I left Stephen Foster Park after a zero (day of rest), eating and visiting with friends Pete and Bee. Thanks for the resupply and great food! The next leg was to Starke, near Lake Butler through Osceola National Forest. It was basically a pine forest and very wet. The previous two days while I was at Stephen Foster it rained and the forest was flooded. Even the Florida Trail (FT) volunteer trail crews were stopped because their mowers couldn’t push through the sometimes knee deep water. No rain, but wet woods means you get wet. After 7 days of wet woods and a major reroute, I arrived in Starke. It’s a busy little town and I had a good night’s sleep in a motel. Ate a whole pizza that night!
Left Monday November 16th with 527 miles to go, over halfway. The next section takes me to “88” which is the East-West junction just North of Orlando. Thru hikers can either take the Eastern or the Western route. I took the Western one. First stop out of Starke was a nice camp called Camp Blanding. It’s a National Guard training facility. Had a beautiful lake and pavilion all to myself. Came in through the “back gate” (see pic) a legal part of the trail. Hit Iron Bridge Shelter, Oak Hammock, and Rodman campground over the next 3 days.
These shelters and the trail are some of the nicest I’ve seen on the FT. It’s maintained by the Black Bear Chapter of the FT. My sincere thanks to Ruth Lawler, Linda Taylor, Pepe, and many others in that Chapter for all their hard work. Next stop for resupply was “88” – just a small bar at the East-West junction but an important place to stop. See pic of my fine dining that night. Sunny D rejoined me there after a few days off and brought me my resupply. Counting the days left and only 450 miles to go. I’ll be home for Christmas!
I decided to go one more week and post at Thanksgiving, so this post covers three weeks instead of the usual two. I left “88” and headed down the Western corridor around Orlando. The Ocala Forest was as beautiful as any I have seen on the trail. It’s a beautiful combination of oak hammocks and rolling pine hills. Spent the first night at the Marshall Swamp trailhead. Some roadwalk but overall a nice day.
One day last week we got thoroughly drenched from an afternoon rainstorm. Sogging wet, we arrived at Ocalla Conversation Camp, a (Wildlife Management Area (WMA) facility. We met a group of scouts from Troop 331 who invited us to take the empty cabin next door and even invited us to a spaghetti dinner. This is a very special Scout troop with mostly older Scouts and a group of very dedicated leaders (see pic). After dinner, Sunny D and I gave a talk about the Florida Trail, complete with a pack break down and stories from the trail. I guess they liked it because they invited us back for breakfast. It was good to get dried out and sleep in a bed. Thanks very much Sue, Tina, Gretchian, Frank, Ray and other leaders and special thanks to the Scouts who were a real inspiration to us. Our visit with the Scouts was the highlight of my trip so far.
On through Santos and to Land Bridge campsite. Pruitt trailhead was pretty and right in the middle of an Equestrian center. Had a full moon and barely had to use my headlamp. Very good nights’ sleep. Wednesday November 25th was an exciting day because I was being picked up at Holder, a small town on the trail just North of Inverness. The last 5 miles were part of a 14 mile paved bike and walking trail on the Greenway called the Withlacoochee State Trail. Nice hike. We made quick time to Holder and I was picked up by my daughter’s brother in law, Johnathan, for a 45 minute ride South to his family compound in Land O Lakes. Gradaughters Mia, Bella and Zoe were already there for Thanksgiving and needless to say we had a very happy reunion. Their first comment was “Papa Jerry, you smell!” Claire, Nathaniel, and Anna arrived about an hour later. Fortunately I had time to get a shower and get the “trail smell” off.
Today is Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to a relaxing day with Nathaniel’s extended family, about 30 for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m at mile mark 713 and have less than 400 miles to go. My goal is to finish by December 22 and hopefully find a flight home from Miami.
It’s fitting on this special Thanksgiving Day to give thanks for all our blessings that come to us. Before I left on this journey I prayed for my protection, good health, and protection for my family. I ended my prayer with; Lord just give me your favor. That same day Lisa Smith with Creative Web Solutions gave me a small angel she makes for a cancer group she supports. Lisa has volunteered to do all the editing and posting of my trail updates. A big job since most of the time I’ve had to post from my tent and it needs a lot of editing. Thank you Lisa!! I tied my little angel on my pack and have been reminded dozens of times that God cares about the big things in our lives but also cares about the little things. Besides protecting me from rattlesnakes and wild dogs, He continued to answer my small prayers daily.
Two weeks ago I hiked alone through Osceola Forest. There was a major reroute and I didn’t have the reroute information and it wasn’t posted on the trail like most reroutes are. I got completely lost deep in the forest with a maze of trails and dirt roads. I spent hours looking for the trail and wearied I finally sat down and asked God to send somebody who could tell me where I was. I looked up and about 50 feet away I saw a flash of metal through the trees. When I walked over to it, I found a young man sitting in a truck. Not just any man or truck, but Florida State Wildlife officer Daniel J. He had been traveling on a side road and decided to stop for a minute to check something. Not only did Officer Daniel know where I was, but he had a computer in his truck and brought up the reroute and map information that I desperately needed. And to top it off, he had a printer in his truck and printed it all up for me. It was a very touching moment as we both realized what a true miracle it was that he just happened to be there for me at the exact minute I really needed help. My favor angel was working overtime that day!
To the attentive eye, each moment of the year
has its own beauty, and in the same field,
it beholds, every hour, a picture which was
never seen before, and which shall never
be seen again.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson