When Jonathan and I had just met, the one event that launched us from “just friends” to “future mother / father of my baby” was a three day, 22 mile backpacking trip along the High Sierra Trail in the Sequoia National Forest in California. We went into those woods all prettied up, looking our best, full of energy and secretly crushing on one another, and came out rugged, dirty, exhausted and madly in love.
I love hiking. And backbacking. And camping. So so so much. So does my handsome husband. It’s one of our many “things” we share, made even more special by our earliest memories forged together – trudging mile after excruciating mile over rocks, rivers and meadows, savoring campfire coffee while laying out under breathtaking starry night skies, talking about God and grace and cosplay and fantasy novels and everything in between. Sparks flew as we chopped firewood, dried out socks, purified alpine spring waters to fill our canteens, tended to blisters and hoisted 80 pound packs in the towering trees so the bears couldn’t reach them. We fell in love with our hiking boots on.
So now that baby Tessa is here with us, and I’m finally feeling up to being active again, I’ve decided to hike on one new hiking trail (or two) every week. I am a sucker for National Parks, and since we’re an easy 30 minute drive from the Gulf Islands National Shoreline, I’m making it a fun challenge to hike as much of the 80 miles of Florida District trails as I can while we’re stationed here in Pensacola.
I so want my little girl growing up feeling at ease and a fondness for nature and the outdoors. I don’t want her to be a stranger to the beauty of God’s creation, from the macro to the micro. And I figure, she’s never too young to start, eh? Wrapped up snug and warm on my chest with our ring sling, my baby girl has seen more of the world than most two month olds! It’s a habit I don’t want to break.
I started this little challenge just four weeks ago, and have had the joy of hiking with my tiny baby girl on the Trench Trail, the Woodland Nature Trail, the Brackenridge Trail and the Fishing Trail. That’s 5.9 miles down! Can I get a w00t w00t?!
These trails are far different from the giant redwood, majestic sequoia, waterfall lined, mountain vista views I’m used to. While part of me longs for the crisp alpine air of the John Muir meadows, I must say I am quickly growing fond of these new sights and smells on my outdoor treks.
The air is humid and salty, with the sound of ocean waves mingling with the sounds of tropic insects and palms fronds swaying in the gentle breezes. Exotic seashell fragments and stark white sands line the trails underfoot. Spanish moss and tropic vines hang from oak and hickory trees overhead, and every once in a while you can catch glimpses of brightly colored lizards and vibrant green tree frogs in the foliage. Everything is so tropic here (it is a stones throw from the Caribbean, after all) that I often find myself exclaiming asinine geeky things like, “That tree with the mushrooms on it looks like something out of Ferngully!” or “The moon over the waters looks like Pirates of the Caribbean!” or, most often, “OMG, this looks just like Jurassic Park. I keep expecting a dilophosaurus to jump out and spit at me!”
This park is chock full of history and mystery – more than 80 percent of the park is submerged lands teeming with marine life. It’s America’s largest National Seashore and one of the oldest “discovered” portions of America.
Europeans first visited the northern Gulf of Mexico in the early 1500s. Spain, in 1559, established a settlement in Florida on Pensacola Bay, but the place was abandoned soon afterward. Spaniards revived the settlement in 1698, surrendered it to the French in 1719, regained it by treaty in 1722, ceded it to the English in 1763, and repossessed it by force in 1781. The park is cluttered with historic forts, buildings, relics, and historic points of interest. I mean, how could it not be?!
The Gulf Islands are vibrant and fascinating in a very energetic way… far from the serenity and absorbing nature of the Sequoias. They’re two different beasts, and each appeals to my sense of adventure. (Though in my heart of hearts, I am a mountain girl through and through.)
I’m excited for the many more miles to hike before the Navy whisks us away to who-knows-where. And I’ll keep posting our adventures here on my blog. But in the meantime, here are some snapshots of the trails we’ve trekked thus far:
The Woodland Nature Trail by Fort Barrancas:
The Trench Trail by Fort Barrancas:
The Brackenridge Trail by Naval Live Oaks:
The Fishing Trail by Naval Live Oaks: