...no, I'm not talking about taking your hard earned money and investing it in something like a automotive rims store..
I'm talking about going hiking..
Nothing truly unusual about that decision. Within a short drive from our camp ground is the Ralph E. Simmons National Forest. After running some errands that took up most of the morning, we headed out for the trail head. Turning off the main road, we headed down a rather sketchy dirt road for a mile or two and arrived at a vacant field that we figured/hoped was the parking lot for the trail head. It was around 1:00pm, which gave us plenty of time to hike the 1.5 mile loop.
Consulting the information board at the gate, we discovered that not only were we at the wrong entrance, but hunting season had just ended three days earlier (we hoped the hunters in these parts can read!!). We tried to contact Park Services by calling three different numbers but only received an automated response at each. This trail (White Tail Trail) was a 6.5 mile loop.
And then we uttered what probably has been the last words of every well-intentioned action that turned out badly: "How hard can it be?"
We grabbed our back-pack and off we went like Hansel and Gretel . It started out as a pleasant hike along a well marked, wide trail through tall pine trees and fields of palmetto palms.
Our first stop was a camp site by the St. Mary's River the middle of which is the Florida-Georgia line. We stopped for lunch, explored the area a bit, cleaned up and then headed back to the main trail.
About a hour later we were startled by the sound of distant gun shots.. We stopped to listen but they seemed pretty far off and not moving in our direction. Clad in my khaki shorts and t-shirt, I decided to keep Lorraine (dressed in a bright pink t-shirt) close by for (my) safety.
It was also about this time that the trail turned ugly. As we paralleled the St. Mary's River, it became obvious that the river had overflowed its banks evidenced by the soft ground and downed trees.. many of which had fallen across the trail. This hike suddenly started to feel like an episode of American Ninja as we climbed over tree trunks and hurdled fallen limbs. The soft mud also displayed the footprints of all sorts of forest animals many of which had sharp claws at the end of each toe! Much like this one:
I also forgot to mention --as we hiked through knee high grass-- the warning sign we saw earlier about the possibility of venomous snakes along the trail..
As the sun began to slip behind the tree-tops and the shadows grew longer, we reached a two mile section of the trail where I feel the Park Service got lazy and just dropped the trail blazes from a helicopter, because these triangled suckers were (seemingly) placed randomly on trees and along the ground! We seemed to be walking in circles.
And then we came across this prehistoric looking Armadilla who's features are just as weird as its name. We watched it for a bit as it rooted about looking for food (at least we think that what it was doing). It sized us up, snorted and went about its business.
Although tired, scraped up, a little shaken, and convinced we have been bitten by disease carrying deer-ticks many times, we made it back to our BELOVED truck just as the sun set below the horizon.
1) Always let someone know where you are going (we didn't)
2) Leave yourself plenty of time to finish the hike before sunset, taking into account the trail may not be as hospitable as hoped (we didn't)
3) Wear long pants (we didn't)
4) Be prepared for emergencies (although we did have a flashlight and water in our backpack, if we had to spend the night in the woods, we weren't prepared for cold weather)
5) Make sure you don't hike during hunting season!