Listened to the drip, drip, drip of water droplets falling from the ends of Spanish Moss onto my tarptent as I summoned the will to get up this morning. Occasionally the rustling of a dry oak leaf was also heard as it drifted down through the branches and settled on the tent's exterior. At the start it was road walk mostly, which made me question the footpath's designation as a national scenic trail. For me as a hiker, trail and road are not synonymous. Eventually I got into pasture land, dodging pies and chips---not the kind that tame a hiker's hunger! A minimal time was spent in oak, pine and palm toward the end of the hiking day, which finished rather early at 13:00, making me feel quite restless. Chandler Camp was the planned stop for the day, but with all the remaining daylight I felt I should still be out hiking. The camp itself was the best yet, located in the center of some stately oaks with the Kissimmee River not far away. After pitching my tent I headed to its banks to collect drinking water, soak my feet and wash off.
When I returned to my tent, I noticed a daypack hanging from a post at the edge of camp. Thinking it strange that I hadn't seen it when I first arrived, I went over to investigate. I shuffled through the contents of its outer pockets finding only papers, a pen and some shotgun shells. Then, opening the main zipper, I found an assortment of trail bars, which I certainly looked forward to eating. However, to my surprise, the water bottles at the bottom were still quite cold as if they'd just been removed from an ice chest or cooler. Up to that moment I had assumed that the pack had been left by someone days or possibly weeks before. Obviously somebody had passed through here and left it while I'd been down at the river and was surely going to return before day's end. Sure enough, about an hour later, a young man with some hunting dogs came by, shouldered his pack and headed off on the path that led to the road. I'm definitely glad he hadn't stumbled along at the precise moment I was rifling through his bag and got the wrong impression. That would have been terribly awkward! :-) Anyway, he left none the wiser.
Three animal encounters today---two good and one scared the bejeebers out of me. On the road walk I saw two deer, a doe and a fawn still sporting its camouflage spots, cross the pavement ahead of me. They both turned to look at me before casually continuing into the field of grass which lined that side of CR 599.
Shortly after entering the forested section of today's hike I surprised a couple of raccoons. The mum loped off, but the baby quickly ran and climbed the nearest tree, which, as luck would have it, was not that tall, so I was able to take a number of pictures. Cute little rascal! When the photo shoot had ended, I wandered down the path a bit and waited for it to climb down. It wasn't long before it left the safety of the trees and happily shuffled along the forest floor in the general direction of my hiding spot. Suddenly, its animal senses alerted, it froze in mid-stride and slowly turning its head, spied me half hidden behind a palmetto. Then, WHOOSH, like a rocket he scampered back to the tree, zipped up the trunk and ended up on the same branch he'd been on before. I thought it rather humorous, but not wanting to keep it too long parted from its mother, decided it was high time to go and leave them in peace.
Perhaps as cosmic payback for playing games with the young raccoon, my next meeting with an animal was not so fun. While looking ahead for an orange blaze, the next thing I knew there was movement at my feet and when I looked down I saw a snake, its upper body raised and its mouth open. It had me jumping like a jack rabbit with a full pack on. Lucky I wasn't bitten. Whew! A big sigh of relief. Now at a safe distance I could see it had a very distinctive triangular dark yellow head. Its body was also dark yellow with black markings resembling offset stripes running the length of its body. I'm no herpetologist, so I can't tell you what kind of snake it was. I can tell you that it blended well into the fallen oak leaves and palm detritus. As it slithered into the undergrowth I could imagine it hissing, "Geez, watch where you're going!" For the next hour or two I proceeded much more cautiously, every twig looking like a snake. Even cow pies took on the shape of coiled serpents.
Well, it was an enjoyable evening I had in camp. Sitting at the picnic table I managed to finish The Deerslayer. When I checked the camp register that was stored in a post box I saw the last entry written by two thru-hikers on January 26th. "We may be the last thru-hikers to pass here this season," it read. I'm happy to report that they weren't. :-)
Chandler East Camp