Wekiwa Springs

Taking a break from my wilderness semester blogging to catch ya’ll up on a more recent excursion!

From 12 May to 13 May my dad and I camped at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which is in the Orlando area. The park boosts paddling on Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run, camp sites ranging from RV hook ups, tent sites with water and electricity available, to primitive sites that can only be accessed by canoe or kayak, an educational nature center, hiking and horse trails, and a spring-fed swimming hole.

My dad and I arrived around 5pm, set up our hammocks at our campsite, and went for a swim in the spring water. The water was crystal clear and 72 degrees, which is where it stays year round. Because this park is so popular a small beach has been built around the water and there are steps that can be used to enter the water in order to make it more user friendly.

Our campsite was very populated with tents as well as campers and RVs, there was even one refurbished school bus. Every campsite had been reserved for the weekend so we had may neighbors.

For dinner we had Good to Go meals, which are dehydrated meals you add boiling water to and then eat! Not quite as satisfying as cooking over a camp stove, but definitely better than an MRE. After some chitchatting around a would be fire if not for a state-wide fire ban we each climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed.

For breakfast we had tea and coffee courtesy of an MSR pocket rocket and oatmeal, which I made bearable with a handful of craisins and some Nutella.

Wekiwa struck me as a very family friendly and easily accessible place to camp and hike. People of all outdoors skill levels and interests could find something to do here. I cannot speak for the primitive sites, but the sites with water access and electricity hookup were perfect for someone looking for an easy car camping trip.

Though being very populated and therefore noisy with much artificial light it was a nice place to sleep outside for a short, quickly planned one night camping trip. However, for someone looking for a more authentic wilderness camping experience I would recommend a less popular camping area or checking out a primitive site.

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Underwater selfie game strong

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OLDS: Backpacking

Ah, our first wilderness section! To introduce us to wilderness living we spent two weeks backpacking the mountains of North Carolina. On these two weeks we learned the basic skills of camp set up and tear down, backcountry cooking, packing our pack, avoiding our food (and ourselves) being eaten by bears, water filtration, and how to do almost nothing but walk everyday (this one isn’t always a basic backcountry skill, but we still learned it).

For our first day we got dropped off on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway in a foggy drizzle. After praying and lugging our huge packs onto our backs we took off for our first half mile hike.

I admit I was nervous in the beginning; it was rainy and my pack was heavy and I felt that I could have been a little more in shape than I was, but nevertheless that first little hike set off one of the grandest adventures of my life.

I’ll spare you all the tiny and tedious details and just hit some of the highlights:

We played this game called Lowest Card and on that very first day while sitting in megatent to hide from the rain I drew the lowest card and ended up having to be the Leader of the Day (LOD) on the first day the students were in charge. Being LOD meant that you set the pace (I walked so much faster than I thought I could), were in charge of making sure everyone was ok, and decided when to take breaks. Though it was daunting to go first, I did better than I thought I would.

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“Ok guys because I’m LOD today we’re going to take a selfie now”

On the fourth morning the girls and guys split, beginning a time of great bonding and the opportunity to swim in the creeks at our campsites (praise God).

On day five we had lunch at a place called Devil’s Courthouse. The view was unreal. Here we encountered a good number of people, basically all of whom wanted to know why our backpacks were so large. One guy even offered to bring us a pizza, thought he unfortunately didn’t come through on it.

 

My second favorite campsite was a place called Shining Rock. It was this huge granite rock that we sat on to watch the sunset. No one else was with us so we felt like we had the whole world to ourselves as the sun dipped behind the mountains.

Our next campsite was my absolute favorite. It was a little ways off the trail and to get to it you had to walk down a pathway that was almost like a tunnel because of how the trees grew up over it. We also had a creek to rinse off in and plenty of rocks to sunbathe on. It was so secluded and felt like paradise. On day eight, still at this campsite, we had a zero day (meaning we didn’t hike at all.) We got to sleep in, make muffins for breakfast, and didn’t have to pack up camp. Unfortunately, while one of our instructors was washing our dishes with camp soap and boiling water she spilled the water on her foot and suffered 2-3rd degree burns. We had to go into full on WFR mood and treat her.
It was wild day between helping Maurie and her foot, getting our supplies restocked, having so much free time, and needing two new instructors (the one who hurt her foot had to be evaced and the other one was only going to be with us for a week from the start.)

A part of hiking culture is this thing called a trail name. A trail name is a nickname you get out in the wilderness. Generally it corresponds to a quirk or habit you have, an incident you’re involved in, or something notable of that sort. Coming up with trail names for all the girls was one of my favorite parts of backpacking. We drew mostly on personality quirks and habits, but mine ended up coming from multiple incidents. After much debate I was dubbed Sting Ray, due to the large number of bees that singled me out as a target. Later it ended up becoming Mama Rae, but we can talk about that later.

The following day, day nine, was insane. It was our longest day; I was LOD again, we hiked straight uphill for the first portion, and then were poured on until the end. The trail was very dense and confusing because everything looked like it could have been a trail, but also looked like it was just straight forest. We got off track many times. The rain made us cold and got into our boots and I was positive my whole pack was soaked from the inside out (thankfully the trash bag I used to line it and my pack cover worked). We ended up having to hike four more miles than we originally intended to because our campsite was in the middle of a big open field-not exactly ideal when theres lightning around. We hiked through trails that were under water, and ended up having to climb into the trees on the side of the path and sit on our packs because of the lightning. Towards the end of the hike we were all cold and tired and slightly hypothermic. When we came upon our campsite I think all of us at least thought at crying; we were done walking, we could put on dry clothes, and this particular campsite had a bathroom and toilet paper (hallelujah.)

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I was trying really hard to be as enthusiastic as everyone else 

Day ten was glorious. We had another zero day so we slept in, sat in the sun, and shared our testimonies.

For the last four days we were back with the guys. It was a time of a large group meal, sharing our stories from when we were separated, playing cards, bartering for more Nutella, being back together around the campfire for teachings, and of course walking. (On the last night six of the seven girls slept in our four person tent, which was bottomless, and since I always slept on the end I ended up rolling/being rolled outside of the tent and woke up with the trees as my view; needless to say I experienced quite a bit of disorientation that night.)

On our last day we got a little lost coming out, but we finally made it! 14 days of straight wilderness living and approximately 60 miles of hiking. We got lots and lots of pizza as our reward. I took the best shower I’ve ever had the night we got back.

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The whole group

Backpacking was incredible because theres no other way to experience community like what we had for those two weeks (which set the foundation for the rest of the semester.) All we did was walk and hang out,; all we could do for entertainment was talk and play cards. We cooked together, walked together, set up and teared down camp together, and slept next to each other every night. We spent almost every evening under the stars around the campfire discussing Jesus. All we had was each other, and we needed each other because this type of thing isn’t easy. It was truly incredible to me how much we bonded in such a short span of time. And like I said earlier, this was just the beginning.

Our teachings on backpacking covered Ephesians 1:15-2:22. We discussed how Christ completes us and gives us all the knowledge we need (Eph 1:19-23.) In Him we lack nothing and can have everything, for He is fullness. Ephesians 2:1-10 was my favorite section of scripture we studied on backpacking. Some things I wrote in my journal were,
“We weren’t just dirty, we were dead and he brought us back to life (Eph 2:1-6).”
“The hero died for the villain (which is us),” and “We were spiritually dead so we couldn’t move towards Christ.”
The realization that not only did our sin make us unclean, but also dead was heavy. Christ didn’t just wash us- He raised us to life.

 

 

Summer Camping

Camping in the summer? In Florida?

Definitely as crazy as it sounds, yup.

Although not terrible 🙂

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27-28 May 2016
Withlacoochee State Forest, primitive campsite

My dad and I packed everything up on Friday and walked 4 miles into our campsite from the state forest parking lot.

We stayed at a primitive campsite, meaning there was no water source or close neighboring sites. We had a picnic table, fire pit, plenty of space for a tent, and almost perfect hammocking trees.

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After setting up camp we hiked over to the river (Withlacoochee River) in order to cool off. The river had a nice sandy shore and down a little from where we were a rope swing hung above the water. The water was murky and had an orange tint from the trees. Lots of bubbles attached to unseen river life appeared on the surface mysteriously.

 

After swimming we came back to camp and had a dinner of MREs and a fire building lesson. After hanging out for a bit we went to bed. It was terribly hot, almost too hot to sleep, but our insomnia was awarded with the nostalgic sight of fireflies lighting up the night sky.

On Saturday we hiked a ten mile loop off of our campsite. Hiking in Florida in the summertime is not necessarily something I say I recommend. The heat was almost unbearable, making the hike a lot less pleasant than it could have been. I also got a number of blisters from my hiking boots…not the best day spent on the trail.  Following another lunch of MREs and some more hanging out in our hammocks (ha ha, get it?) we packed up camp and headed home.

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2o-21 August 2016
Withlacooche State Forest, Crooked River campgrounds, site 63

For this camping trip we opted to stay in one of the tent only campgrounds, meaning each campsite was marked off with a number and came equipped with a potable water source, a place to park your car, a picnic table, a firepit with a removable grate, bathhouse access, and the potential for neighbors.

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On Friday afternoon we set up our tent and hammocks, but this time we had bugs nets for our hammocks as well. We hiked a trail right along the river, but I am unsure of the mileage. The trail was very canopied and the sky was a little cloudy and it was almost evening time, so the weather felt very pleasant.

After finishing the hike we attempted to build a fire. We started out with a cottonswab soaked in vaseline (it works, I swear), tinder, and twigs. Following that we added more twigs and then bigger pieces of wood, stoking the coals and flames along the way. All things considered, it should have been a great fire, but all the rain we’ve been getting had made everything damp so the flames never quite caught the bigger pieces of wood. We worked at the fire for almost an hour, adding lint, steel wool, more wood, trail maps, several more matches, and even toilet paper, but it never become a solid, roaring fire. However, we did manage to get enough flames to make a few s’mores and thats really what matters most.

After s’mores we had an MRE dinner and then played a couple hands of a card game called Spit that I learned at summer camp from some campers. Around nine we climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed (the tent was set up incase it started to rain at night). After about an hour of reading Harry Potter with my headlamp I went to bed. In my hammock (ENO double nest) I had a small inflatable backpacking pillow and a woobie, which is a poncho liner that is standard issue in the army. Essentially, its a poncho liner that can also be a blanket, rain tarp, insulator, something to sleep on top off, etc. Its thin and light but also warm and rain resistant. 10/10 would recommend getting one off Amazon.

I slept very well in my hammock. The air was cool so I wasn’t hot, the wind was minimal, and it didn’t end up raining after all. The moon was so bright it practically lit up the whole sky.

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The next morning after an MRE breakfast and coffee and tea courtesy of a small portable camp stove we packed up camp and drove to our next hike location. We hiked a short 2 miles in another part of the Withlacooche. The heat and bugs were killer, so we hiked short and then drove on the dirt roads cutting through the woods before going home.

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Camping in Florida in summer might be slightly insane, but, despite heat and bugs, not summer is complete without a camping trip.

 

Payne’s Prairie State Preserve, FL

24 October 2015

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Payne’s Prairie State Preserve is a state preserve north of Ocala and ten miles south of Gainesville. In 1971 it became the first state preserve, and in 1974 was designated as a National Natural Landmark.
The Preserve provides trails that cater to bicyclists, equestrians, and hikers. There is also a campground and boat ramp available for use (Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Recreation and Parks).

If you want a piece of real Florida, outside of beaches and tourism, check it out!

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For my fall break weekend my parents and I walked 4-5 miles through the Preserve; under oak and pine trees, through sand, down in swamps, through swarms of mosquitoes (bring your bug spray and LAY IT ON), and even to the top of an observation tower.

Several ecosystems were represented- in some places the brush was very thick, the grass very high, and the trees very tall. However, much of the Preserve has a worn down trail to walk on, it goes through the trees as well as under the open sky. The type of landscape partakers can find their selves under varies by the trail they are on. I walked the Chacala. At one point on the trail we came across a fireplace and chimney from an old homestead, the walls of the house long gone, leaving only the foundation.

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The trail we walked

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The old homestead house

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Swampy

The observation tower overlooks the prairie basin, where today we were able to see a herd of about 15-20 bison, all female, and 6-7 wild horses (direct descendants of the Spanish horses first brought to Florida).

This was seriously the coolest thing. The bison looked like big brown boulders from the observation tower. Through a spotting scope provided by a park ranger we were able to see them at an up close view.  They were really wooly and shaggy, with big black horns. We also saw some of them running, or frolicking as my mom said, through the Prairie. I was not able to see the horses up close, but we did see the herd make its way across the Prairie.

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The prairie basin

The weather for our hike was absolutely beautiful. The sun was a little warm when there was no tree cover, but in the shade it was very pleasant, with a slight breeze. The sky was also a miraculous shade of blue, with fluffy white clouds decorating it. My only complaint was the bugs; the mosquitoes were out and biting with vengeance.

We had planned to hammock and make some coffee and tea (mint for me) with my dad’s portable stove, but the bugs were so bad that we had to keep moving. We ended up stumbling upon a geocache, which we signed and left a friendship bracelet in. I also made friends with a rhino beetle who was chilling in the geocache container. I had fun snapping photos and hanging out with my parents, despite the bugs and wrench in our plans.

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My new rhino beetle friend and the tree the geocache was in

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Overall, I would definitely go back! I mean, where else do you get to see wild bison in Florida?? It’s also hard not to enjoy mostly shady trails and easy to navigate paths. Plus, if you’re on the right trail you could see some alligators.

Just remember your bug spray, really seriously remember the bug spray.

-Rachel (northeast, FL)

See Your Sky

I’m a 19 year old girl who loves the outdoors and wants to encourage you to do the same.

Get outside. Adventure. Breathe in some fresh air. Callus your hands. Sweat. Bask in the sun.

See your sky.

Armed with a notebook and pen, a camera, and a strong sense of adventure I aim to do the same.

I invite you to join me on my adventures through this blog, the big ones and the small ones.

-Rachel (home, FL)

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