My Appalachian Trail – Shakedown #2: Withlacoochee


Ocala was great, so a week or two later I was ready to go again. I sent a message to Robin and told him I was planning “another walk,” was he interested? He jumped on board, so did his brother, Paul. Then he added another life-long hiking friend, Minter and his 25-year-old son, Owen. The five of us would make a great team.


My Appalachian Trail – Alpha

I’d picked the Florida Citrus Trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest which includes a bit of the official Florida Trail. I mapped out a 30+ mile loop that would span two nights and have us wind back up where we started. I was the only one who could spend two nights, so the others would leave the trail at the end of day two. That meant planting their car at one location and mine at another.

Because the Citrus Trail has practically no water resources, it’s considered a “dry trail.” This meant caching water on the trail near where we expected to end up the evening of day one. Because I’d planned the route, I used Google Earth to determine how best to access that location from a highway and got an early enough start so I could leave three gallons of water as close as possible to our planned campsite. My Toyota Corolla limited my ability to get more than a quarter mile into the woods, meaning we’d still need to hike just over a mile beyond our campsite to retrieve the water. This isn’t really all that bad when compared to the distance most water sources are from shelters on the AT.

It was the last two days of Turkey Hunt Season, so out of an abundance of caution … orange.

The Citrus Trail offered more elevation changes than Ocala did but our biggest nemesis was the heat which was a sunny 85-92 degrees during the day and might’ve dropped to a muggy low 70’s at night. I’d learned a lesson about chiggers in Ocala and had pretreated my clothing with Permethrin for this hike. It paid off in warding off chiggers but had no effect on horseflies.

The Citrus Trail crisscrosses with a horse trail several times. Do horses attract horseflies? I don’t know, but the coincidence was sure suspicious.

On day three, after everyone had left the night before, I was hiking the last stretch alone, leaving me to be the only remaining target for an angry band of horseflies. After about 30 minutes of just waving the dive-bombers off my face, I tried to outrun them. Running in sand with the equivalent of a first grader on your back is cumbersome at best. I could only maintain a trot for a hundred yards or so before having to walk again. It didn’t help. They were laughing at me, mocking me even. My next attempt at fighting them off was using my trekking poles as twin props and rotating them in front of me. I was beginning to feel like a Flying Fortress being harassed by a squadron of Zeros. It still wasn’t helping.

I finally reached my breaking point, stopped in my tracks, lost my composure and started screaming like a madman. I threw down my trekking poles, shed my pack and began waving my arms frantically and clapping my hands.

If video had been taken it would’ve convinced any viewer I’d completely lost my mind and was fighting off an invisible band of Ninjas. I ripped into my pack and dug deep to retrieve my nearly empty spray bottle of 100% Deet. I sprayed directly at them with no effect before realizing how stupid that was. I covered every inch of my being I could before the bottle went dry. It seemed to help, somewhat, and I moved on with only minor encounters from the suicidal few who followed.

Taking a mid-day break on Day Two… (Owen in background)

My last night on the trail was spent alone in a small campground that had only 13 designated sites. I was the only one there beyond the caretaker and I have no idea where he slept because I could find no trace of him the next morning. He had visited my site just before sundown so I asked him about bear activity. I needed to decide about hanging my food bag, but he told me bears were not a problem, raccoons and Bobcats were. I hung my bag accordingly. It was my very first ever solo attempt at hanging my food in a tree. #nailedit

During the night the only sounds I could hear were alligator mating calls in the pond behind my tent, and one bobcat that I’d mistakenly thought was an owl at first. It sounded like a low “hooooo” but the more I heard it I realized it was more of a “puuuurrr.” At 2:00 am I finally Googled “What does a bobcat sound like” and found a YouTube video of one making the exact same sound I was listening to in the woods around me. I never felt threatened by either, a tent is a relatively secure place believe it or not, so in spite of the wildlife I actually had a great night’s sleep.

My last night was spent along at Mutual Mine Campground in Withlacoochee.

Gear-wise, my Snow Peak stove refused to work on night one so I used Robin’s, and when he left after day two he loaned me his stove for the rest of my hike. I had purchased and brought a different fuel canister than I had used in Ocala and incorrectly assumed there was a compatibility issue between the two. It wasn’t until I got back that discovered I just hadn’t screwed the stove down quite far enough to make the connection. The old fuel didn’t require as tight a connection as the new one did – lesson learned.

My very first ever (solo) “food bag hang.”

Other than the stove/fuel issue, the heat, and the horseflies, our short trek was really quite pleasant. We’d covered 27 miles in two days as a group of five, then I did another 6.8 miles the following morning alone to get back to my car. Like Ocala, I never really developed any noteworthy muscle aches, soreness, or blisters. The bites on this hike were horseflies, not chiggers but their itch was impossibly annoying prompting a visit to the drugstore for a tube of hydrocortisone which will now be added to my medical kit for future hikes.

We’d collectively agreed that Florida’s hiking season was now over and wouldn’t resume until late fall when the temps get back to a tolerable level. Discussion was then made about the possibility of making a trip to Georgia or North Carolina later this summer to log some miles directly on the AT, finally giving me a taste of what it’s like to ascend and descend a mountain. This is a double-edged sword… climbing actual mountains can either prompt me into more physical training or frighten me out of a thru-hike altogether. I’m banking on the former.


Kevin Newsome
Kevin Newsome
KEVIN is a past president of three professional photography organizations, and earned the designation of Certified Master Photographer with the Professional Photographers of America. He is a published author, and an accomplished speaker/instructor at state and national professional photography conventions and schools throughout the US and Canada. Full-time professional photographers, Kaye and Kevin Newsome, are well known for providing high quality photography for Tampa’s families, children, high school seniors, executives, and providing corporate event and convention coverage throughout the US. Kaye earned an Associate of Science degree in photography from the Art Institute of Ft Lauderdale, and also serves as the Executive Director for the Florida Professional Photographers, Inc. She was the very first photographer in the state of Florida to be accepted into the National organization, Special Kids Photographers of America, certifying her talent and abilities in photographing children with special needs. Together, they photographed over 800 weddings before redirecting their documentary style and journalistic talents toward corporate events, award banquets, and conventions around the country. They earned enough trust and respect from their brides and grooms, that they quickly created a children and family portrait business. In time, that evolved into a very successful high school senior portrait business. The digital age brought a huge demand for their talents in the executive headshot business. And since the very beginning, they’ve met the demand for foreign passport photos (measured in millimeters) and copy and restoration of old photos. Over time, their talents were honed in each of these genres, and today, their studio is capable and qualified to provide photographic services in a host of areas for both the consumer and corporate markets.

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