|This is Hidden Pond. But it's not hidden. I don't get it.|
It was a great spot for a lunch break after a morning of hiking the Florida Trail. This little known National Scenic Trail (it has this designation only on the federal segments) stretches 1000 miles south to north through the state. Almost anyone who tries to thru hike it gives up because while there are miles of tread, there are also supremely long road walks (think hundreds of miles). In the past, I hiked a small section in the southern end, which was a slog through mud and water. Not all that fun.
But here, in the Ocala National Forest, 66 gorgeous miles are available. You have to adjust your thinking here. There are no majestic views. The scenery is subtle, and only inches of elevation dramatically change the vegetation. There's desert scrub, with a sandy trail; hardwood trees; prairies, and palmetto forests. It would be easy to be bored with the flat terrain, but in the eighteen miles I hiked, I was only fascinated.
|Some delicious trail.|
The "chilly" winter temperatures---dipping to 20 at night, 60s during the day--meant that few people were around. I saw a handful of backpackers making their way to Hidden Pond, and none at all the next day when I hiked from Farles Prairie. All the same, this trail has a different feel. Perhaps it is the proximity to Orlando (about 50 miles) or the easy access to the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, but it's a place I felt that I had to look over my shoulder a little. I wasn't convinced I would do a long solo backpack trip here. In fact, I was glad I didn't know about this story as I munched a delicious hummus sandwich at Hidden Pond.
|Farles Prairie (and you guessed it, another pond)|
I had come here early on a work trip, and had found a remote cabin on a sand road to stay in. Sand roads are interesting phenomenons, not to be trifled with, presenting a clear and present danger of being stuck for days on. The cabin bordered a lake, and was an inholding in the forest. It was quiet and peaceful, and I slept better than I have in years (11 hours one night).
My time in Florida seems like a dream. I was only there for three days, hustled back across the country unceremoniously due to being furloughed in the government shutdown (I was supposed to stay for another week). Did I dream being on the trail? In the end, aren't all good trips like this, almost too good to be true?
|Grasshopper Lake, in front of the cabin I stayed in.|