Just got back yesterday from a trip to Florida. The first 6 days were for a work-related conference and workshops (see prior blog post). Then I had 3 1/2 days to kill and a full backpack so I went exploring. Thursday evening I left Orlando and drove West to the Withlacoochee State Forest to try to find the trailhead for the Richloam loop and ideally a campground as well as I knew I'd be getting there too late to start hiking. As I got close, I could smell wood-smoke and there were portable highway signs advising of smoke on the roads. I could not find the trailhead in the dark and it was getting late and I was getting tired, so I got a hotel room for the night. Friday morning, since I had the time and I needed a better map, I drove a little out of the way to the headquarters for the state forest and talked to a ranger there. He said that it'd been so dry that about 700 acres of the forest had burned, but that it was now under control, though probably smoldering in places. He gave me a trail map and I went back to find the trailhead. As it turns out, the night before, I thought I was on the wrong road and had U-turned all of 200 yards short of the trailhead! Oh Well. I spoke with another ranger there who said I shouldn't run into any burned areas except on the north loop. I intended to hike counter-clockwise so I'd be doing the south and east loops first and would have a couple more days before I got to the burned areas.

The hike started well. It was kind of hot, but breezy, so I wasn't overheating. The trail was perfectly flat (it is Florida after all) but very pretty. Lots of plants and wildlife I'd never seen much of before, including lots of Armadillos. Within a few miles I was at the Withlacoochee River. As dry as it had been, the river was a green, stagnant swampy mess. It was also the last water I'd see. By the time I got where I could camp, about 14 miles into the day, I had just enough water left for dinner, breakfast and a little for drinking early the second day. I decided that if I didn't find water early in the morning (Saturday), I'd cut back on a side trail to the car and decide what to do. The night was interesting. Having never camped in Florida before, there were night noises I was not familiar with. But I slept reasonably well despite the humidity and the crashing of critters through the brush.

Saturday morning, I hiked on, and did not find any water so I took the 2 1/2 mile cutoff back to the trailhead and decided then that the trail that was left was all in the burnt area, so I decided to hop in the car and head to the coast instead. I spent Saturday night in Hudson, FL at a motel directly across the road from a municipal beach. Sunday was spent driving down the coast and visiting a museum and aquarium south of Tampa. Sunday night I spent in Lakeland and then flew home yesterday. All in all a good trip, though it would have been a lot more fun to do with friends.

Here's some photos/video:





From Florida 2009 3/20-3/30


From Florida 2009 3/20-3/30


From Florida 2009 3/20-3/30