotten to pack the tent stakes, so I was happy that we weren’t setting up past sunset so that we could find some sticks to use instead.
That night it got quite cold. I thought it was only going to drop into the low 60’s, but in fact when we checked the weather for the area later, we saw that it had dropped into the mid 40’s. Dirt Stew had only a sleeping bag liner and a thin down blanket, and half way through the night we tried to share the one sleeping bag we brought. I had based my research on towns that were closer to the coast where the variation in day and night-time temperatures were much smaller. Luckily this was the only night we were going to spend so far inland.
Neither one of us slept well. I found it hard to sleep on the hard ground with my sore hips, and trying to share a sleeping bag in the middle of the night was less than ideal. When the morning sun hit the tent we were glad to get the warmth of dawn. We got going around 8AM, and it was warm by 9AM, and by 10AM it was already uncomfortably hot. Luckily by 11AM we were already back at the car. By then I was sore and cranky and wanted nothing more than to buy a soda from the vending machine in the visitor’s center and sit in the car relaxing in the air-conditioning. I was happy to have successfully hiked 10-11 miles on the Florida Trail only three and a half months after serious hip surgery.
If you want to read more about my hip surgery and recovery, visit my PAO blog (PAO is what my hip surgery is called) at http://www.screweduphips.wordpress.com.