The long road walks really make you appreciate the trails more. Even boring ones.

Early Start

I knew today would be one of my longest days on the trail, so I made sure I was at the breakfast room before it opened at 6 am so I could be out the door as soon as possible. There we already a few people there with the same idea. It was a quick breakfast – grab a few eggs, some bacon, toast a bagel, and a cup of coffee.

The strategy worked and I was out the door at 6:20. The morning was very brisk, so I was bundled up in a long shirt and gloves, but I was wearing shorts because I knew it would get warm today.

Crestview is a spread-out town and I was on the outskirts near the interstate where there was no sidewalk. Luckily, the sidewalk began just a few blocks past the hotel.

A quaint little downtown on Main street.

Being Sunday, most businesses were closed. But it was still fun looking at all the businesses that were there. It is something to keep the mind occupied and pass the time faster. I am always amazed at the large number of vape shops I see all over the place. I have never seen anyone go in or out of a vape shop, do people really go there, or is it just money laundering? I wonder sometimes.

The downtown area is where most of the one-off restaurants are. All of them are closed, except for one. And as I pass it, Jack runs out of the store and flags me down. They stayed in the hostel last night and we are all heading to the same campsite tonight. I need an early start to get there before light, they don’t have the same limitations.

A neat little food truck court downtown, but not open on a Sunday morning.

It is also nice that Main street is one block off the highway and the official trail is on this smaller street. It makes walking easier (and quieter). But eventually, the cuteness runs out and it is back on the main highway.

Road Walking

The highway through town is pretty busy, even on a Sunday morning. The shoulder is pretty narrow and sloped, too. The sloped (and wet) grass just wears my feet down.

Before long, a convenience store turns up. It is Tom Thumb. I was not familiar with this chain before this hike, but I am beginning to like them. They are all new, they are lean, and they have a good selection. I grab an egg and cheese empanada for my second breakfast. It is 10 am, after all.

The road after the convenience store gives me a lucky break. The power line right-of-way is freshly cleared and is a relatively hard and flat surface. I will be able to walk this path away from the road about 70% of the rest of the road walk. The areas I cannot walk it are where the power lines go too far into people’s front yards. I am happy with the 70%.

A very nice right-of-way to walk on away from the highway. This one happened to be a gas pipeline, but it was usually under the power lines.

My next destination is Browns Grocery, which is a Marathon gas station and convenience store with a deli. And by deli, I mean fried foods. I choose catfish, hush puppies, potato wedges, and turnip greens. I didn’t know it came with a fountain drink, and I had already bought a pint of milk to go with it. I did end up drinking some Powerade as my fountain drink. But slamming the milk after the food was probably a mistake. It sat in my stomach like a block of cheese.

After Browns Grocery, the trail turned onto a smaller road. And this road grew smaller and smaller until it was basically just a forest road. But it still had houses on it. And the catfish was calling. And by calling, I mean it wanted out.

I was searching for a wooded section where I could sneak into the woods to go to the bathroom without being in anyone’s front yard. I did eventually find a place and ducked in fast. Let’s just say that 100 more yards would have been disastrous. No more fried food.

The last of ten crossings of Interstate 10. Four of them were optional (to go to hotels) but six are part of the trail, not including the numerous times we went close-to but did not cross this particular interstate.

Back in the Woods

Once the trail turned back into the woods, I still had 9 more miles to hike. The trail was decent. There were some cypress trees and swampy areas, which made me nervous. But the trail stayed away from the swamps and used wooden structures in most of the areas that were wet or muddy.

But most of the trail is in high sandy areas with lots of pines and smaller oaks. I hope the campsite is like this because I am looking forward to a dry night under an oak tree.

It is nice to be in the woods again.

When I only have two more miles to go, here come Jack and Mickey strolling up behind me. Apparently, they passed by Browns to stop at the Dollar General and saw me pass the store. Small world.

I hung with them for over a mile but then fell behind a bit as we neared the camp. When we arrived, I was happy to see that there were indeed lots of oak trees. And magnolias as well, which have even bigger dew-catching leaves.

I set up my tent under a big magnolia on a gentle slope. We had a picnic table, so I drug all my cooking gear over there after filtering some water to cook with.

I had packed out a surprise for us since I knew we were going to be camping together. I had bought a bottle of rum in Crestview, and also brought some red Gatorade and a Bare Naked mango smoothie. I was assuming they also had hot chocolate to give a third option, but they were out.

The red Gatorade went really well with the rum. It is basically a hurricane without the slushie ice. The mango smoothie was not as good. Something with pineapple would have been better. I had already tested out the hot chocolate the night before, and that is a winner as well.

A nice simple log to cross a stream on. They don’t need the fancy cable, but I guess some people like it. It just seemed to get in my way.

Emotion of the Day

I think driven is the word that comes to mind.

I had several missions today. 1 – get to camp before dark. 2 – start at the crack of dawn to be able to achieve #1. 3 – have happy hour.

Getting to camp was the real objective, and would lay the foundation for the rest of the trip. If I was not able to make camp that night, then I would not be able to make it to Navarre Beach the following night, and so on. I had to make reservations at these places and cancellations would be costly, so the timetable was non-negotiable.

And that meant focusing on one thing – making the Wild Azalea Camp by dark. Which I did, with plenty of time to spare.

And we had a nice evening talking and having happy hour.