Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On the Trail Again....

With no plans other than the vague "I'll do a few miles today," Amanda and I slept in late and took our time packing up the car and leaving the hotel.

We drove straight to Gold Head Branch SP, stopping only long enough to grab a lunch at Wendy's and to pick up a maildrop for me in Keystone Heights.

By the time we arrived, I figured I had about 10 miles I could do before sunset, and decided to hike through to Edwards Grocery off of SR 100 which the trail happened to pass. It would be an easy place for Amanda to pick me up at.

The hike was largely uneventful. I did lose the trail in Gold Head Branch, and finally followed the road to the entrance where I knew the trail crossed at and picked it up again there.

The trail then passed through Cape Blanding where the national guard trains. My data said I was to sign my life away at the kiosk when I entered the area and to sign out again when I left, but I found nothing to sign so walked in anyhow.

In the dirt, shortly past the entrance kiosk, I found a message written in the dirt road that read, "Welcome back, GT! =)" It was signed by Snap. It was fun finding a message for me in the dirt. I figured Snap probably passed by the day before and had at least a 24 hour head start on me since I had taken two zero days.

I arrived at Edwards Grocery a bit early, and Amanda wasn't there yet. I bought something to drink and waited for her about ten minutes before she pulled up.

We found a hotel in Starke, then ate out at Pizza Hut for dinner. Yum, yum. =)

The next morning, I decided to pull a miserable 20-mile road walk into Lake Bulter. It was nearly all road walk, and I was so not looking forward to it, but it had to be done.

Several miles into the road walk, a white van pulled over and the driver asked if I was thru-hiking the Florida Trail. "Well, yes, as a matter of fact."

It was surprising to me he identified me as a thru-hiker. There aren't that many of us, and I was slackpacking so I didn't have my usual full-sized pack or scruffy clothes. Not even my trekking pole.

But he identified as a thru-hiker (admitting later that it was a close call and he wasn't sure). He introduced himself as Gordon Smith, trail angel, at my service. =)

He was an older man and not in particularly good health, but he used to love long-distance hiking and now prefers to spend his time helping them.

I explained that Amanda was in town and didn't really need any help. (I was already slackpacking, after all!) He seemed a bit disappointed that he couldn't help, but gave me his number anyway and drove off in search of other thru-hikers. He had also told me that he found Snap, who was leaving Lake Butler that day, which indeed put him about a day ahead of me on the trail.

I continued the grueling road walk, and eventually a second vehicle pulled over to ask me about the trail. He said the reroute on the old railroad grade looked like it was done and wondered when hikers would start using that. I had no idea. I knew a reroute was in the works because it was marked on my map as the 'proposed trail' in the future, but I didn't know that status of the reroute or when it would be finished.

The man didn't seem very familiar with the Florida Trail, and I told him about it which seemed to fascinate him, then I continued the grueling road walk.

The trail passes through Sampson City, a small podunk with a few houses. The term 'city' is something of a misnomer.

While walking along the trail, however, I noticed an orange blaze on the other side of the trees lining the road. The OTHER side. Right where the reroute was supposed to be.

I walked over and checked out the reroute. In this section, it did look done. I could see what seemed like miles down the old railroad grade. Including the fact that even the local guy said the trail seemed to be done, I decided to ditch the road walk and perhaps be the first person to thru-hike this section of the reroute. It might not be official Florida Trail yet, but it would be soon!

The chances of getting lost were zero. The new trail followed an old railroad track and went straight as an arrow about nine miles directly into Lake Butler.

The first few miles were absolutely wonderful. No cars buzzing by, and an easy, wide trail. Trees, a whole forest of them, decorated both sides of the trail.

When the trail reached CR 235, however, I discovered exactly why the reroute hadn't been opened to the public yet. The trail became overgrown, and I had to dodge around a number of fallen trees. It was still passable, but not nearly so easy as those first several miles.

A couple of miles more, and I found myself at the edge of an old railroad tressle, except the tracks across the top were missing so I couldn't cross it. Looking down, a small river crossed the path.

I scrambled down to the ground level and examined my options. I walked out across a log as far as I could, stuck a long stick in the water to see how deep it was. (The water, as usual, was murky, and anything more than a couple of inches deep was impossible to see through.)

I then held the stick up to myself, and the high water mark went up past my waist. It was deep.

The gap to the other side was about eight feet, too far to jump. The tracks of the tressle actually did pass overhead at this point, and I considered climbing up to the top. I threw out that idea as stupid--tressles weren't designed to climb easily, and if I slipped, I could seriously injury or kill myself. No one even knew I was on this reroute, so they wouldn't even be looking for me here when I didn't arrive in Lake Butler on time.

No, I had to walk across. Damn.

I checked the water level in several places, on both sides of the tressle, and decided to cross just downstream from the tressle. The water was the deepest yet that I had to ford, coming up well past my knees but still below my waist.

I charged through, but I didn't blame the or curse the FTA for my prediciment. After all, the route wasn't officially open as of yet. This was my own fault.

But you know what? It was still better than a ten-mile road walk. Nope, I wasn't going to complain.

The trail continued through timber land and some sections you could see had recently been cut. The trail reached two more broken tressles, but the water below was small enough that I could jump over the streams.

The trail dumped me out in a neighborhod of Lake Butler, where thre kids on bicycles watched me fall out of the woods.

One of them asked, "Where did you come from?" clearly perplexed at my unexpected arrival, and I told them they were standing on what would soon be the official Florida Trail.

This is Ryan, reporting in from White Springs.


Anonymous said...

White Springs ...cool

Thanks Ryan, I'll get out my map


Anonymous said...

According to my trusty DeLorme map, when the railroad grade met 235 you could have turned right onto 235 and an immediate left onto Ethan Sapp Rd and it would have taken you right over to the existing FT. So they could have opened up *part* of the new route.

-- Kirbert

Holly said...

OH and I was so waiting for you to say you took off your shoes and rolled up your pant legs and walked across ! :O)

Good to hear from you back on the trail again!


Anonymous said...

i am with Holly, i also thought you would have rolled up and moved out.
thanks for all the cool visuals in this and the last post.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Georgia is looming closer and closer!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Very cool to think that you were the first thru hiker to walk across that new FTA trail!

Hike on!
~Twinville Trekkers