I made it into Iron Bridge Shelter just before sunset, happy to not set up my tarp this night. I did pull it out and hang it up to dry from the dew in the morning, but I slept in the shelter, another nice place. It was also enclosed with a screen to keep out bugs--not that they were a problem this time of year.
I chose to make mac 'n' cheese for dinner, not that I had a lot to choose from at this point. My food bag had never been skimpier!
The next morning, once again, was bitterly cold, seemingly colder than ever. I did make breakfast since I had a 14-mile hike to Gold Head Branch SP and knew I'd need the energy. I ate my last full meal, a bag of mashed potatoes, nearly finishing off my fuel at the same time. I found it surprisingly hard to light in the cold, but it did light.
I got on trail before 8:00, and hoofed along, anxious to reach the state park where I expected to meet Amanda at around noon. Doing 14 miles in four hours is quite fast, but darn it, I wanted civilization!
The trail dumped me out onto road, busy roads, for most of the day, which made me all the more anxious to finish this day's hiking as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, the FTA's habit of poorly blazing 'obvious' sections of road walk thwarted my plans for a quick hike.
I remembered the trail reaching a T-intersection, and a note saying that potable water was available 0.3 miles north at a fire station but the trail headed south.
I didn't need potable water, so at the next intersection, I turned south. I kept my eyes open for blazes, but saw nothing in either direction at the intersection, nor even behind me on the road I walked up. I wasn't concerned, however, because I hadn't seen a blaze for miles. It was a road walk, and blazing was notoriously poor on road walks.
I remembered that the trail turns off the road after 1.5 miles, so after about a mile of hiking, I pulled out my data book to verify what road the trail turns on. The blazing was poor, and I may need to know the name of the road to know when to turn.
Which is when I got a bad, sinking feeling in my gut. The next intersection, according to my databook, had a fire station 0.3 miles to the north, and the trail turned south.
I thought I already passed that intersection. If I hadn't passed it, then what intersection did I turn at?
I dropped my pack and pulled out the maps, looking them over hoping that I had turned the correct direction.
I hadn't, and I said a few not-so-nice things about the FTAs blazing policy. I was downright angry, having walked more than a mile in the wrong direction because they didn't have enough paint or time to slap on a few extra blazes on road walks to mark the way or confirm we were walking in the correct direction.
I deliberately looked both ways for blazes at the intersection to confirm I was going the correct way, and could not find a single blaze, including behind me where I had come from. One well-placed blazed at that intersection would have saved me a mile of walking in the wrong direction, and I was furious!
I turned around and walked 20 minutes back to the intersection, knowing there was no chance I'd make it to the meeting point with Amanda on time anymore, and my 14-mile day, non-stop hike just turned into a 16-mile day, non-stop hike. ARGH! On a miserable road walk, no less!
I finally huffed into Gold Head Branch SP, not at all mellowed since discovering I had walked in the wrong direction. At the recreation hall, where I was to meet Amanda, I didn't see her and started using the pay phone to call her when she turned the corner and arrived, mere seconds after I did.
Strange, bizarre coincidence. Amanda had arrived late as well, the drive taking longer than she expected, and we arrived at almost the exact same time. I was still pretty peeved about my wrong turn, though. I could have finished hiking through the park while waiting for her, or rested, or wrote some of my adventures. Anything but a miserable extra two miles of road walking.
I filled Amanda in on our plans for the next day--canoing at Juniper Springs--and we drove off to Ocala to find a hotel for the night--the closest major city to Juniper Springs.