Saturday, January 7, 2012
SECTION 6 EASTERN PANHANDLE
Not long after crossing into section 6, I was in a palm forest. The trail zig zagged along swamps and wetlands. Near dark, I found myself walking along an old railroad track that had a couple of still intact trestles. I walked up on a very large feral hog, that could not see me at first, and ran off squeeling when he caught site of me. White tail deer were everywhere as well. It was beginning to rain and I had a hard time finding a camp off the small dirt road I was hiking on. Eventually I threw up my tarp under a palm stand, on the side of the road. By the time I was all nested in my bug tent, under my tarp, it was raining cats and dogs. I had walked 45 miles that day and had no problem sleeping right through it all. At times, the thunder and lightning would get my attention, but I was still comfortly numb.
The next morning, I was walking through the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. Along the sides of the dirt roads, the gators were jumping into the water as I walked by. At times they would catch me off guard, and scare the shit out of me. The road turned into a levee, and the small water ways turned into giant swamps and wetlands. In this area, the aligators were in numbers never seen on my trip as of so far. It was quite obvious because of their numbers that they must eat each other to survive.
I them came up to the Big Bend. This spot you could see the main land of Florida take off from the panhandle. It was an amazing view. I always imagined it as the beaches you see on tv, but it was mangroves, forest and reeds as far as you could see. There was nothing that resembled a beach.
I continued on the levee, for several miles, taking pictures of alligators, at times throwing pebbles at them to film their movements. It was here that I had the most amazing encounter happen. I was filming a alligator, when I saw two, what seemed to be house cats walking on the levee, coming towards me some 50 meters up ahead. I just continued towards them when one ran into the bushes on one side of the levee, and the other went into the bushes on the other side. It was then when I noticed that these were no house cats, but panther cubs. As I passed where they departed into the bushes, the mother darted off into the swamp. I immediately clicked on the video on my iPhone, and began recording as one of the cubs reemerged onto the levee, crying out for the mother. It turned in circles, crying and searching. Eventually I felt bad for the cub and moved on in hopes of them reuniting. [the video is too long to down load here, and doesn't do justice just showing a pice of it].
Evetually I was off the levee and was back in the forest making my way to St. Marks. I began hearing the sounds of boats and popped out on the other side of the river from the town. Soon I flagged down a boat, and got a ride across the river.
In town I ate at a local pub, and charged my phone. The post office was farther up the road, and I eventually made my way there where I changed out my pack and shoes. The postmaster was a real cool guy, and it was hard to leave such good company.
The weather began to turn for the worse, and I left in a steady down pour. But as I walked into the last resupply option, it began to clear. I had a subway sandwich, and walked across the street and happened upon a portable hamburger stand. Of coarse I had to order a burger, and it was the best burger on the trail at that. I walked late that night, and found a nice camp just short of the "Cathedral", a ancient palm stand.
That night, the sounds of hogs rooting through the forest, kept me awake half the night. I ended up sleeping till near daybreak, which only happened a couple of times on the hike. I was anxious to see the"cathedral" and was not sure what to look out for. I was walking in a very thick palm forest, and realized that this must be it.
It was here that I had an encounter with at least a dozen little piglets. I filmed them for a few minutes before scaring them off. They were all different colors and it was amazing how many there were. There must have been more than one sow, but I never did get a view of just one.
Not long after walking through the Palm Forrest I made my way through some pretty muddy swamps, that I tried to stay dry, but eventually was covered in a black stinky mud. There were bridges that went over the worse parts but never all the way.
I also cme up on a large spring that was suppose to be a good water source, but although clear was putrid with a sulfur smell.
Around noon, I entered into the Appalachiacola Wilderness. It was nice walking on sand track, covered with a thick bed of pine needles. Now back in pine farms, I was wondering how come they called this a wilderness, when in fact I was treading through pine farms. I was also hearing the sounds of hounds in the distance. But by evening, I still did not encounter them, but only saw the hunters trucks, kicking up dust as they sped down the dirt roads.
I was now, getting close to my destination tomorrow of the "Bradwell Bay". This is suppose to be the hardest part of the florida trail, and I was not looking forward to it. It is a Black water swamp, and is suppose to be 4-5 miles long, that I would be tromping in the water, up to waste deep. Wanting to have a early mornings start the next day, I walked late into the night.
Due to the clear nights sky, it was obvious that this night would not rain, so i pitched my bug tent. I layer awake for some time listening to the cries of a lone hound trying to find his keeper. She was miles away on one side of me and eventually I lost her cries, miles away on the other side.
The next morning, I was woken by the sounds of trucks blazing down the nearby dirt roads. I through my pack together, and with dread of the swamp, began my hike. Still dark, I arrived at a bridge, and according to the guidebook, this is where the swamp tromp would begin. Not wanting to do this in the dark, I stayed at the bridge, and slept until daybreak.
As soon as there was enough light to see, I hopped up and ate some breakfast and made sure all of my belongings were water tight. I then began walking expecting to be in the deep water at every turn. This went on for the 1st mile or so, when I realized that there was no water. The swamp was DRY! I was so excited, I began walking faster, pulling out my iPhone, recording the delight.
It was need to see in some areas how deep the water was suppose to be. This was also Christmas Morning, and I couldn't ask for a better present. Before long, I was out of the Bradwell Bay and back on the trail.
Back to trekking through pine farms, I felt like I made a whole day up, not having to tread through the swamp. I encountered many hunters, who I hit up for water, and usually got a beer or soda, and sometimes some food. A few of the hunters were pretty cool, and I had some lengthy conversations with them. but eventually it was another quiet starlit night, and I made it to my camping destination.
To my surprise, there was a tent and two russian hikers hanging out next to there camp fire. I introduced myself, and we were all shocked that there was actually someone else out here. They had a ton of food. They were cooking baked potatoes, and vegetable soup, with huge chunks of pork. I ate what they couldn't and went to bed stuffed.
I got an early start that next morning, and was shocked to find two more potatoes wrapped in tin foil next to my tarp. I would soon be through with the Appalchiacola section, and would be walking a very long road walk. As I ate the potatoes, I was dreading the road.
There were once again hunters kicking up dust, as they sped by and hounds barking all morning till I hit the road.
I had approximately 10 miles till I would be at the next resupply and I was out of water, but luckily I came up on a hunter waiting for a tow truck along the road. He gave me two water bottles and I powered myself as fast as I could to the next resupply. The miles on the road went by slow, and the shoulder on the side was not good for walking. The traffic was heavy, and it was hard to keep a positive outlook. Eventually I arrived a gas station/market, bought some junk food and began walking to some chicken place some 5 miles down another road. This time though I had a better shoulder, then a walkway on a bridge where I would get to move my watch 1 hour back due to changing time zones. The river was wide, and the bridge was long.
Although I had completed section 6, I was not to excited, for I had several miles of asphalt to go before I would be back on trail.
Posted by Joe Kisner at 4:07 PM