After taking several months to get settled into our new town, jobs, and life in Florida in general, Analisa and I finally packed up our camping gear for a much needed weekend away from town.
We had been feeling cooped up since leaving Oregon. Getting outside to wild forests, rivers, and mountains was a huge part of our lives there. Even though the outdoor lifestyle doesn't seem to be as ingrained in the culture here, I need to remember to make the effort to take advantage of the unique and varied opportunities that Florida offers.
The Ocala National Forest is a short 2 hour drive from Jacksonville. About half way through the drive, we exited the highway and the the pace immediately slowed. The housing developments and strip malls faded--replaced by old farm houses, oak canopied back roads, farms, and wide open spaces.
The 600+ square miles of national forest is a treasure here in Florida. Within the forest lies crystal clear springs and creeks, a huge network of trails, hundreds of lakes and ponds, and wildlife including alligators, black bears, eagles, wild boards, otters, coyotes, and foxes, just to name a few. Furthermore, they allow you to pitch a tent wherever you'd like as long as it's not hunting season.
Since it was our first visit and we only had a couple of days, we chose one of the more developed campgrounds near a spring. Despite being "developed", it still retained the quiet, natural feel that we needed.
There's something about exploring new places, cooking over the fire, gazing at the stars in a truly black night sky, and crawling into a sleeping bag and sleeping with only the noise of an occasional armadillo walking by or coyotes yipping in the distance that rejuvenates me almost immediately. Even in just a quick weekend trip, inspiration, smiles, laughter, and simple happiness were at levels that are hard to reach in my normal daily routine in town. Those feelings are long lasting too, taking positivity back to the office and to home.
I'm looking forward to getting a bit more off of the beaten track next time, and I'm glad to know that there's so much to discover close to home.