Fisheating Creek Outpost

A few months ago we decided that we wanted to go camping.  Real camping with a tent, sleeping bags, lanterns, canteens, everything true campers would carry on a camping trip. There was just one small problem with our plan.  This Miami couple had no camping gear.  No gear, no problem. . .a trip to Walmart would fix that.

When I say real camping, I mean of course camping at a campground.  A campground is primitive enough for a Miami couple that just purchased all of their camping gear, and packed it nicely in a large plastic container, tags and all. All of our camping gear, so shiny and new, was perfect for our camping adventure at Fisheating Creek Outpost in Palmdale, Florida. My favorite purchase for this trip was a Weber  wannabe tabletop  grill.  I couldn’t wait to take this grill, with its lovely shiny red dome lid, out of the box to cook our first camping meal.

Our camping weekend had finally arrived, and after loading our Jeep with all of the essential new gear, we set off on a Friday late-afternoon to our camping destination just 2.5 hours Northwest of Miami. We would be there before sunset to pitch our tent, and get acquainted with our campsite.

Map to Fisheating Creek

Did I mention how much we love road trips? We were so excited to get on the road. But before we could begin singing along to our eclectic playlist of 80’s and 90’s tunes, with Pitbull, Michael Jackson, The Eagles, and the occasional crooners young and old mixed in, the car begins to stall, and was most obviously dying on us.  Where were we at this point?  Not five minutes from our front door!  We were lucky enough to turn back home, unload our ailing Jeep, load our Toyota Camry with our shiny new camping gear, and get on the road again to the tune of Sweet Home Alabama.  So what if we were a little behind schedule! Our fake Weber grill would be smoking at our perfect little camping site in no time.6777_10203545918557292_2615398627809341850_n

Back on the road, two urbanites prepare to morph into country folk in the span of a 2.5 hour drive to central Florida; Miami Friday night gridlock had different plans for us.  Leaving the city lights behind would take a bit longer than expected, and a few more Skynyrd and Zac Brown songs to ease into our weekend getaway. 

We are now way behind and into the night, and about forty minutes from our destination. We spot an ever so enticing Walmart Superstore in the distance.  We have to stop.  We need some food and duct tape (duct tape is a must have according to the Mestre Camping Survival Checklist.)  Perusing the merchandise displayed in the camping section of the store I find another item that, in my expert opinion, is essential.  “Look honey, a shiny little red lantern to go with our shiny red Weber imposter!” I say to my husband.  Little red lantern now joins the rest of our shiny new gear.  Morphing is almost complete.  We are ready to camp out!

We arrive at the campground after hours and have to enter a code at the entrance gate to gain entry.  A campground map with our campsite marked to easily locate our site, is left in a mailbox on the office/shop porch.  As we head down the path to our site, we see huge campers, motor homes, and a few scattered tents grouped relatively close together, with lights strung between the trees.  It’s very dark, but from what we can see, we are thrilled at the picturesque and perfect surroundings of this campground.

Further down a more isolated road we find our site, nestled deep within grounds surrounded by bushes and trees.  We could see that the space led out to some type of water, a creek or lake maybe.  It was pitch black, with no light of any kind except for the car headlights.  This “always up for adventure” girl was starting to feel a little nervous. My husband pulls out of our neatly packed camping container two new headlamps he had purchased for the trip.  Now we look like miners, and as we stood in the darkness laughing at each other I thought. . .I’m so glad we brought these headlights!

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As we struggled with our tent, that comfortably accommodates two people and a queen size air mattress (yes I know, we’re roughing it), it begins to rain.  We finish inflating the mattress, place it inside the tent, hang our shiny new little red lantern from a hook inside, and lay down our exhausted bodies before a monsoon, together with thunder and lightning serenade us to sleep.

Greeted by a misty and cool morning, we could finally see where we settled the night before.  What a beautiful campsite!  We were on a lake, isolated from other campers, although we could see a group of tents in the distance.  Already the peacefulness of our surroundings began to ease the tension of the workweek.  We set out to cook our first meal of the day on our phony Weber.  But since we are all about the raw camping experience, we decided to use the fire pit instead.

For the rest of the weekend we enjoyed the trails, canoeing, exploring the beauty of the grounds, grilling, and just relaxing.  Fisheating Creek was everything we expected it to be…a serene and beautiful campground that enchants even the most amateur camper.

Aerojet Dade Rocket Facility

This morning we set out to explore an abandoned rocket facility located in Homestead, Florida, just 5 miles from Everglades National Park.  We have been looking forward to this hike for months, a total of six miles to and from the facility, on a paved road.  A paved road hike is not all that exciting, but what awaits at the end of the road is.

In the early 1960’s, Aerojet General, a major rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer, was funded by the U.S. Airforce to build a testing site Southwest of Homestead, FL.  Aerojet was contracted to propel the U.S. Space Program with its fuel technology, and send astronauts to the moon.

A metal shed was constructed, 150 foot deep silo holding the largest solid fueled rocket ever built. The rocket was tested only three times from 1965 to 1967. The project was later cancelled by NASA, and the facility closed in 1969.  Incredibly, the rocket was left behind.

We arrived at 232 Avenue, later renamed Aerojet Road.  We were a little apprehensive after seeing the NO TRESPASSING sign when we turned into the road, but we continued on.

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We didn’t expect to have company on this trek.  We drove into the part of the road where we could park our car to begin our hike, and found five other cars already there.  About seven men were preparing their bikes, backpacks, and camera gear.  They had a lot of stuff; we had our phones and a GoPro.

We began our hike down a long paved road flanked by water on one side, and dense trees on the other.

I should mention that before we began our walk we encountered two snakes slithering across the road.  You never know what kind of wildlife will cross your path.  We were respectful of these creatures, had a heightened awareness of our surroundings, and prayed that we didn’t meet a Florida panther or alligator.

Our journey to the abandoned Aerojet Missile Facility begins.

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Notice the bullet holes on the firearms sign!

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Today was an extremely hot day.  We were excited about reaching the missile site, and that excitement kept us going without focusing on the fact that we had no water for the hike ahead. We reached a midpoint, and to the left found the first remnants of a security facility.  A gated entrance, complete with barbed wire, warned trespassers to keep out.

We continued down the road and had our first glimpse of the Aerojet compound in the distance.

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As we walked this isolated road, with abandoned graffitied buildings looming in the horizon, we felt as though we had been transported to an episode of The Walking Dead.  I must reference one of our favorite shows, as we now call this hike our “Walking Dead Trek.” One could easily imagine Daryl, Rick, and Michonne fighting off the walkers on this apocalyptic like landscape.

We walked about another two miles from the first barbed wire structure before reaching the first building.  I don’t know about most people, but when I’m in a historic place, I can’t help imagining myself going back in time.  Walking through the hallways and dilapidated rooms, I began to think about the people who walked these hallways, and worked in these rooms.  What top-secret NASA missions were conceived within these walls?  Albeit creepy, we are fascinated by our surroundings.  The graffiti lends a surreal layer to these concrete structures made mysterious by their abandonment.

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To walk through this fascinating place in the footsteps of people who lived in a pivotal time in our country’s history, a time of great political, technological, and cultural changes, was a memorable experience. If you can get through the long hike on Aerojet Road, and the occasional snake crossing the road, the Aerojet Missile Facility is worth the walk.

Here are some more pics taken along the road.  Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

Remembering Helen

If you’re a hiking enthusiast, Helen, Georgia will never disappoint.  A mecca for nature lovers, Helen is a very different kind of Southern town.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, this Bavarian village is straight out of a German storybook.  Walking on cobblestone streets lined with Alpine restaurants, charming shops, and colorful buildings, you can almost forget where you are.

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TUBERSOne of my favorite memories of Helen is tubing down the Chattahoochee River with my husband, after a day of exploring the village.  The normally smooth and relaxing tubing trip down the river was an especially hilarious one for us.  We didn’t account for the low water level, and instead of enjoying a two-hour trip, it took close to four hours of laughing at each other while getting stuck on the rocks, then flipping over as we lost our balance prying ourselves out!  A push stick and water shoes are a must have on this river adventure.  Check out Cool River Tubing if you’re ever passing through Helen.

And now to the hiking trails!  From the touristy and challenging steep climb to Anna Ruby Falls, to a lesser known wildlife trail we came across while exploring the countryside, we had our pick of dozens of picturesque trails.

While on a hike on one not so primitive trail, lined with plaquards depicting the various wildlife of the region, we spotted a sign on the BLACK BEAR.   I have to admit that we were just a bit intimidated, okay more like terrified, after seeing that bear sign. We quickly brushed off the fear and pushed on, that is until we came across a plaster cast of a bear paw in the middle of our trail.  Needless to say, we finished that trail in record speed!  SL273034

Here are some more pics from that hike.

After a long day of exploring the village of Alpine Helen, and walking the surrounding trails, we were grateful and happy to wind down for the evening at our charming B&B.

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The Nacoochee Valley Guest House is just a few miles outside of the heart of Helen.  It is the perfect restful getaway, owned and operated by a mother/daughter team. These charming ladies also run the gourmet restaurant located at the inn.  Every meal at Bernie’s Restaurant is more delicious than the next.  It’s a good thing our daily hikes balanced out the amount of food we devoured at Bernie’s!

Our final adventure on this trip was our very first zipline tour.  Ziplining with Nacoochee Adventures was exhilarating, and a bit frightening.  In the end, we were ready to do it again, and again.

Whether you visit Helen for the trails, the adventures, or the charm of its unique village, this is a place you will never forget; a gem in the beautiful mountains of northeast Georgia.

Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

 

 

 

 

Every Day Counts

Finding the motivation to get out there and walk is not always easy.  Factor in a busy workday and 86 degree temperature with high humidity, and the motivation is close to non-existent.  However, there are so many ways to keep the momentum going if you really try.  Weekday hikes may be as simple as getting up early to get your walk in before the day begins, walking around a park during lunch, or committing to a walk in the evening in your neighborhood.  No matter how you do it, do it.  You are preparing for the more exciting hike planned for the weekend ahead.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt:

Planning for our weekend hikes is made easy with a few great apps we love.

AllTrails offers downloadable maps of hiking and biking trails at the tip of your finger.  You can save your favorites for easy access, record your hike, and share your photos and trails with friends or followers.

MapMyHike goes a little further.  It not only tracks your hike/bike route, it also let’s you set exercise and nutrition goals, track the lifespan of your gear, purchase your favorite gear brands and items, and join challenges with friends or groups.

You won’t fall off the map with these apps!

Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

 

Why Santiago de Compostela?

Our interest in hiking was born in the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia.  The inspiration to walk El Camino began one night, browsing through books at Books & Books in Coral Gables.  Rolando came across a book titled Humbled by the Journey by Miguel “Mike” Benito Fernandez.  It is a story of a Cuban businessman, and his journey on El Camino to Santiago de Compostela.  It seemed like an interesting read, so we decided to buy it, hoping that it wouldn’t sit on our bedside table along with the other books we haven’t found the time to read.  At the register, Rolando asked the cashier if he knew anything about this story.  The gentleman at the cashier, a man in his late 60’s we thought, said that he did know something about the story because he had done the pilgrimage himself.  This man 20+ years our senior, he is in his 70’s we learned, planted the seed that would soon become a dream.

That seed was firmly rooted the day we watched a movie directed and produced by Emilio Estevez and his father Martin Sheen, the leading actor in the film The Way.  Movieholics that we are, it isn’t hard to believe that one movie would have such an impact on us.  Great movie–a must see whether you’re interested in making this journey, or just want to experience an inspirational story.

Being in the beginning stages of our quest, our research consists of lots of reading.  Today we started the day reading two chapters of To The Field of Stars, by Kevin A. Codd.

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There is a story about the meaning of Compostela, which if you understand Latin, (and who understands Latin??) translates to Field of Stars.  Hence, the title of Father Codd’s book, an American priest on his own journey towards enlightenment.  We are only two chapters into the book and already we don’t want to put it down.

Next on our reading list will be that first book that inspired us, and still sits on our bedside table.

Our journey awaits.

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Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

 

 

Live, Love. . . Let’s Do This

After meeting late in life, we are a couple in love, knowing that sometimes second, even third chances don’t come easily.  We are Olga and Rolando, and while working through the monotony of everyday life, we still dream big.  And now, through the eyes of a couple starting life anew, today we have decided to embark on a pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago.  Also known as The Way of St. James, for many this path begins in the Pyrenees, and continues through northwestern Spain to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Our love of hiking began while on our honeymoon in Georgia.  There’s something about pushing yourself to walk long distances on beautiful trails, some easy, some hard, but oh so rewarding when you’re done.  This picture was taken while hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains.  It was during our time in Georgia that we began to fantasize about tackling the Appalachian Trail.  We began to follow seasoned hikers of the AT on YouTube, and thought…we can do this!  Now we have set our goal to walk a path a bit further away from home, and hope to walk El Camino, a visual, spiritual, and physical adventure stretching over 500 miles.

Back home in Miami, we have begun to plan for our future journey.  This morning we didn’t venture off too far from home.  We did an urban hike on Ludlam Trail, a new 6.2 mile trail through Miami, created in the old East Coast Florida railway system.  We look forward to training throughout different trails for the next two years, and sharing our experiences in our preparation to conquer El Camino.

Here are some pictures of our hike on Ludlam Trail in Miami.