Date- January 22, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 56 feet
Distance Traveled Today- 11.4 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 239.3 miles
Weather/Temp- partly cloudy, windy, 70s
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- Domestic farm animals
Days without shower- 6
Days without laundry- 6
CatFox Status- Happy Camper
Food Eaten – Tacos, chicken tenders, swamp fries, steak sandwich
Today was a bit of a relaxed day. We got a normal start and had a more or less leisurely 9 mile hike into a massive dude ranch called Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo. The trail skirted through a portion of it during a paved road walk, so it wasn’t out of the way at all.
We didn’t really know what to expect, but what we got was a hell of a lot more than what I think either of us imagined. Before we could get there, we would have to walk several miles of seriously damaged trail.
The damage the hogs do out here is truly a sight to behold. A herd of them will move through a section of forest rooting up the earth and trail in a fashion that would make a tractor tiller jealous. In some cases they’ll root out areas nearly two feet deep, with no limit to the size and scope of the area. Usually no more than a few tens of square yards, but sometimes much larger.
We’ve seen some sections of trail and fence line where it appears the pigs just plotted a tight course and kept on rooting only on the trail, or only along the fence line. I bet it’s quite a sight to watch them work, but unfortunately they spook pretty easy. Hunting them is big business around here, and we’ve run into dozens of hunters on foot, in tree stands, on ATVs, on air boats, and with dogs – all looking for their piece of the hog pie.
Since they are an invasive species, the restrictions on them are pretty loose. They do have a hunting season on public land, but there are no limits or seasons on private land. I’ve hunted hogs with friends before in the central panhandle of Florida with Spears, AR 15s, AK-47s, pistols, and bows – filling my freezer with over 90 lbs of assorted sausages. They are an excellent source of easily procured, large quantities of meat – but I would recommend having them professionally processed. They are very lean, especially for sausage, so a professional processor will add domestic pork or beef fat to your links and sausages for a much needed flavor boost. And that’s my 2 cents on hogs in Florida.
We arrived at River Ranch around noon. I was taken aback at the size, scale, and attitude of the place. I’ve been to a lot of ranches by now, but this was more of an amusement park. It was like the Disney Land of ranches.
There were animals in corrals everywhere – bulls, long horn cattle, horses, miniature ponies, miniature donkeys (or mules), goats, and emus. I’m sure there were more varieties, but we didn’t explore everything. There were giant colorful teepees with AC units mounted on the outside. We saw glamping locations, camping locations, a post office, fitness center, saloon, restaurant, general store and a deli. There were condominium style rooms, skeet, air boat rides, swamp buggy rides, a small harbor on a canal, miniature golf, obstacle courses, animal rides, and a rodeo arena. Again, there was much more, but we didn’t explore much past the general store and restaurant.
The food was pricey and nothing to write home about, but it wasn’t backpack food – and that’s what counts.
We hung out for about 5 hours, charging our battery packs, eating intermittently, and hanging out with the four other hikers here – Sunset, Songbird, Mark, and Tammie.
These were the older retired folks we met on the Seminole Reservation, and we had been camping and hiking around them for the last 3 days and nights.
I’ll admit, I’ve never spent this much time hiking and camping around individuals so much older than myself. I guess in the past it’s always been tough to find enough common ground to carry on with a group that has such a generational gap. I’ve found no such difficulty with this group – they are a riot! And I must admit… far more lively and energetic than I am at almost 30 years old. In fact, they’re average hiking pace is faster than mine and Schweppes.
Sunset is a man in his 70s from South Carolina who is a double triple crowner! This means he has hiked the AT, the PCT, and the CDT two times each. In fact, he has done the AT three times, and this is his second thru hike of the Florida Trail. To add to his impressive resume – at 70 something years old, he only started amassing all of these hikes within the last 20 years! I can only pray I’m still hiking half as much as he is when I eclipse 50, 60, and 70 years old. He is an inspiration to young and old alike.
Aside from his accomplishments, Sunset is quite the character – my favorite type of character. He has a saying, an expression, or a kernel of advice or knowledge for literally ANYTHING. But that’s not the best part. The best part is that it’s usually rooted in old southern charm or logic from a bygone time. Outdated and perhaps not very “PC” in some cases, but always with a grain of truth and a heavy layer of humor. I could probably go on for days about the things Sunset says, as well as the aura he radiates, but it wouldn’t do him any justice in the context of this blog. Sunset is a dish best served in person – or with an entire chapter of a book devoted to him.
Songbird is an extremely fit and energetic woman who runs marathons. I’m not sure how old she is, and I hesitate to speculate, but I would say 50s for sure, possibly 60s. What sets her apart, though… is that she can run, hike, and talk circles around any teenager or 20-something individual I know.
Mark and Tammie are a married couple in their late 40s or early 50s from California who own, live on, and run a farm on several thousand acres near Humboldt County. The two of them are among the nicest people I have ever met. Every time we see them, it’s always, “How are you doing? Do you need anything? Can we do anything for you?” They are always thinking of others, and whenever we get to camp, or are about to leave – they are offering to share water, food, and good conversation. They are truly a pleasure to share trail and time with. They have hiked more than a thousand miles of the PCT, but this hike is their first attempt at a full thru hike. I hope they make it to the end and are nearby when (not if) me, Schweppes, and Katana finish.
Sunset and Songbird hiked on early in the afternoon. Mark and Tammie stayed and got a room. Schweppes, the Little Dog, and myself hiked out a little after 5pm. We only went a little less than 2 miles before stopping at the first viable spot we could find after getting off the road.
We’ve got some special plans to attend a Florida Trail hiker get-together this weekend called “Billy Goat Days.” It’s supposed to be like “Trail Days” in Damascus on the AT, but on a much smaller scale. Our plan is to hike over 25 miles and get picked up by my sister. Take Thursday to clean off and resupply. Go to Billy Goat Days on Friday and Saturday. Then get back to trail on Sunday and keep chipping away at this hike.
It’s supposed to get into the 80s again tomorrow, so we’ll see how the bigger miles pan out…