“Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, If mankind perished utterly; And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn Would scarcely know that we were gone.” [Sara Teasdale, There Will Come Soft Rains] Wednesday—January 28, 1988 Trail Day—28 Trail Mile—447 Location—Near Old Starke Road North of Rice Creek Sanctuary. I was disappointed when I found the Rodman Recreation Area Campground underwater. That was my planned destination yesterday, but as usual, things worked out for the better. For here on the spoil bank next to the canal has been a first class overnight stay. I seem to always enjoy camping by the water (as long as I don’t have to camp in the water!) I departed the Ocala National Forest yesterday afternoon and since then I have been thinking about my hike there and the way I’m feeling now about it.
I’ve also given it a lot of thought again this morning as I head east along the canal. Mother always told me if I couldn’t say something nice to try and keep quiet…but this is really bothering me. So I think I will write about the Ocala, for there is now within me a deep sense of sadness. In my memory are the hikes enjoyed here in the ’80s. Back then the trail was well marked, and groomed to the point of being near a walkway rather than a pathway. Where the treadway wasn’t mowed, it was a wonderful blanket of oak leaves or pine needles. The campsites and facilities were in top-rate condition. There was no trash or unkempt conditions, no evidence of vandalism. I was in the Ocala National Forest part of four days this trip.
I didn’t see one USFS vehicle, or a single person with the USFS. That may be coincidental, but I’ve also noted that the FT no longer belongs to the hiker or backpacker. Folks with quad-tracks, motorcycles and horses have found the Ocala National Forest to their liking and especially the Ocala Section of the FT. The trail through this beautiful area was once the “Crown Jewel” of the FT, but this is no longer true. I’ve heard few nice things ever said about quad-tracks or motorcycles, and seldom anything much bad said about horses. But, let me tell you this…If you want to tear up some trail treadway fast, you’d be hard put to do it any quicker or more thoroughly than with a couple of horses! The unauthorized use of the FT through the Ocala National Forest is evident for miles. The beautifully carpeted trail of the past has given way to berms and churned up sand. Trailhead barriers are knocked down, signage destroyed or molested and there it is for all to see. I am jolted back to where I am on the trail as I flush a covey of quail along the way. Snakes are hard on dogs and you can’t get through the scrub and palmetto, so the quail pretty much have their way. I must cross one of the locks this morning to head north on the trail. No one is in sight, so I push my pack through a crack in the gates and wiggle through behind it. The Lockkeeper is in his office (in the back of the building away from the lock, of course). We talk awhile but he never does ask me how I got across the lock! Heading into the afternoon the trail gets pretty soupy and I run into some slow, hard going through cut-over sections. I find a nice spot to camp just north of Rice Creek Sanctuary near Old Starke Road. I think it not inappropriate to stop a moment here and make these comments: It is obvious Dick Wiseman took considerable pride in being Rice Creek FT14 Section Leader. I sensed this from a phone conversation with his wife, just most recently his widow who called me to respond to the letter that I had written to Dick just before he passed away. Volunteerism often receives little appreciation or thanks. My gratitude to you Dick Wiseman and to all the folks who worked untiringly by your side! “Lord help me put away deceit And live a life that’s true— And may there be integrity In all I say and do.” Thursday—January 29, 1998 Trail Day—29 Trail Mile—470 Location—Gold Head Branch State Park. When I tried hiking this section back in the ‘80s I got hopelessly lost and never did see Etonia Ravine, so I have been looking to this day with much anticipation, for folks have told about the beauty that is here. It has been describes as a place not like Florida, almost gorge-like with deep sloping walls and the meandering Etonia running most-near clear as so many mountain streams much further to the north. The trail is well marked now and I am soon at the ravine. It is certainly an area in striking contrast to anything seen to the south, rugged and picturesque. The only indications that this is a semitropical setting are the cabbage palms and the palmettos. Here is evidence that the typical Florida terrain is beginning to yield ever so slowly to the rolling countryside more predominately northern.
This afternoon is spent on a not unpleasant roadwalk into Gold Head Branch State Park, where there is yet another very striking ravine cut deep into the earth. An interesting observation today: I pass a dog standing, looking at me from his driveway…and he does not bark! He is a sad looking old fellow, though, and he just may not have a good bark left in him. I arrive at the park by early evening and pitch in the primitive area. I am able to take water from the clear flowing stream nearby to prepare my evening meal.
I have traveled over 80 miles in the last four days and my bod and my feet are none the worse for wear. I think all the parts have finally toughed into this program! “…I think of nature as our compass, pointing the way to the creator.” [Ray Jardine, Beyond Backpacking] Friday—January 30, 1998 Trail Day—30 Trail Mile—486 Location—Bunkroom, Hampton Baptist Church, Hampton. I’m up and going right away this morning…in the wrong direction!