Saturday, March 29, 2008

March to Montgomery

I woke up, refreshed and ready to go. I figured to reach Montgomery this day, which I was excited about. A large city meant busy roads, and busy roads meant owners tended to be more responsible with their dogs and kept them on leashes or enclosed. It meant more people would likely be walking, and less likely I'd be stopped by the cops for acting suspiciously. How sad is it when just *walking* down a street is thought to be 'suspicious' activity?

Frankly, I wanted out of the country. I was sick of it.

But I did have a good 20 miles into town, along those dreaded country roads. I didn't go more than a mile before I passed the first dogs that jumped up and ran towards me barking. Not under their owner's control, and I shouted at the dogs to stay back as I waved my trekking pole around.

This time, the owner was there, telling their dogs to come back, but the dogs didn't listen. They kept coming towards me, and I found myself annoyed that the owner didn't even have the engery to go after their dogs--just shouting from their porch to come back as if that's all that was expected of them.

Dumbass. The stresses from the day before returned in full swing.

The trail entered Montgomery on Norman Bridge Road, but when I went to follow it, big yellow signs warned that the road was closed 1000 feet ahead.

Which led me to wonder--is it closed to car traffic, or ALL traffic? I didn't know. I did know, however, that the road was supposed to cross a large river on a long bridge, and if it was the bridge that was out, then walking across would not work.

So I decided to follow the main road into town then follow a bypass road east back to the trail and the Diplomat Inn.

Sounds nice, don't you think? I knew it was cheap--the prices listed in my directions were cheap, and that's what I was looking for. Cheap.

I check into the motel, room 109, and relaxed in my own private sanctuary.

I did venture out once that night, across the street to Rite Aid, where I picked up snacks for dinner, a 2 liter bottle of Coke, and milk for the next morning. (The room had a mini fridge.)

The 2 liter bottle of Coke--no, I wasn't THAT thirsty. But rather, I was looking to replace my Platypus. Not knowing where I could replace it, or even if I could since Easter Sunday was the next morning, I jumped into plan B.

While thru-hiking the AT, I met a hiker who used 2 liter bottles for water swearing the end fit the grooves on the Platypus. He didn't want to pay for the Platypus bladder, so he used 2 liter bottles of soda instead.

Without access to a bladder, I would try the 2 liter bottle trick myself.

So I spent the night trying to drink two liters of Coke. I failed miserably, only finishing half the bottle before the end of the night.

The next morning, I poured the rest of its contents down the sink and rinshed it out with water a couple of times before filling it completely with water.

Now was the time of truth. How well would it connect to the Platypus's hose?

I screwed it on, seemingly securely, then squeezed the bottle and water oozed out between the threads.

That didn't work. I was disappointed--screwing in the bottle seemed like such a good fit. I examined the fit, jiggling the connection around trying to figure out the problem, but to no avail. It seemed like a good fit, until you squeezed the bottle.

Finally, mostly in frustration, I screwed the bottle in as tightly as I possibly could, until my hands ached, then squeezed the bottle. And nothing happened. No water leaked! Wooo-who!

I packed everything into my pack, carefully waterproofing everything in bags in case the seal didn't hold up the whole day, and hit the streets of Montgomery.

I picked a particularly lousy day to walk through Montgomery. I didn't plan for it to happen, but it was Easter Sunday. Darned near everything would be closed--except churches, of course.

This area isn't called the Bible Belt for nothing, either. I can't count the number of churches I passed along the way and half felt like I'd already read an entire sermon reading those witty comments welcoming church members.

And it always amused me that every church, no matter how small, always includes who the pastor is. It's not like I recognize any of their names. They aren't celebrities or anything, so why does the pastor's name need to be out there?

Not that it's hurting anything, but I just think it's odd. It's such a universal thing, you'd think there was a law requiring it.

In any case, for me, it meant nothing would be open. The trail was to pass by an outfitters--where I could replace the Platypus and my pack, but it was closed. I wanted to buy topo maps of the trail ahead, but that didn't work out.

I wanted to buy new shoes. The ones I wore had traveled about 450 miles and were reaching their life expectancy, but shoe stores were closed.

I also wanted to explore the city of Montgomery. I read that guided tours were available for the capital, where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as president of the Confederate States of America. Montgomery was the first capitol of the confederates, and the house Jeff Davis lived in was there as well.

But they were all closed. It was Sunday, and not just any Sunday, but Easter Sunday. Some stores seemed to put up two closed signs to emphasis this point.

I did stop at the capital to take pictures, and photographed the exterior of Jeff Davis's old home. I read plaques throughout the city, and not once did a dog try to attack. All-in-all, it was a nice hike through downtown Montgomery.

I stopped at a Sonics for lunch--praise corporate America for making a buck, even on Easter Sunday--and tried getting into the Eastdale Mall hoping the shopping mall might be open, but it was not.

An anchor store, however, was open. A saw a bunch of cars parked outside of Sears and knowing they did have a shoe department, went in with my fingers crossed.

It was a long shot, I knew. Sears isn't known for their wide selection of shoes, and those that they have probably aren't as cheap as I'd like. But I was desparate and figured I may as well check, so in I went.

The selection was awful and the prices outrageous, but then I found a clearance shelf with reasonably priced shoes (but even more awful selections).

But shock of shocks, there was a pair with my size on it. Even more surprising, they were sneakers!

I tried them on, liked the fit, and bought them for $25 plus tax. Woo-who!

I dumped my old shoes in a trash can and wore the new ones out of the store before continuing on the trail towards Wetumpka.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Do I Carry?

A number of people have asked about what I carry on this hike. I planned, after my hike was over, to weigh every single item I had, photograph them, and post a very detailed summary.

As it stands right now--not when you read this or when I upload it (which could take days for all I know--I don't know when the next payphone will be)--it is 5:00 in the afternoon. A full two hours before sunset, and I've already cooked an elaborate rice and bean and cheese burritos for dinner and cleaned up the resulting mess.

And I've finished all my reading material.

So I'm kind of bored. So right now, I will itemize everything I am carrying, minus food and water since those change dramatically from day to day anyhow.

First, my cooking stuff:

two quart pot with lid
soda can stove (plus simmer ring and extinguisher)
plastic spork
dish rag
pot holder
pot stand
plastic 1 cup drinking/measuring cup
2 bottles of denatured alcohol
mesh bag to hold it all together

I should point out--I usually don't carry two bottles of denatured alcohol, but I hate wasting stuff and the last time I bought denatured alcohol, it wouldn't all fit into a single bottle. So I have it in two. I hope to finish off one of the bottles soon and be back down to just one bottle.

My pot, frankly, is way bigger than it needs to be, mostly because I'm cheap. I bought it before I started the AT and I didn't know any better. It originally came with another pot that could fit inside this one and a frying pan, but I wised up and ditched those. I have been eyeing a 0.9 liter titanium pot for future use, however, weighing in at less than 5 ounces and taking up about half the space.

Shelter details:
1 tarp
4 metal stakes
4 plastic stakes
1 trekking pole
1 ground sheet
1 set of directions for tieing knots
extra rope

My tarp already has rope tied to each corner and edge, but I like to carry a bit extra rope in case I need to extend one of the pre-tied ropes. The trekking pole, obviously, serves several purposes, and one of them is to hold up one end of my tarp. I usually find a tree to hold up the other end.

I rarely use more than five stakes at any one time, and the most I've ever used on this trip is seven, so I really am carrying more than I really need. But they don't weigh much. *shrug*

The directions for tieing knots--I already know the important knots which I use on an almost daily basis for my tarp. I bought these directions when I didn't know any knots at all. Nowdays I like to keep the directions around to goof around with knots I don't know (and probably will never need to know). It's cheap entertainment, and pretty light as well. =)

Hygenic Stuff:
baby powder
Gold Bond
liquid soap
laundry soap
Purell hand sanitizer

All these are in trial or travel sized stuff. Small is good. The laundry soap is actually meant for washing clothes in the sink.

Miscellaneous Stuff:
I have some iodine tablets for purifying water, but it's a backup in case my ususual SteriPen doesn't work (dead batteries) or the water seems REALLY bad and I want to be doubly safe.

I have a small bit of duct tape, a pocket watch, an unbrella, a camera, sunscreen, headlamp, spare batteries (this varies over time, but at a minimum, I always keep at least two AA batteries as spares), DEET(!!!!), this PocketMail device, sunglasses, notebook, mosquito head net, pens (2), toilet paper (in its own bright red bag), Leatherman, and a wallet with money, driver's license, credit cards, and the ususual stuff.

Letterboxing Gear:
1 signature stamp
2 ink pads (green and black)
1 letterbox (to be planted in Alabama)
1 personal traveler stamp
1 mini logbook (not sure why I carry this)
1 personal logbook

Navigation Equipment:
1 compass
1 AAA map of Alabama/Georgia
Several pages torn out of the Alabama DeLorme maps (no way I'm carrying that WHOLE book!)
Printout of the Alabama Trail, Pinhoti Trail, and Benton McKaye Trail details.
Printout of maps with trail angels and contact details.

I should point out--I throw away the maps and pages as I finish with them, so those continue to get lighter the further I go.

First Aid:
safety pin
antiseptic towelettes
2x2 inch gauze sponge (*heh* I didn't even realize I had that until I looked through my first aid kit to make sure I hadn't missed anything!)

For the most part, I carry two of everything. One to hike in, and one to wear around camp and sleep in. Even two different hats. The day hat has a wide brim to keep the sun or rain off my face while the night hat is made of fleece for warmth.

I do, however, have three pairs of socks--the third pair I use whenever the other two need a day off. Even shoes--I have hiking shoes (sneakers) and camp shoes (Waldies--like Crocs, but without the strap behind the heel).

I also carry an extra layer for sleeping in on cold nights. Body huggers, both top and bottom.

And a fleece jacket, for whenever I'm cold. Usually worn at night in camp, but on rare occasions on cold days while hiking. Same goes for gloves, which I also wear if mosquitoes are bad.

Recently, I picked up a "Don't shoot me--I'm a hiker!" vest, which I haven't worn yet but should be very useful if I pass through hunting areas. Amanda gave it to me as a gift. =)

I have a nice, goose down 20 degree bag.

Everything, of course, gets put into various bags. I have several silicon compregnated nylon stuff sacks, and everything else gets put into ZipLock bags. (I only use the freezer bags--they're thicker and tougher than standard bags.)

I always have lots of spare ZipLocks, though exact numbers vary on a near daily basis.

I keep stuff I want access to without taking off my pack in my fanny pack.

To store water, I have a Nalgene bottle (with Spanish-English translations on the side--hey! It could have been useful in Florida!), a 1.5 liter water bottle, and a 2 liter Coke bottle. That last one is an improvision. My Platypus failed, and unable to acquire a new bladder for it, I'm using the 2 liter Coke bottle instead. The cap actually fits with the Platypus hose.

And.... I think that's everything. Everything is accounted for, large and small alike. It sure sounds like a lot, huh?

Without food or water, I think my gear weighs about 15 pounds. Maybe 20 pounds, but probably closer to 15. With about five days of food and a full day of water, it weights in at about 30 pounds. When I really load up with food or several days of water, it might reach 40 pounds, but that's my maximum weight, and I don't stay at that weight long! =)

Ryan, checking in from Stewartville

I Need a Clever Title

I slept surprisingly well despite the ever threat of perverts, police officers, and cars driving by. I woke up at daybreak and started hiking particularly early, determined to reach the Crenshaw county line on my own two feet.

The first couple hundred miles of Alabama are not what one call beautiful or fun. It's pure road walking, which is undoubtably the most dangerous hiking there is.

The part that scares me more than anything, however, isn't the cars or perverts or axe murderers or muggers (I haven't even seen those last two, but I'm sure they're out there). It's dogs.

Especially on country roads where owners feel their dogs don't need to be kept on leashes or enclosed in a fenced yard. Most days, there are probably anywhere from five to ten dogs that rush out into the street, barking and looking dangerous.

It's so bad, I often consider where I might run for protection before I even see any dogs. I'll see a good, solid fence and think, "Hey, that would make a good place to climb up to escape any dogs that might think about attacking me."

I look for places that give me a height advantage, figuring dogs would have a tougher time getting me when I'm several feet off the ground. I also look for places that have a single entrance or exist--usually a fence with the door wide open--thinking it would be harder for a pack of dogs to surround me.

When I pass by houses on these rural country roads, I often carry my trekking pole instead of walking with it like intended so it won't make that 'click click click' sound every time the tip hits the ground. If I do use it, I'll make sure the tips hit the dirt or grass on the shoulder of the road where it won't make as much noise.

Basically, I try to sneak through neighborhoods so dogs don't hear me.

It's not usually effective--usually dogs will see or hear me when I get close enough--but it gives me more time to look for terrain to defend myself and sometimes I've heard dogs rushing into the street barking at me after I already walked a quarter-mile past them.

Little dogs generally don't worry me since I figure I can fend them off fairly easily. Big dogs with large teeth worry me the most. They look like they could snap my neck like a twig.

Gangs of large dogs scare me the most. When you're surrounded by four very large dogs that are close enough to see the color of their teeth, it really gets the adrenaline pumping.

The trekking pole is wonderful for at least giving me a sense of having something to protect myself with. I'll point it at dogs, yelling at them to stay back, and they seem to understand that the trekking pole can be used as a weapon because they'll back up a bit whenever I swing it in their direction.

Fortunately, no dogs have yet tried to attack me. Just a lot of scary moments where I wondered if this would be the time they finally attacked. I figure if one does attack, the trekking pole should be used as a lance rather than a club.

My natural tendency is to want to club them, using both hands to whack them hard with the trekking pole, but the poles are lightweight and hollow inside so I figure they'll likely snap if I used them as a club. Anyhow, it would spread out the point of impact along the length of the pole.

No, I figure using it as a lance would be more efficitive. I've worn the tip down so it's rounded, but it's still a small rounded point that I have little doubt could pierce quite deeply into the dog. The poles are designed to take weight lengthwise, so I could put a lot of power into the thrust without breaking it.

I'd probably try to pierce the body since it would be a big target. An eye or something would probably be very effective in getting the dog to retreat, but those are pretty small to hit. I figure trying to nail it hard in the body would be my best bet.

More than once, I wish I took a page out of Snap's playbook and carried mace. Don't mess with Snap. He does carry bear mace, but he carries it specifically to protect himself from dogs. If I ever had to thru-hike this trail again, I'd carry mace--and I recommend that everyone who hikes this trail do the same. People rarely are out to attack or kill you, but there will be dogs you'll want it for.

It's kind of sad, plotting how best to protect myself from loose dogs and plotting how best to hurt or kill one that tries to attack. It's not something I ever spent much time thinking about before, but it's a vital survival tool on road walks.

And every time one of those dogs runs out into the street after me, a small part of me wishes a car would come by and hit them. It would serve the owner of the dog right for not keeping their dog under control, and perhaps in the future they'll be more responsible.

So I hiked, wishing the road walk would end and wondering why I wanted to hike to Springer Mountain in the first place. If I had stopped at Pensacola, I thought, I'd already be home.

Not much happened to report this particular day. No police or perverts stopped to talk to me, and I pushed through to somewhere near the county line another 20+ miles up the trail, a mile or so before the town of Bethlehem.

I stopped, I think, just barely short of the county line. The trail went onto a dirt road--one of the few places where the trail became dirt--which seemed rarely traveled and largely unpopulated. I figured it would make an ideal location to stop for the night.

I found an overgrown road leading off the main road, and followed it optimstically. If other cars weren't even using this road anymore, I would certainly have the place to myself.

It led to an abandoned house, mostly collapsed, and I set up camp on the far side of it. I didn't want to be too close to the house--the remains are probably home to rats, snakes, and all sorts of vermin I'd rather avoid--so I camped a good hundred or more feet away.

It was a wonderful location, padded with pine needles. I was so far off the main road, I didn't even worry about my headlamp giving my location away--assuming anyone drove down the road in the first place.

For the first time since leaving Andalusia, I felt like I could relax and not worry about the 'human problems' that plague road walks.

I read Daddy's Girl for the rest of the night, happy to engross myself in a novel for the first time in months. I finished the book near 10:00 in the evening before finally going to sleep. The campsite was a much needed break for me.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I'd Rather Choke On My Own Vomit

Walking from one state to another, you usually won't see any obvious changes. The forest on one side of the state line looks the same on the other side.

But it didn't take more than a few days until I started thinking I had it good in Florida.

I should warn you--there is some disturbing stuff coming up. Kids, stop reading now. Really.

It started the night before Amanda left. I walked to a nearby convenience store to give my mom a call and update her on my progress. Amanda's cell phone didn't work in Andalusia and neither did the phone in our hotel room, so I walked off to use a nearby pay phone.

While talking to my mom, a car pulled up nearby and I asked the guy driving it if he needed to use the phone as well, but he shook his cell phone and said he'd try using that first. No problem, and I continued talking to my mom.

I saw the guy talking on his cell phone, so I figured he wouldn't need the pay phone and didn't cut the conversation with my mom short.

After we said our goodbyes, I told the guy he could use the pay phone, just in case he decided he needed it after all, but he seemed rather chatty asking where I was from.

The man looked about 30 years old, clean-shaven, but his car was filled with boxes and junk which made me think he lived out of it. He seemed short, though he was sitting down so it's hard to be sure, and significantly overweight. Nothing particularly scary-looking about the guy, though, so I humored him and told him about my hike.

Then he pointed down to his leg saying he what he really needed was a bathroom because he had wet himself, and sure enough, there was a puddle of liquid by his foot. Eeeewwww!

"Ah, well...." I said. "I guess you didn't quite make it in time, huh?"

Eeeeewwwww! Why did he have to tell me this?

Oh, if only it stopped there....

Then he said, "Hey, your kind of cute. You want to have sex?"


"No!" and I immediately turned around and left.

He drove out of the parking lot, telling me out his window that that was a shame, because I was really cute then drove off into Andalusia.

Ewwww! I went back to the hotel and told Amanda what happened, and she was as grossed out as I was.

The next morning, Amanda was gone and I was on my own again. The rain had started up, so I lingered and delayed leaving as long as possible, seriously wanting to take the whole day off and stay dry in the room. But I needed to get miles on, so I packed up and headed out into the rain.

My directions took me through downtown Andalusia, and by the hiker headquarters for the area, but the building looked vacant and had no signage. I tried the door anyhow, hoping to get out of the rain for a bit and perhaps get more information about the trail ahead, but the door was locked. I continued on.

The storm eventually passed through and the sun started peeking out and I started drying out. After a couple of hours, though, the bottom of my pack and my butt seemed surprisingly wet--the rest of my pack and myself had completely dried, but my pack was positively dripping with water. Even worse, the water dripping onto my butt made it look like I wet MY pants! Eeewwww!

I took off my pack and pulled out my Platypus--the only source of water in my pack--and found it leaking. Drats. I emptied what water was left in it to my empty water bottles.

I finished the day camped under the Conecuh River Bridge. I got there early enough so I could find an alternative place to camp if I didn't like the conditions under the bridge--I learned THAT lesson!--but it looked quite acceptable and I set up camp just short of the town of Dozier.

The next day was clear and sunny, and I was making good progress on the road walks. A bit after noon, a man in an SUV pulled up asking what I was doing. Not THAT unusual, and the man didn't seem threatening. Probably 50 or so. So I told him about my hike.

"You want to...."

I didn't quite catch what he said, kind of mumbling.

"What?" I asked.

"Do you want a blow job?"

What the hell is wrong with this state?!

"I'd rather choke on my own vomit."

And without even saying goodbye, continued walking up the road. He drove off to destinations unknown.

I was stunned--propositioned TWICE in three days.

An hour or so before sunset, a police car stopped behind me and two officers got out. They looked like high school students in costumes, really, and one had a terrible acne problem. Were they even old enough to drink?

They asked the usual questions--what was I doing, did I have ID, blah, blah. They went back in their car to run my ID while I waited outside for the 'clear to go' verdict.

I was rather surprised at the result, though. They asked if they could drive me to the county line! They said they couldn't MAKE me go since I wasn't wanted for anything and wasn't doing anything illegal, but people who saw me walking down the road kept calling the police and they wanted to get me out of the county to get the calls to stop.

TWF?! What ever happened to Southern Hospitality? I've never felt so unwelcomed in my life. I told the officers I'd rather not--the point was to WALK from Key West to Springer Mountain, and they finally left to let me continue my walk.

I could not get out of Crenshaw County fast enough.

I camped in some woods just off the road near Centenary. Fearing creepy people and police alike, I did not set up a tarp so there would be less to see of me from the road, and refused to use my headlamp so as not to draw attention from passing cars with the light. I was absolutely determined to get out of the county the next day if it killed me.

And I spent the night just thinking, "I'm really, really beginning to hate Alabama." And what about those home-cooked Alabama dinners that the welcome kiosk at the state line suggested? No, I'm hiding out, scared to set up a tarp or use my headlamp in fear of attracting too much attention to myself. *shaking head*

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sweet Home Alabama

Amanda dropped me off on the Florida Trail for the last time, just four miles from the Alabama border.

The trail went into the woods, then crossed the road again just 1.2 miles from the border. A ribbon blocked off the trail, the kind I've seen put up because of prescribed burns when they don't want hikers to enter.


Don't tell me I can't finish the last 1.2 miles of trail!

I looked for a note or writing on the ribbon to warn of prescribed burns or dates they were burning but found nothing.

It looked to me like the burn had already happened, so I decided to ignore the ribbon and continue on.

No problems, though. I didn't even find any smoldering logs like I would with a recent burn.

I reached a kiosk just shy of the official state line, but I considered it the end of the Florida Trail because it was here I saw my first yellow blaze.

The trail through Alabama--at least the first couple hundred of miles--is marked with yellow blazes instead of the orange ones that mark the Florida Trail.

There were photos taken. Of orange blazes and yellow blazes, of me next to a yellow blaze, of trees, of plants, and flowers. This point may have been the most photographed location of my entire journey. I even took a photo of my pocket watch with the time and date displayed. I wore out the batteries in my camera.

I signed the register there, a bit sad after realizing that I left my signature stamp in my pack. Since I was slackpacking, I didn't have my stamp, and it seemed wrong not to stamp it in on this historic occasion.

I followed the last of the orange blazes to Alabama where the trail came out on a dirt road. I took more photos of the actual last orange blaze I could find and the first yellow blaze that was actually in Alabama. It was a touching moment.

The rest of the hike was largely uneventful. The trail followed forest roads through Alabama. Only two vehicles passed me all day, both fire trucks with the forest service--probably checking out hot spots from still smoldering burns. (Apparently, Alabama likes to do lots of burns too.)

I hiked a whopping 27 miles to reach highway 136 for two reasons. One, it was a major road and Amanda knew she'd have no trouble finding the trail where it crossed THAT road. She might have a much harder time finding me on those forest service roads--especially since I had the maps for them and she did not.

The second reason for the long trek was because Amanda's last day with me was the next day, and so I wouldn't have to be dropped off on the trail at 3:00 in the morning, I was determined to reach the trail town of Andalusia. If I could hike in the next day, I could sleep in at the hotel then walk back to the trail when I was ready.

So I did a 27-mile hike to highway 136, where I found Amanda sitting out in a portable lounge chair relaxing and reading a book. She seemed considerably happier this time.

We stayed in the Sunset Inn, a cheap motel about 0.2 miles off the trail and about 17 miles from where Amanda picked me up. An easy hike into town.

The next morning, Amanda dropped me off on the trail. And this time, she had no plans to pick me up. I intended to walk to the motel and meet her there.

The trail came out onto dirt roads then onto the dreaded paved roads. I knew it was just the beginning. I'd be following paved roads for over a hundred miles now. On the road again...

I hiked to the motel and knocked.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent preparing for Amanda's departure. I resupplied food and supplies. I fixed up some last minute details on Atlas Quest.

And once again, Amanda snuck that little bag of joy into her bags and stole off in the middle of the night.

A Run For the Border

A remarkable thing was happening. I was a measily 28 miles from completing the Florida Trail. Technically speaking, I could be done in just one more day. More likely, I'd finish in two, but either way, I was almost done with Florida.

This particular day happened to be Amanda's birthday, so I joked that for her birthday, I'd take her out of Florida. She often complains about Florida--the heat, the humidity, the flatness of it all. She'll complain about South Carolina and North Carolina for the same reasons (minus the flatness), but I'd NEVER heard her complain about Alabama, so I joked that for her birthday, I'd take her out of Florida and into Alabama.

"You must like it," I reminded her, "because I've never heard you complain about it."

"That's only because I haven't spent any time there. Just you wait!"

So Amanda dropped me off back on the trail. My minimum goal for the day was a 20-mile hike to a certain road crossing, and if I was still up for it, to push on another 4 or so miles past Hurricane Lake to a second road crossing a mere 4 miles from the end of the Florida Trail.

There's not much to report about the hike. It was a largely pleasant walk through the woods. A time to remember adventures past and think about the challenges yet to come. Had I chosen to stop at the end of the Florida Trail, I'd have taken the fork that ended in Pensacola and probably be going home by this time tomorrow.

Instead, I have another month and 560-odd miles to Springer Mountain. But at least soon, I will have joined the ranks of successful Florida Trail thru-hikers. Memories for the ages.

After 20 miles, I stumbled out of the woods at a road. To the right, the road was paved, but it turned dirt towards the left over a bridge--the direction I was supposed to go according to my map though I couldn't find any blazes marking the route.

Amanda was nowhere to be seen, so I figured she was probably waiting further up the road. I crossed the bridge, just as Amanda pulled up from the other direction. She parked on the far side of the bridge, got out, and started tapping her foot.

Uh-oh. That can't be a good sign.

She'd been driving around for hours trying to find the trailhead. It didn't help that she didn't have good road maps for the area, but even when she found the correct road, she couldn't find any blazes or signs to mark where it crossed the road and had driven back and forth on it several times trying to find it.

She expected to drive out a couple of hours early, lounge around reading a book, and instead crossed into Alabama several times and only just arrived and hadn't read anything at all. She was not happy.

She had, however, stopped to pick up a sandwich at Subway for me which she pulled out of the ice chest. I ate the sandwich and drank a cold soda, then went back to hiking. I still had miles to do.

I continued down the road. My map looked like the trail ducked back into the woods where I came out after crossing the road, then crossed the road again another half mile up, but I found no blazes.

When I reached the road for the south campground for Hurricane Lake, I knew I'd passed the trail, annoyed at having lost the trail and completely understanding Amanda's anger.

I followed the road to the south campground knowing the trail was supposed to go near it figuring I'll catch it somewhere around the lake.

I did finally find a blaze about 30 feet deep in the woods and tromped out to the trail wondering how I missed where it crossed the road, but happy to be on it again.

It didn't last long, however. The trail crossed over Hurricane Dam to the north campground, and I lost it again.


I wandered around the campground, trying to find another blaze somewhere on the other side, going so far as the youth group site but finding no sign of a trail or any orange blazes.

I finally backtracked to the entrance of the campground (for cars) where I finally found a blaze and continued my trek.

The rest of the took me through still smoldering forests--one last fire, I suppose, before getting into Alabama--but otherwise was non-eventful.

Amanda was waiting at the road crossing, not having nearly the difficulity finding this one as the last one.

It was just four more miles to the border, but I'd save it for the next day.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Tax Man Cometh....

The next morning, Amanda drove me back out to Holt where I continued walking along US 90 until I reached the trailhead for the Hutton Unit just past the town of Harold. It was an uneventful hike, however, so I'll just leave it at that.

When Amanda picked me up, we took a *long* drive back to Tallahassee to see friends. We laughed, we cried... well, I might have cried. Even on the trail, the IRS is after me. Since my thru-hike is expected to run from January 1st through April 16th, I knew at some point I'd have to square things with the IRS. I wasn't particularly anxious to do so either since I knew I'd be owing them a boatload of money.

So that's what I spent all night working on. And much of the morning as well, I might add, since I didn't finish figuring it all out until about 5:00 in the morning. And I owed thousands. Dreadful thing, taxes.

I paid my dues, though, and submitted my tax stuff electronically.

The next day, I felt extremely tired. Shocking, huh? Amanda and I found a few letterboxes in the Tallahassee area and hung out with more friends. It was my fifth zero day on the trail.

Then it was a long drive back to the trail. Amanda dropped me off at the trailhead near Harold and went off to find us a hotel in nearby Milton.

I crashed into the woods, happy to finally be done with the road walk (for now). Considering the long drive from Tallahassee, I only hiked about 10 miles. This section of trail contains some of the highest points on the Florida Trail, and even I found myself surprised at how far I could see from a couple of the domes. (Calling them mountains or even hills still seems too generous.)

The trail passed through a state park--I forget the name and now that I'm in Alabama, I no longer have my Florida maps and guidebooks to check. I walked past a sign that said it cost $1 for pedestrians to enter and to save the bottom portion of the stub as proof of payment.

Frankly, I thought this was unfair since I didn't plan to stay in the park any longer than it took me to hike through. So.... I didn't pay.

A few miles later on the trail, I was startled by two men in uniform riding bikes in the opposite direction. First, I was surprised to see anyone at all since I rarely see people. Second, I was surprised they were on bikes--it wasn't a bike trail I was hiking on and bikes would have been tough to get through on. And third, they were in uniform.

Damn! All this time, nobody ever verifies all the entrance fees I paid, and the one time I skip it, I'm gonna get busted. Or was I already out of the park? I wasn't sure.

The officers asked where I was going, and I told them about my hike from Key West to Springer Mountain, and that I was slackpacking since Amanda was around to pick me up.

"She driving a maroon colored car?"

I had to think a moment. I would have called the car red, but I guess maroon was close enough. "Yes."

"She's already there waiting for you. It's a ways up, though. Probably about 2 1/2 miles."

Yep, that's about where I expected her to pick me up, but she's definitely there earlier than necessary. Probably had a good book to read or something.

They never asked about any entrance fees, and I never offered them any information about that. =)

We continued on our separate ways, and there was Amanda waiting for me just where we planned.

She took us back to Milton for the night.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Where's Ryan?!

Yes, I've heard the calls. I know many of you are wondering, what happened to the Green Tortuga? Why the lack of posts?

I'll get to that.... Let me first finish describing my hike through Eglin AFB. I spent my last night there, which I already told you about. The next morning, I was woken by a series of aircraft seemingly coming in for a landing nearby. I suspect I must have been in the flight path for one of the runways.

These weren't just any planes, however. No, these planes included fighter jets and bizarre planes with all sorts of weird things sticking out of them. I don't have a clue what kind of planes they were, which I guess means that technically speaking, it would make them UFOS--Unidentified Flying Objects. Yes, folks, I saw UFOs!

I have little doubt that there are people who could identify them, but the important thing to note is that I could not.

As I broke down camp, the first of the rain began. Very sad, but I stayed upbeat knowing that I'd be hiking into Crestview that day and planned to get a hotel anyhow. No matter how wet I got, I'd have a dry hotel room this night.

The hike out was uneventful. The rained increased throughout the morning and started to slacken by afternoon. I tromped into Crestview and checked into the Super 8. I stopped at Wendys for lunch, and picked up all sorts of terrible food for dinner at a nearby mini mart.

The next day, I felt rather unwell, which I suspected may have been due to my indulgance the night before eating Krispy Kreme donuts, sugary sodas, and other unnutricious foods.

I also expected Amanda to drive in that afternoon at some point, so I was tempted to take a zero day until I was feeling better. Ultimately, though, I got myself at the door and started hiking without my pack. I planned with Amanda to have her look for me on the trail--all a road walk along US 90 for the day--and to pick me up in Holt. So I leave my full pack behind and hiked with just my fanny pack.

The trail headed into downtown Crestview, which wasn't especially inspiring despite its historic status, then followed US 90 westward.

I called Amanda from a payphone in Milligan, hoping to update her on my progress and make sure she made her flight into Florida okay, but it went immediately to her voicemail. I left a message and pushed on.

In Holt, I tried calling again, but it went immediately to her voicemail. Not knowing where she was or when she'd be around to pick me up, I decided to hitchhike back to the motel Crestview. I left a voicemail saying as much, and if she didn't see me on the east end of Holt trying to hitch a ride back into Crestview, it's because I already got a ride.

This would be my first time trying to hitch a ride on my thru-hike. =) I wasn't actually looking forward to it--I'd rather have just had Amanda swing by and pick me up.

I was out there, on the side of the road for all of about five minutes before I got a ride--from Amanda!

She hadn't been checking her voicemail because she didn't know where her cell phone was. I grabbed a cold drink from the ice chest, where I found her cell phone. She must have been seriously tired to store her cell in the ice chest. *shaking head*

Even more amusing, she seemed surprised when she checked her voicemail that the cell phone was cold. "And do you know why?" I asked her. "Because you stored it in the ICE chest!" =)

We went back to the Super 8 and called it a day.

So why the long delay in posts? Lots of reasons. Busy working on Atlas Quest during the nights, for instance. And I was absolutely determined to get some photos from the hike online which is a heck of a lot of work in its own right. I did get photos up through my arrival at Gold Head Branch SP, however, so be sure to check them out at http://www.ryansatotalgoober/adventures/2008/

The text is copied from this blog (slightly edited for spelling and grammar), so if you're a faithful reader, only the photos will be new.

In other news, just this morning I discovered a photo of me in the latest issue of Washington Trails magazine. For those of you who are WTA members or happen to see the March issue, I'm on page 18, at the far right, with the goofy hat on my head. =) It was taken during my week working on the Pacific Crest Trail at Mount Adams. Well, the actual photo was taken in our campsite, but during that trip, which is also written up on the Ryan's a Total Goober website. (Check the 2007 directory, however, for that trip.)

I'm even wearing the same pants, camp shoes, and fleece jacket that I'm using on this thru-hike. =) Different hat, though.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Police, Munitions, and a Pillow

Apparently, wearing a headlamp on 331 also allowed the police to see me better as well. =)

I first realized they were on to me when a car passed by in my direction going suspiciously slower than most of the traffic, and in the darkness I could see the lights (unlit) on the top of the car.

When the car pulled over to the side of the road, I knew they were after me. They waited several seconds before there was a break in the traffic and they made a quick U-turn, then slid up in front of me.

Two officers stepped out the car Which kind of pleased me--the last two didn't bother doing anything but roll down their window--somehow I felt more important that they'd actually take the effort to step out of their car. For little old me! =)

So they asked what I was doing there and if I carried any ID, which I passed over to one of them to run a check on. We chatted a bit, and I asked if they'd seen someone a couple of months back riding a skateboard to California. They hadn't, but one of them had seen the guy on the news while watching television. That skateboard dude sure got a lot of attention.

When my identity cleared without any outstanding arrest warrants or whatever they were looking for, they told me to be safe because there are a lot of kids out for spring break driving to the beach to party.

And being a Saturday night, no less, I told them there were likely a lot of them driving drunk as well, and wished them luck catching every one of them. Frankly, I didn't want a drunk running off the road and plowing into me. Or a sober person for that matter, but dang, 331 was a heck of a busy road for being so late at night.

I continued walking, though, as far off on the shoulder as I could manage, and am happy to report that nobody, drunk or otherwise, plowed into me.

I stopped perhaps 200 feet short of the trailhead for Eglin Air Force Base, and set up camp behind some trees next to powerlines. The roar of the traffic was a problem, and it never went away completely, but it did die down some after midnight.

In the morning, I filled out the form provided at the kiosk at the trailhead, signing my life away and marking my entrance, exit, and other details of the hike. Paperwork, even on the trail.

The trail through the air force base was nice and well-marked, and the day was absolutely perfect. The temperature was cool, the sun was out, and the traffic behind me.

It's actually tough weather to hike in because I found myself wanting to lounge around and enjoy my surroundings than actually hike. If I had a book or magazine to read, I might have lounged anyhow, despite the fact that I was supposed to stop at Bull Camp according to my permit and that was what I told the lady I talked to the day before.

My map warned not to touch anything that looked like an explosive--not something I'd likely have done anyhow--but that one of the primary goals of the base was to test munitions. Seems kind of odd that they'd test explosives on an air force base. Shouldn't they be testing planes or something?

Actually, I know for a fact they test and train pilots, because I'd been seeing and hearing the fighter jets overhead everyday since leaving Blounstown, seeming to be in mock dogfights. While it's true I didn't see where the planes took off from, Eglin AFB was the most likely location.

I ended the day at Bull Camp, which unfortunately was close enough to I-10 that I could hear the traffic all night long. I was still far enough away that it didn't disturb my sleep, but it did take away from the seemingly remoteness of the location. For most of the day, I didn't hear any traffic at all.

One barely noteworthy event, which I mention only because there is so little to report, is that someone left behind what appears to be a large tent and one of those head pillows you see people with on airplanes. Oh, so soft....

The pillow was in remarkably good condition and didn't look like it had been out in the wild for more than a couple of days, so I took it. =) The tent might have been nice, but it was WAY too big for me to carry out of there, but the pillow--yeah, I could do that. So for now, I have a very nice pillow to use each night. At least until I see Amanda to give it to her or reach a post office to mail to myself for later.

I also picked up what trash I could at the campsite. My name is on record as having stayed at that site, and I'd like to think whoever checks the site later and sees it so clean might think I had something to do with it. Or at least they won't automatically think I'm responsible because the person before me trashed the site. Actually, it wasn't too bad. A few cans, foil wrappers liked you'd find around individual pieces of gum, and the pillow and tarp. The previous campsite has a heck of a lot of trash littering it, but this one is pretty nice now--except for the tent, of course, which was too big and heavy for me to carry out.

The next day was largely a repeat. The weather was nothing short of absolutely amazing, and I found myself wanting to lounge around enjoying it and the scenery than to spent my time hiking. Hiking, however, is my job, and hike I did.

I set up camp at the Jr. Walton Pond campsite, a nice little setup at the edge of a pretty pond. And even a picnic table to use for cooking and dining. The good life. =)

I picked up trash again--this time an empty cigarette pack and a receipt from a Burger King printed out two nights earlier. Whoever this litter bug was, they did their evil deed within the last two days.

While cooking dinner (Hamburger Helper!), I thought I could hear explosions in the distance. Hmmm....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sunglasses, Riding Lawnmowers, and a Hotel

The rain stopped by sunrise, but the skies were still ugly, the forecast was for more rain, and tree snot continued to drip onto my tarp so I took care of morning business under the tarp.

With camp chores done, I broke down camp and headed off. I reached SR 20 in about 20 minutes at which point a long, long roadwalk would ensue. About 40 miles of it, in fact, and more than 30 of it was on SR 20. I would, I knew, become very familiar with SR 20.

For the day, I completed just under 20 miles of it, stopping in Ebro for the night. Yep, that's about all I have to say for the whole day of hiking. There's not much to say. The roadwalk was a roadwalk--not fun, but otherwise uneventful. Miraculously, it never did rain this day--a pleasant surprise--but the skies did stay grey and cloudy all day.

The biggest event of the walk was that I lost my precious sunglasses. I stopped at a convenience store to buy a Coke and some snacks, and when I left, the sun peeked out a bit so I put on my sunglasses. About five minutes later, the clouds covered the sun again, so I took the glasses off and hung them on the collar of my shirt like I always have. Keeps them out of the way but easily accessible, and in a place where I won't accidentally crush them.

A couple of miles later, the sun make another brief appearance so I went to grab the glasses, but they were gone. Gone! It was a shock. I know I put them there. I hadn't stopped to rest or leaned over to pick anything up, but now they were gone. I can only imagine one of the large trucks driving by caused a gust of wind strong enough to blow the sunglasses off my collar (those big machines do cause some VERY strong gusts, and I often have to hold my hat on when they pass), and it made so much noise driving by that I didn't hear the glasses fall off in the gust. It's the only explaination. I was bummed, though. I bought the glasses at a Publix in Plantation and I liked them. Now I needed to find a new replacement.

I checked into the Ebro Motel, which was something of a luxury. It was only two days earlier I left my motel room in Blounstown, so it's not like I felt especially dirty or in need of a bed.

But I got the room anyhow for a couple of reasons. One, I wouldn't have to find a place to stealth camp. Two, it still looked like it could rain during the night, and I'd rather be indoors if it did. And three, I was just plain sick of camping. I've slept outdoors more often this year than indoors--37 times, in fact, out of 66 days. The ratio would have been even worse if it wasn't for those hotels I use on a daily basis when Amanda is visiting.

So into the motel I went. Room 115.
I was disheartened to discover that the television received satillite reception, so the Weather Channel showed everything but local weather during the 'Local on the 8s' segments. I had to watch the news on CBS to actually get the local weather forecast (which was very encouraging, I might add).

The next morning, I walked over to the nearby gas station to pick up some snacks and make a few phone calls.

And then it happened. Something wonderfully unexpected, wonderfully surprising, and reminds me why I do this hike.

Someone drove up on a riding lawn mower, parked it in front of the gas pump, then started to fill it up. =)

I'd never heard of anyone driving a riding lawn mower to the gas station for a fill-up before, and presumeably he didn't come from very far away, but the sight was a fun surprise.

The man driving it wore a big, white cowboy hat with something approaching a handlebar mustache.

When the tank was full, he replaced the nozzle, started up the lawnmower, and peeled out of there, doing a sharp U-turn between the pumps and driving away.

The skies had cleared overnight, and I squinted in the sun without my sunglasses. The air was COLD as well. I packed my fleece jacket away in the motel, but a mile down the road I couldn't take it anymore and pulled it out again along with my gloves. Darned cold morning.

At one point, while crossing over a bridge, a guy in an SUV pulled over ahead of me. When I caught up with the vehicle, the man offered me a ride--oh, if only I could--but I turned him down explaining that I was thru-hiking the Florida Trail.

I don't know if he was familiar with the trail or what a thru-hike was, and I never got a chance to find out since just as I said those words, a police officer pulled up alongside the man.

I waved to the officer and continued walking, feeling bad for the nice man in the SUV. You aren't supposed to stop on the shoulder of the road on the bridge, and he'd been busted for doing that because he wanted to offer me a ride.

Fortunately, he might have been caught, but the police officer didn't make the illegal stop official since about ten seconds later, the police car continued along the bridge and a few seconds later, so did the man with the SUV.

I reached the town of Freeport early in the afternoon, a bit confused at one intersection where Highway 331 did not match what my maps showed at all. My official Florida Trail map, the Florida AAA map, and the map of Freeport in my guidebook showed Highway 331 doing a mile-or-so long jaunt down SR 20, but when I reached the intersection, it went straight through crossing over SR 20, but not following it at all.

I concluded that they rerouted the highway, since none of my maps showed any street at all to the right where there clearly was a street now. I'd stick with the established trail directly into downtown Freeport, however, if only because a real supermarket lurked in town and I hoped to get on the Internet at the library.

The supermarket was wonderful, and I filled up with all the needed supplies for the next few days, and the library was open for business. Nobody was there, so they let me use their computers as long a I wanted to, which ended up being about 2 1/2 hours to catch up on the message boards and e-mail. (Most of it, at least!)

Before leaving town, I stopped at a convenience store where I bought dinner (a chili dog, some snacks, and a Coke) before heading up Business 331 and finally leaving SR 20 for good.

My maps showed Business 331 as good old 331. Definitely a rerouting of the highway.

I left Freeport near sundown, and within a couple of miles it was dark with the occasional car passing by.

Where Business 331 intersected with the new 331, traffic picked up significantly--both in volume and in speed. It seemed like hundreds of cars zoomed down the road in both directions, and I pulled out my headlamp to wear. Not to see better, but rather so cars could see ME better.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I'll Cross That Bridge When....

The next morning, my tarp was positively sopping wet from dew. It's amazing how wet it can get even when it doesn't rain, but even I was surprised at how wet the tarp was. Dew does tend to be worse when I camp under an open sky rather than under trees, but still...

I took the tarp down first, laying it out on the railing to dry in the morning sun while working up breakfast and packing up the rest of camp. The tarp was mostly dry by the time I finished, and it went into my pack last.

There's not much to report today. I planned to hike the length of Econfina Creek, stopping somewhere just short of the SR 20 trailhead for the night, a distance of about 18 miles. I could have hiked further, but then the trail follows SR 20 for something like 30 miles, and I'd just as soon camp in the woods away from cars than trying to stealth camp along a busy road. Rain was in the forecast that night as well, and I hoped if I reached camp early in the afternoon, I could have the tarp up and ready before the storm got going.

The creek was scenic, at least by Florida standards, but I can't say I found it particularly impressive. It's nice and certainly better than roadwalks or through timberland, but I didn't find myself gasping at the beauty of the area either.

Strangely, Econfina Creek turned out to be much larger than the Econfina River I passed a couple of weeks ago. Two completely different water sources, but why did they call the larger source a creek and the smaller one a river? That makes no sense to me. =)

At Fenton Bridge, I could see where the FTA was busy replacing a bridge. It's a pretty substantial bridge and the work was not completed, but the bridge could still be crossed.

On the far side of the bridge, I saw tracks made by some sort of machine, which I figured must have been used to carry heavy stuff. One project I worked on in Washington once used what amounted to a gas-powered wheelbarrow. Capable of hauling much heavier loads than a conventional one and for much longer distances.

Whatever their device was, though, it was a lot bigger than the one we used to build our own little project. (We built a turnpike, in case you're wondering. Check the AQ glossary if you don't know what a turnpike is.)

I followed the tracks up the trail and noticed they threw a bunch of logs across a muddy section to help their machine getting through, happy they did so since it also kept my feet dry. =)

The trail came out at a clearing where I found the large machine, covered with a tarp and planks of wood keeping the tarp in place. I didn't want to mess around with their gear so I didn't look under the tarp, but I was curious....

I continued following the trail along a fence line for a few minutes, but now that I was no longer admiring the crew's work and tools, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen a blaze for a while.

I thought a bit, trying to remember the last blaze I saw. Was it at the clearing? Perhaps, but I couldn't remember seeing any there. Nor even on the trail leading to the clearing.

The last blaze I clearly remembered seeing was on the bridge itself they were working on. I hoped I didn't have to backtrack that far, though, and maybe I lost the trail at the clearing.

So I started backtracking. First to the clearing, but I found no blazes so I continued on to the bridge.

This time, while walking between the clearing and the bridge, I noticed orange ribbons tied to trees along the way. Usually they'll do this as a temporary measure when blazes need to be replaced.

But on one of my working vacations rebuilding parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, ribbons were used to mark a reroute. It suddenly dawned on me that these ribbons did not mark the Florida Trail--they were used to mark the route of a new trail. They brought their big machines and tools as close to the bridge as possible, then cut a new trail (or perhaps widened an existing one?) from there to the bridge. But before it was built, someone walked through and marked of the trail with ribbons.

And I fell right into the trap.

Drats. Well, at least I didn't walk THAT far out of my way, and I did get to see their staging area with my detour. =)

FTA: do hikers a favor. That new trail is so large and wide and goes straight off from the bridge, it's VERY easy for hikers to miss that sharp turn to the right. I'd put a double blaze at the end of the bridge to indicate a right turn.

The trail continued on, and it became harder to follow once it left Econfina Creek. Much less scenic as well, going through clearcuts and rows of trees in perfect lines.

I finally stopped about a mile short of the SR 20 trailhead, just as the trail came out of those perfectly lined up pine trees into a clearcut.

I couldn't see any trees ahead on the trail, and it was possible the clearcut extended all the way to SR 20. I wanted to camp in trees. They provide an excellent wind break in stormy weather, and I didn't want lightning striking me while camped out in the open. Better to hide among the trees. Sure, lightning could strike a nearby tree, but better that than striking me directly. =)

So I set up camp under the pine trees where it provided a thick layer of pine needles--my favorite type of ground to camp on.

Not being near a water source, I ate snacks for dinner. I arrived two hours before sunset, giving me plenty of time to catch up on adventures. (I had been about three days behind on writing them.) And went to sleep long before the rain or lightning started.

Which, oh, it did. Rain poured down in buckets and lightning lit up the sky while thunder tore through camp. Makes getting a good sleep difficult, but hey, at least I was dry and under the tarp. =)

A slight breeze pushed a few drops of water under the tarp by my head, and rather than lowering the tarp (I like my head room!), I opened the umbrella to plug up the hole instead.

Then I tried to ignore the lightning and thunder and get more sleep.

The Marathon!

Knowing rain was on the horizon three days away, I pulled out my maps and plotted an itinerary. I decided to shoot for a motel room in Ebro that night it was supposed to rain all day. It might be a wet, miserable day, but by golly, I'd have a warm, dry bed to sleep in that night.

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! =)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pardon Me, Do You Have the Time?

The next day was essentially more of the same. I waded through water, usually no more deep than my ankles, but occasionally past my knees. After spotting a small, cute little turtle during one wading adventure, I started slowing down and looking very carefully where I put my foot--assuming I could actually see all the way through the water. I didn't want to step on any turtles inadvertantly.

I saw several more turtles hiding in the water this way, and hoped my tromping from the previous day hadn't gotten any.

The day was beautiful. Partly cloudy, not especially warm, and I wanted to take advantage of it to push on as far as I could. The weather was expected to grow nasty the next day, and I wanted to be within walking distance of Bristol to insure I had a motel and a dry bed to use at the end of the day. At a minimum, I figured, I should at least reach the Camel Lake Campground.

And I did, and what a beautiful campground it was. Several sites overlooked Camel Lake, and they were some of the nicest campsites I ever laid eyes on.

The restrooms had flush toilets, and garbage cans could be found all over the area. It was much nicer and far more elaborate than I expected. I was thinking it would be something like the previous campground I passed the day before with composting toilets and no regular maintenance. This place, though, was NICE.

I went ahead and made use of the facilities, filling up with water, using the restrooms (flush! flush!), and throwing away my trash. I checked to see how much staying at the site would cost--I knew a campground this nice wouldn't be free--and it wasn't. It ran $10/night, so I walked up the trail a quarter mile or so and set up my tarp in the woods. I could actually still see the American flag flying above the campground from my location, but I figured I was far enough away that no authority figures would ask what I was doing there. =)

I hoped the rain would start early, pour all night all while I was under the protection of the tarp, then have stopped by morning. What actually happened, however, was that the night stayed nice and calm and by morning, the rain finally started.

So I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, and even peed all under the protective cover of the tarp. I packed my gear into the backpack while under the tarp--making use of the super extra large ZipLocks since I still had them--and only when that was done did I finally come out from under the tarp and into the rain.

I took down the tarp, stashed it into a mesh pocket, took out the umbrella,
heaved on the pack, opened the umbrella, and started down the trail singing Spiderpig to myself. (You have to watch The Simpsons movie to understand that reference.)

The trail continued to go through bogs, but my feet were pretty wet from the rain anyhow so the bogs didn't bother me as much this time.

I only had about six or seven miles of trail walking anyhow. Then there was a 10.1 mile road walk up CR 12 into Bristol. Ugh. Road walk. And a long one.

The trail went past the library in Bristol, so I stopped in to check e-mail and Atlas Quest. Originally, I planned to stop for the night at a hotel in Bristol, but the night before, I realized that Blounstown was less than four more miles along the trail. I hadn't realized the two towns were so close since my guidebooks put the two in different regions, splitting the regions right down the time zone. I hadn't looked ahead at the next region--which, if you remember, I tore into pieces back in the Keys and have my mom mail to me on the trail as needed, so the two regions had been physically torn apart.

Only now did I look ahead into the next region and realize that a much larger town, with more motels and food options, lay just another four miles down the trail.

Onward I went, crossing into Central Time Zone over a large, long bridge that crossed the Apalachicola River. The bridge seemed to last for a couple of miles--certainly one of the longer bridges I've crossed since the keys.

And just like that, I went back in time one hour. Alas, sunset now occurred one hour earlier too.

I was rather excited about changing time zones. =) It felt like real progress in my hike, and it hit me that my days in Florida were numbered. Perhaps not *quite* in the single digits, but I had now hiked about 1,000 miles--well past the halfway mark for Springer Mountain, in fact--and had about 200 miles of Florida left. I suddenly felt elated to be rid of Florida so soon.

Don't get me wrong, here. Florida has its nice areas, but it's the state that Never Seemed To End. The Appalachian Trail goes over 500 miles through Virginia, or about 25% of the entire trail, and I was positively elated when I first reached that Welcome to West Virginia sign. Thank God, I was finally done with Virginia!

Now I had done twice that amount in Florida, and I *still* hadn't finished with the state. I could have started on the AT at one end of Virginia, hiked to the other end, turned around and hiked back.... and still be done faster than Florida.

Florida is a freakishly big state, and crossing into another time zone, it finally hit me. I'm almost done with Florida!

Not to mention the fact that I've never hiked to another time zone before.

Completely unrelated to my hike... did you know it's possible to call Oregon from Florida and have it be the EXACT same time in both locations?

It only works one hour each year, but it can be done. The panhandle of Florida, as I've already said, crosses into Central time zone. The southeast corner of Oregon, for some bizare reason unknown to me, was lumped into Mountain time zone. So if call after Central time zone loses an hour due to daylight savings but before Mountain time zone does, you can have two people, one in Florida and one in Oregon, who would both report the exact same time.

It makes a great bar bet. ;o)

Back on topic, however, I continued to walk into Blountstown. The rain finally stopped during my walk through Bristol, and in Blountstown, I actually got to see a pretty nice sunset when most of the sky had cleared.

I checked into the Cherokee Motel (room number 5 for those keeping track) and ran a few errands well into the night. Restocked food supplies at Piggly Wiggly (and who couldn't love a supermarket with a name like that?) I was underwhelmed with options for dinner, however, and settled for Burger King since it was closest to the motel.

That night, I mostly watched--my favorite--the Weather Channel, hoping to glean details about what I should expect to come. The next two days: sun. The night of that second day, rain and thunderstorms, continuing into the third day.

The Neverending Swamp

The one incident in the swamp tromp that took me by surprise was when I ran out of water. Completely and totally out, without a drop to drink.

I'm still puzzled by this since I deliberately filled up with water to last the whole day, and it wasn't an especially warm day so I hadn't had much to drink, but near noon, I went to take a sip and nothing. I was out.

But I was in a swamp walking through water sometimes higher than my ankles, so it wasn't a critical problem. Just a perplexing one.

The swamp tromp officially ended at a dirt road. Still having plenty of daylight left, I took a small snack break then continued on.

I thought the water walking was largely over, but how wrong I was. Time after time I tromped through water, usually up to my ankles, with every dip in the road or trail. Once I realized how much water there was still left to walk through, I decided to push on as far as I could in the hopes of getting past it all. The water was annoying, but a minor one considering that my feet were already wet. The tricky part were the pools of water in the dirt roads, however, because I'd often find myself slipping into knee-deep water when I put my foot on the edge of a ledge but not realizing it. The dirt roads sometimes had deep grooves where the truck tires went through, and I'd put a foot near the grove in ankle-deep water to suddenly find my foot sliding down into knee-deep water. You can't see these these grooves either--the water is too murky--unless you probe for them with a trekking pole. Very annoying.

The trail crossed the Ochlocknee River over a bridge when I first realized that the Ochlocknee River seemed particularly high. I could see the top few inches of palmettos--not normally underwater plants--sticking out from the water.

Perhaps this, I thought, was the reason my swamp tromp didn't seem to end. The trail had flooded, though it did so conveniently after the end of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.

I stopped at the Porter Lake Campground where I filled up with water and ate some snacks. One other family was camped there, with a stack of firewood about five feet high, and I considered walking over to them and asking if I could buy a cold soda off of them. I was hot and sweaty and a cold soda sounded good. Perhaps if I played my cards well, they'd even give me one for free. =) But I'd still have paid for one if necessary.

Before I had a chance to act out, however, the husband walked over to me and asked if he could buy a cigarette off of me. Heh.

"Sorry, I don't smoke." I'd have traded a whole pack for a cold drink if I could, though.

"I didn't think a hiker like you would," he replied, "but I figured it didn't hurt to ask."

I asked him about cold sodas, and he whispered, almost in a conspiratorial tone, "The wife didn't want to go anywhere today. I don't have smokes, I don't have ice, I don't have cold nothing."

He seemed especially bitter about the lack of smokes. I was disappointed about the lack of cold drinks.

We chatted for several more minutes, and I explained a bit about my hike to him before continuing on my way. I was half tempted to set up camp right there--it was a nice campground and the cost was right (free). At the very least, I could enjoy their campfire. =)

But I knew that a storm was blowing in and was determined to get as far up on the trail as I could. I wouldn't beat the storm into Bristol, but I hoped I'd have a nice, dry motel room after slogging all day through rain. I needed miles to pull that off, though.

So back on the trail it was. I didn't get far before I spotted three kids ahead of me carrying guns. Kids, as in pimply-faced teenagers. They looked like trouble to me, but there didn't seem like any other way around them except through them.

"So what are you hunting?" I asked them, wondering if it was even legal for them to be hunting.

"Just shootin' some squirrels." The kids smiled, and I was surprised to see some of their teeth already missing. Yikes!

Then one of them asked, "Do you know if hunting is allowed right now?"

I suspected not--hunting season for most areas had already passed--but I wasn't completely certain either so I said I didn't know.

I wished them good luck, and mosied on past. They seemed friendly, but their guns made me a bit nervous.

Another dip on a dirt road, and another wade through water. This particular dip was deeper than most, however, and I quickly found myself past my knees in water and probing with my trekking pole only showed even deeper water ahead.

It looked like a small creek normally crossed the road here, but it had badly flooded. I found a couple of logs on the right side of the trail, under about three feet of water, which seemed oddly out of place and surprisingly secure. I think it might have been the normal route over the creek for hikers, but the fact that it was three feet underwater suggested that my theory of the flooded creek had some merit.

I carefully stepped up onto the log and slowly inched myself across. I couldn't see the log--only feel it with my feet and trekking pole--and testing each side of it with my trekking pole, I figured I'd be well past my waist in water if I slipped off. This creek was deeper than the dreaded Monkey Creek!

Glad all my equipment was still safely tucked away in super-sized ZipLocks from the swamp tromp. If I slipped, I'd be taking quite a dunk!

Fortunately, I made it across the underwater logs without slipping, and managed to get through the creek barely keeping the cojones dry. =)

I set up camp at Indian Creek where it intersects CR 67. It was a bit closer to the road than I would have preferred, but it did the job. I hoped I'd gone far enough so I wouldn't have to walk through water again for a second day, but only time would tell....

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Swamp Tromp

Monkey Creek was bigger than most creeks, but I felt confident that, at least at this particular crossing, I could get through without going into the water deeper than my waist. The water was slow moving as well, so no worries about the current knocking me over or carrying me downstream.

If that was the *worst* I had to face, I would have no trouble. Monkey Creek, up to my waist, then perhaps the rest of the swamp tromp wouldn't go past my knees. Definitely doable.

Onward, always onward, and I was considerably relieved after seeing Monkey Creek. I could do this. =)

Then I smelled smoke again. A shift in the wind? I left the burn behind me, after all. At least I thought I did. Then I noticed a couple of particles of ash floating in the air.

Crap. Ashes! I had to be REALLY close to the burn to be seeing ashes. And a few minutes later, I heard a helicopter. I still had no idea where the burn was actually happening, but I knew it was close and my worries went back to the fire.

Ironic, I thought, how my worried flipped from drowning in water to burning in fire in mere minutes. Only in Florida.

The trail came out on FR 348, and I stopped to make an early dinner. I wanted to hike further, as close to the swamp tromp as I could, but the trail left the Sopchoppy River at this point and I figured it would be the last reliable place for water until the swamp. I wanted to make use of it while I could.

I made a bean and rice burrito--oh so good! While cooking it, a kayaker pulled in at the road crossing. He kayaked down the Sopchoppy for about seven miles and stashed a bicycle there to ride back to his vehicle after hiding his kayak.

My immediate thought was that maybe he knew more about the prescribed burns than I did, and that's what I asked him. He had talked to some forest rangers who originally suggested he should not kayak down the Sopchoppy, or at least wait a few hours to do so because of the burns, and he did see the actual burning.

Not good for me, I thought.

He wasn't sure all where they burned, but he thought it was mostly in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.

Double crap, I thought.

But it should be a lot better by tomorrow.

Good news, kind of. I'll take what I can get, though.

The man stashed his kayak, and I finished cooking (then eating) my dinner before heading out on the trail again. I figured to get in another three or so miles, but I didn't even get a mile before I started seeing evidence of recent burns.

And after another mile or so, I found smoldering trees and burning bushes. It was time to stop.

Not knowing where all the burning had taken place, I felt my safest option was to camp in the burn zone that had already burned. If I hiked out further, and the flames weren't large or difficult to pass, my fear was the fire would grow during the night and catch up to wherever I set up camp.

By camping in an area that had already burned, I could be certain my campsite would be safe from additional fires.

So that's where I set up camp, about one or two hundred feet away from the area that was actively burning. Kind of like a campfire, and the smoke blew into camp all night long.

Late at night, I could see the orange glow of flickering flames, a rather neat thing to watch. About once each hour, something particularly flamable went up in flames and you could hear a loud crackling until it finished burning and died down again.

And several times during the night, I heard a loud THUNK! as a tree fell, overpowered by the fire.

It was a memorable night! =)

Packing up camp took a bit longer than normal due to my worries about the swamp tromp. In preparation, I bought a number of those super extra extra large ZipLock bags which I intended to use to make sure my pack, or at least its contents, could survive a prolonged dunking in water. My pack is what I'd call 'water resistant'--which under normal conditions is fine, but not acceptable if the pack is completely submerged.

Frankly, I don't know how well my extra super large ZipLocks would work, but they seemed sturdy and a heck of a lot cheaper than true drybags, which seemed like overkill to use just once.

So I stuffed all of the contents of my pack into ZipLocks--sleeping bag, food bag, stove and cookset, clothes, and all into ZipLocks. Only the water bottles didn't get bagged, because that would have been silly. ;o)

The most critical items that need to stay dry--my sleeping bag, clothes, and food--I double bagged.

The burn area I stopped at continued to smolder, but I hiked through keeping my eyes open for flare ups. I followed through several miles of burned and unburned areas before reaching Monkey Creek and the official start of the swamp tromp.

I stopped to snack, unsure how wet it would be over the next five miles and wanting to go in with a full stomache. Monkey Creek looked deep, but I didn't think it would come up past my waist.

Normally I wear a fanny pack around my waist and put things like cameras and snacks in it, easily accessible without having to take off my pack. (I really don't understand why all backpackers don't do this--I couldn't imagine doing a backpacking trip without a fanny pack. If you backpack, give it a try. Seriously!)

Rather than stringing it around my waist, though, I strung it over one shoulder and under the opposite arm like a sash--a trick I used for Big Cypress. Then I put on the pack and stepped into Monkey Creek.

The water was cold. It seemed ice cold, but that seems unlikely in Florida. These aren't glacier fed streams, after all! But I'm a whimp, and any water below 80 degrees is cold to me. =)

I used my trekking pole for balance and it probe the depths of the creek looking for the shallowest path through, which ended up being along the cypress trees (often using the underwater roots as steps) near the downstream side to get across.

The water was the deepest yet I had to clear, well past my knees but--thank God--mere millimeters below my crotch.

On the other side, I checked my pack--the bottom of it might had dipped low enough to get a dunking--but no, it came out completely dry.

The swamp tromp was supposed to last another five miles, but the Monkey Creek crossing was to be the deepest. No sweat. =) It might be slow going, but I felt like I was in the clear now and hoped the water wouldn't pass my knees anywhere else.

The rest of the swamp tromp wasn't even that hard. Most of the trail was completely dry, and the sections with water rarely got deeper than my ankles. I figured I'd give myself all day to get through, and I did it in three hours.

This is Ryan, checking in from Shelton's Store. (That's at the intersection of CR 274 and SR 73 for those keeping track.)

To Die by Fire or Water--That is the Question!

I swear the whole state of Florida burns at least once each year. Before this hike started, I'd never witnessed a forest fire. At least not close up and personal, and already now I've witnessed several. Not to mention the prescribed burns I could see at a distance, such as yesterday, and the sugar cane fields. Florida sometimes seems like one giant fire.

Even when the trail isn't actively burning, you can often tell it had been recently where everywhere is burned black except for recently fallen pine needles.

And now, once again, walking down the trail, I found a sign hastily put up warning of a prescribed burn in the Panacea Unit. Which, unfortunately, was my goal for the day: Panacea.

I thought I had escaped the prescribed burns in St. Marks, but apparently the Panacea would burn as well. The note did not say that the trail was closed nor was it dated, but I kept my eyes on the horizon for new signs of fire and continued along the trail.

I finally spotted a large plume of smoke near the Marsh Point Campsite. I pulled out my compass to get a precise bearing on it and determined it was well to the south of the trail, but very much in the direction of the town of Panacea. I was just happy the trail wasn't burning this time. I couldn't tell if the fire was before or after Panacea, but I felt confident they'd leave the main road into the town open and I could walk to town with no problem.

Walking into town, the dark plume of smoke seemed to bellow out from the center of town, but that was just an illusion. The town, of course, was not on fire, but rather, the burning was going on behind the town.

I checked into the Panacea Hotel, rather a luxury really since I had come clean out of Tallahassee just the day before. I was so clean, in fact, I didn't even bother with a shower until the next morning when I hit the trail again.

The main reason for my side trip to Panacea was to resupply food. I could have gotten plenty more while in Tallahassee, but chose to resupply in Panacea so I could carry a very light pack for those first two days out of St. Marks. My guidebook showed an IGA (Amanda wasn't too happy about me calling it IAG earlier. *wink*) in town, which I figured was good for resupplying.

I never did find the IGA, but I did find a Big Top Supermarket where it was supposed to be with a large banner proclaiming 'Now Open!' It would have to do.

The store generally worked well for resupplying, but I was rather surprised that the vast cereal section did not have one, single type of granola available. Even CVS has a better selection!

Actually, calling the store a 'super' market is giving it more credit than it deserves. It's just an average, run-of-the-mill market. Generally good for resupplies, but not a lot of choices. For instance, there were no frosted cherry Pop Tarts, but that's okay because they did have the frosted cinnamin Pop Tarts which I like too. They didn't have granola cereal, but I found an intriguing banana nut something which looked promising.

I had about 80 miles to my next resupply point, which normally I'd plan to do in four days. I planned for five days, however, knowing the swamp tromp was just around the corner. I didn't know how easy it would be (or not!), but I was giving myself a whole day to do it--just in case. So five days, four nights I'd be out in the wild. Plus a couple of extra meals which I like to carry just in case I'm slower than expected.

And I picked up a handful of items for dinner that night and breakfast in the morning before retiring back to my hotel. Room #4 for those keeping track. And get this--no bugs! =)

The next morning, I headed out early, determined to get as close to the Bradwell Bay Wilderness as possible so I'd have the whole of the next day to get through that swamp.

The day was beautiful, crisp, and cool. A perfect day for hiking!

Until, a few hours later, I noticed smoke on the horizon. I didn't see an obvious plume where the smoke originated, so I could only tell that the fire was, vaguely speaking, somewhere northeast of me. Which, alas, was the direction I was hiking.

Throughout the rest of the day, I worried about the fire. I had little doubt it was another prescribed burns--they were really enjoying themsevles burning everything up, I thought. I kept my eyes open for notes pinned to trees or another information about where precisely the burns were happening.

But there was nothing. Near the approach to the Sopchoppy River, I could tell the smoke was getting visibily thicker and starting to obscure the sun a bit, casting a reddish glow across everything like it was sunset. Except sunset was still another five or six hours away.

Then I smelled the smoke. It was close, but by this point, the bulk of the smoke seemed to hover towards the west and at this point, the trail curved north to follow alongside the Sopchoppy River. Whew. It was getting close there, and I had no desire to hike through the burn area.

A couple of miles further up the Sopchoppy River and the smoke largely disappeared. I could see it on the horizon, but it was no longer covering the sun nor could I smell it anymore.

So my worries went back to the infamous swamp tromp I'd have to deal with the next day. To give you an idea of what it was, here are a couple of quotes from my guidebook:

"You will get wet crossing the Bradwell Bay Wilderness...1 MPH or less is normal. Keep gear as light and watertight as possible. Pack all gear that might be damaged by water into watertight bags before hiking this section. Hike with a companion if at all possible. Use hiking sticks, as the footing is unstable and each step ahead of you must be probed so you don't fall into a hole."

And my personal favorite: "It's not unusual to wade through water as deep as a tall man's chest."

This description made Big Cypress sound easy by comparison, so needless to say, I was a bit worried. And I sure as heck wasn't going to tell my mom about that 'as deep as a tall man's chest' bit until I was long done with that section!

So I kept my eyes open for Monkey Creek, which I knew I'd be passing soon. While the Swamp Tromp wouldn't start until tomorrow, the start of it is marked by wading through Monkey Creek. The trail today would cross over on a bridge, but I wanted a close look at the creek since I knew I'd have to wade through it further upstream.

And, according to my guidebook, Monkey Creek would be the deepest section of all. Consequently, I was very curious to get a good look at Monkey Creek.

And I did. I walked up to the edge of the water and studied the creek.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Plan B

I last left you with me shivering, wet, and cold, stranded on the east side of the St. Marks River with no way to cross.

I resorted to Plan B, which meant hiking back four miles on the Florida Trail, then following a one-mile blue-blazed trail to the Plum Orchard Visitor Center.

I borrowed a cell phone from one of the employees there manning the front desk and called a fellow turtle who now resides in Tallahassee.

"Hey, there," I said, "Have room for a wet, miserable hiker?" =)

Originally, it was my intention to call her for a ride into Tallahassee and a night off the trail from St. Marks--thus my preoccupation with reaching St. Marks. There's not much to see or do in the town of St. Marks, but for me, it was the gateway into Tallahassee and comfort. =)

I gave my updated location, and she said she'd be there in about an hour.

I took off my shoes one last time--they'd carried me from the I-75 rest area on Alligator Alley to the east side of the St. Marks River (about 700 miles), and their end had finally come. Say what you will of Payless Shoes, but they did a wonderful job. =)

Turtle would have a maildrop from my mom which included a new pair of shoes which I also purchased at Payless before I left SLO. Wassamatta_u had joked that I should have sold the first ruined pair on eBay. At least I think it was a joke, but I decided to mail these now old shoes to him to do whatever he wanted to with him. A letterbox gathering, perhaps, where the teeming millions can admire the well-used shoes, and the shoes being giving away in a raffle? I don't know what he'll do with them, but I sure wish I could be a fly on the wall when he opens THAT package. =)

To kill the time, I looked through the gift shop and museum, then read through much of a magazine about running a business for birders. It astounds me that there are enough people who own stores selling birding supplies that they have a whole magazine dedicated to them, and there's no magazine for letterboxers?

It was a fascinating magazine, though. Learned quite a bit of interesting things about birding. Not sure when it'll ever be userful, but it was interesting. =)

Turtle arrived and whisked me away to Tallahassee.

Oh, it was wonderful. I got to shower, work on Atlas Quest, and even watched the Simpsons movie which was pretty darned funny. The temperature would drop below freezing the next couple of nights, so it was nice to spend it in a nice, warm bed.

I ran a few errands, such as replacing my digital camera which appears will never be back to normal after the dunking it took from the canoe ride. I also had developed the roll of film from the disposible camera I had been carrying while hoping the digital camera would suddenly start working properly again.

I ended up taking a zero day in Tallahassee, which isn't to say the trail wasn't trying to catch up to me during that time! That evening, I got an e-mail from my mom, worried about me since some folks from St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge were trying desparately to find me. They wanted to do prescribed burns, but didn't know exactly where I was and they didn't want to burn me up. =)

The only reason they knew I was (or had been) there was because of the permit I mailed in, so I guess they were trying to make sure all hikers were safe.

I'd listed my mom's phone number as an emergency contact, but had no cell phone for them to contact me directly, so they called my mom several times during the day trying to find me, and even were out looking for me on the trail driving around in ATVs.

All the while I'm completely oblivious of the search, and well out of the way tucked away in Tallahassee. =)

I called the woman back who had kept calling my mom all day, who seemed relieved to finally know exactly where I was and my future plans. They were planning to burn the area around Port Leon, the area I'd hiked the day before, but I planned to continue my hike from the west side of the St. Marks River (after all, I'd already hiked everything east of it--no sense doing that again). So I'd be well out of the burn zone the next day. Much ado about nothing.

On my way out of Tallahassee, I got to see the state capitol building. Normally, I wouldn't mention something as mundane as a building, but for those of you not familiar with the Florida state capitol, there are two things I'd like to tell you. One, it is, hands down, the single ugliest state capitol I have ever seen in my life. I've seen jails with more class. And second, at least from the particular angle I approached the capitol from, it looks amazingly like an erect penis with testicals. I am not making this up. Floridians everywhere should hang their heads in shame. Everyone else should laugh at them.

Two days after she picked me up, my fellow turtle dropped me back off on the trail at St. Marks. I never did cross the St. Marks river by boat, which would have been fun, but I figured if hailing a boat was acceptable to cross the river, nobody could complain much that I chose to hail a car instead. =)

From St. Marks, large plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the forests on the other side of the river. The prescribed burns were well on their way, and safely on the other side of the river.

There's not much to report about this particular day of hiking. The trail followed a bike path north from St. Marks, a nice easy walk. I stopped at a convenience store near where it intersected US 98 for lunch, then continued along the trail--which did require walking through pools of water, bleh--until stopping for the night at Wakulla Field Campsite.