Sunday, March 04, 2012

36 Days-A Practice Hike: Shifting Sands

Should have known something was up with mileage covered
Around 8 o'clock Friday morning we left for a practice hike that boasted high sand dunes, prairie, cypress tree groves on two loop trails-9.7 miles and 3.5 miles with a connector trail-for a hike of 17 miles.  Some of the hike followed the Florida Trail and some was State Park trail.
After an hour's drive we arrived at Jonathan Dickerson State Park.  We talked to the ranger about the 9 mile loop and bike trails and he gave us three different maps for the park and trails.
We parked, made some last minute adjustments and grabbed our stuff and were ready to hike.  This was the first time I had my new pack out for a hike.  I weighed it before we left home.  With two liters of water and all my gear-even my insulated jacket came along for a hike in mid-80 degree weather-the pack was at 17 pounds.  My food bag was empty so I bulked it up with a large bath towel and pj bottoms to give the bag the shape, but not the weight, of a full food bag.  In the parking lot I added lunch and snacks for a total weight of 18 pounds.
The trail started off very exposed to the hot sun and parallel to Highway US 1-a very busy main road.  The trail undulated across high sand dunes.  The treadway was a very fine and very bright white sand.  It was loose and deep and shifted dramatically underfoot.  I'm used to the very stable, if sometimes rocky, treadway of the AT.  When the ground underfoot changes with every step your body has to constantly correct itself-from the placement of your foot, to ankles, knees, and hips and all the muscles in-between.  It’s a much more physical way to hike.  It got me hoping the desert of the PCT won't be as sandy.
Sandy trail after railroad crossing
I don't think we were even a mile in before I started missing my trekking poles.  I hadn't needed them before on the other hikes I've done in Florida.  I was missing the two extra points of contract of the poles on the sandy uphill’s-even though they were very small inclines.  By lunch time my hands had started to swell up from hanging at my sides for so long.  A lot of hikers use poles to avoid hand swelling.
We were hiking along, doing pretty well, when we came to a road crossing that wasn't on any of our three maps.  Painted on the road were two orange arrows one pointing left the other right with no clue as to which way we should turn.  We went right and followed along some train tracks that we knew we needed to cross.  We could sometimes see our orange blazes on the other side of the tracks but the vegetation was so thick there was no chance of crossing.
We saw a bridge up ahead and realized we had to cross the tracks on the bridge.  It is illegal to cross train tracks anywhere but an official crossing and the trail had only recently changed to reflect this.  At one point the trail made a sharp right off the road into the shrubs.  Trail was so new it had been blazed but not cleared.  On the other side of the road we could see the trail on a gated dirt track.  We crossed and followed the trail all the way back to the two painted arrows.  That new section of trail added 2 miles to our hike-I think it was then that I knew I wasn't doing 17 miles.
After lunch they tried to play the train crossing trick on us again.  Instead of following the tracks up for a half mile and then back we took the road for a half mile and rejoined the trail after the crossing.  At this point we were about two miles from our car.  We were beat.  We were achy.  Our Florida hiking guidebook had billed the hike as one of the best with not to miss views.  Those views must have been on the other loop.  We were unimpressed with the shrubby palms and grassland.  There were a few patches of cypress tress that offered some beautiful shade.
The nicest part of the hike
In the last ten minutes of the hike we came to a lake.  A cool breeze came off it and there was a boardwalk with two benches.  We sat for a minute, but at that point, after 13 miles, we weren't feeling like lounging in the hot sun-we were feeling like a swim.  We finished our hike and drove to the swimming area.
The swimming area was a part of a river that had been roped off.  The roped off section was about 50 feet down river from a sign which cautioned about frequent alligator sightings.  We took a very quick dip in the warm water, dried off and went home.
On Saturday were were all a little stiff.  I was thankful I didn't have to get up and walk twenty miles.  From the pictures of the PCT that I've seen nothing looked like beach sand like this hike, so that's a little reassuring.  

1 comment:

  1. Hey castle, was just crashin and read your post. Too bad its an hour way, sounds like good prep. I was crackin up cause it reminded me of the Wizards of the PCT video on youtube where they are complaining, its hella funny! Anyway, hope the days go quick now and ya got on the trail and settle into your new life. I am moving to Idaho on the 1st, will come back to hang out on section N and lassen park Aug. Week 1 and 2. You will probably be just ahead of me, who knows. I will check once and a while, take care! Wheelchair John