We met Ruth at the Florida Trail Association Conference in March and spent time hiking with her on the Panhandle Trace. At both events, she invited us to come hike in her backyard and visit.
With five hikes left for Five Star Trails Gainesville and Ocala, we headed to North Gainesville, staying at the Best Western Gateway Grand as we spent two days hiking nearby. We made plans to visit with Ruth and her husband on our way back south.
Ruth and John “live in the Forest” and I mean “in” the woods, at the edge of civilization. Following her directions we drove and drove down a paved road through the Ocala National Forest with little of anything man made in sight. Finally even “Navigator” herself started to wonder if we had missed the turn. Surprised to still have cell service, we called Ruth, who told us we were almost there.
Turning off the pavement, we headed down a washboard road, where Sandy told me “I’m glad we’re not in your Honda.” Pulling in the driveway, Sandy’s Jeep felt right at home with their Jeep Wranglers. Later John would surprise me with the car he backed out of their garage.
Our numbers grew as two more friends asked to join us: Linda, who along with her husband Bill, maintain much of the Florida Trail in this area. They live near Marjorie, a spunky senior who hikes thousands of miles every year. We’d just met her, too, during the Panhandle Trace hike. Marjorie doesn’t drive, so she rode with Linda to meet us.
Not far from Ruth’s home, the pavement ended She began navigating us on the dirt forest service roads to near Lake Delancy. Thankfully, due to recent rains, they were recently scraped and in excellent condition.
We met Linda and Marjorie not far from Lake Delancy, at the south end of our planned hike. Leaving one vehicle there, we went back north to the trailhead near the Rodman Dam.
Today’s hike would serve two purposes: it would become a chapter for the new book, and it gave us the chance to GPS another short section for the new Florida Trail Guide we’ll publish before fall hiking season.
Leaving the trailhead, we skirted Rodman Reservoir with broad views across the lake. On the shoreline were huge old hollow cypress logs, once trees, that now rested along the banks. From there we walked south through tunnels of scrub habitat to Penner Ponds. A blue-blazed trail loops around the other side of the ponds, making a nice loop from the Rodman trailhead. Ruth mentioned that the ponds were named for a Confederate soldier who lived here and was buried nearby.
We entered Riverside Island, an island of longleaf pine in the Big Scrub, and walked through it for many hours, taking several breaks along the way in small patches of shade. We wished for benches along the way, but realized their lives would be probably be short-lived with the prescribed burns used to maintain the forest. We used logs to sit on, instead.
Sandy can tell the difference between one longleaf forest and the next. I’m still nowhere near her level of observation powers. I preferred the longleaf pine forest we walked through on the Panhandle Trace, with golden wiregrass as far as the eye could see. Here, the understory was open in some places and had patches of scrub or sandhill plants in other places. We paid more attention to plants today, taking the time to do photography and to point out wildflowers to our friends, like the roserush and green-eyes and the many pawpaw along the trail.
With about six miles behind us, we saw a FedEx truck on a forest road and said, “we can’t already be there!” but we were.
Sandy and I had earlier talked about being dropped off next to Penner Pond, and taking the blue blazed loop trail around the pond. But after four straight days of hiking, we were too sore and tired to do it. So Linda drove us back to Rodman to get our car.
Sandy and I do a lot of hiking with just the two of us. Sometimes we think out loud as we walk along, but we often hike in silence, listening to the sounds of nature around us. Having friends along is a nice change. We chat among ourselves, compare hiking stories, and work together identifying plants and flowers. The time seems to go by quickly when we’re out hiking with friends; in fact, we have enough fun that we never even look at the time.
After the hike, it was back to Ruth’s for showers, and a tour of their “little cabin in the woods.” The cabin was built for the previous owner from local “lightning struck” trees. A portable saw mill was set up on site and the logs were sawed as needed. The critical trimming and finishing was done by hand, using an adze. Screen porches along two sides allows you to feel like you’re outside, without feeding the local insect population. They have cut their own little trails through their woods.
Before dinner, John fired up his little Fiero and took me for a spin. It’s been a project of his for several years. It’s a fine looking vehicle, and one that’s rarely seen on any roads these days. John’s looking for a new home for it. Between the holes and washouts found along a dirt road, it’s just out of place on the backroads near their new home.
If only my garage were larger….I’d owned a Fiero over twenty years ago, but not a GT like his. Oh well, Primrose got the last available spot in the garage, for now.
After a wonderful home-cooked meal including vegetables from Ruth’s organic garden, we sat out on the porch. Listening to the sounds of frogs in the distance, we spent the evening talking about hiking and other adventures. The next morning, driving in the fog, we were fortunate enough to see a large black bear along the road on the way to our next hike!