The sun was on the rise and began to peak out from behind the trees. It’s an early August morning in Florida, we are driving up the turnpike heading to Altoona.
This August morning was to be a wet ride in the Ocala National Forest. The Jeep Club had gathered and was ready to ride the trails. The Wednesday Wheelers meet on the first Wednesday of each month to different areas in the central Florida area. The day started like any other jeep ride day, get up before the sun, pack the jeep and head down the highway. The forecast was in the low 90s and it was going to rain sometime around 1 PM, so we thought...
Ocala National Forest is the world’s largest contiguous pine scrub Forest. The views are beautiful. When we Jeep, we often take the side and back windows off. This will help keep them from getting scratched up and opens us to the environment. The downside to this is that spiders and ticks have free access to the inside. I picked a tick off my belly the next night... YUCK! Always carry bug spray.
There are near endless trails winding through the forest providing a variety of Jeep opportunities. From sandy to muddy, tree scratching tight to wide open. Beware some puddles are deep enough to hydro lock the careless Jeeper. We were warned to stay out of any clay pits even if they are open or you might get a ticket for venturing in. There are a few springs in the forest that offer swimming and kayaking. Alexander Springs and Juniper springs provide a relaxing place to visit after a day on the trails.
After a stop at the Ranger station, we headed to a gas station in Altoona for a drivers meeting. We had a total of 14 Jeeps to start, a few more then we thought would show. This would be our first time leading a Jeep Club trail. We planned routes and planned alternate routes. The morning run was 16.71 miles. The National forest service has an online interactive map that will show you what roads are for highway registered vehicles and what roads are not. I use the term “roads” loosely. “Stay on names and numbered roads” were the instructions given by the Ranger at the station. The first alternative trail we turned down was so tight that we had to back out after 50 yards. Clearly a goat track. I was not willing to sacrifice the paint jobs of other Jeeps so we picked a little more clear trail... so we thought. We headed north towards the east side of the bombing range. We encountered a few fallen trees and took some time to clear the way. I drove over the tree and then hooked up the tow strap and pulled it out of the way. Thank you, Clay, for always getting out and helping. By late morning we had arrived at the bombing range and took a group shot at the sign. A quick stop at the bathrooms to the East and we headed south to Blue sink our lunch spot. Trail 14 has plenty of big puddles that don’t go too deep, most of the time. One puddle put the 33” tires almost under and the opposite side had a steep walk that stopped most in their tracks. Sean made it through pretty easy with his lockers and 35s.
We made it to Blue sink a little after 12. A brief walk down to the pond to have a nice setting for lunch. Some fished, some swam, and we all ate. I attempted to get the drone in the air but was restricted by the nearby bombing range. Most of the drone screen was blocked by a warning screen that would not let me hit the accept button to fly at my own risk.
After lunch, we headed south to get around the now-closed portion of road just north of the sink. As we pulled up to the power line road David’s Jeep made a wretched sound in the front drive train. Not wanting to take the chance Sean and David headed out to avoid a trail mishap. We headed back up the goat trail.. more trees blacked the path. Most were fairly easy to move. The last tree was pretty large and I was able to slide under it by less than an inch. We hooked up the tow strap and pulled... nope. This tree was green and must have fallen recently. We took out a hatchet and Jim had a cordless saw. After some work, we were able to take a chunk out and then pull it out of the way and down the trail to a side path.
Now the sound of thunder is approaching. The rain was on the way. We put our side windows back on and headed west towards 14 again. The rain came down and made the washout roads into creek beds. It was a cool sight to see small waves of a mini flash flood coming down the road you are driving on. The puddles were getting deeper, the lightning more frequent, and the ride more funner. It was a blast. We finished out the day with getting all tools and radios back in the right Jeeps. The rain continued all the way home. Unfortunately, the ride took over 2 1/2 hours to get home. The turnpike was gridlocked, 441 a mess, and power failure in north Kissimmee made for a long drive home. Would we do it all again? You bet!
Matt N Randy
Jeep Enthusiast, Pastor, Photographer, Artist, A husband and wife team that loves going out and seeing God's Creations.