“Honey, don’t you want to visit your buddy again?”
Completely unselfishly I had the idea last November to spend the winter holidays in Florida – the section on the Florida Trail already planned in my head. Two years ago, on my hike from the lake to the ocean, I realized that the flat sunshine state is not so bad after all. As one of the eleven National Scenic Trails, all of them long distance hiking trails, it crosses the whole state. Over 1,300 miles of playground on the Florida Trail for Caro.
But since the Florida Trail is not only rich in palm trees and swampland, but also leads through asphalt roads and shadowless dikes, I chose something more wooded for my five days. At least that’s what I thought.
The first day – roasting non-stop
Around 10 am I am dropped off at the large parking lot for the boat friends and start to stomp on the dike. A flock of mixed birds is fighting over some fish remains on the banks of the Kissimmee River. Vultures, seagulls, herons, storks and pelicans – here nobody takes anything from each other when it comes to easily earned food.
The two-lane service road runs straight through the meadows. Time enough to record the first videos. Stupid that I have activated the photo mode and just talk the first clever sentences into the void. At the same time I analyze the tracks in the sandy grooves. Relatively shortly before me at least one man with trekking poles must have walked through here. That’s easy to say, because no car has yet driven over the footprints.
After about 8.7 brooding hot miles finally some trees come into sight. Actually I wanted to take a break after 6 miles. But when Guthook advertises shady places in 2.5 miles, you just waft further through the heat. Close to a lock a few high palm trees and oaks provide wonderful shade. I let myself fall into the grass and unpack my food bag.
“Hey there” it suddenly sounds from behind. A hiker is standing behind me… with trekking poles. I’m getting better at tracking. We chat briefly and share the information about the day’s goal. There is another hiker arriving. The two obviously hike together. Since I have just started my break, I let them go and hear them murmur “That is a much better place than hiding behind a car.”
After my break I find myself on an asphalt road. It’ll be fine, I think. Only much later I realize that I am on a nearly 8 miles long road section. What the heck. Roadwalking is just part of it in Florida.
After several exhausting miles I see the two hikers coming out of the thicket in front of me. But as much as I try, from here on we have about the same pace on the oven-like road. I am distracted by a vulture, which is feeding on a raccoon carcass and the sand hill cranes want to be photographed, too. At the next shady place at the roadside I find them again and join them.
Warren and Jason, later known as Major + and 50 Percent, are war veterans who are sponsored by an organization to hike long distance trails in the USA. Pretty cool stuff! Both intend to thruhike the 1,300 miles completely. From that moment on, we decide to hike together for the rest of the day, because we have the same goal: the campground in Yates Marsh.
On the last few meters the trail turns out to be what you imagine Florida to be – green, bushy, tropical. At the trailhead there is a little bit of trail magic. Since I have enough food with me, I take only a small bag of antiseptic ointment with me.
Camping in paradise
Yates Marsh South Campground is a so-called primitive campground. There are no toilets or other amenities, but several benches, a fire ring and even water from a pump. In addition, there are beautiful campspots surrounded by palm trees and ancient oaks. Nothing more is needed to please the hiker’s heart.
From my research on YouTube and Guthook I know that there is supposed to be a pond with a 14-foot female alligator nearby. Unfortunately our shoes flip so loudly that we only hear the alligator disappearing with a big splash. For a short time I can still see the eyes peeking out of the pond, then the mighty animal has submerged. What a pity, we spend the evening at the campfire, untypically for thruhikers. Pity.
We spend the evening at the campfire, untypically for thruhikers. Untypical because we are actually much too tired. But since the sun already sets at 6 pm, the fire is on early and will be off pretty soon. Around 7 pm we withdraw into our tents and read a little bit. At 8 pm the lights are out. Everywhere.