From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hickory Hammock Camp to Fort Kissimmee Camp---February 26th

I thought it was the pitter-patter of light rain on the tent in the wee hours of the morning, but it turned out to be the drip from Spanish Moss laden with droplets from the mist. Heading out of camp, I was soon in a section of trail surrounded by palms, liana and vines, which made me feel as if I were on some subtropical island. Where's my machete?
When I arrived at the equestrian campground, the place was packed. Groups of people, either sitting in folding chairs or standing, were shooting the bull in front of great huge tents. Surprised by the number of people, I asked what the reason was for such a large gathering.
Hunting season for small game had opened was the reply. Now came a question for me, had I seen any wild pigs or turkey on the trail. Couldn't really say that I had and now I understood why. They were probably holed up in the deepest parts of the undergrowth hoping not to be plugged. My orange hiking shirt was well-chosen for the Florida Trail not only to match the color of the blazes but to protect me from some itchy trigger fingers as well. I felt safer wearing it that day. Hunters in general though are good folk and seem to enjoy the social benefits of the activity, sharing chat time with friends out in the woods. It's fishermen that I don't understand, sitting around for hours, waiting for a fish with a brain the size of a pea to sink its jaw into a hook with a worm attached. Although, to be fair, I suppose a fisherman would have a hard time understanding a thru-hiker.
Anyway, before I left I asked for an assessment of the water quality of the well water. The caretaker said it contained traces of sulphur (hence the awful taste) but he'd been drinking it for years with no ill effects. Kindly, one of the hunting groups gave me a few bottles of spring water. The well water I pumped into the Platypus bladder as a reserve.
Moving onward, I continued to enjoy the shady path until it kicked me out at a fence line. On the hiker side there was grass. Past the barbed-wire and NO TRESPASSING signs there were trees. As the day grew hotter I wished I were on the other side of that fence. I know that "the grass is always greener" is not always true, but there was no doubt it was shadier. After a time I got to High Rise Bridge, where, wouldn't you know, some teens were out fishing. Walking the raised boardwalk, I saw a lot of green and brown Anole lizards dashing about. There were many other wooden walkways between there and Mosquito Hammock, but at this time of year the ground beneath them was mostly dry.

The campsite at Mosquito Hammock was pretty overgrown and it seemed like it had been abandoned by regular travellers. When I pulled in and sat down at the old picnic table, I looked down and saw that my shirt and shorts were covered with burrs. Spent a good deal of time picking them all out before enjoying a lunch break. After the meal there was more fence line walking before reaching Avon Park Air Force Range. I stopped at the south kiosk to register and sign the liability forms, but there were none to be had. It didn't appear that restocking the forms was a top priority of Air Force personnel.

Avon Park was one of my favorite places on the Florida Trail. I had a wonderful time strolling through the oak hammocks. At one point a large number of bees started buzzing past my head. When I looked around, I saw that they were flying toward their hive in the hollow of an oak tree trunk not far from the trail. Above me in the branches of the hammocks I saw brown owls and different species of hawk, and yes, down on the ground I saw my first wild turkeys. Just before Hicks Slough, I looked up and there were all these oranges dotting the sky in the upper reaches of the canopy. Confused at first, I thought I was seeing things, maybe something wrong with my eyes. As I soon discovered, these wild trees grow much taller than there domesticated relatives, so I had to jump up and use my trekking pole to knock down a couple of the lower ones. Once at Hicks Slough, I cut them into quarters with my pocket knife. Taking a bite, the juice simply exploded and ran down my chin. They were absolutely delicious! Later on I found a couple of tangerine trees, again collecting a few of the lower ones to eat when I got to camp. My last bird sighting of the day was a bunch of buzzards circling near the Kissimmee and resting on the dead branches of an oak. I almost expected them to break into song like they used to at America Sings in Disneyland (Yes, that dates me. The ride no longer exists.).

Kissimmee Camp is a bit more developed than others along the trail. I set up my tent near a picnic pavilion, a boat ramp is 200 yards away, and I'll most assuredly avail myself of the solar shower. There are a few other vehicles here, their owners most likely out boating/fishing on the river, but it looks like I'll be the only one who'll be staying the night.

The Fence Line Divide

The Boardwalk

Oak Hammocks

Trail in Avon Park


Hunting Season near Cattle Country

Avon Park Kiosk

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