Friday, December 13, 2013

Hiking with Bears

I have spent many years outside, only seeing bears for the first time in the Florida in the outdoors a few years ago as a Boy Scout leader.  Florida bears have always run away from me, except for one confused one who ran towards me for a couple seconds, until he saw me and turned on a dime to run away.  He was gone before I could get a camera shot!  
I know a lot of people are nervous in Central Florida about being mauled by a bear, after what happened here a couple of weeks ago.  What appears to be a bear attack happened in Longwood, FL, near a popular hiking/bicycling trail and the Wekiva Springs State Park.  The event is still being investigated.
The people who are supposed to know, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, have a web site with much American Black Bear information.  Instead of paraphrasing what they say, I copied the text here and am providing a link to the FWC site so you can read their words and make a decision about bear safety for yourself.


What kind of bears are found in Florida?
Florida is home to only one kind of bear, the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus). The only species of bear found east of the Mississippi River is the American black bear.
How many bears are there in Florida?
In 2002, FWC estimated there to be between 2,500 to 3,000 bears statewide. Bears currently occupy 18 percent of their historic range in seven relatively isolated bear subpopulations. While some subpopulations appear to be doing well, others are clearly still recovering.
What do I do if I see a bear?
If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure Adobe PDF it once the bear leaves.
NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If you are in your yard,
  • Make sure that you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
  • Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
  • Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
  • Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC.
Are black bears fast runners or good climbers?
Absolutely! Bears can run up to 35 miles per hour and climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds! Do NOT run or climb a tree when you encounter a bear.
  • Don't run. Running triggers a chase instinct in many animals, including bears. You can't outrun a bear.
  • Don't climb a tree. Bears are excellent tree climbers. Mother black bears often send their cubs up a tree when they sense danger. You don't want to end up in a tree with a couple of cubs above you and a mother bear below you! If a bear chases you, you'll just end up fending off a bear in a tree rather than on the ground.
Should I play dead with a black bear? (Short answer = no)
Don't 'play dead' or turn your back on the bear. Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route. Stop and hold your ground if your movement away seems to irritate instead of calm the bear.
If a bear feels threatened, they may clacking their teeth together External Website, moan, blow, huff, or paw the ground. The bear is showing you that it is as uncomfortable with the situation as you are. These are not indications of aggressive intent or an imminent attack. Truly predatory or aggressive black bears are eerily silent.
What do I do if the bear stands up on its hind legs?
If the bear stands up, this is NOT an aggressive behavior. The bear is only trying to see you better to figure out what you are and assess whether or not you are a threat.
Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route.
What do I do if a bear comes towards me or attacks?
If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you, they are trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away.
No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until he is comfortable turning his back on you and leaving.
While there have been no predatory bear attacks on people in Florida, people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs, or food sources. If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively. People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks, or even their bare hands!
Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm humans. Do not take unnecessary risks!
What can I do to protect my property?
Living with Bears Not a Mobile-Enabled Link. Here, we provide a wealth of information on how to protect your property, family, yourself, and the bears.
Is it ever legal to kill a bear in Florida?
Bears are protected by the Bear Conservation Rule Adobe PDF, which states it is illegal to injure, shoot, or kill bears in Florida.  The only applicable defense to illegally take or attempt take of a bear is the Common Law Defense of Necessity.  The defense is limited to the following circumstances:
  1. the defendant reasonably believed that his or her action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or others;
  2. the defendant did not intentionally or recklessly place himself or herself in a situation in which it would be probable that he or she would be forced to choose the criminal conduct;
  3. there existed no other adequate means to avoid the threatened harm except the criminal conduct;
  4. the harm sought to be avoided was more egregious than the criminal conduct perpetrated to avoid it; and
  5. the defendant ceased the criminal conduct as soon as the necessity or apparent necessity for it ended.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hiking with Google?

Google Maps
I like and use Google for the email, calendar and general mapping functions.  But aside from the how to drive there instructions, I have never used it for planning a trip in the great outdoors.  Well, things are changing fast in the online world, and here's the latest from Google.  Google Street View now includes 360-degree vistas of more than 44 National parks in the US and Canada.  In addition to tours of National Monuments like The Vietnam Memorial Wall, Google offers California's Sequoya National Park, views of Moraine Lake in Banff, Canada.  The Alamo, Mount Rushmore and Joshua Tree National Park are also on the list.  Click here for a sample tour.
The images were captured this year during the spring and summer.  There are 70 Canadian parks and historic sites covered along with many American locations.  Parks Canada and Google are teaming up to bring you more sites this year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Happy Feet!

Montrail Mountain Masochist
I bought a new pair of hiking shoes, the Montrail Mountain Masochistmy first change in “trail running” shoes in over 3 decades.  I had been wearing New Balance shoes all those years, usually a 600-800 model, but New Balance kept changing styles every few years and I learned I could not just stay with one model number anymore.  This year I was exasperated trying to get NB shoes that fit.  When searching locally at Travel Country Outdoors, I tried on a pair of the Montrail’s and they just fit, right then and there without any special inserts or in wide widths or anything extra at all.  I was surprised.  I walked around the store with them and my feet felt right.  I remember when New Balance used to fit me that well right out of the box, though they do not now.  Maybe it is time for a change.  
Travel Country is one of those local merchants who never gave up to the big box retailers and has built quite a business serving the locals around the Orlando area and online customers with fine outdoor equipment.  In the early 1980's I purchased most of my tents, cook gear and other outdoor equipment from them and still drop by today to browse from time to time.  They also have great seasonal sales and support the boy scouts locally.
When I got home I ordered the Montrail’s online from Travel Country and used a 20% off coupon I had in an email from them.  They arrived a couple days later.  I’d swear they were the same shoes I tried on in the store, but I’ll never really know.
So far they have felt great for wearing to work and for walking all over Savannah last weekend (another story), and I’m quite pleased with them.  In addition to providing excellent support and stability, they grip the surface very well.  I noticed how my feet did not tire from the heavy pavement pounding I just gave them, so hiking in the great outdoors should be even better.  I’ll order a second pair from another online dealer in the next few weeks so I will have a pair in the box, ready to go when these wear out.  
For off pavement, these shoes rock!  They really grip the ground well (roots, especially) and provide plenty of arch and heel support.   The fit is a little loose around the toes, but my heels fit perfectly. 
According to my wife, I really don't have a heel anyway, just a pointy bone back there that rubs raw on just about everything I wear.  In these shoes, my heel is held in place without moving.  Again, with my sub-5 pound daypack the support and stability are excellent and that works for me.
I have also been using the Montrail  Enduro-soles inserts, for about a year and appreciate the increase in stability they give.  Once I put them into the Montrail shoes, it was like they were meant to be there.  They are the softer of the two brands of  insoles available at Travel Country to try.  The first brand didn’t work out for me, but this one sure does.  
I'll update you on how the Montrail shoes worked after backpacking in them.  I expect they will work great.  Again, I was quite pleased with my purchase and can now say for hiking that I have "happy feet". 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Nice Weather

I left at 2PM today for a 5.5 mile hike along the Seminole-Wekiva Trail near my home. When I left it was 75 degrees and partly cloudy/sunny with a cool breeze, otherwise excellent outdoor weather in Florida.  I have recently been walking along the the paved trails near my home to save a little time in my busy life and still get outdoors.  Trail map here.
The temperatures were a bit high last weekend, near 90 degrees, with mid 80's during the week.  It cools a bit at night.  Today, it looked like it might rain, but it has not yet.  At home the windows are open, the light breezes are welcome, and it is cooler inside today than it was with the air conditioner on last week.
What I liked about today's hike were the small birds flitting from bush to bush, the sound of the wind whispering in the trees, purple and yellow fall flowers and the brightly colored seed pod explosions.  Fall was definitely in the air!  It was very pleasant, refreshing and relaxing at the same time.
I am hoping to get into the back country for some day hikes in the next few weeks as long as the weather holds.  I had the opportunity to sell my heavy old tents during a flurry of garage sales last month and am waiting to get a new lightweight one before I can go backpacking again.  I'm still thinking of purchasing the Tarp Tent Notch, a 1.5 pound backpacking beauty.  I have discussed the details of this tent before here. There are also some minor camping supplies I'll need to pick up.
Lake Ocheekobee
You need to check out the Big O Hike coming up over Thanksgiving week, November 23 to December 1.  It is a 9 day trail walk around Lake Okeechobee, the state's largest lake (also the nation's second largest lake completely inside the USA).  The hike has been going on since 1991 along the top of the dike trail that goes around the lake.  It has been hosted by the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail.  This year it is lead by Sandra Friend, a friend of mine who is also Florida's number one outdoor writer and a hiker-extraordinaire.  You can also chose to hike just a few days if you have plans already that week.  Say hi to Sandy for me!

Friday, November 1, 2013

2013 Florida Hunting Season

In case you don't hunt, Florida is currently in the fall hunting season.  It coincides with the cooler hiking season annually.
The Florida Trail Association publishes the annual Hunting Season dates as a warning to all hikers and trail maintenance crews for the lands where the National Scenic Hiking Trail travels through.   These areas listed below are in the Central Florida area.  For more information the web site for the Florida state's hunting dates are available HERE.
You can also read my blog from last year with the details of where to hike and backpack without any hunting going on HERE.
From the Florida Trail Store
Fall 2013 - Hunt Schedule 
Submitted by Rachael Augspurg FTA
These are the dates which affect our hiking & trail maintenance. activities.  Please use caution if you go on the trails during these times.   The trails are not closed to hiking during these hunt dates (wear blaze orange) but they are closed to maintenance.

Seminole Ranch WMA - 
Archery  - 10/4-6 & 10/11-13
Muzzle load - 10/25-27 & 11/1-3 
General Gun - 11/15-17
Spring Turkey - 3/15-17 &  3/21-23 &  3/28-30
Small Game -11/23-24 & 11/30-12/1, & 12/7-8, 1/4-5 
Wild Hog/dog - 1/25-26 & 1/27-31
Bronson State Forest - 
Archery -  9/27 - 10/3, & 10/4- 10 & 10/11-19  
Muzzle load - 10/25-27 & 11/1-3
General Gun - 11/8-10 &  11/15-17 & 11/29-12/1 
Small Game - 12/7-15, 1/4-10
Spring Turkey - 3/8-9 & 3/15-18 & 3/21-24 & 3/28-31
Tosohatchee WMA
Archery - 10/3-6, 10/10-13
Muzzle load - 10/24-27 & 10/31-11/3
General Gun - 11/14-17 & 11/22-24 
Wild Hog w/dogs - 1/10-16 & 2/7-13
Spring Turkey - 3/15-17 & 3/28-30 & 4/11-13
Seminole State Forest 
Archery - 9/21-24 &  9/25-29
Mobility Imp. - 10/18-20 
Muzzle load - 10/25-27
General Gun - 11/30-12/3 & 12/4-8 
Small Game  - 1/11-12 & 1/18-19 & 1/25-26  Saturday & Sunday 
Spring Turkey  - 3/15-19,  3/22-26
Little-Big Econ State Forest - 
Only units along the Econ River east of Snowhill Road
Archery - 9/27-10/3 & 10/4-19
Muzzle Load -  11/1-3 & 11/8-10
General Gun - 11/15-17 & 11/22-24 & 11/29-12/1
Small Game - 12/7-22
Spring Turkey - 3/15-18 & 3/20-23 & 3/27-30

If you hike where hunting occurs, please wear your safety vest!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I'm Back

My apologies to regular readers for not writing posts the past few weeks.   I have just completed some major life changes and am planning to make more.
Today I started the fine Florida fall weather with a hike.  A cold front had moved in and the temperatures were now several degrees lower.  It was 79 degrees after lunch, about 17 degrees cooler that it was here just last week.  I parked at Green Springs Park on the north side Lake Monroe in Volusia County, and hiked east along the paved East Central Rail Trail at the junction.  The Springs to Springs Trail goes to the west or left, and it follows the road up to the Interstate bridge where it suddenly ends.  While the extension/completion of both trails is still an unfunded dream, I prefer the idea of bicycling or walking towards the coast.  It was breezy and well shaded.  Trail traffic was very light, with only one runner, 3 maintenance tractors and 5 bicyclists the whole way out and back.

Green Springs!  And sulfurous.
My plan was to hike 5 miles, and I did so with a little more trail time to reach the Audubon site which is just past the 2.5 mile marker.  Being alone on the trail was pleasant and while I missed talking with my friend Walt, it was still a nice day to be out.  The sky was clear, with no clouds.  I could hear birds call and watched many small birds dart between trees.  Eagles and hawks circled the upper breezes.  That breeze was cool (for Florida), but not cold.  There was no threat of bad weather or impending doom, like I have hiked in during a good part of the year.  I had a good time.

The trail is mostly rural, with a touch of urban life.

Here it is more rural.  An eagle's nest is off to the right in the high trees.

All to myself.
My hiking time is still slow.  It took me 3 hours to hike 5.5 miles, with stopping to take pictures and eat a small snack.  I didn't sit on a bench anywhere for long; I was right back up and walking, really just enjoying being outdoors!

At the 1 mile marker is a new bicycle repair stand, a Dero Fixit.  This is the first outdoor model I have seen that is permanently mounted and has tools (attached with wires) with a pump.  It holds your bicycle up by the seat post so you can work on it.  It also has QR Code instructions for smart-phone users.  If you only carry a patch kit or a spare tube, most quick repairs can be completed with this setup.  I hope Volusia County adds more of these unique stands along their more popular bike-pedestrian trails and that other trail associations are made aware of the benefits of self-sufficiency for bicyclists.

In Florida, fall is in the color of the grasses and shrubs, not in the leaves like it is up north.

Here the fall seeds are ready.

My turnaround point.  The next photo is on the left side, about a quarter mile further.

I'll be back!
The day continued to be beautiful and clear and I walked along to my turnaround point at 2.5 miles.  Then I decided to continue a little longer to reach Audubon Park.  I walked back along the dirt road, enjoying the bird song and the first signs of fall foliage.  I plan to return for a better visit of the park soon.

Fall flowers in Florida.

These little fuzzy guys were all along the trail fences.  Is a cold winter ahead?

Back to Green Springs.  This is opposite the spring from the opening photo.

So much of Florida's wildlife is above ground, in the tree canopies.  Remember to look up when out. 
My return walk was a little more brisk, but just as peaceful as the trip on the way out.  It has been weeks since I hiked outdoors, the Florida temperatures were too high and the weather was too wet for me.  I'm glad fall is finally here with outdoor-friendlier weather.  I was glad for the silence of today's hike, with time to reflect on my life's recent changes.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Oh September

So it is still hot outdoors in Florida, but the days are now beginning to get a little bit shorter.  The nights are only hot on occasion (no more mid-80's temperatures) and that Florida sun is not quite as hot as it was a week ago.
It is still far from cool fall weather, but there is a positive shift.  I can feel it.  It has motivated me to start exercising (indoors) again and to start hiking outdoors to get ready for fall and winter backpacking and bicycling.
I started last week simply with 50 sit-ups (crunches) and 10 leg lifts.  The idea is to get myself used to doing these again on a daily basis.  Each couple of weeks I'll be adding more bodyweight exercises from the photo above and will be roughly following their workout plan.  If the weather cools a little, I’ll start riding the bike again once or twice a week and build up the mileage over the next few weeks on the local bike trails.
Here is a LINK to the exercise plan on Gossamer Gear's website that includes utilizing your body weight.  If you follow the picture above, I'm still at the EASY stage.
If you need some other help with getting started with an exercise program, Google “backpacking exercise” to find more plans and workouts than you could imagine.  There are many weight training and bodyweight plans which are designed to get you ready to backpack.  Most of these exercise plans tell you to hike as much as possible, work your body core, and to start slowly and build easy.  I have been lazy this year, but am excited to get outdoors hiking when the weather cools, so that’s my motivation.
Remember that when the rest of the country is buried under snow, you can use your summer-earned health to hike in Florida's best outdoor season.  Plan a balanced winter vacation for your family that gets you a couple days of family backpacking bliss along with quality family time at Walt Disney World.  Check out FLORIDA TRAIL MAPS here.
Fall Florida backpacking trips with the Tampa Bay Sierra Club begin the first week of October.  I should be ready to start about mid-month, and will lay out a plan for that in the next weeks.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Darkest before the dawn

It is SO hot right now in Florida.   Yeah, I know I chose to live here where the winter weather would be mild.  It has rained almost every day the last 2 months at my house. The weatherman on TV last night called this the "dog days" of the year.  Because it is too hot and wet to go outside, I've gone inside to the Internet for some escape and planning.
Get yours at
Mark this date on your calendar:  Sunday, August 25 is an "entrance free day" to a National Park near you! Check out the site here.   National Parks near Central Florida include:  Canaveral National Seashore (New Smyrna Beach), Fort Mantazas National Monument (it is free anyway), Castillo De San Marcos National Monument (St. Augustine).
You can also tell the Park Service what services you would like to see at the Colorado National Monument and other sites.  Start here to make yourself heard.
You could also win National Park gifts at the National Parks Foundation site (like Trips and Outdoor Gear) by submitting your National Park photos here   They have 10 different categories and you can submit up to 10 photos, and even post a video of your trip.
If you want to just lay back and relax, you can watch the webcam views at Rocky Mountain National Park here.  Even if you haven't been there it is very cool to look at the photos.  We used to go to the park a couple times each year we lived in Colorado.  Other parks also have webcams to watch.
The National Parks Foundation site will send you email updates and you can get a National Parks Owners Guide (pictured above) if you signup here.  The owners guide is a nice tool for dreaming and planning your escapes and it shows you just how many National Parks there are.  Life outdoors for me is about going places and experiencing the outdoors.  That usually means a hike or two and sometimes means a backpacking trip or a bicycle ride.  It doesn't matter to me if it is a State or National Park or where it may be located.  There are many cool sites to see, places to go and trails to discover.  I'll see you there!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review - Mile Mile and a Half
Awesome!  That's the first word that comes to mind after watching the film Mile Mile and a Half at the Deland, Florida screening last Thursday night.  Ric Serena and his wife Jen who hiked the trail, hosted the movie.  They gave a presentation at the beginning of the film,  and were there answering questions after the movie.
Carlos Schomaker, the president of Florida Trail was there with gifts for Florida Trail through-hikers there who have also hiked a long trail outside Florida.  One lady in the audience had hiked the this trail, the John Muir trail seven times (yes 7) and was hiking it again this summer.  Deb Blick was setup in the lobby to sign up new Florida Trail members.  Film DVD's, shirts and CD's were also for sale.

Ric thanked all those who helped sponsor the film through Kickstarter, especially Angela who was in the audience.  Ric also thanked the Atlas Theater.  He said driving by today and just seeing the name of the film on the marquee was one of the coolest things he had ever seen.  Ric spoke about how they had envisioned shooting a 15 minute web video about the trip, then later about shooting an art museum piece, then at the trips end finding they had shot enough material for a feature length film.  The film played to a nearly full house.  Ric's high school video teacher was there along with many family members.
I was lucky to sit in the audience beside the filmmakers family and we talked about them keeping Ric and Jens daughter for 5 weeks while the "kids" backpacked, and about all the good and great things that have happened with the film since they got back.

Technically the film is very, very good.  It is interspersed with still photographs that Jen took along the way. Time lapse photography was used creatively and brought an "oooh" from the audience during the scene showing the star fields and tents at night.  The GoPro camera was dunked under water (what it is designed for) and worn on the body for a couple scenes.  The music soundtrack was written by backpackers they met on the trail.  Ric had run ahead of the hiking group several times, setup his camera dolly and shot awesome moving dolly shots of the backpacking group as they hiked up the trail.  It was an unusually heavy snow year and they hiked through snow many days in July and crossed waist deep water in the swollen streams (big snow, deep water). Zee Hatley and Jason Fitzpatrick were the other camera operators and the team shot the trail as they saw it. The graphics were created by another hiker they met on the trail.
Remember, these people had to carry their video and audio gear, plus camping gear, plus food on their backs every day. And stop, unpack and shoot, repack, and walk.  And do it over again every day for 25 days.

Artistically, the film is excellent and it tells several stories using humor.  There was the sad story of one of the group having to drop out, he was going too slow and was afraid of holding the group back.  There was the cool story of a guy who they met on the trail who had hiked the Muir Trail 50 years ago that week.  There was the personal story of backpacking parents missing their child and wanting to share these special moments with her. There were the people they met and the ones who tagged along. There are the funny moments, a prank or two and non-stop trail name humor.  The scene where Durand Trench, the audio technician unloads and sets up his gear to record the sound of frogs, and then the frogs hush and don't make a sound until he after he has given up and repacked his gear.  And then the frogs start up again.  It is the universally funny times like this along with all those funny trail talk moments (blisters, heavy backpacks, smelly bodies) that had us all laughing out loud.
Overall the film shows the grandeur of the John Muir trail, the beautiful, stark lands they travel through, and showcases John Muir's "mountains of light" while it documents their 25 day hike.  And this is why the film is so good: It comes straight from the heart.
If you backpack and have not seen the film, go see it.  Watch the DVD if you can.
Upcoming film events include:
  • August 1st at the Mountaineers Program Center in Seatle.
  • August 9 at Adventure 16 in West LA.
  • August 23rd at Adventure 16 in San Diego.
  • September 6th at the Pacific Crest Trail Days in Cascade Locks, Oregon.
Watch the website here for more information.

Crafty Marmuts!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mile. Mile and a Half...

How far to the trail's end?  Mile. Mile and a Half.
Central Florida will be hosting a screening of the film "Mile. Mile and a Half" in Deland at the Athens Theater, downtown on 17/92.  Florida natives on the project have brought the film here and in partnership with the Florida Trail Association, will present the movie next Thursday evening, July 18 at 7:30 PM.  Cost is only $10, with half of that being a donation to the Florida Trail Association.  Get tickets here.
Working at Elevation.
The Muir Project movie is about hiking the high sierra mountains from Yosemite to Mount Wilson. The 25 day excursion was professionally captured using the latest digital film technology.
Working as a media professional for many years, I understand the technological feat of carrying the equipment necessary to film on your back with your backpacking gear, while making your daily miles, cooking and setting up camp nightly on a 25 day through hike is extraordinary.  The subject matter is some of the most beautiful, scenic and remote land in the World, and it is a life-changing hike.
Click here for film previews. 
Please join with Central Florida for this epic screening.  It may change your life too!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Preventing Blisters

Back in the winter hiking season, during January 2013, Sandra Friend invited me to write a blog for use on her website, Florida Hikes! I did, and this is it.  I'm printing it here for those readers who have asked about foot care.  Thanks Sandra!

Blisters can be your worst nightmare on the trail.  They are so much easier to prevent than to treat.  I know, because I have been plagued with them my whole life, until a couple years ago.  All of my boots since I went to Philmont as a Boy Scout in 1971 have blistered me.  Even at Philmont I had one blister start as a hot spot, but I caught it in time, put on a band aid and finished the trail with no other problems.  That was long before duct tape was available everywhere.  I had worn those boots almost daily since I bought them, and they were well broken in before the trip.  After Philmont I had blisters every time I hiked.  I tried different sock combinations, different boots and every bandage I could find in the foot section of the pharmacy, but still had blistered, painful feet, with lost and blackened toenails.  I even looked into having custom boots made for me once but the very high cost of admission drove me away.
Disgusted with hiking boots, I started day hiking in my trail running shoes which I had purchased because they had good heel support and were comfortable.  After quite a few different trips over quite a few years, I realized it had been a very long time since I had a blister on my feet.
When we moved back to Florida from Colorado, some of the scout troop leaders here made it clear adults and scouts were to wear boots when hiking.  Well, the blisters came right back.
Body Glide comes in multiple sizes
About that time I read a blog about hiking with "happy feet" by using Body Glide, or Hydropel as it was called then.  It is a petroleum based jelly ointment that you rub on to apply, like a deodorant.  I tried it with the same scouting boots and socks and guess what?  No blisters!  I also used it on an all-day Ocala National Forest day hike in 2011 and it worked fine with my worn-out, full of holes trail running shoes.  Body Glide came from the ultra-marathon running industry, where it has been used for several years by serious distance runners.  Body Glide lubricates your feet, so almost nothing will wear a hole in you.  It eliminates friction.  It makes your feet just too slick to rub raw against anything in your boots or shoes.  The story also said it prevents "swamp foot" from your feet being soaked in water daily.
I later read that when backpacking, clean and lube your feet at night after you stop for the day, then re-lube them in the morning with Body Glide before you start walking again.  If you do get a hot spot, stop right then and re-lube the affected area.  That will usually prevent a blister.  Body Glide will also work for chafing pretty much anywhere on your body like from pack straps, or a too-tight pack waist belt and is used by bicyclists to relieve saddle sores.
In case you wait too long and your hot spot becomes a blister, wash the treated area with soap and water to remove the Body Glide slickness to apply tape to the area.  Typically Leukotape works fine, but so does duct tape with a spot of ointment (from your chap stick).  It has been a long time since I had to do that.
When hiking the Florida Trail, you can spend many days with wet feet (and more) walking in water ankle to knee deep, even to waist-deep sometimes.  The trail actually begins in water at the new southern trailhead at Big Cypress National Preserve at the Oasis Visitor Center along the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami.
Here's a link to REI where they have Body Glide in several sizes.  You can sometimes find it locally at Sports Authority, Walmart, Rite-Aid, CVS, or Walgreens.  The .045 ounce size is fine for short backpacking trips, with total weight of 1.2 ounces or 34 grams.  Some ultralight backpackers transfer the ointment to a lighter container to further reduce weight.
Central Florida has it's own issues with water on the hiking trails, especially after a heavy rain.  I can't think of any other product out there that can better prevent blisters than Body Glide with the twice-daily application.  If it works for me and my feet, then it should work for you.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Canaveral National Seashore

View from the top of Turtle Mound.
My friend Walt and I went for a late spring hike at Canaveral National Seashore, just south of New Smyrna Beach.  I have been to the Merritt Island part of the park several times before on fishing trips and canoeing the Mosquito Lagoon, but had never made it to the Canaveral Seashore.  The Seashore is 24 miles of undeveloped shoreline on the Atlantic coast along a barrier island, running from seven miles south of New Smyrna Beach down to Cocoa Beach.  It also contains the government sites of the John F.Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  This land was set aside in the late 1950's to provide room around the space center and military base.  In 1963 the US Fish and Wildlife Service managed Merritt Island Refuge with the National Park Service operating the National Seashore since 1975.  Car and motorcycle daily entrance fees are $5, bicycles enter for $1.
The shore, few people and absolutely no buildings.
The shoreline is made up of a brown, course sand (unlike Daytona Beach's white fine sand) and the views stretch for miles with no buildings.  No condos.  No hotels.  No homes.  No businesses.  No cell towers.  No nothing.  When you get onto the beach and walk, it feels like what was intended by nature, a natural, relaxing and peaceful walk in the sand.  Personally, I would prefer all of the nation's shorelines to be just like this one, with a road and parking spaces every few miles, and no beach access allowed over the dunes anywhere except where deck access has been built for you, and with no permanent structures built on the variable land of barrier islands.
The Canaveral Seashore can be a narrow world between the waters.  There are places you could throw a rock-sized shell from the Atlantic Ocean into the Mosquito Lagoon.  Some areas of the barrier island are much wider across, like at Turtle Mound and around the old town of Eldora.  We knew the weather was going to get very hot soon and the bugs would be awful, and we wanted to visit the park before summer heat and humidity set in.
Walt on the easy walk up and down boardwalk of Turtle Mound.
Mosquito Lagoon.
Turtle Mound is a shell midden, or mound, now about 50 feet tall.  In the past it was estimated to reach another 25 feet in elevation.  It was an east coast navigation feature marked on most of the early Spanish, French and British sailing maps of the time and can be seen miles out to sea.  This mound is built of oyster shells mostly, and fish bones and it must have taken multiple generations of native American workers to process and pile these shells to this height.  When you look at how tightly the shells have been pressed together, you wonder at how many shells there can be in a mound this tall.  The mound walls become so steep near the top, the park service has built a trestle-like walkway to easily climb to the top of the mound at a gentle grade, and then when on the top to be able to look both in all directions without the users causing erosion or disrupting the mound.  The breeze on top was excellent.  The trees have stunted grown here are similar to the krumholtz wind-damaged trees in the Rocky Mountains.  The salt content in the air continually kills new growth, keeping the trees small.  It is believed the Timucuan Indians settled this region and built these mounds from 800 to 1400 AD.  The views are awesome!
The scenic view in the trees on the way down from Turtle Mound.
The lagoon's edge at Turtle Mound.
At the base of the mound, a school bus load of elementary children from Volusia County were learning the fine details of using a siene net and about how the Timucuan Indians lived, hunted and worked the land and sea.  Taught by knowledgeable National Park Volunteers, I could have sat and listened for hours.
The Welcome Center is where we started our morning, viewing a video about the park.  If you call with a question or to reserve a campsite, this is where the phone calls are answered.  The rangers here were excited about the turtle laying season about to begin and were discussing all the turtle programs they have underway and all the people they expect to visit the park.  Most of the Federally endangered Leatherback turtles come back here from the sea to where they were born to lay their eggs in the sand.  When they hatch at night, baby turtles follow the light reflected from the sea to return to the ocean.
Volusia County students in learning mode.
From Turtle Mound, we drove south to the end of the road and walked down to the beach.  It was mostly surf fishing-people here, some with carts loaded with poles and gear and we watched someone reel in a blue fish.  We noticed the crowds were mostly staying close to the parking areas.  The empty areas between parking lots seemed to go on forever, with nobody in them.  I decided that this will be one of my next bicycle rides, along the surf on the deserted beach.  We also walked over to the lagoon side where there was a boat launching ramp at waters edge.  From here you could easily see the how high the dune was above us, and imagine how easily a huge wave during a storm could crash over this area.  No Atlantic hurricanes are known to have attacked the area from Cocoa Beach north to St. Augustine in our time.

Looking north along the empty beach.

And looking south.
Castle Windy is the second shell midden we went to see.  Parking at the beach lot, we followed the half mile path through the woods to the lagoon side.  There was a pamphlet in a box at the start, numbered to identify plants and trees marked with posts along the path.  Here was where we met the full force of the name sake of Mosquito Lagoon.  The mosquitos were so thick around our heads we couldn't breath without inhaling a few.  My long sleeves and pants kept the bugs off my body.  Walt's back was black, covered with mosquitos and they wouldn't leave us alone until we re-applied my eucalyptus bug spray.  We finished the walk and stood along the lagoon shore in the wind where there were few bugs, before returning to the car.

Along the mosquito-infested trail to Castle Windy.

Castle Windy shell midden.
We next visited the community of Eldora after watching a turtle maneuver in the parking area.  This was once a farming community where Indian River citrus was first developed and grown in Florida, a popular brand of fruit you can still buy, though for years it has been grown elsewhere in the state.  They also grew indigo (a plant-based material for coloring fabric blue), raised honey bees and grew vegetables.  This is where saw palmetto plant berries were harvested for making pharmaceuticals (and are still used in treatment of prostate issues).  Palmetto honey is a light and very tasty honey that was a favorite up north where the crops were shipped.  Two tears of killing frost in the 1890's decimated the citrus industry and the town never recovered.  The last remaining house in Eldora was restored by the Friends of Canaveral in 1999 as a museum and it has a video you can watch about the early town, riverboat traffic and the people who pioneered the area.  The native plant life around the house was beautiful.
A Florida variety of coral honeysuckle.
Fishing is another major highlight in the park.  In Florida you can get a no-fee license to fish from the sea shore or from a dock.  You can then fish in the Mosquito Lagoon shoreline, from the dock, in the surf at the beach, and you can fish while wading in the water.  For those who prefer fishing from a kayak or boat, a $17 saltwater fishing license will get you started.  Click here for fishing license details.  We saw several people boat and kayak fishing in the deeper water just off Turtle Mound, on land from the Eldora dock, while wading in the shallow lagoon and surf casting in the Atlantic.
Fishing at the Eldora dock.  The State House is in the background.
Fishing at Turtle Mound in the deeper water.
The endless sea life in both the lagoon and the ocean took our breath away several times during the day.  From Turtle Mound I saw what looked like a whale leaping and crashing in the ocean.  I tried on several occasions to get a photo of the several dolphin splashing in the lagoon.  Mullet jumped from the water many times and from the Eldora dock you could see fish swimming in the shallow water.
Birds are another big draw at the Seashore, with over 300 species recorded here.  There are over 1000 species of plants listed, for many of the plants this is as far north in Florida as they grow.  There are 14 federally endangered or threatened species of wildlife living here including manatees, turtles, southern bald eagles, wood storks, peregrine falcons, eastern indigo snakes and Florida scrub jays.  And in the winter there are the migratory birds from up north.
Resurrection fern in non-resurrected mode, waiting for rain to burst forth with green growth.
A strangler fig tree strangling an oak.
Flowers are everywhere.
There is primitive camping at the park, though I suggest you plan to camp here in the winter months when it will be much cooler at night.  You can register for either of the two Apollo beach area campsites or any of 14 waterfront sites on barrier islands along the Mosquito Lagoon.  You will need your own boat to reach them or you may rent a canoe for sites 1-5 at the park welcome center.  Campsite reservations cost $2. This backcountry camping brochure says campsites will cost $10 to $20, depending on how many people you bring.  My suggestion is that you call the Ranger at 386-428-3384 and ask.  Also check out the kayak and canoe trails in the area like this one in the Mosquito Lagoon at Shipyard Island (nice photos).
It was in the mid-80's the day we went, and the Florida weather was beautiful.  Walt and I finished the fine day with lunch outside the park at a fish camp on the Mosquito Lagoon and enjoyed a quiet drive through the barrier island village of New Smyrna Beach.  It was a great day!
Turtle in parking lot.