We’re in Florida over the holidays, Spesh and I, visiting my family, and while the family cars are mostly preoccupied with driving my parents to and from work, we managed to persuade one to take us to Little Manatee River State Park twice – the first time, to peek around (and see a wild tortoise!1), the second, to hike the 6.4-mile stacked loop just north of the river. As Florida is not known for its strenuous terrain so much as its humidity, mosquitos, and more toothy fauna, I figure this hike’ll be perfect for stretching our legs.
While for Spesh, this hike’s more a matter of stopping the inexorable process of going stir-crazy, it’s more purposeful for me. My Mom
tried to kill me dragged me along2 to her personal trainer-led workouts; said personal trainer pointed out that weaknesses in my left hip and right knee were at least partially to blame for my foot pains on the trail. So I’ve decided to use this hike to work on my gait, try to balance my weight between my steps, step evenly on all parts of both feet.
After slipping a fiver in for the entrance fee, we amble up the connector trail and up to the beginning of the loops. Initially, we think this little piece of trail was a part of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST), but that doesn’t make any sense, given the whole “loop” aspect; turns out, it’s maintained/protected by the Florida Trail Association, the folks responsible for the FNST. Thus, the signage:
The lighting’s odd this afternoon, the light muted by the odd-for-coastal-Florida cloud cover, filtering through all the trees and hanging Spanish Moss, down to the ferns that cover the forest floor. At times, I was expecting some form of dinosaur to round the corner and screech at us for imposing on its territory – though we did see miLLIONS OF ANOLES. TINY ADORABLE LIZARDS SCURRYING EVERYWHERE. Oh, and wild pig-sign, scratchings and scrapings in the dried mud. Apparently, wild pigs are still a thing in this part of Florida.
While squeeing over every lizard, I was intentional about every footfall, experimenting with weight placement, foot placement, and the harder-than-expected easing of my weight from foot to foot. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Spesh shooed me ahead so I could focus, and then stopped me every 45 seconds to look at another cool plant. I’m more of a fauna kind of girl – anoles, but also snakes and gators and manatees, oh my! – so I soon enough shooed him ahead so that he could point out things as I passed by.
What I think I like most about the Floridian landscape is how quickly it can change. From deciduous at the beginning, to a preponderance of palms, to mangroves, to pine, and back again. The trail changed, too, from fern-lined to boardwalked to sandy softness wrapping around (and getting into) our shoes. One thing was constant, though: the flatness of it all. Barely a tilt in the landscape anywhere.
Left foot, right foot. I step past Spesh as he’s checking out the umpteenth air plant and hear a sharp rustling from near my left foot. Apparently I just missed some of that fauna I’d been looking for – a snake slipping off into the underbrush. Oh well.
The weather starts to clear off a little bit as we slip through to the second loop in about 40 minutes – I meant to be a little slower, more deliberate than usual, but dang, we’re not making the best time. But it’s a nice day, and there’s no rush to get back to the indoor world.
Left foot, right foot – this is way harder than I anticipated. My left arch, as expected, is starting to give me sass, so I ease up a little bit, focus some more, watch Spesh, with his 4 mile an hour gate, get further and further away.
The loops turn back towards the trailhead soon enough, and we extend our jaunt by heading down a side trail to check out the “primitive” campsite: there’s a palatial picnic table, and some gorgeous flat spots for camping3. We chug water – the humidity is sucking it from our bodies, before heading on off down the last bits.
This whole intentional-walking thing gotten a little easier as the miles have gone by – not easy; it’s hard to unlearn nearly 30 years of walking habits – but a little easier, even if my left foot’s starting to ache and one of my right thigh muscles is threatening to lock up. Close to the end of the walk, the trail decides to “challenge” us, and there’s a whole – no kidding – five feet of trail with about five feet of elevation gain. Apparently we’d lost five feet somewhere in there. Who knew?
For me, it’s kind of a challenge, in a weird way – wait, a slope? Where do I put my weight? How does balance work even? How absurd is that question? Luckily, it’s over basically before it begins, and we’re once again headed down flat trail towards the car in the fading light.
Flat flat flat. The blessed God of the Flat Lands truly reigns supreme here, sending soft pine needles to brush across our arms in encouragement. The God of the Dying Light is showing off, too, setting the shadows to dancing around us. It’s hard to miss the mountains amongst such newness, but I manage somehow.
We’re back to the trailhead sooner than I expect – just a bit over two hours. Not bad, considering. I think of what beastly miles I could make if I hiked the Florida Trail – maybe I will someday, once they get it off the roadways – but between continued stride practice and more hiking, I hope to make those kinds of miles on the PCT.
 Which, while not fast, by any means, are apparently faster than the camera loading time on Spesh’s iPhone 4. Womp Womp.
 Nah, I went willingly. Said personal trainer apparently cuts her some slack when other people attend with her. Kicked my ass, though.
 To be fair, there’s no dearth of places to camp; everything’s flat.