27 Miles in Citrus County

Some outdoor experiences are worthwhile not because of your enjoyment, but because of what they teach you.

My dad and I hiked a portion of the Withlacoochee State Forest Citrus Tract which totaled about 27 miles over two days. We started at Mutual Mine campground and camped at Jackson and then caught a loop back to Mutual Mine to finish.

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with hiking in Florida because I love hiking but enjoy it a little less in the heat and pine flats. I was also weary of going on this particular trip because I’ve been having some ankle problems due to a ligament strain, but we’re preparing to hike the High Sierra Trail and being outside is good for the soul.

Suffice it to say I was quite miserable and spent a lot time crying while I was walking. Hiking 27 miles in bad boots with a bum ankle isn’t the best life decision, I’ll admit.

Life is crazy in that the really hard things are often a way we learn valuable lessons though. Once I limped my way to our campsite we built a fire and made friends with two women on a backpacking trip and a couple who were self-proclaimed “white trash” according to the sticker on their truck parked where the trail crossed the road. Its easy to make quick decisions about people, and that was a mistake we made.

The women seemed aloof and anti-social while we assumed the couple was your typical rednecks. The problem here are the words “seemed” and “assumed.” Dad started a fire and we set up our backpacking chairs and slowly our campsite-mates joined us. The two women, who were just tired from a long day of hiking, shared stories about their jobs and other outdoor trips and listened to my stories of my outdoor semester. The couple shared their food and chairs and water with everyone along with facts about the plants in the forest they were trying to learn about in order to know more about the land. We had a lovely evening of getting to knowing each other and sharing s’mores over the warm fire. It was a good reminder in not making assumptions about people before knowing them.

I also relearned another lesson about myself. On my outdoor semester I was put in many situations that required resolve and mental fortitude. Some were very hard and made me want to give up. But time after time I chose not to give up. I didn’t realize how tenacious I was until someone pointed it out to me. That realization changed my whole perception of myself because it showed me the strength I had in me and a steely determination I could tap into.


On this hike I wanted to sit in the dirt, take my boots off, and give up. But more than that I wanted to finish what I started, plus have something more comfortable than the dirt to sit on. So with tears running down my face and many sounds of discomfort and frustration I walked those 27 miles. At one point my dad turned around and said, “I was listening to NPR,” which was a phrase spoken often on this trip, “and they were talking about a new thing people look for in their employees and leaders. That thing is grit.” He explained grit to me as strength and determination, and then told me I had grit. I smiled and rolled my eyes a little, at first writing it off as a cheesy encouragement to help make the hike better. But once we finished walking I pondered that a little more and remembered being applauded by other people for not giving up and being told that I’m quietly brave. The reminder made me smile for real.

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Post-hike happiness

Theres something about the outdoors that compels me to push myself. I’m not sure if its a desire to say “Look what I did!” or a want to prove something to myself or grow or just do cool things, or maybe all of the above. But I often find that being outside helps me be the best version of myself. I feel closer to the Lord, less distracted, and strong, plus it absolutely is a confidence boast to do cool things.

So, even though my feet are still a little sore, my ankle is more swollen, and the cartilage in my heels is a lil crunchy it was still worth it.

The hard things usually are.

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20 Miles on the Florida Trail

Citrus County Wildlife Management Area, Withlachocee State Forest, Taylor Campsite, 20 miles

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On one of the coldest weekends of the year my dad and I set out from Mutual Mine campsite in Withlacoochee State Forest to hike part of the Florida Trail.

For this trip I wore long sleeves, leggings, a wool cap, Darn Tough socks, and Vasque hiking boots. I packed my sleeping bag, my poncho liner (also known as a woobie), a vest, mid-weight layer, sleeping pad, mug, and a short sleeved shirt (juuuuust in-case it decided to warm up.) (It didn’t).

We hiked roughly 13 miles the first day to get to Taylor Campsite, a primitive site with plenty of space for many chilly hikers and a fire.

The day was cloudy and the landscape relatively flat, minus a few hills and the Lizzie Hart sink. Our pace was about three miles an hour and we stopped for a ten minute break at the top of each hour.

Once we arrived at our campsite we were greeted by two hikers who had already set up camp for the night and, thankfully, had a fire going. We set our Big Agnes tent up as fast as we could and then put our backpacking chairs up in front of the fire.

After some s’mores and long exposure pictures of the fire, hikers midnight (9pm) rolled around and the cold had gotten to us, so we climbed into our woobie lined sleeping bags for a brisk night in nature.

The next morning was beautiful because the sun was coming up, but convincing myself to climb out of my sleeping bag into the frosty air was a challenge. Nevertheless we packed up, had some oatmeal, said goodbye to our new friends and set off, hot tea in hand.

To finish off our loop we walked about seven miles, at a slower pace because we were out of hiking shape and my hiking boots betrayed me by accosting my feet with blisters.

The sun warmed us some even though the air was still chilly, but it made for a gorgeous hiking day.

All told we were back to the car around 11am and home in time for the Steelers game.

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Up North

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI

20-22 August//

For two nights and three days my best friend and I embraced a time honored Midwestern tradition: going “up north” to the lake. She told me the thing to do in Michigan in the summer is head up to your cottage in the north and hit the lake, so thats what we did!-with the slight modification of camping rather than staying in a cottage.

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Hittin’ the road and headin’ Up North

We camped in Empire, MI at a campsite equipped with RV and camper sites and primitive tent sites. We stayed at a primitive site with a tent, picnic table, fire ring, and plenty of woods space; it was fairly closed off from the rest of the campers and altogether quite lovely. Because we were car camping we packed a cooler of s’mores fixings, sandwich stuff, snacks of fruit and granola bars and Cheez-itz, and eggs and bacon because we had glorious plans of cooking on our fire-

which ended up being almost nonexistent other than a few flames big enough to make a s’more apiece each night. For all our fire starting techniques, FaceTime calls to wilderness semester friends, and tinder collecting we were unable to get a good fire going (I know I know, I was shocked and ashamed too).

On our first night we meandered around the town of Empire where we had dinner, visited some touristy shops, and caught a glimpse of the sunset at Lake Michigan.

On our second day we kayaked on Lake Fischer in Empire and later ended up at an eclipse viewing party put on by the National Parks Service. We were given glasses and had a wide open field to view the eclipse from. Our location was at about 75%, and it was one of the most interesting things I’d ever seen.

Following the eclipse we visited the sand dunes, which were essentially mountains made of sand. Let me tell you, it was no joke hiking up a steep giant sand pile in the hot sun. Though sand hiking wasn’t my favorite outdoor activity, the dunes were really fascinating. Running down them was the best part!

Because Sleeping Bear is a national park Kendall and I were able to become junior rangers, which is available for park visitors ages 1-110. I would recommend the junior ranger program to anyone visiting a national park; we had to fill out a booklet and bring it back to the ranger station where we were “sworn in” and received a patch and badge. It was a fun way to learn more about the sand dunes, plus-free souvenirs!

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Junior Ranger certificates & souvenirs

Following our dunes experience we went swimming on Lake Michigan. As a girl who has lived in Florida for a while now it was weird to be in a body of water and not be worried about alligators, sharks, snakes, or anything else that could eat me. Following our freshwater dip we got some ice cream and proceeded to fail once again at fire building.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend of new experiences with old friends. Summertime in Michigan did not disappoint!

 

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