Friday, October 24, 2014

Colorado Summer Hikes I Miss

It is that autumn time of the year when I really miss hiking in the Colorado Mountains!  The snow is (mostly) gone from mountain trails, the days are cool and the stars are awesome on moonless nights.
My family would travel to Rocky Mountain National Park often to enjoy Trail Ridge Road with views of the Never Summer Mountains.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park was another favorite, along with summer road trips throughout the region to the Western Slope, Steamboat Springs, and Mesa Verde near Durango.  Also riding the narrow gauge railroads and learning about the local history was awesome!  The backwoods drives were beautiful with so much to see, my wife often reminded me to keep my eyes on the road.
Check out these 5 inspiring Colorado trails and trips to get a taste of what it is like there.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I Left My Heart At Wounded Knee

I hurt my knee again 2 years ago when I broke my hip and it has only gotten worse with popping and unsteadiness when walking.  The pain is minimal, but it can still really hurt if I somehow twist it the wrong way.
Walking along the Sanford River Walk by Lake Monroe
As a hiker/backpacker/bicyclist/walker my knees are incredibly important to my personal forms of travel.   Being unable to walk or bicycle much without my knee popping and being unsteady during the super-hot summer was just bearable.
I have been to a doctor and to a knee specialist while trying to fix it.  Fortunately the X-Ray and MRI show damage there is minimal, not requiring surgery.  But still the popping and unsteadiness continue. 
I was given a shot of Cortizone in the knee last week, and I am exercising it again and am really trying to improve my walking situation.  I was able to walk 3 miles along the waterfront in Sanford last weekend without any pain and with only a little weakness.
My plan is to just continue exercising and walking, increasing distance daily and weekly until I'm back up to my 15+ miles of off pavement travel in a day.  I figure that if I can make it to that goal of 15 miles a day, I can eventually make 20-25 miles of continuous hiking/backpacking/walking that I'll need to do in order to hike a long trail like the AT.  Of course that is a long way off.  If I'm able to backpack again on over night trips with my ultralight backpack (9 pounds base weight) by late winter/early spring I will be a happy hiker!
For bicycling, I will focus on riding the indoor bicycle in the gym, moving to my mountain bike for short rides outdoors.  20 miles is the distance I had been riding recently, so I will work on increasing that distance closer to the summertime.  While not my 200 mile week rides of old, I am just happy to be out there again.
Please bear with me while I take baby steps to get better, I believe it will all pay off in the end.
The good news is the temperatures in Florida are much cooler now and if the rain holds off, I will be able to walk and bicycle enough to slowly improve my condition. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fall is Here!

Looking north along the Atlantic Ocean.  Notice the hotels?  Nope.
Finally the fall weather has arrived in central Florida!
Last Sunday it was 62 degrees when I got going.  There was a cool breeze and the sky was crystal clear.  It even sounded different, like it does when the weather first changes temperature.
I drove to meet my friend Walt who cooked both of us a delicious breakfast with lots of hot coffee. Then we headed east to New Smyrna Beach where we raised a drink to the surf before driving south to Canaveral National Seashore.  Walt had just turned 62 this year and got us into the park for free with his new pass.  We drove in free and cruised along the coastal dune to the turnaround at the end of 6 paved miles.
And looking south, no hotels here either!
The car windows were open and we sat enjoying the cool wind waiting on a parking space, listening to the waves crash below.  After a few minutes waiting we drove back north to the next available parking space and walked down to the beach on the boardwalk.  Just watching the waves rush in and out was fine for me.  We waved at the Park Rangers and the people walking by, watched the surf fishermen cast lines about and followed the gulls as they flew overhead in the breeze.  This was nice.  No bugs, no heat and actually the wind was a bit chilly without a second shirt on.  I could stand here all day, leaning against the dry wooden rails and just stare out to sea.
The State House
Comfortable rockers!
An explosion of plant life above with Resurrection Ferns in the Live Oaks
The view from the rocking chairs.
Coral Honeysuckle, a Florida variety.  It doesn't smell as strong as northern varieties.
We drove up to the restored State House where we sat in the porch rockers watching the boat traffic and fishing people along the Intracoastal Waterway in Mosquito Lagoon.  Crowds came and went.  More birds flew by.  I noticed our conversation had gone quiet as we contemplated life's details.  I could also sit here, rocking all day, quietly.  It was nice to get peaceful.   One of the neatest things about using the free entrance pass is you don't feel you have to spend your every moment living to the fullest anymore.  You don't have to hike all the trails or get a line in the water to fish or see all the museums and displays.  You can slow down and just enjoy a short drive in a cool place that you probably wouldn't take before.
Intracoastal Waterway looking north from JB's
After a couple hours, a couple conversations and talking about a couple of dreams, we left and drove north to have lunch at JB's, a favorite eating stop along the barrier island. We waited a while after lunch on the dock, again just watching and listening.  There are some days I need to do just that and nothing else and today was that day.  I celebrated the end of summer's heat and bugs by leaning back and doing very little.  To end today with a quote, that made all the difference.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rain, Rain, Rain...

Thanks to Weather Underground for this forecast
It has rained in central Florida almost every day the past 2 weeks, and is forecast to pour for another week or two.  Some of this rain comes down in a deluge, flooding streets, homes and businesses.  The winds are strong, the lightning is fierce and you get soaked just stepping out of the carport to get into your car.  The weather is reminiscent of a hurricane, although it is not tropical in nature.
It looks like we may get a (short) reprieve this Friday, Sunday and Monday.  If so, I'll be out there somewhere.
So hiking and bicycling during these mini-monsoons is not going to be very dry, much less very safe.
The wet weather has also affected trail maintenance of the Florida Trail, forcing cancellations of some of the (very needed) annual trail clearing work due to too much water still on the ground.
However the main difference is with the temperatures.  The daily highs have dropped by 10 - 15 degrees, even 20 degrees before and after a heavy rainfall.  It is now warm, instead of hot, with some lows in the (gasp) mid-50's!  I can do warm, all day.
For those who like to hike in a gentle rain, please be safe and avoid the daily thunderstorms.
As soon as this rainy spell ends, I'll be hiking again.  And I will be writing about it and the wonderful Florida fall weather.  I hope to see you out there!

Friday, September 26, 2014

2014 Hunting Season

Florida Trail near Pat's Island, Ocala National Forest
In Florida, hiking and hunting seasons share the same time period.  This can make some backpacking and hiking interesting, at least in scheduling times to quietly and safely pass through most trails in Florida without spooking game, angering hunters or spoiling their shots.
Florida Trail Hiking Vest
Blaze orange is the "in" color during this time of the year, and when hiking or backpacking, it should be worn where it can be seen from ALL directions around you.  All Florida National Forests and most state lands are open for hunting.
There are some areas in the Sunshine state where you can backpack during hunting season.  I reviewed them in this blog in 2013, and to my knowledge, these areas are still hunt-free.
My opinion is to avoid backpacking during hunting season weekends, to camp only in designated campsites then and to wear blaze orange.
The 2014 Hunting Season dates for Florida are:
General Gun Season Zones B & C for deer run from 12/06/14 to 02/22/15.
Muzzle-loader, Bow or Crossbow for deer run from 09/13/14 to 12/05/14.
Turkey hunters hunt from 9/13/14 to 02/01/15 for bows through guns.
Quail & Squirrel run from now through 03/01/15.
Spring Turkey season runs from 02/28/15 to 05/26/15.
The online dates are posted online at for details.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Autumn Backpacking Along The Florida Trail

Sandra Friend's awesome trail guide
One of Florida's best kept secrets is backpacking in the wintertime.  When cold and snow drives everyone up north indoors, the Florida skies turn clear and blue, and the trails beckon.  Mosquitos and the other bugs also die down.
The section of the Florida Trail I plan to backpack runs through the Ocala National Forest, from Clearwater Lake to Salt Springs.  This 46.5 mile trail covers much of the varied Florida landscapes and provides many good camping and scenic opportunities along the way.
The original blazes along the Florida Trail were first painted at Clearwater Lake in 1966 by FTA Founder Jim Kerns and his hardy friends.  Of the 72 miles of non-stop backpacking within the Ocala National Forest, these southerly 46 miles are well marked, well maintained and well worn.  There are numerous bail-out points if needed along the route.  You will walk through thick palm trees in hydric hammocks, through the desert-like Juniper Prairie Wilderness, through open under story in tall pines and along the winding hills of the Hopkins Prairie.
Temperatures would be mild and cool at nights with little rain forecast.  By travelling ultralight, my pack would weigh around 25 pounds for the trip.
I will use the excellent Florida Trail Official Hiking Guide by Sandra Friend as my bible to plan and follow the route.  I plan to hike through this section (section 16) of forest in 4-5 days.  My expectation is to travel about 15 miles daily and to camp at specific sites along the trail.  I will check with my friends to see if we can create a trip together at that time, and if not I may hike solo.
Wish me luck in planning my trip over the next few weeks.  Some hunting dates may present scheduling problems as I would prefer not to backpack when people are hunting.  I am hoping to schedule my trip sometime during early December.  I'll post Florida hunting dates next week.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jim Kern

Jim Kern
The Florida Trail is just one organization started by Jim Kern, a Florida resident, a photographer & filmmaker and real estate developer.  Jim came up with the idea of the Florida Trail after hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  "Why doesn't Florida have a trail like this?" was his question.  Aside from the high elevations which the mountainous states all have, Florida has a lot of scenic wonder, sometimes whole ecosystems pop up in only one inch or two of elevation.
So Jim went around, and asked his question and didn't take no for an answer.  He created the Florida Trail Association and served as its president the first dozen years.  Those orange blazes were first painted on trees marking the Florida Trail at Clearwater Lake campground in the Ocala National Forest in 1966.  Part of these trails you hike today were first surveyed and cut through the woods by Jim's friends and partners in the Florida Trail.  His organization has grown over the years to include many members, volunteers and supporters (yes, even trail angels) all over the state.  Nearly 150 people attempt a through-hike annually, hiking during the winter months, moving north with spring.
Jim's first Florida backpack trip was a 12-day slog through unmarked wilderness from the Tamiami Trail to Highlands Hammock near Sebring.  His publicized trip heightened the real need for a Florida Trail, hiking through waist-deep water, swatting flies and mosquitos just like the rest of us.
Jim Kern also created the American Hiking Society giving a national voice to hikers and backpackers in 1976, and Big City Mountaineers to mentor urban youth in the outdoors, and his newest development, the Hiker's Grand Slam.
What I like about Jim Kern is that he followed through with an idea he had until it actually happened. An Eagle Scout, Jim showed the courage to create what he felt was important.  He lived his dream and in doing so created so many other dreams for the rest of us.  That's a character trait I truly admire.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Rocks In My Backpack

Rocks in my Backpack - Tom Sholes
My friends Nick and Mary from Colorado recently presented me with a small gift, the book by Scoutmaster-extraordinaire, Tom Sholes, Rocks in my Backpack.
Aside from the pranks with rocks the Boy Scouts played on their Scoutmaster, this book is hilarious, and was a fun and quick read.
Tom Sholes, an Eagle Scout from a small-town in Minnesota, moved to Colorado in the early 1960's and was asked (tricked?) into leading a small troop of Boy Scouts. Something about leading a previously experienced Scoutmaster into a 'Troop that has no Scoutmaster' was the catalyst.
This Troop 117 became a powerhouse of great scouts with high adventure trips monthly into the Rocky Mountains for almost 3 decades.  If you made Eagle Scout here, you sincerely earned it.  Even First Class rank had a test (not one in the Scouting manual) that was difficult, yet it challenged generations of boys to do better instead of slipping by half-involved.  As a Boy Scout, you actually felt pride from earning rank as opposed to getting rank advancement without working for it.
This Troop 117 actually climbed 14-ers to the peak, backpacked serious back country and wilderness area trails, canoed white water, followed the ancients in the canyons of the southwest, survived and thrived in snow/ice/cold Klonderees in Colorado's winter mountains.  If you were a backpacker, this was the troop to be in.
The boys Indian-danced with authentic costumes and face paint throughout the state with their prize-winning group the Wasechie Dancers, honoring and respecting the Lakota and Plains Indian history and culture with dance and ceremony.  The boys made their own costumes after careful study.
They also held backcountry and cross country skiing trips with girl scouts, which was unheard of in the 1970's.
On many backwoods trips, someone would get cut, caught, stuck or hurt in some way (as they always do), and the Boy Scouts would just take over, manage the emergency, heal the wounded, rescue the trapped, and would pitch in to help anyone needing help.  Now THAT was what was intended by Boy Scouting, to transform boys into leaders, who didn't really need any adult supervision or yelling at them to do something.
And that is what made Tom Sholes such an awesome leader in Scouting, and what makes a fine book for ex-Scouters, backpackers, river-runners, and outdoors people of all walks of life.  You will laugh, cry, become excited during the trail descriptions and canoeing, and find again that great love of the outdoors.  Thank you Tom!

Friday, August 29, 2014

All my blogs

If you didn't know, I also write two other blogs on a weekly basis.  Bryce Trips and Bicycling Over Fifty.  You can follow my hiker stick figure on both blogs : )

Bryce Trips
Bryce Trips is about travels I've made; road trips, bike rides, hikes, sailing and paddling trips, and it generally covers most of what I do outdoors.  I have always enjoyed traveling and feel a deeply personal need to share these places, trips and fine times with you.

Bicycling Over Fifty
Bicycling Over Fifty is about bicycles; bicycle touring, bicycle parts and bicycling, which I pursued heavily for over 35 years.  I still ride, though mostly now on paved trails.  It covers bicycling at 50 YEARS OF AGE, not at 50 MPH!  I hope to make a bicycle tour or join a multi-day group ride in the near future and write about it for you.
Please check out my other blogs and tell me what you think.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Florida Caverns and Three Rivers State Parks

Our loaded mountain bicycles at the corner of Where and Am I?
Walt Foy and I bicycled a back roads route through the farmland of northern Florida, riding a loop from Florida Caverns to Three Rivers State Park and back over a 2 day weekend.  The whole route can be driven in about 3-4 hours the same day and still leave time to tour the Caverns before you leave, but I suggest you try riding a bicycle instead.  Moving along at 10 MPH is the best way to really see the land and experience the topography.  You also feel a sense of "earning" it when you carry your camping gear along the route.  With the low amount of traffic and with only one hill, it was a pleasant ride.
We drove up on Friday, camping at Florida Caverns that night.  In the morning we pedaled out into the country and open farmland.  I remember it was cool weather, but not cold.  The clouds were few and bicycling on our mountain bikes was easy.  Walt didn't own a touring bike, so I left mine at home and we rode the mountain bikes instead.
In the afternoon, we reached the bottom of a large hill where we could see the campsites to the left in Three Rivers State Park.  However, we had to ride uphill to get to the entrance, then coast back downhill to pick a site by the lake.  The bathrooms were clean and the hot showers were welcome.
Waiting for the coffee to kick in the next morning
Walt was watching an osprey dive for dinner across the lake from our campsite when I returned from the shower.  After dinner a couple in a huge motor home bus parked next door to us invited us over to visit.  I think they were interested in us riding bicycles and camping in small tents that took less space than the closet did in their bus.  I know I slept well that night.
The next day was cool and overcast, and after barreling down the hill exiting the park, we rode along more back roads and beside farmland until we got back to Florida Caverns.  After a shower we enjoyed the excellent tour of the cave, delighted to be just a few feet underground in Florida.  I highly recommend the Florida Caverns tour with its interesting geology.