We are in another great oak hammock and have found yet another epic tent site. So far Florida has been great due to the flat ground and soft dirt for staking the tent. The sun goes down over the horizon, and we begin to drift off to sleep. Suddenly, we are alarmed by the sounds of what we think are ufos. The fog in our minds clears, and we realize that what we are hearing is artillery, machine guns, and other instruments of war. We laugh for a bit as we can’t sleep with the constant pounding noises. Eventually, everything that needed to be blown up, was blown up, or they ran out of ammo, and we could finally sleep.
The Blow Out
We only have eight miles to the River Ranch Resort this morning, where we can get some real food and our mail drop is waiting. As Stretch pulls the valve on her air mattress, the entire valve rips out of the mat- a catastrophic material failure. There would be no way to fix it. This means we must replace the mat or sleep directly on the cold hard ground.
As we roll into the resort, I immediately call Klymit, and they are overnighting Stretch a new mat. This means we are making an unexpected stop at the River Ranch Resort. We get a room. Expensive place to stay, but it is a pretty nice place to be if you have to be stuck. We spend the afternoon cleaning up, doing laundry, and loitering. The next morning we do more of the same. We visit the petting zoo, as we await our package. Thankfully, it gets there pretty early, and we are soon on our way.
We stealth camp at a cattle gate close to a cluster of RV’s- preferring to stay away from the hum of generators, and the shenanigans of drunken hunters late at night. We are off early the next day. Soon we spot another hiker on the trail not far in front of us. He spots us as he is scaling a fence to reach more-even terrain to hike on and waits. Introducing himself as Greybeard, we find out he is a record holder. He holds the record for being the oldest person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Soon we outpace Greybeard and head down the trail, thinking we may see him again at Billy Goat Day.
FTA Trail Crew
We are hiking along and see a dually pick’em up truck with a Florida Trail Association sticker on it parked at the road crossing. Less than half a mile later, we run into trail crew doing some work. They’re a great group of folks. Of course, we express our gratitude and thank them multiple times for all of their hard work. The National Scenic trails would cease to be if it were not for these volunteers and their endless work. Soon, we are cruising down the trail again.
There are many sections on this trail that require you to have on high visibility “Hunter Orange” clothing. We are in one of those sections today, but as per the dates on the signs in the area, there are no active hunts. I hear a gunshot to my left. I look up to see a man pointing a shotgun in our direction.
He’s hanging out of a window in a moving pick-up truck, as he fires a second shot. I yell “Heeeyyy” as loudly as I can. This asshole looks pretty alarmed as he hides back inside the truck and speeds off down the road. I got a pretty good look at his truck though. Later that day, we find his truck parked on the road. We hear shooting in the distance, and I got his plate number.
I don’t have too much respect for hunters these days. It seems I come across a lot of trashed campsites, dead wildlife, and shot-up signs on this trail. I really found out first hand why they call Florida “the gunshine state”. We found a nice, flat spot at the border of the preserve and hoped we would have a peaceful night without any more gunshots.
Big Cats and Forever Florida
We are excited because we may get some hot food and coffee at the restaurant inside a campground of Forever Florida. Before we get to the boundary, we see some high fences and cages. This is the big-cat rescue the trail crew told us about. We see an awesome panther in the pad next to the trail. She doesn’t see us yet, but as soon as she does, she goes into stalking mode. The way she looked at us, like food, was creepy.
Soon we see a few tigers, and a lioness starts roaring as we cruise along. We take a blue-blazed-side trail to the Forever Florida restaurant. The hours posted in Guthooks were wrong, and there was no food to be had. We fill our water bottles and leave dissatisfied. We end up at the Jane Green campsite after walking through tall, pine forests and palmetto.
On the Road Again
This morning we are in for a very long road walk. It was the coldest night on the trail so far last night. All the grass around the tent was covered with frost. All day we walk along roads with so much trash, so many cars, and so many dead animals. It’s amazing how people have no problem flying by you doing 80 mph. I don’t think people realize how terrifying it is to be buzzed by a car less than three feet away. Even more dumbfounding is they have perfectly good brakes and an empty lane next to them. But who are we to inconvenience someone to slow down, or pull the steering wheel slightly to one side? All said we have hiked about 25 miles of roads today as we set up camp in the Taylor Creek Loop wildlife management area.
Today we have had some better hiking, and we have made it into Oviedo. There are chickens roaming around freely in this town. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by this town. Yesterday, we stopped in Christmas, Florida and ate well at the Circle K, which actually was a pretty good stop. There were some pretty interesting locals around, peeing in plain sight, and riding lawnmowers to the store. Seems like lawnmowers are the most-preferred method of transportation next to the golf cart in this part of the state.
Oviedo was much different, much cleaner, and safer feeling. After picking up a package at the post office, we head for the Town House Restaurant. I order the Chicken Parmageddon and eat all of it. When we ask for our check, our server informs us that somebody who wished to stay anonymous has paid for our meal. This is what is great about long-distance hiking. We always say the trail provides. Just when you are having a tough time, something happens that lifts your spirits and keeps you going. Tonight we are headed, via Uber, to Orlando to score a hotel room for the night.
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