Getting Lost in Style

Wow, what a nice day for June!! Usually June in S. Florida is hot and humid. Today was sunny, breezy and low humidity. Almost felt a little like fall. No matter how much writing I have to do, I just can’t sit inside on days like this!!

Due to my recent travels, my mountain bike had been shed bound for a few weeks. It was time for a ride!

Jonathan Dickinson state park has plenty of mountain bike trails ranging from novice to expert. I was looking for a different experience though. Having just hiked in Colorado and Arizona, I wanted to explore the unknown sections of the park. The places where others don’t normally go.

At the end of the dirt road for the youth camp is a gate to a fire road. Not accessible via my SUV, but easy for my mountain bike. I really enjoy my bike because I can go almost anywhere quietly and with little trace.

I headed down the dirt fire road into the slash pine landscape and into the unknown. Hawks and Swallow tail kites glided overhead on the breeze. The Swallow Tail kites are easily recognizable by their large split tail. Another hawk circled noisily above letting every animal within earshot that I’m headed their way.

I’ve gone East, or so I think, and decide to follow the power line road West back to the education center.  As I stop to adjust my backpack, a doe sauntered over to me. It appeared she was going to walk right up to me. At the last second, she bounded off through the green saw palmettos with her large white tail held high. Of course, my camera was inside my backpack.

I resumed peddling and encountered bridges, the north section of Kitching Creek, and traversed different landscapes; wide open spaces dotted with green, saw palmettos, wetlands with dark, brown mud, and thick shady forests.  The best part; I didn’t see anyone! All I heard was the wind blowing through the trees and the birds that flew over. Thank god for the breeze! Otherwise it’d been brutally hot.

I  circled back onto the power line road which is wider and more civilized. I was treated her to a primitive bathroom and a working well. The well water felt refreshing on my arms and face, just don’t drink it.

I expectantly drain the last drops from my hydration pack so it’s time to make my way back to civilization.  I find a road that has beautiful yellow and purple flowers and tall green grass. It looks like the road hasn’t been used in ages. That’s good and not so good.

I continue on my trek but I fail to find any signs of civilization. Everywhere I turn, looks the same; trees and saw palmetto. My compass says I’m heading south which is the right direction. Finally, I break out my phone and pull up a map. Wow! I managed to pedal to the far west side of the park. A few more miles and I’d be at the interstate. Ok, no wonder I didn’t see anyone.

I turned around and searched for a well-used road or any signs of civilization. The scenery continued to be peaceful. Even though I’m a bit lost, I’m still enjoying the new scenery and seeing vistas that haven’t been touched in ages. You should always enjoy being lost because you’ll probably never be there again:)

At points I did get concerned about where I was, but I realized that I’m not hopelessly lost (yet) and could call for help me if I absolutely needed it.

Surprisingly, the maps on my phone are very accurate for dirt roads and I finally found a trail across the creek and to the parking area. Course it’s not all without frustration.  I reached an intersection and finally some signs.

The “signs were wooden arrows on each road; 1 is blue, 1 is red. That’s it; no words, just brightly colored arrows. I’m used to the orange markings on the trees to designate the trail, but these brightly colored arrows at intersections are an annoying mystery.

Further down, I reach another intersection; this one has yellow arrows and red arrows, one on each road. Is this some cruel joke!!

Seriously, how hard is it to put up a sign that says “exit-this way”!!!

I kept going the way I thought I should and 10 minutes later joyfully rolled into the parking lot.

I made it!! The adventure was well worth it and I did what I intended to do; see the unknown parts of the park and areas that most people don’t see. Next time, I’m bringing more water and maybe a map. Be prepared, what a concept…..

Oscar Scherer State Park

Laurie has been studying Scrub Jays for a couple of years, so when the Scrub Jay festival came to Oscar Scherer State Park, it was time for a road trip.  We hadn’t been camping in a while so it was a great excuse to go. Course, who needs an excuse to go camping!

It’s only a 3 hour drive to the West coast of Florida, but the scenery changes dramatically from the sandy, scrubby and beach terrain of the East coast.  Across central Florida, you’ll find vast, wide open, grassy prairies for cattle grazing and various types of wildlife call home. Wood Storks, Spoonbills, Osprey, Cara Cara, Eagles, Foxes, and of course you can always find an alligator.  Those guys are everywhere and just because you don’t see one, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

We had never been to Oscar Scherer so we weren’t sure about the camp sites. Sometimes camping in a state park, the hum of generators, stereos, and other reminders of civilization often intrude your space. Not so here. Our campsite was right on the river, complete with electric, running water, and an alcove to launch kayaks.  It was perfect!!

The campground was filled with a variety of trees of all shapes and sizes. South Florida isn’t known for tall trees so it was a welcome treat to camp among them. Although the gentlemen who had to back his 4 door, full size pickup and travel trailer into his campsite would’ve preferred a few less trees. Or at least preferred them at different locations.

After setting up camp, we hopped on our bikes and went exploring the area. The Scrub Jay festival was the next day so it was a good time to see where everything was happening.

Around dusk we returned to camp and enjoyed one of my favorite camping pastimes; sitting around the fire and eating.  I can sit and watch a campfire for hours.  Cooking is always fun to plan because you want to eat something besides PB& J sandwiches, but you want something as simple as PB& J sandwiches.

For this trip, we decided to try the one pot meal concept. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this, but it worked really well. Surprisingly, there are some great things you can put in one pot. We had beef tips, broccoli, onions, and yellow rice. Cook the yellow rice in beer for added flavor; it doesn’t taste like beer, but it has a nice flavor. The next meal was simpler; chicken strips over Caesar salad.

For the vegetarians in the group, we used the Guardian brand of products and those were really tasty. I’ve compared the Guardian beef tips to regular beef and it’s very close. Much closer than other products I’ve tried in the grocery store. I still enjoy a good hamburger or steak though.

After breakfast the next morning, we explored a couple of the peaceful hiking trails along the water. While Laurie headed to the festival, I found the perfect bike path. It was a rails to trails path which is an old railroad bed; flat, straight, zero cars, driveways, curbs, or other obstacles. There are very few bike lanes at home, so I relished riding on the trail free from the usual obstacles.  An open road or open bike path, there’s just something about being able to just go.

The trail did cross one street via a cross walk and then it went over a 4 lane highway. The ascent up the pathway over the highway was steep, but the descent was fun.  The trail follows the water along the water all the way and ends near a nature center. The whole scenic trip was 21 miles which is enough to enjoy without wearing you out.

The last day we hiked and explored the trail along the water. The shaded trails were a welcome change from the open, sandy trails that we hit the previous day. The walk along the water was very peaceful with the tall trees, various birds, and variety of vegetation.

We sat on a few benches and soaked it all in. Could’ve relaxed on a few of those benches all afternoon, but it was time to head home.

All in all, a great trip not too far away and yet far enough. The park is filled with large trees, a gentle river, hiking and biking trails.  The rails to trails bike path is a fun place to just ride uninterrupted. The camping is peaceful, the facilities are great (actually had hot water two nights in a row!), and modern conveniences are just a few miles down the road. If you’re headed to the West coast of Florida looking for a little oasis, be sure to swing by Oscar Scherer state park and stay awhile.