On Saturday, while I was preparing for a big trip, Suzanne was introducing Dr. Norm Shealy at an event sponsored by the Edgar Cayce Group here in the Villages. Norm is a delightful gentleman, a renowned expert in pain management, a pioneer in biogenics, a neuroscientist, and an author of 24 books on medical intuition and energy medicine. I got to meet Norm over lunch at the Arnold Palmer Country Club with Suzanne and good friends Elizabeth, Ann and Gloria. Suzanne really enjoyed his talk, and came back with lots of ideas to try on me when my back pain acted up. (Little did she know how soon she might have to go to work…)
Your Faithful Correspondent has been “off the grid” for a couple of days… while backpacking and hiking in an area that the World Wildlife Fund rated #1 on its list of “The Ten Coolest Places in North America That You’ve Never Seen”. Where was I? Well, some of the others in WWF’s Ten Coolest List were the Torngat Mountains in Labrador/Northern Quebec (maybe one day); Camp Pendleton, CA (been there); Old Rag Mt. in Shenandoah (climbed it); and Klamath-Siskiyou Forests on the border of Oregon and California (going there this summer).
With such really cool places to choose from, maybe I went to Alaska? Maine? Wyoming? Naaahhhh. How about 35 miles from the house in Withlacoochee State Forest, the other side of Inverness, FL? WSF spans over 150,000 acres, but the Citrus Tract (42,500 acres), where I backpacked for two days, is the most popular section. Mature longleaf pine forests predominate here, allowing open vistas and a habitat found nowhere else on earth. As many as 200 species of plants and trees can be found at a single site. A 43 mile loop trail meanders through the woods and prairies, but since rain was forecast during a frontal passage, I limited my trip to two days. (I don’t do tents in the rain if I can avoid it.)
My Lovely Bride dropped me and my 35 lb backpack off with a farewell smack (of the amorous kind, fortunately) at the trailhead near Holder Mine Campground, a couple of miles off CR 581. This was typical scenery along the trail on day 1. The orange blaze on the pine tree marked the northern loop of the trail.
Because I wasn’t sure if wild turkey hunting season was still open, I hung two small orange towels on my backpack to attempt to convince local hunters that I wasn’t a valid target. Fortunately, I later learned that the season had just ended two days earlier. Unfortunately, no one had told the deer, wild hogs and turkeys, all of whom were still hiding out after hearing gunshots all week prior… I didn’t see a single large animal during my visit.
There were some wildflowers blooming, like these blue thingies (I’m not a botanist) that brightened up the landscape. Otherwise, the flora varied mostly between pines, oak trees and saw palmetto, with some tall palm trees thrown in for good measure. There were even a few orange trees with fruit high above my reach. (Actually, I wouldn’t have picked them in any case, because I follow the Leave No Trace backcountry ethic).
Thankfully, there was almost no sign of humans (i.e., trash) along the entire trail. I had one tragic encounter, though, with this poor fellow who had been buried up to his neck in the middle of the trail. I tried reviving him with CPR, but to no avail. He was a goner. Sadly, I mumbled a few appropriate words over him and returned his body to his resting place. At least his remains are in a scenic spot, and fellow hikers can pay their respects as they travel this beautiful forest.
In researching the trail, I found reference to gophers; although I never saw one above ground, I was advised that their dirt mounds were prevalent through this area, and indeed, here is a set that marked the topside of their underground burrows. Pretty amazing engineering, and lots of exit points to escape predators.
This area has no streams running through it, so it is what backpackers call a dry trail… meaning you have to carry your own water, and at 8.34 lbs a gallon, that adds up quickly. There are two old open cisterns along the trail, but even with a filter, this water wasn’t very appetizing. If I lived around here, I could have prepositioned (cached) a water jug like another hiker had in the second photo. But since I was only out for two days, I could get by on what I carried, though I had used every drop by the time I finished my 24 mile trip.
The trail guide had mentioned Five Mile Pond being an “ephemeral water source”. That is a euphemism for “almost nonexistent” and “pathetically inadequate”, unless you are a wild hog that doesn’t mind wallowing in a few inches of wet muck to get your daily dose of water. I declined to wallow, and enjoyed the Gatorade I was sipping, but regretted that there wasn’t a clear stream of sweet water flowing nearby.
After five hours and 12 miles of hiking, I was happy to reach Jackson Camp, a primitive (no water, electric hookup, picnic tables, or even cable TV) campsite under a big old gnarled oak tree. I had not seen another hiker all day, pretty amazing for being on a popular hiking trail not too far from civilization. I set up my tent and prepared a gourmet dinner of dehydrated chili mac out of a bag. It doesn’t sound that appetizing, but believe me when I tell you it tasted really delicious after a long day afoot.The bag states that there are two portions inside, but there wasn’t a drop left when I finished. The bag is handy because you just pour in 2 cups of boiling water, let stand for 9 minutes, and eat out of the bag… no cleanup required, just pack the bag out in your (very small) trash bag. I was a very tired puppy after dinner, so I rigged my lightweight air mattress and sleeping bag and read until 2100 (Mutiny Aboard HMS Bounty, by William Bligh). I fell asleep with the call of a whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferus) (and I am not joking, that’s his real scientific name) just a few yards away. For those who have not heard the whip-poor-will (a nightjar, which I hadn’t heard in many years); here’s a link to an audio… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTATW8H8zpQ
The whip-poor-will’s song is described as “haunting and ethereal”, and is the stuff of legends, especially in New England, where the whip-poor-will is alleged to be able to sense a soul departing, and can capture it as it flees. One Native American legend regards the song as a death omen. James Thurber wrote a short story in which the incessant songs of whip-poor-wills results in maddening insomnia of the protagonist, who then kills everyone in his house, including himself. Fortunately, I was too tired for the whip-poor-will to keep me awake!