We got more adventure than we bargained for last Saturday on the Suwannee River section of the Florida Trail. Four of us plus dog carpooled an hour and a half up from Gainesville and started our respective journeys just after 9 am. Lily, Paul and Uwharrie would hike 12 miles into White Springs while Shawn and I would run ahead out-and-back to retrieve the car for a 24-mile workout.
We kept up a quick pace. In a few miles, Shawn and I passed under the I-75 bridge. Bats squeaked and flittered about, the smell of guano intense. As the sun rose in the sky, so did the temperature.
Fortunately, with the trail hugging the winding river's bank, the noise of interstate traffic soon faded.
At Swift Creek, we paused to admire a new footbridge and cool off in the rushing waters.
Before entering Stephen Foster State Park, another swim in the river became obligatory.
We stopped to watch young armadillos bumbling about on the trail, oblivious to our presence.
Despite these excursions, Shawn and I made it to town in two hours and cooled off in the air conditioned pizzeria with some ice-cold drinks. It was here that I checked my phone and learned that Lily and Paul had lost track of Uwharrie about 15 minutes earlier. After running and hiking with her for 12 years, I assumed she would quickly track us down and told Lily and Paul to keep hiking.
Unfortunately, this assumption proved false. We finished our respective journeys and spent hours looking for Uwharrie. We rigged up makeshift flyers with familiar scents before reluctantly driving back to Gainesville. After dropping off Paul and Shawn, Lily and I raced back to keep looking well into dark, but to no avail. Hours became days. A simple training hike/run became a nightmare.
Come Monday afternoon, in the fog of fatigue from restless camping and endless hours of fruitless searching on foot, I wandered out onto a peninsula over the quiet black waters of the Suwannee. I reflected on how Uwharrie entered into my life from the woods over a decade ago and how strangely symmetrical it would be for her to exit my life in a similar fashion.
I hoarsely yelled out her name again and listened to it echo through the cypress. Hot tears welled up in my eyes. I wasn't ready to let go. Tropical storm Colin was racing this way, but I would take another day off from work to keep looking as necessary. Drizzle turned to harder rain, I felt my energy slipping away. Dejected, I retreated home in the deluge to an equally distraught Lily.
Lily brought renewed urgency to the search. She had printed out flyers with Uwharrie's picture and was anxious to get back up there. After haphazardly loading up some camping gear, we once again drove north, this time in a hard rain. We made camp just before dark and hiked for a time through the night shaking dog food. Sleep didn't come easily in the hot muggy forest.
On Tuesday morning, we hiked for a couple more hours where Uwharrie was reportedly last seen on Saturday before taking to the car to distribute flyers to nearby homes. Before we had twenty distributed, one of them generated a phone call. Relieved to have a fresh lead, we raced to the reported sighting on the west side of the interstate. Then I suffered a momentary lapse of reason…
Despite my better judgment, I entered an adjacent property without waiting for the owner to return to obtain permission to look for our dog. Skirting the edge of this large parcel, I was unable to evade a tense encounter with the clenched fists of an understandably upset owner. To add insult to injury, it turns out we were following a false lead. The paw prints in the sand looked too small to be Uwharrie's.
Spirits couldn't have been lower. Our car, bodies and minds were all running out of gas. It was around lunchtime. We decided we should head to White Springs to refuel. As we drove down this all-too-familiar stretch of country road, we saw an animal loping along the shoulder in the haze of the hot sun. Both of us had to blink to believe it. From somewhere far off I heard Lily cry out in joy.
Indeed, it was Uwharrie. We immediately pulled over and she ran over with tail wagging and tongue hanging out. She looked amazing for having been missing for over 72 hours. She even hopped into the car. We cranked the AC and tried to encourage her to eat and drink as we drove to our vet in Gainesville. After getting some subcutaneous fluids and antibiotics in her, she is safely back home.
Sometime during the ordeal, I pieced together a map to try and better organize our search efforts. Uwharrie isn't talking, so we can only guess where she went and how she eventually connected with us based on the map's waypoints. Regardless of the details, it's all quite miraculous to us.
A few of us have been meeting up on local rides in preparation to "race the sun" across the peninsula. With the mechanical advantage of bike, we hoped to traverse what took me three days on foot in less than one day. So, at sunrise on Mother's Day, we set out from Anastasia Island bound for Cedar Key...
Lily and Uwharrie saw Kenyon, Paul and me off. Our route tracked closely to last year's adventure all the way across the St. Johns. In Palatka, we diverted northwest to the rail trail along route 100. We relished its lack of traffic and cool shade as the day's temperatures began to creep towards the 90s.
As we entered into Alachua County and neared the halfway point, Kenyon's back and legs started seizing up on him. He urged Paul and me to continue on and shortly connected with Lily and Uwharrie. Hydration became key. Every 20 miles or so, we would break in the shade.
Paul and I took a long lunch at a cafe on the other side of Gainesville. We understood that the final 50 miles would be the roughest. Already tired, we faced the hottest hours in a constant headwind. To make matters worse, my bloodshot eyes started aching from the sweat, sunblock and dry wind.
Lily's oasis stops were critical during this time. As the smell of the salt marshes grew stronger, my frown began to turn itself upside-down. After 13 hours and 140-miles from the start, Paul and I reached the Gulf of Mexico at Cedar Key with about an hour of daylight to spare. Piece of cake, right?
Many recent sewing adventures have relied on new materials. But more laudable are the DIY projects that breathe new life into old gear. Take this G4 pack: before dissing "granddaddy," know that I've used it as intended on lightweight winter outings and never in five years figured out what could fill its 54 L and weigh under 30 lbs. Also, given pocket height, on-the-go access to food and water is out of the question. To me, something is off about this design... Time for a makeover.
It took only a few minutes and a pair of scissors to cut off the extension collar and rear mesh pocket. This scrap material was then used to make shoulder and hip-belt pockets pictured at the bottom of the above image. Though a bit more time-consuming, it didn't take long, nor did it cost any money to fashion these front pockets. Not only is this pack now more functional, it's also lost some weight (14.5 oz. down from 17). I wonder what old gear will be repurposed next?