Photo from Florida Hikes via Flickr – To find me, look for the dog in the lower left corner, then the guy in the yellow shirt, and then the grey and orange FT Thru-Hike shirt just to the right of that. It was a good crowd!
Wow, what a weekend! I flew into Florida very early on Friday morning, landing at around 10:45am local time, stood in line for my rental car, and then jettisoned myself to the nearest Publix to get lunch. I’d started craving a Publix sub the night before but had been thinking about it for weeks. The particular Publix I found was very busy at the lunch hour with many workers getting their lunches, definitely busier than when I used to get my subs for work and hikes. The secret is out and has been for a while! Next I drove over to Split Oak Forest to eat my lunch and go ambling through the woods there. In the end I made a four mile loop on the northern portion of the tract and had a wonderful afternoon before I hopped on the voluminous toll-roads through Orlando to Lake Mills Park near Chuluota for the weekend’s festivities.
At Lake Mills Park current Florida trail thru-hikers were arriving as were trail angels, volunteers, and other hikers within the FT community. I met up with my friend Eleni who I had gotten to know through social media the last few years and had been the secretary of the Florida Trail Hikers Alliance and set up my tent at her site where she and her significant other Joel were set up as well as a hiker named Grits. Grits, I never got his age, but he is either in his late 70s or early 80s and was a hoot to talk to! He’s hiked the FT many times—a ‘true’ thru 3 times and then most of the trail another 4 or 5 times. He skips some of the longer road walks these days, which I don’t blame him one bit for doing.
After that it was an evening of wandering around the campsites putting names with faces and often times trying to mix together trail names, real names, and screen names all at one time. My goal for the weekend was not just to record some audio for the podcast but to also actually be involved with the community a bit since I don’t live in the state any longer. It has always been a bit tricky thinking about how to do this podcast remotely, moreso than I think other long trail podcasts have to worry about, because it is so hyper-focused into this particular trail. Showing my face, meeting people in person, and making connections was a big point of coming to this event.
I slept well that night in the tent and then the next morning things really started moving once the event began starting. It’s a celebration for Billy Goat but also a time when many hikers actually get to come together throughout the year that may not see each other the entire year otherwise. Other than Billy Goat there were two other well-known people in the hiker community who showed up: Jim Kern, founder of the Florida Trail, and Nimblewill Nomad. That was pretty spectacular! All three are in their 80s. I had talked with Jim on the first episode of the podcast so I went up and introduced myself and reminded him of who I was and we chatted for a few minutes. I asked if he wanted to talk again on the podcast but he declined due to the crowd size and some of the opinions he wanted to share and suggested we try to connect later on this year.
Later, I was able to sit down with Nimblewill Nomad, more known as Sunny these days, and talked to him for nearly 30 minutes. Earlier that morning I had been introduced to him via Sandra Friend and we chatted a little bit with a few other hikers before everyone started arriving. I only met Billy Goat briefly in the middle of the event—he was looking to get some dessert after the main photo so he was a bit distracted. Honestly, everyone was very busy the entire event, talking to new and old friends and it was incredibly hard to even think about pulling anyone away to get a 10 minute snippet of conversation recorded. But, I think I was able to capture enough to put together a few episodes this spring and I made connections to follow up with other hikers later on in the year. There were just so many people doing cool things—some folks doing what we did, making the best out of a few years off and getting out and hiking trails, and other folks who manage to incorporate long trails into their life. Young, old, folks in the middle. A smattering of everyone getting what they can out of life on the trail.
Once everyone got up on Sunday morning many of the thru-hikers were heading back to the trail. Most had been picked up by trail angels and had to get taken back to where they were on the trail, sometimes a few hundred miles south or north of Orlando. Several had timed their hike to arrive into Orlando at the right time so they walked back to the trail or got a ride to the nearest trailhead and kept on going down the trail. I had the rest of the day free until I had to be at the airport around 4:30 so I went to breakfast with Eleni and Joel, Sandra, and a new acquaintance Vera who I know has stories up her sleeve. On my way to the restaurant in Oveido I suddenly became familiar with where I was because I found the sports complex we’d stopped in at to pee after leaving the state forest and then the Mobil station around the corner that we’d had second breakfast at 10 minutes later. Boom, it was the beginning of the walk through the Orlando ‘burbs!
After breakfast Sandra and I shuttled cars to trailheads in nearby Bronson State Forest to do a four mile hike between Chuluota Wilderness and Joshua Creek. My internet friend Kate lives nearby and wanted to join/meet in person so she came along as well. It was another great hike and we had an excellent time traipsing through the trail there. This section was not routed when we thru-hiked and instead it was a road walk at that time. I ended up seeing the faded blazes on the power poles during our time shuttling cars. Ahh, memories.
After all of that I had to get back to the airport and get back to reality in Houston. And here I am, trying to digest the weekend and come back to life here at the same time. I’ll be working on editing photos and getting posts up in the coming weeks (along with Alaska photos!) so stay tuned for more detailed posts. It was a great weekend and like always, Florida felt like home.
Finding a caterpillar chrysalis in the wild can be quite the feat and is something you typically have to be looking for. Even in my own garden, when the monarchs or gulf fritillaries head off to pupate, unless they are front and center and attaching them to our front porch (gulf frits) or on plants nearby the milkweed (monarchs) we typically cannot find the chrysalides. Chris lucked out as he was tying extra ropes from the tent to a nearby tree in preparation for a storm that would hit during our Thanksgiving camping trip that was expected to have high wind—and found a chrysalis on the Hercules’ club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) that was conveniently placed next to our tent (or rather, we placed conveniently next to the tree!). Herculues’ club is a larval host plant for the giant swallowtail butterfly and a plant I’ve been trying to find to add to our yard so I can pick caterpillars off our citrus and relocate them there. I looked up and down the tree to see if I could spot more chrysalides but none were found. I can only hope that other campers in that site end up leaving the chrysalis alone!
Definitely a lucky find!
Autumn in the south, or rather the deep south, doesn’t really start showing its true colors until November. We get tinges of it in September but usually at that point it is because of summer drought stress in the trees and the leaves begin going golden. October get a bit more of a pronouncement, especially if we get a cool front in the month, or like this year an early freeze at the end of the month. By November the colors start coming in and definitely by late Thanksgiving we’ve gone to what most people would consider ‘brown’. But if you look right, and especially if you get a rainy and cloudy day, the colors really come through—ruddy browns, shades of tan, tinges of grey, fluorescent greens, mauves, pinches of cinnamon, and warm caramels begin coming through.
It’s almost like the people who complain about Florida not having seasons—it’s subtle. We don’t get the grand leaf drop that folks in northern latitudes get, but the colors are there. You just have to stop and look a little deeper than you may be used to.
Photos taken at Cooper Lake State Park, Thanksgiving 2019.
The winged elms, Ulmus alata, at Cooper Lake State Park back during our Thanksgiving camping trip were some of the wingiest winged elms I’ve ever seen! It was very tempting to want to break the little corky wings off but I resisted and just took in the interesting patterns of the wings and the coloration that the chilly, grey November day was giving to the wood. As you can see many of the wings were covered in lichen or moss, too, which made them even more interesting to view.
I’ve tried finding more information about how the wings are developed in this plant but so many of the science articles are behind paywalls so there won’t be much elaborating here. The Ladybird Wildflower Center says the inner bark was once made into rope in the 18th and 19th centuries and that the Creek Indians used the name Wahoo for the tree. It’s relatively widespread throughout the south and can be found in mesic to upland sites—so pretty versatile!
I just really loved these specimens at the park!
Digging back into some Alaska posts once again. I’ve felt a little lazy in processing photos these days but I’ll see if I can make more progress on them this weekend!
For now, we’re going to pick up from where we left off at Thunderbird Falls and drive around the bend to Chugach State Park and Eklutna Lake. Let’s pretend that I did not, a million times over, keep trying to call this lake Elktuna Lake.
Eklutna Lake Road is a gently winding road leading into the depths of Chugach State Park. There are several other entrances to reach this expansive state park but this would be really the deepest we would trek this trip. We had a little more time to kill before meeting our friend Eliana in Anchorage for dinner and errands but not enough time for a long hike into the woods.
We followed the shoreline a bit until we came to a series of tipis, or the bones of tipi. I’m unsure if they were just built by random visitors or the park built them but they were attracting the attention of all of the guests and any kids involved, Forest included.
Our short visit wasn’t enough but it had to satisfy us for this trip. I imagine the campground would be a spectacular place to hang out for a week or two in the summer, using it as a base camp for hikes into the interior of the park.
And by that, I mean I started tomato seeds yesterday afternoon.
I had intended to move some mulch to the flower beds after Chris picked up a load for me yesterday morning but then he began doing some maintenance on his truck that took longer than he thought. Instead I opted to get the tomato seeds done or else there was a good chance I would never get them done.
This year I opted to plant only fresh seeds that I had ordered from Sow True Seed. In previous years I’ve planted a mix of new seeds and older seeds, either ones we had saved in Florida or ones we had saved since we’ve moved back to Texas but this year I felt like keeping it simple to a small array of varieties and new seeds only.
Varieties included Zapotec Pink Pleated, Oaxacan Pink, Cherokee Purple, Yellow Brandywine, Black Krim, and Brown Berry cherry tomato. We’ve grown Zapotec, Cherokee Purple, and Black Krim before but the others are new. I’ve grown pink brandywine but not yellow. I suspect Chris will likely pick up a few starts in February of some sauce tomatoes as he usually does.
After having felt very ‘meh’ on gardening since we returned from Alaska back in September it was nice to sink my hands back into some dirt again. I also sowed some pepper seeds. I think they were Habanada, Carmen, Big Jim, ah, and another one that is slipping my mind. In addition I planted a handful of roselle seeds to get those started so I will be able to plant good half or whole bed of them next year. I had maybe five plants last year and that produced enough calyces for a few cups of hibiscus tea but I would love to have a quart jar of calyces for tea next year. More plants needed!
I’m going to down another cup of coffee after a late morning of sleeping in and then a get a move on that mulch!
Originally when I began thinking about writing this post I thought I’d select posts from each year but that is proving to be a task because I am not one for brevity—all of my posts bring back a lot of memories and I think back about everything that occurred this decade and I want to share it all! So, I think I’ll go for a short photo series that encompasses the highlights, some good, some bad, some sad. Here’s my 2000-2009 In Review if you’d like to peruse that old post!
The decade started off with my baby niece Ashleigh being born at 26 weeks gestation at the end of January. What a wallop of a way to start the New Year but we were thankful at that time that mother and baby were managing to do ok. I was still in Florida at the time of her birth and we’d leave a few weeks later for Texas where I would finally get to meet her through her incubator. Sadly, I would never get to spend quality aunt time with her as she passed away on May 4th later that year. Chris, my dad (who’d come out to hike on the AT with us), and I flew back for her funeral. Gut punch. 10 years later and that’s still hard to write about. I can’t even fathom what my brother and sister in law even feel.
With our friends Patrice and Justin, we summitted Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas, at Thanksgiving.
We attempted and failed to hike the Northeast Texas Trail.
Best of 2014 — this is the last year I did a year in review! Err, just kidding, found one from 2018.
2016 also saw the worst flood we have had and I hope we never see that again.
Lots of things I didn’t mention in the post and many things I just never wrote about here to begin with—it was a wild ride, 2010s! We’re not kicking off another decade with a long hike but I hope we have some great adventures between now and 2030!
Happy New Year, friends!
It’s been a dinosaur filled day here at the Little household. We’ve played, we’ve eaten, and 2/3 of us want to just nap while the other 1/3 could play all day….it’s a good one. I hope yours was a good one, too.
Overall I read 139 books this year. That includes books I read with Forest—because even though they are kid books, I’m still reading! That doesn’t include books on our own shelves at home or books I’ve re-read again and again with him, mostly just library books throughout this year. I started logging his books last year so I could easily figure out what we’re reading but also books he likes and we might want to revisit later. He often finds books we’ve checked out before and grabs them again so he has a good memory for that anyway.
As for “my” books, I read 45 books out of a goal of 40. That includes a few that I abandoned. Overall, that’s a pretty good reading year I think! Here are a few of my favorites from 2019!
- Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
I’m a latecomer to TTW but I will be reading more of her books in the future. My short write-up from my January 2019 Book Report is here but for a short synopsis, this book covers environmental history in the 1980s in and around SLC, Utah as well as coinciding events in her family history, in particular her mother’s death. TTW is a phenomenal writer and the book captivated me from the start.
- Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather “Anish” Anderson
My recent write-up in Adventure Reads II covers this book quite well. Loved it!
- Trespassing Across America: One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland by Ken Ilgunas
Ken Ilgunas undertakes a walk across Canada and the US along the proposed and partially constructed routes of the Keystone XL pipeline and this book covers that adventure. Part thru-hike memoir, part environmental history/investigative journalism, this book was great for not being a typical hiking memoir.
- Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
Earlier this year I tried to read (listen) to Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy but found it too dry, rambling, and philosophical. It was never cohesive enough to grab my attention and say I liked it. Around that same time I began seeing reviews of Jia Tolentino’s book and added myself to the long queue of people in line borrow it as an e-book. Still finding myself quite down that list six months later I just requested the paper version and had it within a couple of weeks. Tolentino’s book filled the gap where Odell’s missed for me and I was quickly reading through the pages. Tolentino is a bonafide millennial whereas I find myself straddling two generations, Gen-X and millennial, and typically identify with more Gen-X tendencies than the other generation. That said, I could identify with her quite a bit, particularly her essays about her early life living in Houston as well as her early use of the internet. The book is a look at our navel gazing ways, but also the many ways we delude ourselves in the age of social media as well as the ways Big Tech has its hand in all of it. It’s hard to explain what this book really is but it is a delightful read and I highly recommend it.
- The Royal We (Royal We #1)by Heather Cocks
A spin on the Prince William and Kate story but sub an American and some other intrigue and voila you’ve got a slightly cheesy but highly addicting chick-lit romance novel. Extremely satisfying!
- Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton
A great introduction to May Sarton and her non-fiction works. This one covers her move to Nelson, NH in the mid-20th century. The way she writes about light is what grabbed me and held my attention.
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
This one seemed to slowly take off in the podcast world before I saw more people talking about it elsewhere. The premise is a therapist ends up going through a traumatic event in her life which then causes her to seek therapy and during the course of that begins sorting out some other things in her life. While all of this is going on she’s also writing about several of her own patients and how they are using therapy to sort out their own life. Great read, very insightful, definitely recommend!
- Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
Ah, I loved this book! A field biologist working remotely studying birds for her thesis comes across a girl named Ursa in her backyard one day and attempts to talk to the girl, who says she’s an alien. It’s obvious something nefarious is going on but she can’t figure out what to do. The biologists, Joanna, befriends a neighbor down the road and then the story takes off there. A good mix of mystery, science, and a little romance, this book came in third for Goodreads’ Best Fiction of 2019.
- The Latecomers by Helen Klein Ross
A historical fiction novel spanning a century, it begins with a young Irish girl escaping with her fiancé on a ship to NYC in the early 1900s. Along the way she manages to get pregnant, have her fiancé die on the ship coming over, and then find herself in a predicament of knowing just about no one in America. The book changes perspectives several times to fill in gaps in time or events where other characters aren’t seeing that perspective so you get some things fulfilled. I enjoyed the book as a whole but was sad a few things weren’t wrapped up as tidily as I would have wanted.
- Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver
Late to the Mary Oliver scene, I’ve had this book on my wishlist to read for years. I finally bought it this summer with birthday money and I wasn’t disappointed. Most were natural history type essays though a few were more literary (and subsequently held my attention less) but overall this was a well-rounded introduction to Oliver.
Had to stop and take a photo of the Bucc-ee’s sticker all the way in Alaska! (Bucc-ee’s is a chain gas station/store in Texas that draws crowds of people when you stop at one. And super clean restrooms.)
Because we’d arrived in Juneau mid-morning we had until later in the evening before our ship left port and approximately four or five hours before we had to return to the ship to get on our tour bus for the whale watching tour. Our ship was docked at the furthest dock from town and thankfully the city/cruise ships have a deal to provide shuttles to the east side of town for tourists. I mean, it wouldn’t have been bad to walk for us but all of the older folks would have had a terrible time of it.
Once in town we were greeted with even more tacky jewelry shops as we approached town and I was hoping that the entire town wasn’t going to look like this. I had heard from a couple of friends that they enjoyed Juneau but my initial impression wasn’t great. We kept walking and it became a little less touristy. Junueau is a town that you cannot drive to from outside another area. There’s one main road that goes from Pt Bridget State Park on the north, down to Juneau and then to the village of Thane, and another road that goes over to Douglas Island, and of course some city roads around town, but otherwise you must arrive into Juneau via air or boat. And it’s the state capital! After seeing the size of Anchorage later I wondered why Juneau was still the capital after all these years. That said, without the government agencies and the tourist industry, Juneau would be an incredibly quiet place.
We popped into shops that were of interest to us, searching for unique gifts or art from local artists. There were still quite a bit of generic tourist shops and not a lot stuck out to us as worth stopping in until I got to Kindred Post to buy some stamps. They had a collection of unique gifts, stickrs, and postcards as well as being a postal/package drop off center. By this time we were starting to get hungry so we set off looking for something to eat. Every time we asked a local what would be good we would never get a satisfying answer like we had gotten in Ketchikan. Finally someone said that a nice place to sit by the water and eat might be at The Hangar on the Wharf. It was a pub-food type place but they had their version of salmon bisque and I was going to indulge! Chris got a salmon burger if I recall and I can’t remember what Forest ate—we might have tried to get him to eat chicken tenders. The view was pleasant with sea planes coming in and out from various tours so we got to enjoy watching them take off and land while we ate.
After lunch we walked back up to Heritage Coffee Roasting to get a coffee since my appetite for coffee was coming back. They had gelato and Forest and Chris splurged on dessert. By this time we needed to slowly make our way back to the ship, stopping in a few places I’d noted to pop back into on our way back. One place we stumbled across and hadn’t seen on the way in was Haa Shagoon, a gallery that had a sign up by the main road inviting tourists to get away from the generic crap and see some local art. It was a great shop and if I’d known it would have been of the few native art shops we’d find I would have bought more. I ended up buying just a pair of earrings but they are a favorite pair of mine now. Do stop in here when you come through Juneau!
I wish we’d had more time to see some of the more historic buildings in town, the governors mansion and other places like that, but we had whales to see!