Date- February 7, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 33 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 18.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 446.4 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 80s
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- feeling strong
Wildlife encounters- birds
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 2
CatFox Status- Amazing
Today was HOT. Hotter than it’s been in a while, with high humidity and no breeze all day.
We got a slow start. Schweppes was having major allergy problems and didn’t want to start hiking until his medicine kicked in. Understandable, and as a result we didn’t get hiking until almost 9 am.
The entire day was surprisingly nothing but hills – the most I’ve seen on this entire journey. It was gentle ups and downs for most of the day. It was a great change of pace and stride, but it could have come on a cooler day! All told, I probably lost 2 gallons of sweat. Luckily, I was on top of my hydration and there was plenty of water around the trail.
It would seem we’ve left behind the palm and oak hammocks for now and entered the land of pine and scrub. If the AT is the green tunnel, we’ve found the scrub tunnel here on the FT. At times the scrub oaks and other vegetation form almost a perfect tunneled canopy overhead. During the hours surrounding midday, those tunnels are the only source of complete shade on the trail. The slender pines and other scrub offer almost nothing in terms of overhead protection except in the earlier morning and late afternoon.
By 2pm we’d hiked 12 miles to Juniper Springs where we relaxed for an hour and a half and had a few cold Gatorades. I even ran into the Rickerts, a husband/wife couple who have been following Katana and I since our first thru hike on the AT. Small world!
The ladies at the entry gate told me I could take Katana down towards the spring, but couldn’t take her past the bathrooms. The bathrooms were where the drink machines were, so that was perfect.
Schweppes found a very small tick attached to his thigh and got weirded out about Lyme disease. He’s been joking all day now about how his days are numbered, he’ll be on his death bed soon, and that I need to respect the wishes of a dying man and hike in front so that I eat all the spider webs across the trail. Just normal Schweppes stuff.
Speaking of ticks… they’re out here. I’ve had two attach to me so far (on my elbow and calf), and I’ve caught about a half dozen crawlers before they attach. I’ve pulled three off Katana so far, and caught around a dozen crawlers on her during breaks when she wanders around. Thankfully, Lyme disease isn’t as prevalent here in Florida. About 40 cases here per 4,000 cases in the more north-easterly states. Still… it’s always in the back of your mind, and we do tick checks throughout the day.
On the subject of spiders, this trail is infested with them. Since there is virtually no one hiking out here, we’re knocking down spider webs with our faces and bodies all day long. No exaggeration. Most of the time you never get (or notice) the spider on you – but every so often you feel those legs on your arms or in your hair. They’re all harmless, and we just grab at the spot where they’re traipsing around and throw them into the forest. All part of the game.
Katana did amazing today and clocked in over two consecutive miles hiking in front of us, and between Schweppes and I. She ran a fairly long stint leading us down some narrow trail without missing so much as a beat.
When we approach logs in the trail, I slow down and first tell her “careful” – and then tell her, “step.” The first command lets her know there is an obstacle she’s in danger of bumping into or nearby. The second command lets her know that it will require a step up or down (or both – in the case of a log). She handles it incredibly well!
I could gush all day over how happy it makes me and how proud I am of her. When she first started losing the last of her sight, she was timid and cautious about everything. I worried greatly about her and tried to work with her as much as possible. Working with her helped, but I could only do so much on a daily basis.
Taking her on the Florida Trail as a recently blind dog was a calculated risk. Call it… immersion therapy. As a former athletic trainer, I am no stranger to initiating “SAID” (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) on myself, or my past clients. The body will adapt to whatever you throw at it. You simply have to know what to throw, how much of it, and how often.
In the case of Katana, in order for her to be as successful at being blind as possible – she needed to “live” her blindness. In order to explore and reach her full potential, she needed to be worked with full time, and in constantly changing and evolving environments/landscapes.
Sure, she could memorize the layout of a house and live out the rest of her days in familiar comfort… but then she would only be great at navigating one place. Our life style does not call for that. I need, and she needs to be good at navigating ANY place. And for that, she requires confidence and experience on a level that we could never have achieved working only a few hours a day, or a few days a week back home. We both needed to live it, 24/7. And there was no better opportunity than doing another thru hike together on a trail that would allow me the maximum flexibility to work with her.
Taking a rather recently blind dog on a thru hike to learn how to navigate their dark world is akin to throwing a child who can’t swim in the deep end of a pool (or the ocean). They’re either going to sink or swim. Raise the stakes as high as you can, while still being in relative control of the situation – and people/animals will amaze you with what they can do.
When I brought Katana out here, it was either to sink or swim. The only catch being… I wasn’t going to let her sink. We’d been eating and sleeping her blindness for months, but once out here, we’d be breathing it as well. The breathing is where the magic happens. It’s where the greatest devotion is required, and where the greatest changes and adaptations occur – in anything. Professional and Olympic athletes didn’t get where they are by being dabbling dilettantes. They got there by eating, sleeping, and breathing the things they’re passionate about. This goes for anything in life, not just sports or physical activities.
This may surprise you (or not, hah), but I don’t consider myself that good of a writer. I believe I’ve found a voice that resonates with people, but I do not consider myself a seasoned writer – and I certainly could know more about the finer points and mechanics of the written English language. But yet, I’ve written several books that many people have enjoyed. I didn’t write them or get to this point by accident. Well, it might have been a long shot with considerable luck and timing to get to where I am, but it certainly didn’t happen due to a lack of effort. When I hike, I write these detailed journals Every… Single… Night – for hundreds of nights, no matter how tired I am. I devote myself to the task of writing and recording my thoughts and experiences. And then after the hike… I devote myself to writing with the intention of streamlining all of these journal entries into a personable and coherent story of my thoughts and experiences. I then write Every… Single… Day – until I have a book before me. I eat, sleep, and breathe that which I want to attain and/or be good at. And low and behold – it has paid off in ways that are far more valuable, fulfilling, and meaningful than monetary gains.
I’m simply using my writing as an alternate example to how I’ve applied this “immersion” technique into my life, as well as how you could apply it to anything in your life. Like a thru hike, or writing a book, or training a blind dog – the task and the obstacles related to it can seem virtually insurmountable at times. And, of course it’s easier to give up and quit rather than see it through to the end. But, if you’ll simply realize that if you never give up or quit on something… then the only other alternative is to succeed at it (or die of something; possibly old age in the process).
Anyway, I’m rambling. My point is to follow through on the things you want. Throw yourself into them 110%. Eat, sleep, and breathe it as part of your life… and the things you want, or want to see happen – will be yours. No cliches. No BS. Just aim at what you want… and then fire with all you got.
We hiked another 7 miles past Juniper, about 1.5 of it in the dark. There have been many warnings about increased bear activity in this area. Lots of reports of aggressive bears stealing people’s food out of their tents. We’re camped about a mile from the pond with the highest reported bear activity, so we’ll see if we get through the night UN-harassed. Personally, I think we’re overdue for a bear encounter on this trail.