Hiking the Citrus Loop April 8-11th 2010
So I get this wild idea about 6 months ago that I was ready for my first back country backpacking trip. I have not done something like this before and I was going to do it as a “personal challenge”. I found out about the hike and immediately started planning for it. First step – invite friends. Well that was harder than it looked – nobody wanted to commit! They all said I was crazy…Thank goodness I had a friend I knew, Kevin, that hiked those trails often so I knew I was not the only one that would do such things. About 2 months before the hike I picked up 2 girlfriends that would go, I got my backpack from a silent auction at a woman’s event I attended and spent every day with 20 lbs of weights in my backpack walking 3 miles. I thought I was ready – I was so wrong!
We all arrived to camp Thursday night at Holder Mine about 6 pm. We drove on the forest roads and cached water. This trail was dry. There are no reliable fresh water sources on the trail. Once camp was set up we all went about finalizing our packs. So we were not carrying duplicate items. Our packs were all about 40 lbs each….twice what I trained for. We had a great time visiting and we all got to know each other better. There was a beautiful Swift flying through the trees just before dusk and lots of thieving squirrels. It was a beautiful night – but rain was heading our direction. Soon the fire burned down and we all got settled in our tent. The rain started about midnight – we had the full show! Thunder and lightning! I slept through most of it and in the morning we took our time getting all packed up to hit the trail. That might have been our first mistake. The large wet tent we used that night we spread out in the back of KC’s truck to dry and we moved the vehicles to the trail head. After taking some photos we headed out – in what we thought was the right direction. After 3 miles of sugar sand forest road hiking, we finally got turned back around and found the trail. It was nearly 11am and my feet were already yelling at me!
Once on the trail though it was much cooler and we were having a fantastic time! There were wildflowers blooming everywhere and lots of songbirds! I was not expecting all the hills and valleys. After the first few hours I realized there was no excitement coming when we hit a downgrade….there was surely a hill to follow! I had not seen terrain like this in Florida…and I trained on flat lands. Well this surely was going to be a personal challenge! We all decided to stop for a snack in a shaded spot on the trail. Granola, nuts, lots of water and some beef jerky and we were all set. There were many varieties of songbirds flittering around in the trees but all were too fast for me to photograph. Soon we were re-energized on the trail again. (But I still believe the packs got heavier when we put them back on!)
Paula had been struggling with a previous ankle injury and made the decision that she would have to head back to the vehicle. So KC and I arranged to get her back to her vehicle and we had Paula bring us back to the trail via forest roads and continued on. We finally got settled back at camp – only 11 miles for the first day – I had really thought we would get further. My toes were never so happy to be naked before! Setting up camp with KC was fun and Noodle Ramon never tasted better! We found a beautiful spot at the edge of a pine stand. We heard the coyotes off about a mile or so away all singing their evening tunes. The sky was clear, the moon nearly full and the stars twinkled brilliantly! Soon I was drifting off to sleep to the sounds of Whippoorwills. About midnight I heard a bit of scratching and sniffing around our camp – I thought nothing of it. Probably a raccoon or armadillo, I thought. I was in a small tent and my head was up against the side. Well whatever was out there bumped my head! Not thinking I tapped the tent..and it growled at me! Armadillos don’t growl, it was a coyote! I turned on my light and it took off – but I was wide awake then! KC woke up and got a good laugh out of the situation. We stoked up the fire I took my sleeping mat out by the fire and slept there the next couple hours till dawn. I figured it wasn’t coming back and the warmth of the fire was welcomed.
The next morning we heard turkeys all around as we prepared breakfast and broke camp. It was interesting hearing them calling to each other..it was mating season for these big birds. After breaking camp we gathered a full large bag of trash and cans that other campers had left behind over the years. It was very sad to see so much. We encountered this problem the entire trip. We hiked all day and saw fantastic caves, dried up lakes, and every type of habitat you can imagine. There was even some trail magic left on the trail – a gallon of water – what a blessing! That evening we were really pooped after 17 miles! I thought my feet were going to fall off and I had blisters to nurse. Once we got the fire going the mosquitoes were not too bad and I was so tired I barely had an appetite!
The final day we decided to take it easy – We cached our packs near a forest road and hiked all day with no packs. What a wonderful day that turned out to be. I saw my first fox squirrel and he was HUGE and fast. There was a section of the trail littered with limestone, cool fresh meadows, lots of butterflies, more caves, large pine flats and beauty that cannot be described by my simple words. By the time KC and I got back to the vehicles we were tired yet even so sad to leave the trail. We saw maybe 3 persons on the trail in 3 days! Getting back to civilization was saddening. We drove to get our packs where we had stashed them earlier in the day and were surprised at the distance we had covered on foot that day.
I read after I was home a couple of days that this is Florida’s most difficult trail and not recommended for beginners. I have to agree. But the trail can easily be done in loops during day trips and I encourage all to give it a try. The” A Loop” is part of the State Forest Trailwalker Program – check it out at http://www.fl-dof.com/forest_recreation/trailwalker_index.html
Until next time….