PCT: Penultimate Camping Trip...

This was the last multi-day camping trip for us before we start the big trail (with the possible exception of a four day excursion in Northern California pre-PCT).

The trip was not to Grayson Highlands in Virginia as originally planned. Out of consideration for a couple of very young first time campers we let the long range forecast for inclimate weather push us South to other options and we landed on the Ocala National Forest. The kids demanded fun camping after our journey on the Florida Trail into the ice storms over Christmas, and fun means camping with the Gibsons. 

I mostly kept my promise about "only fun camping," but when my "charge the hill" cousin, Luchrysta, said she and a few of her kids might join us earlier than the Gibsons were available, I saw the chance for "fun" miles for the first two days. 

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We covered some good ground. We started the hike at Clearwater Lake, and walked 12 or 13 miles, if you count the alternate, through pine forest, scrub, and acres and acres of recent controlled burn. There is something special about the green of the new life emerging from the ashes. The first night we camped near Alexander Springs after a "30 minute" free entry to the springs to swim. The following day, joined by cousin Knox and Anna for the day, we went between 16 or 17, and finished the day with a swim in Jupiter Springs.  The math worked out better to claim the last two spots in the campground and stay there rather than to purchase day passes, so Monica experienced her first ever campground camping experience. It was a convenient place to wake for the next morning's canoe ride. 

I don't know who ranked it, but Juniper Run is supposedly among someone's top five things to do in Florida.  We were joined by the Gibsons for the canoe trip. My dad later informed me that I had canoed it before as a child. The nice thing about head injuries is that there are so many things I get to enjoy again, as if for the first time. This time through the eyes of June.  While it is possible that my attention to the beauty of the run may have been less than full due to the one hour intermission where my main focus was to keep the teenage boy canoe from achieving their goal of moving to the front of the pack, I still could be talked into saying it is among the top 5 things worth doing in Florida, provided that it is paired with a swim in one of the nearby springs. 

After the canoeing, it was off to Hidden Pond by way of a night in a pine glade. The fun camping had come quickly enough that my kids were never tempted to call me out for the insertion of the walking over the first two days. What is not to like about a party of nineteen people? 

- 6 Strawbridges
- 4 Caswells
- 7 Gibsons
- 2 Hunts

The Ocala Forest is well suited to this kind of camping. It has great pine glades and big prairie lakes. Hidden Pond is clear and clean and even though there were three other groups of people in the area, we had plenty of room to ourselves. 

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We spent the following day moving camp up the trail a few miles, and spend a few hours walking the Yearling Trail. I did not offer the walk the appreciation that it deserved being the only one in my family who hasn't read the Yearling. Not that I don't appreciate a good family grave-site that stands as a reminder to a federal land grab... err... I mean, pioneering days gone by, or a walnut grove around a gaping sinkhole that once served as a community watering hole. I need to read the Yearling. 

We packed out early-ish the next day to meet a friend for a Boggy Creek Air Boat ride, because where else would you take a New York City family if you wanted them to have a taste of the real Florida. 

The Ocala National Forest gave us the opportunity to walk in the heat, it will be hot where we are going.  It gave us a host of ticks that we had the chance to remove (Georgie had 30), and we are now more experienced in tick removal.  It gave us "fun camping."  It gave us beautiful prairies and springs. The springs were the highlight.  Go see them. 

Our last multi-day trip is done.  It feels more real in some way now.  The next one is the big one. 

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