Day Hike On The Florida Trail
I call it “itchy feet.” It’s when I’m itching to set my feet on a dirt path through the woods. The past year has been tough, and at times I’ve wanted to just hit the pause button on everything and just melt into the trees down a forest path somewhere. My therapist seems to think that I haven’t properly processed a lot of things. I’m sure he’s right.
After losing Rama, I stopped hiking. A lot of shit happened after that, culminating in a shit-storm of epic proportions. It was then that I truly needed the trail, but I couldn’t see anything but a bottomless pit of crap I had to wade through. I just put my head down and pushed though each day, using the gym as therapy and concentrating on improving my physique. The mental boost working out provides was a bonus. But my feet were still itchy. Despite this, I couldn’t see any way I’d be able to do any real hiking at that point, so I sold off many pieces of my gear.
The other day while going through some boxes, I came across Rama’s pack. Of course it made me think of her and how strange it still is that she isn’t here. It had been my intention to spread some of her ashes out on a local stretch of trail we used to frequent on the year anniversary of her death but things didn’t work out that way. So yesterday I decided to take an impromptu drive out there with Sassy and get some much-needed nature therapy.
Of all the things to do in Florida, spending time in the outdoors is a no-brainer. We have sun, beaches, theme parks and a beautiful network of hiking trails. The Florida Trail runs 1300 miles through Florida scrubs, pine forests and swamps, with new miles planned. The Southern portion of the Flagler Trail was designated part of the Florida Trail around 1975. The Snowhill Trailhead is located in Oviedo, Florida and runs alongside a few homes until meeting with the Florida Trail in the Little Big Econ State Forest.
Flagler Trail South
You pass through a variety of scenery, from “green tunnel” to wide footpath to swamp to what us Florida folk call hills. Here the Flagler Trail runs along what used to be the Florida East Coast Railway. A few miles in from Snowhill Road trailhead going north you can see the old railroad trestles, still standing as a testament to what once was.
Remnants of Florida East Coast Railway
Foot bridge over the Econlockhatchee River
Old Dogs & The Passage Of Time
Sassy had a rough year of her own. What I originally thought was her spondylitis flaring up turned out to be a giant splenic tumor. It turned out to be benign, but this happened not four months after she had a questionable tumor removed from her side. The one we had removed had been a very suspicious mass that didn’t behave like a fatty tumor even though all examinations previously told us it was. We removed it, biopsied it and it was in fact a benign fatty growth. I went back and forth trying to figure out what I should do about this latest find. If the splenic tumor was cancerous and we removed it, she still had a degenerative spinal condition. Is more of her pain coming from the spine? The tumor? What if we removed the splenic tumor and she was still in pain from the spine?Should I even put her through another surgery? What if it wasn’t cancer? What if she had more time? The vet told me to take a week–and no more than a week–to think on it, as the splenic tumor was at risk of rupturing. That would mean death for her and the decision would be taken out of my hands.
I consulted other friends in the veterinary field, Sassy’s breeder, friends and family. Everyone had different opinions and all had valid points. I felt stuck. I certainly didn’t want to cause her any more unnecessary suffering. Surgery is difficult in and of itself, but on an old dog it can be especially hard.
Ultimately we did the surgery, the splenic mass was benign and she recovered just fine. The fatty tumor on her side is back (as the vet said it would be) and we are keeping watch for any other fast growing masses as she is especially susceptible. So as we walked through woods the other day, I watched her keenly. It had been a while since she’d done any decent activity. She did very well the first few miles and was actually pulling me along. Of course there were many smells and after being a lazy house dog for a while I’m sure it was a lot for her to process.
It was hard for me to believe that I used to bring her here when she was just a pup. Where had all the years gone? For some time now we’ve been preparing ourselves for word that she has another internal tumor or that her spondylitis had reached a point where we would have to make a decision regarding her quality of life. But this day it was me and Sassy, the wind in the trees and a desperately needed break from the stresses of life. Hiking with dogs brings a special kind of comfort. Dogs don’t judge you, they don’t ask anything but to be with you. In my everyday life I spend so much time trying to catch up, trying to measure up, trying to be everything to everyone. Out on a trail I’m able to be in the moment and for however long the hike lasts, I’m able to just be.
Watching the horses go by
Rama on the Florida Trail
Being out there brought back a lot of memories of hikes with Rama. I miss her. I can’t believe she’s been gone over a year now. I think her death being as unexpected as it was made her loss that much more painful. She and I shared a special connection. She was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs. For a dog that always aspired to be a couch potato, her endurance on a hike was staggering. I am a fast walker (always trying to get my cardio in!), but I had to work to keep up with her. She was often ahead of me, looking back as if to say, “Are you coming?”
We took our time on the way back. Sassy began to slow down and I didn’t want to push her to do more miles at her age and current conditioning. We just did an out and back and took several breaks on the way back to the truck. It was a nice day, mostly overcast and not broiling hot out. It had given me time to think, to breathe and to clear my head of a lot of life stuff that has been clouding it recently. It re-ignited my resolve to get back to regular hiking and before we made it back to the truck I’d already decided what hike I wanted to do next.