Misadventures teach you how to be a better hiker, better explorer, and better person. Ambassador Crystal Osborn talks about hiking in Central Florida (yes, there’s more than theme parks) and the lessons she’s learned.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Central Florida? Disney, Maybe Daytona Beach? I bet you would never think of hiking, and that’s why I am here to tell you there is so much more to Florida than tourist attractions. Florida is known for it’s beaches, yes, but it’s also known for it’s hidden springs, forests, long flat hiking trails, and a variety of plants and animals only found here.

My husband and I were both born and raised about 30 minutes outside Orlando, Fla. When I grew up, the town (which is actually now a bigger city) that I grew up in had a very small-town feel even though it was larger. We didn’t have neighbors that lived right next door, the nearest grocery store was 25 minutes away, and when someone moved into the neighborhood you’d great them with a fresh southern home cooked meal.

Growing up I always played in the woods around our house, climbed the wild muscadine vines (yes I said vines), and walked trails with my friends as we got older to get from here to there. I wouldn’t say that I was an “outdoorsie” kind of person most of my life, it was just what everyone else did so I kind of joined in. My parents didn’t have a lot of money growing up so most of our adventures were to places that were free or cost very little. In turn, this is how I discovered local parks, preserves, springs, and more! While most of my friends would spend their weekends at one of the many theme parks we’d spend ours at the beach or a natural spring.

As I grew up, got married and have now started a family of my own I realize the impact this had on my life. Seeing nature and all it’s wonder, and how as a child I took much of it for granted.

About 7 months ago, I was eager to find something to keep my 6-month old daughter busy and to get me out of the house. While scrolling through Facebook I saw a high school friend with her 1-year old hiking. She wears her in a baby hiking carrier. Every week they were going to some different park in her area, and I thought “I can do that too”!

So, I went on Amazon, bought my first carrier, and started planning out our hiking adventures. At first it was extremely hard (for me). I’ve never actually hiked before in my life, and now I’m going to be hiking miles at a time with an infant and ALL of her stuff on my back.

My husband and I started small. We found lots of trails at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which is a spring night near our house. Every 2 miles we would switch off who was carrying the baby in the carrier to give the other person a mini break. The first time we completed a 5-mile hike I was so proud of myself. We not only felt great, but were able to leave technology behind for a few hours (aka – phones left in the truck) and just enjoy nature. The fresh air, smells from the freshly blooming flowers, sounds of birds chirping, woodpeckers pecking, and seeing white tail deer run across a field in front of you just puts everything into perspective.

I decided right then and there that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I wanted to share it with my husband and daughter.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all peaches and cream out there. We’ve had our share of experiences as hikers and as parents on the trails. I’ll never forget the first time we forgot to pack diapers in the carrier. I was finishing up a hike at an old historic sugar mill plantation with my mom, when suddenly I felt something wet dripping down my back and legs. My daughter had what I like to lovingly call “the explosive diaper”. It was leaking out of the carrier and onto me. The entire time I was trying to stay calm even though I knew there was basically baby poo running down my legs. Needless to saw I booked it to the parking lot, got her out of the carrier, cleaned her up and then called the hike for the day.

Another time we went hiking during a severe drought in our area. This is normally not a huge deal, but for some reason we took a trail where all the bugs and snakes had decided to be on that day. If you ever hike in Florida the one thing you NEVER want to forget is Bug Spray! Well, this one time and only one time, I forgot to put it on and It was a huge mistake. About 2 miles into our hike I was attacked by not just mosquitos and nats (which I can usually handle) but a pack of massive horse flies!

They were attracted to my black leggings (which have since been retired from hiking) and were biting me thru my leggings. If you have never been bitten by a horse fly I can describe it is a mild bee sting or a strong ant bite. After 10 minutes of trying to bat at them, kill them, I just took off running to get away, tripped over a root, and fell extremely hard on the ground. All of these are what you are told NOT to do when trying to get away from horse flies, but when panic sets in those proper thoughts went right out the window. Thankfully I didn’t injure myself too badly. Just some bumps and bruises, a sore back (which thankfully, I wasn’t wearing my daughter at the time, my husband was carrying her), and lots of bite marks on my legs. From that day forward I spray enough bug spray on my body to cover an army of people.

Our last, and most recent experience, I will share for today is surviving heat exhaustion and severe dehydration on the trail. Central Florida in the summer is a brutal place to hike.

If the bugs, snakes, bears and surprise thunderstorms don’t get in the way the heat and humidity will!

On this hike we were back at our favorite place to hike, Wekiwa Springs State Park.This time we took part of the equestrian trail over to the bike trail. It was about a 7-mile loop total. We got onto the trail at 9 am, and everything was great. We saw 3 deer running together through the trees, lots of birds, gofer turtle, and either a fox or coyote running (was too far away to make it out). When we hit the 5-mile mark I started to feel very dizzy.

Knowing that it was going to be a high of 98 degrees that day and no wind we packed our 2-liter CamelBak full of water, 3 extra bottles of water for us, sandwiches, snacks and of course all the water and snacks for our daughter. Normally this would be over kill, but for some reason it wasn’t this time. No matter how much water I drank the thirst was still there. I would eat little bites of a sandwich at a time, but the longer and longer we were gone the more nauseous I got.

The last mile was beyond brutal for me. My legs started to cramp up, and I felt like I was going to black out. There were many moments that I would stop, take a break, catch my breathe, drink some water and then press on. My only thought and concern was “is my daughter going to be next”. She is only 13 months old, so she can get sick from the heat a whole lot easier than me.

My poor husband, already carrying approx 30+ pounds of weight on his back between my daughter, the carrier and all the stuff we had to bring for the day, takes my camel back pack and both cameras so I am not wearing anything extra. Slowly but surely we make it back to the truck where I immediately stripped off my socks and shoes and got into the truck (which my husband had gone ahead of me to turn on so it was cooling down). He got our daughter out of the carrier, undressed her, and got her cooled off as well. We got back to the truck around noon, and realized that we can never hike this late again during the summer months. We were lucky that it didn’t get worse. When I got home it took me until the next day to fully recover from the heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Even though there’s a lot of things that can happen to you on a trail, it shouldn’t stop you.

For me, I’ve just use it as a learning lesson. In all of this what did I learn? Make sure to bring extra diapers and clothes for yourself and the baby incase you get covered in poop. Always douse yourself with bug spray before heading into the woods, and plan accordingly for hikes during each time of the year. If hiking in Florida during the summer, be at the trail at around 7 am (or whenever the parks open). You’ll see more wildlife, the bugs aren’t out yet, and the heat won’t be as bad. Plus bring water, and don’t be afraid to call off a hike when things start to get dangerous. What will the next adventure bring for my family while out hiking? Who knows, but we are excited find out!

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