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Posts Tagged ‘Hiking’

I have explored Riverbend Park many times over the years—mostly to kayak. I love this park. It’s close by and has several great paddle trails as well as easy walking trails. The purpose of my visit on this day was to find the trail that connected with the Ocean to Lake Trail (OTL), part of the Florida Trail System. I wanted to hike the 9.4-mile section that starts just east of Jonathan Dickinson State Park at Hobe Sound Beach and needed an end point where I could park my car. However, there is not a car park at 9.4 miles, and Riverbend appeared to be my only option.

Trail at Riverbend Park

Riverbend rocks trail signage, and in addition to the cross trails being labeled, each cross trail includes an Exit sign. I love that being lost is never really lost. So, I can’t really blame the Riverbend folks for ending up at the wrong end of the park when searching for the OTL. I just got caught up in enjoying the journey and wasn’t paying attention.

In the end, I walked nearly three miles to find the OTL Trail which turned out to be less than a mile from the parking lot. However, getting a bit lost now and then certainly has its “ups.” This park has great trails for walking, hiking, biking, and paddling. Its website brags 680 acres and 10 miles of interconnected trails as well as 7 miles of equestrian trails and 5 miles of canoeing/kayaking trails. As I searched for the OTL Trail, I enjoyed the gorgeous afternoon and beautiful scenery, and, with the exception of the man who walked behind me with his earbuds in and talking to someone on his phone as if he was in a New York deli, I enjoyed the sweet serenity of the park and did not mind getting sidetracked at all.

Beautiful Views at Riverbend Park

The good news is the OTL trail is very close to the Riverbend parking lot, but the not so good news is that ending my hike at Riverbend adds five or six miles to my trip from Hobe Sound Beach making it closer to 16-miles. However, I accomplished what I set out to do, and I have set plans for my next hike!

(Riverbend Park. 9060 Indiantown Road, Jupiter, FL 33478. (561) 741-1359. Website: https://discover.pbcgov.org/parks/pages/riverbend.aspx)

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The country girl in me believed that state parks in some way mimic the large wild spaces one would find in the country, areas filled with beautiful flora, fauna, and opportunities for discovery. The idea that a state park could be a small piece of land tucked in between the Intracoastal and A1A in urban Ft. Lauderdale challenged my country girl spirit.

With plans to visit as many Florida State Parks as possible in my retirement, I took an afternoon and drove to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Ft. Lauderdale. The website described hiking opportunities as a “20-minute leisurely walk through a native maritime tropical hardwood hammock ecosystem,” and I arrived prepared for a short stroll in a city park, most likely a boardwalk. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Ibis Along the Nature Trail

In a small amount of space, this park had a bit of everything! A long oval shaped one-way drive surrounds the park. Most of the parking is along this drive. Winding, canopied nature trails weave in and out along the way. Along the trails, small signs describe some of the flora in the small forest, but I would have loved to see more and better signage.

The drive includes a designated lane for pedestrians, bikers, and inline skaters as well, and all took advantage of the gorgeous day. The welcoming west side of the trail which borders the Intracoastal and includes benches and picnic tables shaded by trees impressed me—what a great escape from the urban chaos just minutes away. I walked through a meditation garden and stepped along a labyrinth. There was a small playground and clean restrooms nearby (although the restroom in the small restaurant screamed for attention).

The park also includes a small concession to rent canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, jet-skis, beach chairs and beach umbrellas—just about anything a person might need for a little getaway. The beach is easily accessed just past the Park and Ocean Restaurant. This casual restaurant, snuggled beneath what looked like large Seagrape trees (not sure that’s what they were), includes an In-house brewery, Shady Brewing, that offers specialty beers with a taste of Florida. What could be better than a cold beer and some island music to end the afternoon? I chose the bartender’s favorite, a light beer with a hint of Mango, called Mangolandia, enjoying it along with the fish tacos.

A Refreshing Beer with a Florida Twist

At the end of my visit, I had walked about 2.5 miles and spent two hours in the park.

I purchased an annual pass for the Florida State Parks at the beginning of January and have visited only two thus far—and they could not have been more different—but the country girl in me is good with that now. Sometimes, smaller does the trick. Either way, it has been a great investment of $60. I look forward to the next one!  

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I spent six nights at Above the Clouds Hostel as part of one of their group slackpacking trips, arriving the afternoon of September 23, and greeted by Nimrod’s heavenly-smelling kitchen. (Nimrod made fresh bread everyday.) As stated in my earlier post, the group was small and intimate with only one other person, Robyn, a nurse and runner–and with much more stamina than I! Lucky (hostel owner) hiked with us on day one, but after completing the first day on the trail, he felt confident that we could increase our mileage for the remainder of our stay. On days two through five, Lucky hiked only parts of the trail with us, typically dropping us in the morning and meeting us on the second portion of the hike. What a wonderful experience! I’ll always remember the entire trip, but here are some of the highlights:

Day 1Springer Mountain to Hightower Gap8.9 miles
Day 2Hightower Gap to Woody Gap   11.9 miles
Day 3Woody Gap to Neel Gap10.8 miles
Day 4Neel Gap to Hogpen Gap             6.9 miles
Day 5Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap14 miles

On day one, we were on the trail by 9:00 and hiked the one mile to the top of Spring Mountain, the start of the trail, before hiking the same one mile back down. We hiked over rocks and and roots and paused to lunch beside Long Creek Falls. After six hours of hiking, this Florida girl’s body cried for a break! I returned to the hostel, sliding out of the truck on wobbly legs, and greeted by a room scented with candles and a delicious steak dinner.

The Trail Begins: Spring Mountain

Day two hiking started with Nimrod’s yummy blueberry pancakes, sausage, and home fries. Our hike began at Hightower Gap, and within the first couple of hours, we had climbed Unnamed Mountain and Sassafras, somehow avoiding the forecasted rain. We lunched beside Justus Creek before ascending some very ominous-looking stairs. Before lunch, Robyn had spotted two bears, and that afternoon, I came across one just off the trail. Dang! Those things are fast! We completed 11.9 miles and returned home to a heavenly-smelling dinner of boneless chicken thighs sauteed in a teriyaki sauce and smothered with a fruit salsa.

View from the Top of Ramrock Mountain

We began day three with a quick breakfast of egg and bacon sandwiches and departed to Woody Gap by 6:15. At Woody Gap, we hiked one mile in the dark to the top of Preacher’s Rock to watch a gorgeous sunrise. What a glorious and ethereal start to the day!

Sunrise from Preacher’s Rock

Neels Gap to Hogpen Gap on day four was the shortest hike so far–only 6.9 miles, but the last climb to Hogpen proved the toughest to this point. The day started sunny, but cold–so, I layered up, happy for the buff I had picked up at the outfitter the day before.

View from Cow Rock

Our last day on the trail began with a breakfast of french toast, home fries, and fruit. It ended with shrimp primavera and homemade cornbread. We hiked about eight hours and covered the last fourteen miles to Unicoi Gap. The trail started out easy and mild, but the last two to three miles were nuts! The path was narrow, rocky, and rooty, and at times, I had to search for a spot to step. We completed the 52.5 miles, and I was thrilled to have suffered only muscle aches and pains during the five days.

Reflection on Day Five

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Woo-hoo! I escaped the heat and humidity (and Hurricane Ian) of South Florida early Friday morning, and I arrived at Above the Clouds Hostel in Suches, Georgia, early in the afternoon. My flight took me to Atlanta where I jumped on the MARTA train to North Springs. Here, Lucky, owner of Above the Clouds, picked me up. We stopped in the beautiful and quaint town, Dahlonega, for a quick lunch at Spirits Tavern before finishing the very winding, elevated trip to the hostel in Suches.

Above the Hostel, Above the Clouds

Who doesn’t have hiking the Appalachian Trail on their bucket list? It’s been on mine for years—although I did finally agree with myself that rather than attempting to conquer all 2,190 miles, I would complete at least one section hike in each of the fourteen states. I have hiked parts of New Hampshire and Georgia in past years.

However, with retirement in my very near future (November 30—yikes!), I needed to make a dent in my bucket list, and I was thrilled to discover slackpacking—thank you Facebook! When I first heard the term slackpacking, I thought, slacker, but after experiencing five days on the AT, I do not believe that slackpacking is for slackers at all.

I stayed at the hostel for six nights with five days of hiking planned. My slackpacking group was small and intimate with only one other person, Robyn. Robyn is a nurse, a runner, and a wee bit (20 years) younger than I. However, this trip and my newfound trail sister were among the best experiences of my life.

We planned five days of hiking a total of 38.2 miles, but after Lucky hiked with us the first day, he felt confident we could increase our hikes for the remaining four days. In the end, we hiked 52.5 miles.

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“You’ll be bored.” “You’ll be back to work in no time.” “What will you do to keep busy?”

I have begun my countdown to retirement! Five months to go from today—and these are the questions and comments I get.

I am excited—and scared! However, I will never be bored.

So, what will I do? In addition to having a beautiful family and fabulous friends to hang with, my list goes something like this:

  • Finish kayaking the Florida rivers—and return to my favs!
  • Visit all the Florida State parks—hike the trails. They are fabulous! (Check them out: https://www.floridastateparks.org/.
  • Bike the Coast-to-Coast Florida trail—all 220 miles. (Check it out: https://floridadep.gov/parks/ogt/content/florida-coast-coast-trail.)
  • Hike the Florida Trail—and try to avoid the gators and snakes. (Seriously, this trail is 1,265.1 miles. Check it out: https://floridahikes.com/scenic-hikes.)
  • Take a train ride…somewhere, anywhere!
  • Learn to play golf, play tennis, cook, and take great photos.
  • Continue to hike the Appalachian Trail. (I start in Georgia in September 2022.)
  • Go Glamping.
  • Learn to apply false eyelashes. (Ha ha… Just checking to see if you are still reading.)
  • Sip delicious wine in beautiful surroundings.
  • Adventure. Enjoy life. Appreciate nature.

This is just a start—and mostly local! Chances are, I will add to this list. I haven’t even begun to venture far from Florida yet. And yes, I realize this list is ambitious and perhaps impossible to complete before this sixty-plus year old body decides it’s had enough, but dang! I sure will have fun trying.

Me bored? Hardly. Watch me. 🙂

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