Trip Report Pt3: Florida National Scenic Trail

Urban Trail

Despite it still being overcast, Goose and I are stir crazy from being inside too long and can't wait to get back to trail. We grab an Uber back to Christmas at 0730h. Goose forgets his pole in the trunk of the car and instead of calling the driver back I just lend him my pole. I'd been carrying two the whole time but was only using one anyhow.

We get onto nice damp and muddy hiking trail almost immediately and run across a small flock of wild turkeys. This section seems to be popular as we pass groups of day/weekend hikers. One group points me to some wild tangerines growing just off trail. It's quite bitter but still refreshing. Eventually in the latter half the day the sun finally shows itself which is only a momentary respite as the projected night temperatures are near freezing.

Sleeping fairly well in my 4C(40F) sleeping bag, the temperature we wake up to is 1C(34F). My entire tarp is wet due to the condensation buildup from my own body heat. It's hard to get moving but we put on our layers and get at it. There is a heavy fog that hangs over the trail and we get turned around at some point trying to follow the blazes, all the while we can see the condensation from every breathe we take.

Eventually we get onto a bike path which we stay on for the rest of the day going through some suburbs of Orlando. There is a post office that Goose and I need to get to today to pick up new gear. I pickup my new pair of shoes and Goose gets some socks. At this point the sun has made it's return so we have a hot dry walk through the city on pavement. We spend lunch debating what to do since once again rain is projected for the next few days and we also need to plan where we will be to get picked up for Billy Goat Day.

I insist that I don't want to take another zero day so quickly after the one we just had, so we plan to hike and deal with the rain as it comes. After a long road walk along a highway out of the suburbs we are thrown onto some hiking trail and spend the night in a wooden shelter. With three walls, a roof and two wooden elevated cots it was luxurious.

It was great to wake up in the morning and not have to pack away my shelter. The structure we slept under worked perfectly and we didn't have any condensation on our gear. Leaving early as usual we quickly found ourselves hiking through rain. The saving grace was that the trail itself was fairly dry and not muddy. We made excellent time towards the town of Paisley. Entering the limits of the Clearwater Lake Campground we chatted with the kiosk attendants and managed to get a hitch into the town. By their recommendation we went to a pizza restaurant that was absolutely amazing.

After piddling about eating and charging electronics we continued out once again into the rain. The goal was Alexander Springs, our first paid camping. We arrived without much fuss and set up in the rain after paying for the site. While leaving the privy another person turned around and said 'Hey, you look familiar'. It was Punisher, a hiker I'd met at the kickoff. He let me know that Bopit(his partner) and himself were coming back to the utility closet to eat dinner. I said that sounds great and went to fetch Goose. The four of us cramped into this tiny room and spent half an hour eating our various hikers meals and laughing at each other stories. It was a great moral boost. Bopit and Pun had lucked out and someone had paid for their site. We were invited to join them in the morning for coffee.

Despite the rain all night we awoke fairly well rested. The rain itself began to peeter out as we joined Bopit and Pun at the trail angel's campsite. His name was Sweep and we all warmed up by the fire while drinking some hot chocolate and chatting away. At 1030h the four of us said our goodbyes to Sweep and headed out.

The trail began to start rolling over hills as we got our first 100ft(30.5m) of elevation gain. Bopit shared some interesting tidbits with us about the local flora. We spotted wild rosemary, she related that spanish moss belongs to the pineapple family and that deer moss was a symbiotic relationship between a lichen and fungi. It was really fun being around more hikers.

Juniper Springs sign

We headed to Juniper Springs and planned to camp together to split the costs. Unfortunately the kiosk ranger would only allow two tents per site... Bopit and Pun decided to pay for a site as Goose and I hiked 0.01mi(0.02km) down the trail and found an area large enough to set up in. The night was very agreeable being warm and dry.

We wake up a little later than usual and head out by 0700h. By 1430h we have done 25mi(40km) and reach the 88 store. We buy some snacks and lounge outside on the porch for an hour before continuing on. At this point we are halfway through the Ocala National Forest and reconnect with the FT westbound loop around Orlando.

Orlando loops reconnect

As we stop to take a picture of the connector for the east and west bound loops Goose realized he left his phone at the 88 store... I wait as he runs back and thankfully finds it just sitting outside on a table. We do another 2mi(3.2km) without issue to reach camp for the day.

Today we have a short day. I'd been in contact with Shep from the beginning and he was going to pick us up and bring us to Billy Goat Day. We had 13mi(20.8km) to reach Rodman's Campground where Shep would grab us. We hiked fast and arrived at 1100h. Shep then messaged us that he'd be around to pick us up around 1400h. In the meantime we lay out all our gear to dry and I went into the campground to sneak in and get a shower without paying.

Eventually Shep arrived, we went to pick up Scav and then headed to a Publix for subs and a parfait. Eventually coming to the campground where Billy Goat Day would take place, we had a big reunion with a bunch of hikers. Model, Mega Man, Moondog, Orange Blaze, Tin Man, Bopit and Punisher had all arrived and we went out together to a bar at night.

Today was Billy Goat Day. Billy Goat is a legendary hiker with over 50,000mi(80,000km) hiked! His birthday just so happens to be in January which is also when most people are hiking the FT. A small army of volunteers will go out and pick up any hiker that wants to attend and bring them to the celebration. It's one day full of camaraderie and food. After the volunteers will drive you back to where you left off on the trail. Sounds amazing right? Well it is!

Waking up some, trail angels had a huge fire going and had bought boxes of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and donuts. It has been years since I had coffee but it was freezing and I ended drinking maybe three cups along with four or so donuts. Eventually the sun came out and other hikers began to pour in. Jessica, Nugs, Flush, Jason, Rainbow, Farmboy, Machine, Rascal, Bear Magnet, Soares, Justin, Rambler, Festival and even Noel showed up. It was so fun stuffing my face and getting to see how everyone was getting long. I had a chance to talk with Billy Goat as well, a frail looking man with a large white beard. He had mustard dripping from his mouth but once I got him talking you could see the reservoir of energy he had within him and there was no doubting that he was still going out and enjoying huge hikes.

Billy Goat Day

The trail angels and volunteers from the kickoff were all there too and it was nice to talk again with Ari, Ann, Poet, and Chuck Norris. Midday we went with Noel to do resupply and laundry. Coming back the party had dissipated and things were being packed away. Most of the hikers were planning on getting back to trail that night as the purported temperatures at the current location were going to dip into the 20F(-6C) range. Thankfully Sweep was there and through our previous conversation I'd mentioned my predicament with my sleeping bag not being warm enough. He brought and let me hold onto a 45F(5C) mummy bag so that I wouldn't die tonight.

Billy Goat Day

As the sun set and the cold creeped in and who ever was left congregated around two fire pits. I gravitated to a camp by Bryon(the guy who originally drove me from Miami) where I was offered steak! For a handful of hours Honeybuns, Shep, Scav, Bear Magnet, Bopit, Pun, Byron, his wife and myself sat around the fit pit chatting while making smores. At 2330h or so I decided to crawl into bed and prepare my body for the freezing night.

To my great surprise I had one of the best nights on trail that night. I slept like a baby and in the morning while getting hot chocolate, Ari told me that his thermometer read that the low at night was 24.6F(-4.1C). Goose had a 20F(-6C) sleeping bag but unfortunately it didn't live up to the rating. Shaking off the ice from my tarp and hanging it up to dry in the slivers of morning sunlight we said goodbye to the remaining trail angels and the few hikers that braved the freezing night.

We headed out with Noel and Honeybuns to have breakfast at a Waffle House. From there Noel drove us back to Rodman's Campground where we eeked out 15mi(24km) over the truly outstanding Hoffman's Crossing boardwalk and ended up in this amazing two story shelter. It had ladders to get to the second floor and there were mats on the ground which you could sleep on!

Feeling well rested from the festivities I accidentally planned a huge day of hiking for us. Originally I though it was 38mi(60.8km) but it ended up being 42mi(67.2km), one of the largest days I've ever done. In true FT fashion it was dead flat and mostly road walking all day. We had some encounters with dogs but nothing serious and hiked past sunset.

Upon finding some spots to camp in the dark, I began to feel some serious pain above my ankle on the front side of my foot. Going to bed while doing some stretches I hoped it would solve itself by morning. Despite that, Goose and I were super pumped about doing such a big day.

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