Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Beach scenes

"Key West or Bust" - Day 114

There's always plenty to see on the beach.  When you're hiking the woods you're limited to what's nearby -- sometimes just a few feet away.  Everything else is blocked from view.  On the beach you see what's happening with the weather, what's happening ten miles in every direction.

Today I hiked nearly twenty miles of beach, ranging from Patrick Air Force Base where some sort of radar installation stood right on the dune line ...

... to the town of Melbourne Beach.  A major storm had wound up out in the Atlantic. It had raised seas so high that it damaged a brand new state-of-the-art 168,666-ton cruise ship and caused it to return to port - Royal Caribbean's 'Anthem of the Seas'.  And here that storm produced huge swells that had the surfers out in force.  I saw many good demonstrations of surfing talent as I strolled along.

There were places where beach erosion had left virtually no beach at high tide.  The bedrock was showing through in others.

It was a cool crisp day with a steady SW breeze.  Here a cluster of black skimmers and royal terns were all standing facing into the wind.

The sky itself was a changing scene.  Here the clouds help turn a dune covered with flowering giant agaves into a work of art.

Twenty miles of beach - it is going by too fast!

Here is the map of today's walk, with links to more photos:

Cocoa Beach to Melbourne Beach at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Palm Bay, Florida

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I reach the beach!

Yay!  Lori Wilson Park, Cocoa Beach FL

"Key West or Bust" - Day 113

I chose this route - reaching the beach via FL 520 - because this route is hiker friendly.  There are good dedicated pedestrian walkways on the three major bridges and the long causeway that connect the mainland with the barrier island.  Today I spent most of the day walking that causeway.

There were mangroves at water's edge--first ones I've seen.

Only one of the three bridges had much elevation - the Indian River bridge, which crosses the Intracoastal Waterway.

And then there it was.  The Atlantic Ocean.  Looking north, the launch towers of Cape Canaveral were poking up above the horizon.

I walked the beach for just a mile and a half and then the day was over.  But plenty of more beach photos will surely be forthcoming.  Watch this space.

Here's the route of today's hike, with links to all the worthwhile photos.

from Cocoa to Cocoa Beach at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Florida

Crossing the St. Johns River

The Lone Cabbage Restaurant and Air boat ride purveyor seen from the highway 520 bridge over the St. Johns River.

"Key West or Bust" - Day 112

It was a rain shortened day.  I made thirteen miles toward the beach via FL 520 today and then quit in mid-afternoon when a cold rain that had begun as a nuisance turned into a steady soaker.  All day I was hiking the wide grassy shoulder beside busy four-lane highway 520.  It was not an unpleasant walk, though a few mosquitoes began to show up.  The highlight of the day was finding a secret trailhead and white blazed trail behind a closed gate.

This trailhead has no sign identifying it along the highway.  There's just a tiny sign on the high chain link gate that says simply 'please close gate'.  Inside there is this big parking lot and has an inviting white-blazed trail that headed off into the tropical jungle.

I was tempted to follow it, but since there was no map I had no inkling of where it would lead me, and not enough time to just take off and explore.

That was my first nature fix for the day.  Later I noticed one of my favorite mini-ecosystems - the intense competition for real estate that lichens were engaging in on a smooth-barked tree.  I took the photo for the variety of colors but spent time marveling at the drama.  Each lichen had established a territory and was defending it and battling with its neighbor to expand.  From a human reference frame there is no motion, but the evidence of the ongoing dynamic battle at the boundaries is plain to see if you take the time to look.

I ended the day getting soaked as the rain got much heavier than forecast.  I reached the western edge of the town of Cocoa.  Tomorrow I should be on the beach.

Here's a map of today's route:

Crossing the St. Johns River at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Palm Bay, Florida

Hiking through Christmas

The permanent Christmas display in the little town of Christmas, Florida

"Key West or Bust" - Day 111

Today my road walk to the beach took me back a month and a half.  I remembered the odd feeling I had while hiking on Christmas Day because a family gathering was scheduled for early in the New Year.  Today I was hiking through Christmas again and had family on my mind again.  I spent half an hour talking to my daughter on the phone as I walked.  The last time I saw her was at that family gathering.  Christmas does that.  It touches warm places - home places - in the heart.  So how could I not feel all warm and fuzzy walking through Christmas Florida on a day of bright sunshine and blue sky.

Nearby there is a trail that I would have liked to explore had I known that it was on my route.

I came upon that trailhead parking area with this map after I had already passed near the other end of this trail.  The photo I took of the map turns out to be a half decent Selfie - so the whole episode was not a total loss.

Though I was walking roads all day, that doesn't mean I have no nature to observe.  Today I passed a new, larger species of wild bromeliad in full bloom.

And I ended the day at Yates Road where I will once again walk with the Florida Trail for about seven miles.

This time the trail will turn right and head south and I will continue east, cross the St. Johns River, and reach the ocean at Cocoa Beach.  Stay tuned.

Here's a map of the day's road walk with links to a few more photos.

Road walk through Christmas, FL at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Florida

A significant fork in the road

The trail turns left here, but I went straight.

"Key West or Bust" - Day 110

Today, as I took my first steps out of Oviedo, Florida, I diverged from the Florida Trail.

Why?  I have completed just over 800 miles of the trail and I have only a little more than 300 miles to go.

The answer boils down to personal preference.  For four years I've lived on the beach.  I love beach hiking.  I was exposed to long distance beach hiking when I did North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 2014 -- It has 85 miles of mostly beach strand walking along the Outer Banks.  The Florida peninsula has lots of great beach too, and it has been calling.  I'm going to shift over to the coast and walk at least 100 miles of white sand.

That is the positive response.  The other side of the coin relates to reported trail conditions.  Under the influence of the El NiƱo global weather pattern, Florida has seen a deluge of rain lately.  Stream levels have been at or near daily record highs for several weeks.  Hiker reports say that low places are flooded.  There are places where people have had to swim or use boats.  There is much more wading and slogging than normal.  The trail is a mess.

Now wading is not exactly a challenging activity.  Kids go out of their way to splash in puddles.  But it's not what I want to do.  It slows me down.  Foot care - keeping my feet dry - adds to the expended time and energy.  Prolonged hiking with wet feet gives me blisters.  The only pleasure wading provides is access to places of natural beauty.  But perhaps because I've already hiked 800 miles of Florida's amazing wild swamps, rivers, hammocks, sink holes, forests, steepheads, prairies, scrub flatwoods, and savannas, the attraction of more of those great venues is diminished. 

So today, instead of plunging into the woods to walk alongside the Econlockhatchee River for five or six miles, I viewed it from a bridge on Highway 419.

From there, the road walk to the beach is actually shorter than a trail road walk required to get from Tosohatchee WMA to Bull Creek WMA, and I'll actually be walking part of that same road - I will technically be back on the Florida Trail for about seven miles.  When I noted that during a logistics planning session a couple weeks ago, that's when the idea of hiking the beach first struck me, and with the continuing rains since then, it just seemed like the thing for me.

The 'Key West or Bust' quest continues.  I still hope to extend my Personal Continuous Footpath - a string of continuous footprints - from the summit of Katahdin in Maine to America's 'Southernmost Point' - but from here on I have to withhold the 'Florida Trail' label from my reports.  I already miss it.

Today was a short hiking day.  I took the afternoon off anticipating rain and just taking a bit of a break as I step into this new phase.  Below is a map of the route hiked.

Beginning a road walk to the beach at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Florida

The Cross Seminole Trail and a moment that defies all odds

A purely chance encounter!  From L to R:  'Trucker Bob', 'Bush Whacker' and his wife Lynn, John 'JK' Keatley and Sandra 'Navigator' Friend

"Key West or Bust" - Day 109

Imagine you're walking through a town you've never visited before and where nobody that you know lives.  What are your chances of running into a friend?  What about two friends?  Three?  How about four?

Today, as I was tramping through the historic town of Oviedo, northeast of Orlando, FL., I ran into five people who I call friends.  The odds of a Florida blizzard were probably greater, or of a sink hole opening up under my feet.  Heck, there was a better chance of being struck by a low-flying pig, right?

Not when you're on the Florida Trail and the people you meet are Trail People.

Consider this.  Normal people live in a three-dimensional world.  They might be found just about anywhere.  Not so for trail people.  They tend to live in one dimension - that long crooked line called 'The Trail'.  Rarely are they far from it, and when they gather, that's where they're likely to gather.

The town of Oviedo is a Florida Trail town.  And in Oviedo the Town House Restaurant is one of the most popular hiker stops.  The back patio of the Town House is on the trail.  It was a balmy sunny afternoon when, unknown to me, these five friends had arranged to have a late lunch at the Town House and had congregated in the patio after lunch ... just as I came walking by.

Five familiar faces in an unfamiliar place.  Wow!  The meeting place is an expected one -- a hiker gathering place.  Only the co-incidence of our timing defies the odds.  They might have lingered on the patio for fifteen minutes at most before heading home.  Needless to say that time got extended.  We had a wonderful half hour of conversation and exchanged photos.  What a memorable trail moment!

The part of the trail that Oviedo sits on is also part of the Cross Seminole Trail, so named because it crosses Seminole County roughly from NW to SE.  It's a paved bike trail which is an ambitious county project.  In places they have built spectacular footbridges over busy highways.

In places it leaves the urban blight and passes into the woods.

It crosses wetlands on dedicated bridges, some of which are old railroad trestles

And in yet other places it had created stark beauty from ordinary power line easements.

But the trail is not complete.  In other places it's more of a route than a trail.  It uses existing sidewalks and crosses some busy multi-lane roads at traffic lights.  It's a work in progress.

Alongside the trail I finally got the 'proof' that fall comes in spring here in central Florida.  The red maple (acer rubrum) grows as far north as Newfoundland and Manitoba, Canada.  There it produces brilliant displays of fall color as it loses its leaves in September or October.  Then the sap starts running in February and it flowers and produces winged seeds before leafing out in April.  Here in Florida it holds onto those leaves until it blooms.  Here's a close up of a branch in full fall color with blooming flowers at the same time.

In other news of the plant world, I passed landscaped backyards where what I recognize as house plants and purely tropical vegetation is growing unchecked.  Philodendrons were most common.  Landscapers use cut-leaf tree philodendrons liberally, and the variegated heart-leaf vines were running wild up the trees.

I even saw a banana clump bearing fruit.

Slightly off the trail I took the time to visit the site of 'The Senator' - the former biggest Bald Cypress, that was burned out by a drug-addict vandal in 2012.  There's still a big tree there in Big Tree Park - it's nearby Lady Liberty with a trunk ten feet across.

The Senator itself has been cloned and a young offshoot grows in the park playground area.

Oviedo is near the southern end of the Cross Seminole Trail.  From there southbound the Florida Trail heads into the whimsically named Little Big Econ State Forest (it's named for the two branches of the Econlockhatchee River, both of which pass through the Forest).  Conditions in Little Big Econ came up in the conversation behind the Town House Restaurant - and the news wasn't good.  More about that in my next report.

Here's the map of today's bike trail walk, with links to more photos.

The Cross Seminole Trail at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Florida

Seminole State Forest in the fog

Morning fog painted everything in fairy droplets

"Key West or Bust" - Day 108

The hike through Seminole State Forest would have been a delight under any conditions, but I'm glad I did it in a persistent morning fog.  For me fog has the enigmatic effect of increasing the focus on objects I pass.

It's because the backdrop is hidden.  All you see is the object.  Seminole State Forest has lots of low scrub.  It looks like nearly all of it was man-made from older growth Sand Pine that had been clear cut, or almost clear cut in the case of the photo above.   Undergrowth of scrub oak is then allowed to take over.  In slightly wetter places, which Seminole has, Saw Palmetto takes over as the ground cover.  Here's another fog-enhanced shot in that setting.

The forest managers were continuing to create more scrub habitat, presumably with the Scrub Jay in mind.  Here they had recently 'nuked' a huge field except for a narrow corridor for the trail.  A huge bulldozer had pushed over all the trees, and then they burned everything.  All the trees to the left of the trail had been pushed forward in the direction I was hiking.  To my right all the trees had been toppled to the ground pointing back the way I had come.  It looked like the shock wave from a nuclear explosion had ripped everything down.  Add the fog to this setting and it was one of the most bizarre settings I have ever hiked through.

Their efforts are working.  I *did* see a pair of Scrub Jays.  The photo below was taken with my low resolution GPS camera so the bird doesn't show up too well, but you can see its outline.

Returning to my theme about fog increasing focus on things not normally noticed.  Spiders make their living spinning traps of gossamer thread meant to be invisible to near-sighted insects.  As shown in the headline photo, fog droplets can blow the cover of even the daintiest web.  In this scene the fog has transformed all the bowl-and-doily spider webs from invisible traps to gaudy decorations:

By noon the fog finally did clear up and it became a bright sunny warm day.  I had passed out of the scrub zone by then.  I crossed the serene tropical Black Water Creek ...

... and then I walked along the side of the valley it cut through the deep sands of this area.  The steep sandy slopes always provide a tremendous diversity of plant life, especially where the slope faces northward, keeping the microclimate cool.  There I ran across a spectacular display of fall color in early February on a big old pignut hickory--a species that is at home much farther north.

I'm used to seeing this kind of display (minus the bromeliads) in late October where I grew up in Pennsylvania.  But I'm finally coming to understand that here in central Florida the trees delay their autumn leaf drop until they are ready to bud out with new spring leaves.  Many other mid-Atlantic deciduous species were doing the same thing.

I finished today's eighteen miles of hiking by beginning the walk on the paved Cross Seminole bike trail.  I passed one of its iconic sights--the 'paint the trail' wall, covered with panels that mostly featured pop icons and comic book heroes.

All of the art was very well done, and worth lingering to give it a close look.  The Cross Seminole Trail is yet another change of pace for the Florida Trail.  I love the diversity.  This is an urbanized area on the north and east side of the Orlando Metropolitan Area--an area that reminds me very much of the greater Los Angeles area.  Much more on this in tomorrow's report.

Here's a map of today's walk, including links to more photos.

Seminole State Forest at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Orlando, Florida