Day 1: Fri. (Dec. 8, 2017) – ~19 miles to Stealth Camp Past Farles Lake
My beardedself, Chad Poindexter of Stick’s Blog and his son Matthew, Craig Smith and Ben Smith of Goosefeet Gear road down in Craig’s vehicle together the night before our hike. We stopped in Lake City and got a bite to eat then headed on down to Gainesville (Go Gators). We were supposed to camp near the trailhead at Rodman Dam. But since it was raining so hard, we all decided to stay at a Quality Inn for the night.
The next morning we stopped at a McDonald’s for a very early breakfast( 4:30 am). Then we drove an hour and 10 minutes to meet up with Will Wood of Following Red Beard, Matt Favero, Stephanie Hare, Drew and Triston from Zpacks and Steve Kiaser at the trailhead at Rodman Dam. The plan was to shuttle down to Clearwater Lake to begin our Florida Trail section hike. We planned to hike NOBO 70+ miles in 4 days.
We hit the trail around 7:30 with cloudy skies and rain in the forecast. There was a cold front that was scheduled to push through the next couple days that would bring near freezing temps to the central Florida area.
By 1:pm it was sunny and 80 degrees. And to make it worse, the water sources were less than desirable. Yes, I did filter……. But I rationed my water till we made it to our destination (19 miles later) for the night where there was a manual well pump. And man did we take full advantage of that.
After cameling up and topping off ALL of our water bottles we had dinner and set up camp near by next to a lake. Our campsite looked like a Zpacks tent city. Haha. Nearly every model was on display….
As day turned into night we all settled into our tents and hammocks and prepared to greet the rain and storm which was just on the horizon. As the wind slowly ushered the storm in, we enjoyed the breeze and prepared for what was to come.
Day 2: Sat. (Dec. 9, 2017) – 15 Miles to a Hidden Pond
The next morning I woke to a very wet and cold surprise. I had a small puddle of water in my tent and it was in the low 50s or upper 40s. The wind from the cold front had blown in rain through on of my doors that I left open. It got my sleeping pad and sleeping bag wet. I hung them up to dry once we made it to camp later. We were on the trail by 8:am as Matt and #mybeardedself hiked together for a couple of hours.
We took our first break when nearly everyone caught up with us. When we made it to Juniper Springs we took lunch at the campground store. I bought a sausage, egg & cheese biscuit and a chicken sandwich which I heated up in the microwave. The warm meal tasted absolutely delicious. I also bought a Gatorade, chips and an ice cream. The temps didn’t get much warmer during the day so the ice cream made me just a little cooler.
Joe, the owner of Zpacks joined us at Juniper Springs and continued our NOBO hike with us. At least for the rest of the day.
At 3:pm we made it to our campsite at Hidden Pond. It was a short 15 mile day. It was definitely a beautiful campsite surrounded by several little ponds and one big pond. And as the sun set, it got even more beautiful. All I can say is wow!
Once the sun went down over the horizon so did the temps. It was time for everyone to pull out the down jackets and the BlackRock down beanies. The temps dropped to near freezing that night.
Day 3: Sun. (Dec. 10, 2017) – 20 Miles to Stealth Camp begins the 88 Store
The day began with everyone waking up in “Zpacks City” around 6:am and we were on trail by 7:am. We all woke up to a frosty central Florida. The temps were around 32° as we noticed a layer of frost on everything. A few of us were all wearing our Goosefeet down jackets and BlackRock down beanies.
Me and Matt paired up and left camp at the same time. We pretty much hiked together rest of the day. We walked through many different eco systems. It seemed like every road crossing was a different eco system.
But at one point Matt and mybeardedself took a wrong turn and hiked 1.5 miles down a sandy road. Matt flagged down a local hunter driving by who gave us a ride to the campground we were trying to go to. That’s where we waited on the others to show up to get water, but only Will and Stephanie came over to the campground for water. The others had already passed it up. So Matt and I got back on trail and started catching up to as many as we could.
We ended up catching up with Steve, Drew and Triston. Then we took about an hour break at Salt Springs Trail Intersection.
From there we were 7 miles from Store 88 (according to a handwriting on the trailsign) where we were going to camp. 2.25 hours later we were at the store. We made it just 15 minutes behind Ben, Craig, Chad and Matthew.
There we called in a pizza and had a few beers. It was more of a roadside bar than anything. But the people were friendly and welcomed us smelly hikers to hang out.
Afterwards we set up camp behind the store down along the trail and prepared our bearded selves for our last day on trail. We were all tired and our bellies were full. These were days hikers dream about.
Day 4: Mon. (Dec. 11, 2017) – ~15 Miles to Rodman Dam
It was the last day and most of us were ready to hit the trail by 7:am. We had 15 miles to get back to the truck and the end of our 70 mile section hike. So a few of us got going while the others broke down their tents and loaded up.
It was a nice and cool (so cold my fingers were numb) start to our day. The sun was up with clear skies. But the temps were slow to warming up as were my fingers.
It was a great section of trail, But the section closest to Rodman Dam was incredible. Huge live oak trees with so much spanish moss hanging in them they looked like curtains. It was absolutely breathetaking.
Once we made it through this section I looked up and we were at the trailhead. Done! I couldn’t believe it was already over. Even as I write this I am ready to go back and do more.
My Gear List:
▪ Zpacks Arc Haul (Black on Black)
▪ Zpacks Duplex Tent (Camo)
▪ Zpacks 10° Sleeping Bag (Blue)
▪ Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket (Blue)
In summary I would highly recommend this section of the Florida Trail if you’re looking for a 70 ish mile section hike in Florida. With roughly 700 to 800 feet of elevation gain over the 70 mile stretch of trail.
We went through many different eco systems that provided a completely different look and trail conditions. It left me looking forward to what I was about to see as I continued my hike.
The eastern Ocala section of the Florida Trail is absolutely beautiful and a must see.