The last few miles of Section 3 went by pretty well. I was also getting real close to the hiker out in front of me. I do not think he was always on trail though, cause his prints were not always there. But now, his prints were fresh and close.
The separation between the Western an Eastern Corridor, begins at Highway 523. To go west, you begin a long road walk, to go east you cross the highway and continue on trails and dirt roads. The corridors circle Orlando, and the Western Corridor is probably one of the biggest waste of the Florida Trails Association's assets. The purpose of going East or West though is to avoid the large city, and suburbs of Orlando.
Heading East I was suddenly in the middle of more Hunts. Trekking with my orange bandana, I passed right by a swamp buggy with hunters and rifles. There were also several atv's driving around looking for white tail deer. The terrain was mostly cabbage palms that led in and out of palm hammocks.
While it was trying to rain, I was slowly becoming convinced that the hiker in front of me had taken the Western route. I knew at this point I would now pass him when the trails merged in the north.
The miles were becoming easier, as I crossed into the hunting lands of "Forever Florida". I was not suppose to be camping on the private land, but, I had no choice. That evening, just as it turned dark, I came to a series of dirt roads with poor markers. I walked back and forth, trying to locate the orange blazes. Finally, after a hour of frustration, I made camp. It was raining slightly, but I found good natural cover in the pine forrest.
The next morning I tried to get a early start, and began walking, where I made the decision after going through the maps, where the trail was, and just headed NorthEast on a dirt road. After a short time, I came to a orange blaze. Relieved I made great time as I went through the cabbage palm flatlands and small pine forrest. There were flocks of birds flying in formation and herds of small deer scattered from the morning hunt. Every once in a while I would here the sound of a high powered rifle, knowing the probability of a successful hunt.
Later that morning, I began trekking on a long railway bed. It was apparently used 100 years ago, during a cypress logging outfit. The trail stayed high atop a swampy area, that had black water. Needing water, I just kept pushing, hoping for something better. I then came to a pump spicket that had fresh water that did not smell of sulfur. Luckily I filled my water containers before the bath, cause I ran it dry to sand.
Shortly after regrouping and cleaning up, I was now out on the beginning of a long 30 mile road walk. this walk was among the worse of the entire hike. It went by some houses at first, but after that, it was out on a highway paralleling a high set of electric lines. I thought to myself that this was ridiculous that the trail is not under those lines in the dirt, where at least you could walk on tread and not asphalt. The shoulder of the road had a heavy slant, and the best place for walking was upon the asphalt. Nearing dark, I turned west on a major highway that looked more like a freeway. And the traffic was insane. It began to rain, and things were beginning to get real negative.
While walking along the 6 lane highway, against traffic in the rain, I began to ponder the fact that I really did not care to do this again. For the first time, I was now contemplating not yo-yoing.
To make matters worse, it was now after 10pm, I had walked 39 miles, 28 on asphalt, and i could not find a descent place to camp. I could see a large bridge far up ahead, and I just focused on it, while getting soaked beyond belief from the rain. I climbed up under the highway bridge, and slept on some rough concrete. It was a hard nights sleep.
Nearing 5am, The rain had stopped, and without much sleep, I was on a mission to get back in the forrest and off this road.
By daylight, I was ignoring a KEEP OUT sign, and hopping a fence onto the FT. I was relieved to be walking on actual trail, but still disgusted with the fact that it took that many road miles to get here. The trail was soon in a thick palm forrest. The trail zig zagged in and out of the forrest, seemingly making a 5 mile section into 10. There were some places I could of sworn that I had been there before, But was reassured by the spiderwebs that had to be cleared before passage.
Occasionally, I would miss a web, and find myself covered in the thick strings, while the 3 inch spider tried to run for his life up the web. While taking a break, I found one jumbo creature in my pack, apparently hitch hiking his way to a new location after I destroyed his trap.
Before long I was at a road leading to the town of Christmas. I walked the extra half mile to the Post Office, to mail out some things I found along the way. The post office was busy, and I really stunk. There had not been some descent bathing water since the sandy spicket. A lot of people go to the town of Christmas to mail out their Christmas cards and presents, to use their stamp.
Stopping at Circle K for the second time, I grabbed some ice cream, and made my way back to the trail.
Once on the trail, I was back in the Palms battling spiders and their webs. The trail led through the Siminal Ranch, where later that night I found it hard to navigate without a high powered light. I was now beginning to focus on waking up early to do my night navigation in the early morning hours when my eyes were fresh.
The next morning at 3am I did just that, I found the trail quickly and stayed on it without much hassle. I was also getting excited, cause I would soon be on a long bike path crossing towns and easy resupply.
The first resupply I came to I was eating chicken and potatoes, at some fast food stop. I grabbed a ice cream at nearly every market/gas station, and there were plenty to chose from. By evening, I was indulging in Monster energy drinks, and what ever sounded good as I passed.
Also that afternoon, I found my way into Big Tree Park, where I saw the largest Cypress Tree in the country. The bathrooms there, also had hot water and electricity. So after laundry, bathing, and charging my phone, I was off and pounding asphalt again along the never ending bike path.
By Nightfall, I was in Target, buying a very high powered flashlight, and some other needed groceries. I walked across the street to Mc Donald's, and pigged out there, while also bringing some left overs to the $3 million bridge. Yes, thats what they call it. It is a foot bridge over the 10 freeway. Not quite making over the bridge, I made camp in the bushes, at its base. It was a nice camp and I slept well, with a full belly and on a bed of dry leaves. It was a strange feeling being so close to houses, yet so hidden from public view.
Woken by the sound of early morning traffic on the 10 freeway, gave me an early start. I had walked roughly 30 miles of streets, and sidewalks, and bike paths. Today though I would eventually be back in the forrest and I was excited for that. The pavement and asphalt had taken their toll, and my feet were just killing me. I had also heard that there were some nice sections ahead of me. But what I was looking forward to most is camping in a real wilderness, and not off the side of the street somewhere.
Before long, I was back on trail, but that lead right out on the highway. A mile or so later, after crossing a river on a bridge, I found myself right back on trail that lead to the 1st shelter of the trip. It was a basic lean-to, with a wide area around it for tents. I also met the 1st hiker on the trail, "Bojangles". He had tried telling me he had hiked the PCT, CDT, and AT already this year, and I just went along with him. By the size of his pack and the guitar, he had strapped to the back, I could tell he had done more hitching than hiking.
Anyways the trail had turned to a nice sandy bed, and was soft on my sore feet. The terrain was mostly cabbage palm, pine and brush. It was nice to finally have some views as well, for the trail was beginning to have small hills, and for the most part skirted along the tops.
Later in the day I found myself at a unexpected resupply. I caught the attendant of the camp store just before she left. After gorging on ice cream and frozen burritos, I had the pleasure of a hot shower. I washed my clothes, charged my phone and set off for Ocala National Park. Upon Leaving the campground, I noticed it was surrounded by a large swamp, and canoeing was the big thing. It was beautiful, but I was on a mission to get some miles with my new flashlight.
As soon as I entered Ocala NP, things got really nice. the trail went around some large sink holes that had lakes and ponds in them. The lakes had tree stands, and camping would surely be great tonight. Miles were going by quickly, and soon it was dark. I could hear the sound of hounds farther up the trail, and it was obvious I would soon be in their hunt.
Now dark, I had my high powered flashlight out, and things were much easier to see. I had passed the hounds, but I could hear some hunters calling for their dogs, and driving like maniacs up and down the dirt road that paralleled me. Knowing this was going to happen, I turned off the high powered flashlight as one of the trucks stopped and the hungered yelled out to me, "Hey Boy". I then turned off my headlamp and continued walking the trail under moonlight. He continued to drive the paralleled road, yelling out a bunch of bullshit. Luckily he could not get closer, because of the dense brush between us. Finding a small pocket of clear ground, I made camp under the moonlit sky without my light on. He continued going up the road yelling out, for quite some time.
The next morning, I came across the hunters dogs. I think he was just looking for them, and thought they might be with me, but the dogs wanted nothing to do with me and continued on.
The day went quite well, there were nice pine forrest and wide open brushy areas. Water was an issue, but I got lucky at a road crossing, when I ran into some hunters who filled all my containers. The time flew by, and the miles were definitely going to be around 40. In the evening I began to notice some trail running footprints. It went on for a mile or so, and right about dark, and just as I pulled out my high powered light, a runner came running towards me. He jumped as I hit him with the flood light. He was stark naked! Nothing but a pair of shoes and a headlamp. He tried to cover his privates with both hands, but just ran by laughing. I was so shocked I did not say a word, and just chuckled afterwards. I found a great camp that night and slept well. The sky was clear, and it was obvious it was going to be another fine day tomorrow.
Now With my high powered flashlight, I did not have to focus on waking up so early, and was back to a 5am wakeup with a 5:30 start. I was also beginning to notice that when the sky was clear, the mornings would be cool. I also started to worry about this, for I sent my warm thermals home, and had passed the last place to get anything on trail.
As I progressed North toward section 5, Northern Florida, the terrain began to get a bit hilly. Nothing extreme at all, but enough to have little views and change in foot placement. It was a nice change, and the miles were beginning to get quicker. The forrest seemed to be a bit more pine, but every once in a while, you could be walking through palm hammocks. The elevation differences might only be 50 feet, but the terrain would look like a whole another ecosystem.
Shortly after reaching the east and west corridor intersection, I was now in section 5, Northern Florida. I made my way over to Store 88, and had a much needed resupply. The pine forrest was nice in this area, and for the first time in a while my feet felt great. Along with that it was nice to have finished section 4, for it had a lot of pavement.
The video on the right was taken in Big Tree Park, one month before the "The Senator" burned to the ground. I feel blessed to see the oldest Cypress Tree in the United States a month before it died. 3500 years old and gone in a matter of 4 hours early one January morning.