Today is the last day of the trail to include woods. Beginning tomorrow, the trail will all be on exposed roads, bicycle trails, beaches, or dunes.
Rise and Shine, Sleepy Head
Today is another long day, so I need an early start. I begin my routine at 5 am and am able to get out and rolling just after 6 am. Jack and Mickey are still slumbering silently, so I may not see them again. They are going to be taking a slower pace at the finish because they need to stall for time to make their connecting train back north next week.
The trail here is still pretty good, but some of the water crossings have wood that is rotten and there are some muddy spots. But it is all avoidable, so I do not get wet feet. I am not back in Eglin yet, but that is coming later in the morning. I am unable to get an updated closure report for today, but the last two forecasts were for no closures in this section.
The trail pops out into a neighborhood and the roads get progressively busier as I approach civilization. I have about three miles through this neighborhood to another convenience store. I will see what they have to offer as breakfast number two.
The Last Roadwalk
The last road out to the highway where the convenience store has a decent amount of traffic on it. Sometimes there is a shoulder, and sometimes not. There are no big trucks so it is no big deal.
At the convenience store, they do have a small hot sandwich section. They have an egg and hamburger bagel. That looks interesting, so I get it plus a Dunkin Donuts coffee for later. I liked the hamburger breakfast sandwich thingy. It was a little spicy, but it was pretty good. It was not worth the $5 price, however.
The highway I must hike now starts out with a right-of-way shoulder. It is a main highway to Navarre, so it has quite a bit of traffic. The main function of being on this highway is to cross a very wide river, the Yellow river, which I have been hiking near yesterday and this morning. The bridge for the floodplain is at least a mile long and has a dedicated pedestrian lane.
When the bridge ends, the guide says just follow the GPS tracks to find the entrance into Eglin. And they are not kidding. It is just a secret entrance into an 8-foot-high game fence. if they had not had an orange streamer on it, I never would have climbed down the steep embankment to look for it. The “gate” was just a cut section of fence with a carabiner hooking it closed. How ghetto for the Air Force.
I could have road walked this highway all the way to Navarre, but that would miss this last section of Eglin. And since Eglin has been really nice so far, let’s stick with what works. There are lots of bald cypresses around, but the trails here have been high and dry, and except for the first stream crossing, that trend continues.
This last section does remain true to the previous ones. High sandy pines, lots of oaks, and streams to cross, but not as many as previously. The structures here are a little older and in need of a little repair here and there, but they are all still fine.
There are 13 miles in here before it, too, peters out into a neighborhood. The neighborhood soon pops out to the same highway into Navarre. Only this time, I am in Navarre and I have a sidewalk or bike path to hike in from now on. I have about six miles to the causeway over to the beachside where the hotel for the night is located.
There are several convenience stores and other businesses to look at. Once you get to the Santa Rosa sound, then the hotels start to pop up. There are two full-service grocery stores nearby, too. From this point on, you are in beachside suburbia except for the two national seashore sections.
Hello, Salty Water
Once highway 87 hits the sound, you will be within sight of water for the remainder of the hike. You only have five blocks or so along the north shore of the sound before you hit the causeway to go over to the barrier island of Navarre Beach.
The causeway is just over a mile long and goes pretty high. You are on a dedicated pedestrian path over the waterway. I am not a fan of heights, and the top section is suspended out over the water with gaps in the treadway where you can see down to the waterway below you. I kept my mind occupied so I did not think about the height.
When you get down to sea level again, you have passed your last water crossing, too. It is all pavement and sand from this point onward. (update – I was wrong, the terminus is right after a small wooden bridge). For me, I had less than a mile to get to tonight’s hotel – the Springhill Suites in Navarre Beach. My target time was 3 pm, and I arrived at about 3:15. Pretty good timing.
Karen was already there and waiting in the car reading a book. We checked in and dragged all our luggage up to the room. This place is pretty neat. They have an outdoor pool, hot tubs, and a lazy river. This would be a good place to relax, but I have more hiking to do with 27 miles to go until the end.
As luck would have it, Jack and Mickey ended up going into town, too. They are at a hotel on the other side of the sound. We make plans for a late dinner after they have had time to do laundry. I have the luxury of having Karen bring a bag full of fresh clothes, so I can skip laundry. I only have a few items to wash at this point, anyway.
We pick Jack and Mickey up at their hotel, and it turns out that where we were going for dinner was just a block or two from them – we could have just walked. We had a nice dinner. I had a fried Oyster sandwich and a local beer. I should have skipped the beer – more on that tomorrow.
Emotion of the Day
Nothing would fit today except excitement.
Even though it was a long 27-mile day, I knew with an early start, I should be able to make the hotel around check-in time.
The Yellow River section went well, the Eglin West section went well, the weather was relatively cool, and it was just pleasant hiking.
I was excited to finally get to the beach, I was excited to not have to cook or camp anymore, and I was excited to see Karen again.
It felt like the first day of the end of the trail or the first day of a completely new trail. It was just an exciting day overall.