It was one of those hikes that we had to do last season, like the many we’ve done these past few weeks, checking out another reroute of the Florida Trail and making sure we had accurate data. I’d hiked around Farles Prairie in the Ocala National Forest twice before, but now the trail had shifted to the eastern side of the lake and prairie, farther away from the Pinecastle bombing range. John had backpacked through here as a Scout. So we were eager to see the changes along the route.
Our timing was prompted by friends. Three ladies we knew from the Big O Hike were headed up to the Ocala National Forest for a few days of backpacking, good practice for their future plans of taking on the whole Florida Trail, and we thought we might run into them along the way.
We also had a little gear testing to do along the way, trying out a new Sawyer mini water filter and digging into a Mountain House meal, as we knew there was no backpacking planned in our immediate future.
I remembered a lot of scorched earth along the trail when it was closer to the base. Bombing practive gone astray? So it was a delight to start the hike in sight of Farles Lake, departing from the recreation area and heading north, and to find the scenic views went on and on.
Wiregrass formed a yellow haze along the footpath. As we took notes and measurements that would later go into the Florida Trail App and the next edition of The Florida Trail Guide, we enjoyed one of those perfect blue sky days with cool weather. Not a mile went by without panoramic scenic views of the prairie, of ponds, or of the lake itself.
A sit-down break on some logs let us cook our mini-meal for lunch to try it out. Turnaround for us was after 3.4 miles, at a forest road at the north end of the prairie, where visitors could access the trail by vehicle. Someone had left an encampment on the bluff above the prairie, complete with a palmetto lean-to.
On the return trip, we ran into our friends. They’d slept in, and were all smiles about backpacking on such a glorious day.
As we returned to our car, we found the note they’d stuck on it, written on a page ripped out of our guidebook. That’s how to use a hiking guidebook on the trail, right? No worries … you can always get another one.
This is what our trail research is like. We hike, we photograph, we GPS, and we often run into people we know – or people who know who we are. It often takes all day. Or a week or two on the road every month. But along the way, we’re not too busy to forget to savor the journey.