By Nancy Hellekson
My friend, Carolyn, picked me up last Sunday morning and said the day was mine. It was my birthday. What a fantastic birthday present! So, off we went in her baby blue Lexus convertible. We could never have imagined what adventures awaited us.
We drove along some back Florida roads to get to our hiking destination. You know the roads I’m talking about – sparsely populated with a run-down trailer here and there and thick Florida foliage on each side of the road. Kind of gives you the eerie feeling that you’re in the middle of “Deliverance”. All of a sudden, I spotted a weathered sign that said “Cricket Today – All Welcome”. We made a quick U-turn and decided to go down the long driveway and see what was there. We passed a sign that said “SSS Cricket” that made me uneasy, but we continued on. We eventually came to a “Field of Dreams” full of cricket players, all dressed in white, spectators sitting under canvas shade, and older men playing dominoes on the second-floor porch of the rundown clubhouse.
After parking the car, we were immediately greeted by Albert, the president of the Silver Springs Shore Cricket & Social Club (That’s where the SSS comes from). A very generous man who spent more than a half an hour with us explaining the game and the history of the social club. We learned the term “bowler,” that’s the pitcher who runs and bowls the ball over head towards the batter at the same time. We also learned about the Wicketkeeper, the Batter, and, of course, the bat which is a cane handle attached to a flat-fronted willow-wood blade.
The reason that I refer to this as “The Field of Dreams” is because The Club built the field and club house from nothing. They found the land in the country, bought it, cleared it with bulldozers, leveled it, planted the grass, and made the bowling area from cement and AstroTurf. Every Saturday, one member comes and mows the field.
Then on Sunday, men come from all over Florida to play their favorite game, Cricket. The flags flying represent the homeland of many of the players. USA🇺🇸, England🇬🇧, India🇮🇳, Guyana🇬🇾, Jamaica🇯🇲, Trinidad🇹🇹, St. Vincent🇻🇨, Antigua🇦🇬, Grenada🇬🇩, Barbados🇧🇧, St. Kitts and Nevis🇰🇳.
After our cricket experience, we headed out to Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Area to hike. This 700-acre park is a peninsula that juts out into Lake Weir with three wonderful hiking trails. We checked the information board and decided to take the shortest hike Fern Gully Loop which was only a mile. Quail Loop and Fox Trot branched off from Quail for another two to three miles.
It was a little after 3 pm when we started our hike. We meandered about Fern Gully smelling the green forest and marveling at the orange tree in the very middle. We jumped up and grabbed a branch with low hanging fruit and scored two fresh oranges. It was a beautiful afternoon. We were all alone; not another hiker to be seen.
After about an hour, Carolyn commented that we had certainly walked more than a mile. I assured her that our trail was a loop and we’d be back to the parking lot soon. “Trust me.” I said. Several more times, she questioned me and I replied” Trust me.”
Finally, my saying “Trust me” wasn’t helping either of us. We’d been hiking an hour and a half; It was 4:30 pm and the sun would begin setting in less than an hour. We found ourselves on a trail where we could see water on both sides of us and we were heading to the point. Taking several deep breaths, I admitted that we were lost. We stopped hiking and sat down. We had to get out of there by dark. Would the park ranger come looking for us when they found our car in the parking lot? Since there was no one at the gate when we entered, I had my doubts. I was envisioning us trying to sleep on one of the benches along the way keeping one eye open for coyotes, Florida panthers, racoons, armadillos or a myriad of other creatures that could harm us. It would be their world at night, not ours. Of course, we had no food and I had finished off the last of the water. We were in a pickle.
I pulled out my cell phone. Yes, there was service! I googled Carney Park looking for a map. Lots of information about the restrooms and picnic tables, but no trail map. Since we had cell service, I was prepared to call a friend and ask him to send a boat for us. Then, I suddenly remembered that I had downloaded an app – All Trails – to my phone.
I found the map and it indeed had our trail on it. Not only the trail, but our location! That was good and bad. We knew where we were, but we weren’t in a good place. We were three miles from the parking lot! Luckily, as we walked the location marker moved. After a few minutes, we realized that we were walking in the wrong direction. We turned around and Carolyn, with Outward Bound knowledge, said we needed to hustle for a quarter of a mile, then walk for a quarter of a mile, then hustle for ¼ mile. Hustle and walk we did hoping to make it back before dark and before the cell phone died.
Yes, as I’m here to tell the tale, we did make it back before dark and didn’t have to spend the night with the coyotes and armadillos. And, yes, this was one of my best Birthday presents ever!