Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Mysterious Figure of the Night

I was already about five miles behind schedule, flexible though it might be, and it bothered me a little so I was determined to push on to my original destination for the night somewhere near the town of Paisley--about 20 miles.

Not an impossible feat for me, of course, but I had hoped to get into town early enough to pick up a maildrop and use the library before they closed. I didn't know exactly when they closed, but it if were 5:00, I could have a hard time getting there in time.

I figured with a minimal number of rests, I could make it into the town by 4:00.

I woke with the sun, but didn't linger long before saying adios to my shelter and hitting the trail.

The next seven or so miles wandered around the Seminole State Forest, a beautiful area and a pleasing walk. I stopped briefly to find a letterbox by the Gamecock, who left a note in it saying there was trail magic ahead, and to look for a white bag in a specific location further up the trail. The note said to take anything I wanted and leave the rest behind--she'll come back later to pick up the leftovers.


I found the bag, stashed in a palm tree, and discovered a plethora of items to eat and drink. A bottle of Coke, what looked like home made chocolate chip cookies, fruit rolls, and more. Wow!

The Coke was still cool from overnight, but it was late enough in the day for me to have worked up a sweat, so I drank it right then and there. As well the cookies--they looked too fragile to put in my pack without getting destroyed.

The rest I put in my pack, except a can of Starbucks something or another--not much of a coffee drinker here--and the empty bottle of Coke. (Why carry it 20 miles if Gamecock planned to come and pick up the leftovers anyhow? The empty bottle was left over!) What a wonderful surprise, though. =)

The timing couldn't have been better for that soda, either. Had I arrived much later, it probably would have been too warm to taste good, and had I arrived earlier, I'd still be cold enough to have not wanted it. Talk about fortunate!

Outside the forest, the trail went back to roads and fast cars and it wasn't much fun. Road walks rarely are.

After an hour or so, the trail veered into less used roads, making for a calmer walk, but I still wished the trail into the woods.

Unfortunately, I got my wish! It went through a recently burned area that had yet to be reblazed. Someone had gone through and tied orange ribbons to the trees in place of blazes, and I followed the ribbons for a bit with the occasional blaze that hadn't burned.

Until it stopped. It just stopped cold, and there was no obvious trail for me to follow. I saw a group of pink ribbons way off in the distance, but they were pink, not orange, and they were in a group of trees, not lined up like a trail to be followed.

I walked ahead a bit, hoping to spot an orange ribbon or blaze, crawling through charred and fallen trees that left black marks all over my body--especially the legs.

But I found no trace of the trail.

Having now given up following the trail, I decided to look for it instead. You might think that's the same thing, but it's not. I was now ready to hike miles with no sign of a trail at all, using my map, compass, and wits to pick it up again later.

I had a pretty good idea where on my map I was, and the trail generally headed northeast from where I was at, intersecting Maggie Jones road, "a hard packed sand road" according to my sources. Then the trail followed the road for miles.

If I could find that road, I could find that trail.

I started hiking east, then curved to the north hoping to use Maggie Jones Road as a catching feature.

I hadn't made it a quarter of a mile, however, before I crossed paths with an orange blaze! Woo-who! Back in the saddle again!

I followed the trail a short ways where, as expected, it turned onto Magie Jones Road, and I hoofed it as quickly as I could to Paisley.

Amazingly, despite the letterbox, trail magic, and getting lost, I did the 20-mile hike in just seven hours, and staggered into Paisley at 3:00 in the afternoon.

I picked up my maildrop with maps for the next 300 miles or so of trail, and stopped at the library for 30 minutes of Internet access.

Those time sensitive tasks out of the way, I then hit the local mini mart at the gas station where I loaded up with lunch and dinner, water, and snacks. I also made extensive use of their pay phone.

When finished, I walked back to the trail and continued hiking. I didn't hike long--perhaps a mile or so--before I found a nice spot to set up camp. Although no rain was in the forecast, I decided to set up my tarp anyhow. I was tired of waking up to dew on everything in the morning, and spending the night in the dew-free shelter reminded me that a roof, even in good weather, has its advantages.

Late in the night, long after darkness descended, I was trying to fall asleep when I heard a rather large noise from the direction of the trail. It was a hiker, whose shape I could see behind the glow of a headlamp.

Who was this man? Or was it a woman? What were they doing hiking the Florida Trail so late? Were they staying at the nearby Clearwater Lake campground?

The person must have heard me shift positions, because he stopped briefly, looking into the woods in my direction.

I stayed quiet, though, and the interloper continued on his unknown quest.

Paisley essentially marks the southern boundary of the Ocala National Forest and the start of 70 miles of not a single road walk.

Ever since the keys, however, locals have warned me that homeless people with guns inhabit the forest in the winter months. I can't say how bad the problem really is or not, but I decided to let the stranger hiking in the dead of night continue on without asking for his story.

The next morning, dew covered both sides of the tarp above me, but everything underneath was dew free. What a great feeling! =)

Allow us to help those in need, sell back your spare PocketMail and make some extra pocket money.


Kaaren said...

Way to Go, Mo, you trail Angel, you!

Anonymous said...

Great tale and awesome trail magic.

What would our brave tortuga have done had there been some strawberry leather mixed in...


Anonymous said...

does that 70 miles of no roads mean no towns with phones/libraries which translates into another long time before we get another post from you. :c

well, if that is the case you have a great 70 mile hike, stay safe, warm, and dry. pray for lots of trail magic and we await your next post....... :J


Anonymous said...

Great story! I was on the edge of my seat. Who was that dark figure in the woods? My heart would have been racing.

Peter said...

oh my! This really is a great adventure. I too, was on the edge of my seat...but then it is wide, so no danger there! :)(ha, my seat, not 'the' seat)

So glad you were blessed with more time than you thought in town. Oh and what joy to receive a
'care package' in the trees.
Keep on keepin on.

Anonymous said...

Updated Progress Map

Anonymous said...

Hi Ryan,

Just a sidebar...You previously mentioned that one of the libraries charged to use the internet. Well, I live in Connecticut and just last week a sign went up at our local library that there would be a charge of $1 to anyone who didn't have a library card for that library. Go figure!

Love following this hike of yours - I am living precariously in your shoes...


midlandtrailblazer said...

that was trail magic, silly!

what a great name for a road :) i'd love to visit sometime, especially since it's so close to a wonderfully Scottish-sounding town.