Saturday, January 7, 2012

NORTHERN FLORIDA

Leaving Store 88, I had 3 days worth of food to make it to White Springs. The terrain was still mostly dense pine forest, with grassy undergrowth. The trail was nice and soft with a layer of pine needles on a sandy base. Shortly after passing a ATV campground I ran into a day hiker attempting to day hike the Florida Trail, one day hike at a time with his wife in a support car. He told me that there were a lot of mosquitos ahead, and I just figured he was blowing it out of proportion. We talked a while, and then went our own directions.

Not long after I passed the day hiker, I made my way down to the very large Rodman Reservoir. The day hiker was not kidding, the mosquitos were absolutely out of control. Tired and wanting to break, I just pushed on, atop a long dam, and outlet, where there were lots of fisherman, Shortly after passing the lake, the mosquitos, slacked a bit, but were present till after dark. Just after needing to pull out my flashlight, I came across a Lock that was completely fenced in.
There was a button that had a sign saying the lock hours, and the gate would not be open till operational hours. I could see a truck in the property, and a light on in the care takers house, but there was no answer when I rang the extremely loud buzzer. The buzzer would not turn off, and it was quite nerve racking. So eventually I figured out that I had to hit the buzzer again to turn it off. Now quietly, I snuck over the fence and proceeded to the other side on a bridge above the lock.
On the other side now, I walked back and forth along the fence line, attempting to find a way over the other next fence. It was taller than the previous side, and had 3 rows of barbed wire along the top. Choosing the best place to jump was very sketchy, and I nearly tore my leg to shreds. But now on the other side of the fenced in lock area, I had a couple of miles of paved road to walk back to the trail. Every car light that came, I would run into the bushes, hoping it wasn't the cops.
Avoiding detection, I finally was off the pavement and walking dirt roads, locating blazes, and avoiding puddles through a ATV park on private property. Achieving my miles i found a stealth camp tucked away in the brush, just feet from the dirt road.
Minutes after dimming my light, several 4x4's and ATV's came blazing by. They found a clearing a couple hundred yards away, and set up quite a party. They spent several hours racing back and forth, whizzing by me by just a couple of feet. Convinced I was not going to be detected I just did my best to fall asleep. Sometime around 2 or 3 they were gone.

The next morning, I found myself walking through someones hunt. He was up in a tree stand pointing his rifle directly at me as I walked by. I just waved and shrugged my shoulders as if to say sorry and continued on. To make matters worse I missed the blazes and walked pass him again, then back again, when I figured it out. Crossing yet another highway, I found my way back in a beautiful Palm Hammock. As the elevation dropped, I was in a dry swamp walking on a very long boardwalk, of planks that were there for when the swamp was full. Shortly after crossing the next road, a mountain biker came by and introduced himself as Jim Shmid, the Manager of the Florida Trail, that worked for the Forest Service. He gave me lots of useful information about the trail ahead. One very important bit of info, was the trail was permanently closed up ahead. He gave me the new permanent route, and assured me that it was going to be the new trail next year. I analyzed it after he left and figured, I would do his recommended route.

After I crossed highway 100, I was now walking a rail to trail segment that paralelled the highway. It had old trestles and mowed grass along its way. It was a pleasant walk, and where the blazes took off onto a road, the new route just continued on the rails to trails path for 25 miles. The new trail was being constructed in some parts, and would change from dirt to grass to asphalt. They were also doing away with the old trestles and building new bridges. The trail went through a couple of communities, one having a nice park atmosphere, with restrooms and picnic benches.
After hiking late into the night, I ended up at a Mc Donalds for dinner. Across the street, I found a clearing in the island between road and rail trail for another stealth camp. It was not long though that the local band across the street started practicing their version of southern rock and the blues. They were horrible, and played until early in the morning, along with the yelling of drunk groupies. Cars were coming back in forth all night, and although very close behind the trees, I never got a view of the party.
The next morning I was up early for a jump on the day, only to be in the middle of another hunters hunt. He was in a blind with his rifle pointed down the rails to trail path, ahead of where I was heading. Making eye contact, I just proceeded. The next town I just passed without resupply, cause I was carrying so much extra food, from the changed route. Back on the Rails to Trails, I met a peanut farmer, who was selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road. Grabbing a bag, I walked along the grassy trail. Then to my amazement Jim appeared on his mountain bike. He road along side of me for a couple of hours, then turned back to get his car and said he would see me later, to inspect another spot further up the trail.
A couple hours later, he was back and we both attempted to follow the path through a river, rather than walking around a few miles to a road bridge. The river was low, and the crossing was easy. I proceeded north as Jim went back to his car.
I walked into a town and ordered a pizza and walked out of town eating it. Soon I off the Rails to Trails segment, and walking roads to a trail in a pine farm. The pine trees were in perfect rows, but the trail was all over the place. Most the time it was on dirt access roads, but other times it meandered through the rows of white pines. I found a great place to camp, and for the 1st time in a while, I had a quiet night sleep.


Nearing midnight or so, I was woke up by a shivering cold. My bag was dry, I was sleeping on pine duff, and I had all my cloths on, but it was a bone chilling cold. I layed there awake shivering, until I decided to just get up and start walking, hoping to get warm. But as the morning progressed, it just got cooler. At daybreak, I found my way out on the highway contemplating if I should hitch into the closest major town to get some thermals. I soon saw a car and put my thumb out, and took my first ride of the trip to town. The driver gave me the lowdown of the town but only gave me a ride 4 miles short of town and left me out in front of a prison. Of coarse nobody was going to pick me up here, so I just power hiked my way in, only stopping once at a gas station for some drinks and junk food. Finding the spotting goods store, I waited till 10am and went in to find they only had cheap cotton thermals. Buying extra batteries and the thermals, I proceeded back out the store to start hitching. One of the customers, who was buying bait, overheard my conversations and asked me if I wanted a ride back to the trail. accepting my new change of luck, I was back on the trail in no time at all. The trail went in and out of more pine farms, passed by a shelter that had some hunters hanging out in. Nearing dark, I was having a hard time finding the route, but eventually was back on well marked trail, making up miles late into the night. I had passed another shelter, and probably should have stopped, because now I was having a hard time finding a camp. Eventually I was in another pine forrest sleeping on pine duff, using my new thermals as a pillow.

The next morning was 20* warmer than the morning before, I made my way into White Springs and walked up to a country restaurant for a great country breakfast. The people were great, and they thought I was a touring bicycler. After educating them to long distance hiking, I was off to start the anticipated Suwannee River section. Walking through a nice campground, I got my first views of the Suwannee. It was very low, and dark in color. The trail was nice, and I made great time all day. There were feeder creeks that had clean, but putrid sulfur water. I found good water though when I came across some private property and met the nice residents. I met some section hikers and saw some magnificent homes that were built on stilts. Some were 15 feet above the ground, and after asking a homeowner, found that the water actually has been that high. There were very few areas with rapids, and by the looks of things, the river was a popular canoeing spot.
Around every turn the river just got more and more beautiful. There were some of the largest oak trees I have ever seen, and I just stopped in pure amazement. There were also very large sinkholes, with small ponds and lakes inside them.

I walked late into the night and had now problem finding a great camp that night. It was very warm, and I slept low to the river on a nice sand bank. Once again I used the thermals as a pillow.
Wanting to get an early start on what was going to be an 80 mile road walk, I was walking by 4am. The walk along the Suwannee, was absolutely beautiful at day break, I encountered more hunters, and heard several shots, before I encountered the hunters check in station. At the station, there was no attendant, but there was fresh water and a place to charge my phone. I went through my food and gear, and felt I probably had enough for the next 100 miles. There was a store however, a couple of miles farther down the road, but unfortunately upon my arrival, the store was closed for the season.

Before long I crossed the river, and was now walking along dirt roads. There were pine farms on both sides, and the roads were flat and hard packed from logging trucks that flew by, kicking up dust. Now dirty as hell and no water anywhere for miles, the dirt road walk became a death march. At every covert and creek crossing, I would check for water, but to my unsatisfaction, if there was water, it was either black, brown or green and smelled putrid. Eventually as I was polishing of my last water bottle, I came across some seed planters. I noticed there water container on the back of the truck and waved as I filled up. Not wanting a conflict I left before they made their way back to their truck. It was getting close to evening, and I was getting close to a highway when I decided to head into a town for more water and a meal. As I jumped out to the highway, the tree planters arrived and gave me a ride into town.
The Gas station/minimart had nothing but junk food, but I was more concerned about having enough water to hike the 40+ miles the next day. As I was shouldering my pack I got a lucky ride back to the trail. It was now dark and I needed another 5 miles to get my miles.
Back on the trail. I came across a couple of deer carcusses, left by hunters, and soon found myself near there huge hunting platform. It was completely inclosed and had a new carpet floor. I made camp inside, knowing I would need to get an early start to avoid being caught inside their hunting blind.

The next morning I was walking by 3am. Things were going quite well for a while, but eventually, it was obvious I was no longer following the route. I was still on a dirt road, but going to far south, and there were no orange blazes. I new I had to cross a bridge and figured I would eventually hit the river, and just kept wlking. By day break, I was back on route, and was surrounded by hunters and their hounds. The trucks were kicking up dust and the sounds of hounds were all around me. It was also hot, and I bumbed water a couple of times from them.
By noon, I was none with the dirt roads, and was walking on a nice trail, next to some large sink holes. I was so dirty I almost went in one, but the guide book said something about a old quarry/lake coming up. So I suffered it out and was soon swimming in the clearest water I had seen on the entire trip. After bathing and cleaning my clothes I walked the last few miles before dark to JB's market. I ate my fill, grabbed enough food for half a day and began walking into the dark into the next section, section 6 the eastern panhandle. I was now back on coastal palm forrest, and things were cooler and damp.
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