The 40 mile road walk is done. The 30 mile one outside of Cocoa was worse, but that doesn’t mean that this one was good. All the churches and less traffic definitely made a huge difference.
Out Before Light
Since I never officially got permission to camp at the church last night, I was eager to get going before it got light. I just stuck to my normal routine and was out by 6:45.
And let me say that the new air mattress is just what the doctor ordered. The only problem I had last night is I kept having to let more air out to get it comfortable. I have been so used to over inflating it and then letting it become comfortable that it took some getting used to. But once it was set, it stayed perfect all night long.
But I did have one small panic moment. As I was setting things up I found something poking my leg. What I discovered was a sandspur that had made it onto my leggings.
And when I found it, I was laying on the air mattress so I had a huge panic attack that I had already punctured my brand new air mattress with a sandspur. Luckily, I already had the sleeping bag on top of the air mattress so it had protected the air mattress from another puncture.
Since there was no traffic, I didn’t even bother to use my headlamp when starting on the road that early. The road was paved now and had houses about every quarter mile.
There is another church about 8 miles away and I thought about doing the turn counting game. But honestly, once you get past three you start to lose count so I didn’t bother with it.
After only a few miles the road turned to dirt again and was now in-between hunting leases that were all planted pines. No Trespassing signs were all along this section which ended up being a good four or five miles.
But later it turned to a paved road again with more houses just before we turned onto a different county road. And I encountered the strangest thing I’ve ever seen while hiking. Someone had a Pepsi machine in their front yard.
And by Pepsi machine in the front yard I don’t mean that they had one on their porch or up by their house. I mean that they had a Pepsi machine outside of their fence with electricity and fully functional. Yes, they installed a Pepsi machine specifically for hikers.
I was about to make coffee, but I think a Pepsi will make a decent substitute. So I buy one and drink it down and throw the can in their recycling bin.
Should I go to Church?
When I got to the next church, it was 10:15. There were only seven cars there, and they had already started Sunday school. The regular service would start at 11:00 and probably not end until well after 12:00.
Even though I got an early start today, I don’t know if I can afford a 2-hour delay. My campsite is 25 and a half miles away today. There’s very little chance that I would be able to make it before dark.
I don’t even need water at this point, so I decide just to roll on past without resting or getting water. I will probably stop in about 45 minutes to eat first lunch.
I find a nice grassy spot in the sun about 30 minutes up the road so I decided to stop there to eat. Instead of getting out my thin pad I have been just sitting on my rain jacket lately. Much faster, much easier, and less chance of bringing prickly things in the tent with me to ruin my brand new air mattress.
I will be hitting a store tomorrow for lunch and I still have tons of food, so I eat a pretty sizable lunch. I go ahead and make coffee for the afternoon. I mixed a Trader Joe’s coffee cream and sugar with a Cafe Bustello espresso. I will drink half of it this afternoon and save half of it for the morning.
Aucilla Wildlife Management Area
The road walk is not over yet, but I begin seeing the familiar state management signs on one side of the road. This means I can legally dive into the woods to go to the bathroom. Things like that are important to hikers.
It takes several more miles before we actually turn off the public road onto a management area road and I am officially no longer road walking. I need to use finger quotes around officially because I am indeed still walking on a road, just not a public one.
The area has been clear cut, so it is pretty sunny and hot, too. In another mile and a half the trail actually enters the woods again.
Before long, I catch sight of the Aucilla river. It looks like all the other blackwater rivers I have seen so far. The only one that was different was the Suwannee and that was just because of its massive size.
The trail begins to feel a lot like hiking along the Suwannee, but the ups and downs are not as steep or as high. It still does slow me down a little bit. On the roads I do about 3 miles an hour. On these trails I do about two and a half miles an hour.
I did not anticipate the slowdown in pace, but I should have expected it. I am still about 7 miles away from where I intend to camp, so it will add 30 or 40 minutes to the trip. I am no longer second guessing my decision to skip church.
I still haven’t seen any more northbound hikers. This is not surprising, since we would all be going the same direction at roughly the same pace.
But I did end up seeing two south bounders today. One was in the morning between the two churches. We stopped and talked for 5 or 10 minutes about trail conditions ahead for each other. Apparently the Apalachicola Forest is a huge watery mess. Yay fun.
The second hiker was a girl who was on the phone when I passed her, so I got barely more than a hay and not even a slow down in pace. I guess she has important things to take care of.
On the dirt road section between the two churches, I had someone stop and ask if I needed a ride. On a road walk this happens almost every day. Very few people even know that they are driving on a hiking trail, but they know a boring road when they see one.
Later on when I was going to see one of the rapids on the Aucilla River, There are three guys splashing around in the water there. They knew about the trail and figured that I was hiking it. They asked a lot of questions about hiking the trail itself and my motivation for doing so. I gave him the standard spiel.
The last one was a set of three Jeeps where the trail crossed a Jeep Road. They also knew about the Florida Trail and asked if I needed some water. I was nearly at my campsite so I declined but without having actually tasted the water from the river yet I probably should have accepted their offer. Luckily the water from the river actually tastes pretty good.
I was able to make my campsite at 5:30 which is exactly when I wanted to get there. I like to get everything done while it is still light and then roll inside the tent and finish up doing things I don’t need light for.
Dinner was a sweet pork and rice peak refuel dinner that I added some butter to, a packet of tuna in oil, a few dehydrated mango slices, and two coconut macaroons. That’s a pretty good dinner.
Emotion of the Day
I think today’s emotion is just being at ease.
I knew the road walk would be ending today. I knew that with the other church and the river coming up that water would not be a problem today. I knew that it was going to start out cool and be overcast much of the day, so I knew weather was not going to be a problem today.
I knew that getting an early start would give me plenty of time to make my intended campsite today. And by skipping church, I was able to take several 20 minute rest breaks throughout the day. And because I was on lightly trafficked roads or in the woods, that was very easy to do whenever I wanted to.
Just knowing that I didn’t have to deal with buzzing cars for a while put me at ease. And knowing that I will hit a convenience store tomorrow with plenty of food in my food bag put me at ease. Knowing that I have a reservation at a bed and breakfast two nights from now in a town with a laundromat and two restaurants put me at ease.
Tomorrow should not be a difficult day and the day after should be even easier than that. Knowing that the next two days should have no painful sections puts me at ease.
Well, except for crossing the Saint Marks River. As long as I can get the marina to pick me up or wave a boat down to cross the river, then I know the bed and breakfast is only two blocks away.
Two blocks and one river away.