My plans, however, hinged on a nearly 30 mile long hike the next day. I'd done a 30-mile hike once before, so I knew it could be done. It would be all road walking, which is ideal for long, 30-mile days. I could do it, though, putting me at the trailhead for the Econfina Creek area. Day two I'd hike completely through the Econfina area, then road walk the rainy day into Ebro.
That was my plan. I would have liked to cut my first day's miles and put them into the second day, but there did not seem to be any place to camp along the road walk. I'd do the entire distance on day 1, but the bright side is that it would give me a 20-mile hike on day two and hopefully I'd make it into camp before the rains started that evening.
I went to sleep early. I knew I'd need an early start to hike 30 miles the next day.
I woke up exceptionally early--six in the morning, though admittedly, I had an extra hour head start by being in Central time zone now. ;o)
And made it onto the trail by 7:00.
The first mile or so was nice to walk since it was a paved bicycle path and no cars zooming by, but the rest of the hike was road walk.
A couple of hours into my hike, along SR 71, I saw a police car slow down as he passed me, obviously checking me out since there was no other reason to slow down there, then he sped up again and thought I passed the test, whatever it was he was looking for.
Turns out, he only sped up to a location where he could turn around at easier, because he made a U-turn then pulled up onto the shoulder directly in front of me blocking my path.
Guess I didn't pass the test after all.
I waved to the occupants--I could see a second officer in the passenger side of the car now--and walked over to the passenger side (the side away from the busy traffic--I didn't want any cars hitting me while I chatted with the policement, after all).
They asked what I was doing and wanted to see my ID, so I explained about my thru hike and handed them my drivers license. (Kind of ironic, isn't it, to have a driver's license on me while walking 1,800 miles.)
"And you're doing this why?" the one officer asked.
"Have you ever been arrested, Mr. Carpenter?" the other one asked.
"For fun," I told the first officer, and, "No," I told the second one.
They ran my license to make sure I wasn't wanted for some major crime, and while waiting for the results, the chattier of the officers told me about a guy he saw a couple of months back who was riding a skateboard from Key West to California for some sort of record.
Which actually interested me very much, since I had heard the same story from the dock master while walking down Card Sound Road nearly 1,000 miles before. Could it possibily be the same guy? How many people are riding a skateboard from Key West to California? What are the chances I'd bump into two people, months and a thousand miles apart, who both met skateboard dude?
My record came back clean, and the non-chatty officer passed my license back to me and told me to be careful 'out there.'
I continued hiking, mile after mile, finally stopping for a short break at Sheltons Store at the intersection of SR 71 and CR 274.
It was immensely disappointing when I went to push open the doors, however, and they didn't budge. The sign on the door clearly said push, but when that didn't work, I tried a pull too with the same results.
What the hell?
I peered into the store, seeing shelves stuffed with Doritos and sodas, but no lights were on and nobody was visible.
Rotten, miserable luck....
There was no message on the door explaining the reason for the store being closed, either.
I set my pack on the bench outside. I needed a break, even if I couldn't buy any snacks inside the store. There were vending machines outside, however, and I dropped in 55 cents for a cold 12 ounce can of Coke. Then rummaged through my pack and gobbled up some Wheat Thins, a Pop Tart (frosted cherry), and Skittles. I was really hoping for a sandwich or hot dog or something from the store, though.
Unable to find a trash can either, I left my empty soda can on the bench. I felt a bit guilty about not disposing of it properly, but I had no intention of carrying the can for the next 60 miles, and gas stations and convenience stores should have a place for such trash. They can pick it up when they decide to open the store again.
I was a bit bitter about the store not being open. ;o)
Next came an 11.9 mile road walk along CR 274. It was exhausting. Near the end, I figured I'd reach the trailhead for Econfina Creek around sunset, and was thrilled I'd do nearly 30 miles before dark!
My feet were sore, of course, but not nearly so bad as the 31.5 mile day I did earlier in my hike. My feet were tougher now.
About a mile from the end of CR 274, a mini van stopped and the driver asked if I was thru hiking the Florida Trail.
He ended up pulling over and we chatted for over half an hour. Interesting chat. He'd just come from Econfina Creek and reported a crew had been out there building a bridge. I hoped this meant I might meet some of the trail maintainers, but he said they were packing up to leave that afternoon. Drats, missed them by a day.
He also said a paper in Panama City had done an article on the bridge they were building, so there might be a larger than normal number of people out there to check it out. (I'd love to se the article if anyone can find it online.)
I finally had to insist that I get going--the guy was nice, but I think he would have kept me talking for hours if he could. =)
There's no way I'd reach the trailhead by sunset anymore, but I hoped I could still make it by dark.
At the end of CR 274, the trail followed dirt roads. Much less heavily traveled by vehicles, though surprisingly busy for a dirt road as well.
I tried to go as long as possible without using my headlamp, if for no other reason than on principle. I wanted to reach the trailhead before dark.
Eventually, however, I had to take it out and turn it on. The blazes were getting hard to see and I worried I'd trip over bumps on the road I could no longer see, so for my safety, I finally turned on the headlamp.
And about five minutes later, I stumbled into the trailhead parking lot. I reached it, 29.2 miles, barely after dark.
Rather than go into the forest to find a place to camp, I set up my tarp in the corner of the empty lot.
Checking in from Ebro! =)