Deep(ish) Into The Ocala National Forest
Our first days camping were spent in the Ocala National Forest at the Lake Eaton Campground. The campground had 14 campsites, all of which were well kept and had a picnic, fire pit and grill. Our site was one of the more hidden sites, tucked back in a little grove between the trees. It was not a free campground, but the fee per night was small ($8). Upon our arrival, we were immediately greeted by the campground's volunteer serviceman, Brian. Brian (and his little dog Oliver) were very friendly. He gave us info about the campground, like where the bear-proof trash bin was and how annoying one of the site's occupants had been with their power generator, and let us know about the Lake Eaton Sinkhole and the trail that leads to it - which we would have otherwise not known about. Brian would prove to be a true friend over the next few days. We initiated our friendship when he made a peace offering of firewood to us. It wasn't much, but it saved us a trip back into town for wood. I offered to repay him in PBRs, but he respectfully declined. It was not until later that night that I could reciprocate the kindness.
After setting up camp at break-neck speed to avoid the darkness, we dined on vegetarian chili and fixins. The fire was roaring and we could finally relax after a long day of driving and campground-searching-for.
They say you don't know when you are going to be asked to be a hero, and I can attest to the truth of that statement. At roughly 7:13 pm, a mere 2.5 hours after arriving at the camp, I was called into action. "Matt" I heard shouted from the woods behind me, "you there?" I quickly got up from my gravity chair to find Brian 20 yards from our site. I rushed to him to make sure everything was okay. It turns out he needed to head into town for a short while, and he wanted to know if I could shut the campground gate if he wasn't back by 8:30 or so. If you are someone who knows me, you know I don't take responsibilities like this lightly, so I gave him my word that I would shut the gate for him. Whether he knew it or not, once he left the campground, I became the volunteer serviceman (due to the transitive property). There was a lot of weight on my shoulders during his absence, but I soldiered through it to ensure the safety of everyone at Lake Eaton Campground. I shut the gate, and everyone survived the night.
The following day - our first full day camping - we woke up ready to start an adventure. We barely had enough time to make coffee (via french press) before it was a full on downpour. We knew there was a chance of rain, so we weren't totally caught off guard. However, we were confined to our tent for the first half of the day. Once the rain let up, we had a chance to explore a little and see Lake Eaton. It's a nice little lake and the fishing pier was well kept and structurally sound.
After my unsuccessful attempt to catch a fish with my Squiddies hand reel, we cooked a nice dinner and relaxed by the fire in preparation of the next day's hike to the Lake Eaton Sinkhole.
At around 2 p.m. the next day, we made our way to the trailhead that leads to this legendary sinkhole. Thankfully, our buddy Brian offered us a ride to the trail, saving us a 5-mile walk to and from the site. It would be about a .4 mile hike, which Brooke and I thought would be no issue for the four of us physically (and we were correct). The true tick- ahem *trick- would be avoiding the onslaught of black legged ticks that infested the forest around us.
The hike to the sinkhole was nothing special. It was a small path with trees and bushes on either side preventing you from seeing too far into the woods. The sinkhole itself was interesting. It was difficult to tell just how deep it was since so much vegetation has grown in it for years and years but it was obvious how far you had to go down to reach the base. We descended down a spiraling wooden staircase built into the perimeter of the sinkhole. It took 188 steps to reach the lowest point (according to the trail sign).
After spending a few moments taking in the enormity of the sinkhole, we made the ascent back to the top of the staircase to meet the trail. It was just before we began our hike back to the parking lot that we noticed our pups were under a tick attack. We plucked at least 8 off Bosley, and 2 off Mila. Thankfully only one tick had actually latched on to each of the pups (different ticks).
That night would be our final night at the Lake Eaton Campground. Like the two previous nights, we spent the evening around a fire with hot food. Overall, the site we stayed at in the Ocala National Forest was just what we were looking for on our first nights in the wilderness. It was a clean area with plenty of privacy and the feel of being in the middle of the forest far away from any civilization (even though there was a gas station/Subway no more than 15 minutes from us), and besides the sporadic rain it couldn't have been better.