Road Miles: 280
Trail Miles: 0
Sites: Ocala NF / Lake George RD
I woke up just after dawn, and peeled the Reflectix off the window facing the pond the camp hosts had warned me about to make sure no gators had cozied up next to the van. I know nothing of gator behavior; I only know that I do not care to tangle with one. Satisfied the coast was clear, I then removed the cover from the back window, and was greeted with the beautiful sight of a dreamy layer of fog hovering low over Hopkins Prairie, seemingly held in place by the ring of tall cypress trees guarding its perimeter. Worst site, indeed.
I walked around the vacant campground – it had felt creepy being the only visitor when I arrived in the pitch-black of the previous night, but having the place to myself now was awesome. I watched the breeze rustle the Spanish moss hanging ghost-like from the old oaks, and listened to the symphony of a million crickets chirping and singing their little cricket hearts out. I approached the gator pond, cautiously, and took note of the safety info on the sign posted next to it. I watched the fog dissipate, and give way to the vibrant true colors of the prairie as the sun gained intensity during its ascent into the sky.
Refreshed, I set off. First, to Salt Springs, which was actually backtracking, but I needed gas, and had no idea where the next opportunity was if I continued forward. As I exited the paid area of the campground, I noticed a small dirt parking lot with a sign marking the Florida National Scenic Trail. After fueling up, I turned back south. (**PRO TIP: Salt Springs gas is tourist-trap expensive! Fill up before you come.**) Shortly after passing the turn for the campground again, I spotted the Pittman Visitor Center for the Ocala National Forest off State Hwy 19. The center was closed, but there are informational kiosks outside, including a forest map.
After Pittman, it was a long hot day on the road. Avoiding interstates (and large cities like Orlando) meant taking a route that went a bit out of the way to the east. I stopped once more for gas in Lake Wales, checked my route, and got super excited! I was headed to a place called ‘Yeehaw Junction.’ Hell, I will go out of my way just to cruise a place called something weird. As it turns out, the junction was just a road crossing in the middle of some dirt lots… more ‘Ho-Hum’ than ‘Yeehaw,’ but oh well… It’s still a great name.
Finally, I hit the Palm Beach metro area, and was almost immediately overwhelmed by all the humanity, strip malls, traffic. No ghost moss swaying to the songs of frisky insects here. I noticed I had tightened my grip on the steering wheel. I rolled up to my old college roommate’s house; I hadn’t seen her in too many years. We hit Two Georges Waterfront Grill to catch up a bit on all the shit we don’t post about on Facebook over some tasty local beer and apps. You know.
Back at her place, I got to meet her husband and son for the first time, and to the relief of everyone I’m sure, take a long overdue shower. As promised, she cooked dinner – yay! Gah, I am such a food slut – I drove over 600 miles for the prospect of home-cooked food. Ok, that’s of course not entirely why I went, but it sure did sweeten the deal. It was lights out fairly early; our sleep habits are nothing like they used to be when we were tearing up DC and environs. Holy crap… we’re old!