CDT Hiker Trail Magic in Florida
ECT Day 287&288
Day 287: 25.7 miles
This morning I woke up around 4:30 a.m. and began to stir around. Beer Run wanted to have an early start today and I was here for it. It’s a good feeling waking up and getting miles in early. Lately, it’s just been a commitment to do so because the sun sets so early.
I got packed up and ready for the day. Fortunately, it didn’t get nearly as cold last night as it did the night before. My tent didn’t have too much condensation either which was good. It wasn’t that cold, so I didn’t bother putting any layers on. Once we were ready, I set out into the dark.
I love hiking in the dark in the mornings. Knowing that the sun is going to come out is incredibly heartwarming to me. It’s a whole other beast hiking in the dark at night. I can do both, but I’m very comfortable walking in the morning darkness.
As I walked, I listened to music and sang out loud. It always blows my mind how quiet and raspy my voice is when I try to sing for the first time in months. It’s something I’ve noticed on trail. When I hike alone, I sing to myself most of the day to entertain myself. I talk to myself a lot too.
But when I’m hiking around someone else I won’t sing or talk unless I’m super far behind or ahead. That’s just my preference. I don’t sing well, but I love to sing to entertain myself. When I go months without singing at all my voice is super squeaky. Even that’s pretty entertaining too!
I walked for about an hour in the dark. At one point I had to run across a pretty busy road in the dark. It was a highway with divided traffic on either side. I frogger-ed my way across safely to the other side. Then walked through the woods a bit more before getting into Hampton, FL. The trail followed the railroad and then you were right in town. Just off the trail was a Sunoco so I stopped off to grab a drink.
Beer Run and I met up there. I got one of those Starbucks coffee drinks and we sat outside. A local guy chatted us up and warned us about bears. I’m really not worried about bears though. They are everywhere. Every trail I’ve been on all year long had bears along it. You don’t always see them but they’re always there.
Leaving the Sunoco, we walked through town and then back to the bike path. I walked along the path and listened to music. Then I stopped and took some silly photos in the road. Sparkle taught me a method to make your palante sidebag into a tripod, so I was playing around with that. Then I caught back up to Beer Run.
We sat along the bike path and took a quick break. One of Beer Run’s buddies that he met on trail is apparently going to meet us today. He lives in Gainesville and is gonna probably meet us at a campground or something.
The trail followed along the bike path for a little while after that. At one point as I was stepping I noticed mid way that I had just walked right over a copperhead! I could see it in between my front foot and back foot as I stepped. But it didn’t move! I freaked out afterwards, but it turns out the snake was dead. Even though I never had anything to worry about it still freaked me out. I couldn’t believe that I stepped right over it as if it was a stick. Clearly I wasn’t paying good enough attention.
After a couple more miles the trail left the bike path and picked back up into the woods. The path was beautiful and lined with palms and pine trees. I really enjoyed walking through that section. The bike path may be nice and easy, but I still prefer the trail. Our time on the trail though was short lived. It wasn’t long before we were back on the road.
The trail wound up going past another gas station so we stopped off there around 9:30am. I can’t believe how early it is still! That’s what happens when you have a nice early day. Inside I got a chocolate milk, a soda, and a chicken salad sandwich. I’ve been thinking about my love for egg salad sandwiches a lot lately! I was obsessed with them in Canada. But for some reason they freak me out now that I’m back in the states. Everything seemed fresher in Canada.
We sat outside the gas station and took a quick break. Beer Runs friend is gonna meet us at the Gold Head Branch State Park later on today. It’s about 15 miles from us now. We’ll hopefully be able to all camp there and hang out. It will be a nice early day and probably a fairly short hiking day as well.
Just before 10am we left the gas station and kept walking. The trail followed along roads leaving there. We were on a main road for a bit and then were walking along dirt and sand roads primarily. At one point we walked past a mailbox that was a giant ceramic manatee. That was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
We were road walking for the rest of the day. Another couple hours after that, we went by yet another gas station! What a day. I got more drinks there and an ice cream bar. We stood outside mowing down before continuing down the road. While I walked, I worked on some writing and various things on my phone. Then all of the sudden I noticed a woman parked right in front of our path.
We were walking in the grass alongside the road. There was a road cutting through the grass and she was parked there. When I got closer she got out of the car and came over.
Apparently she lives in the area and helps to maintain the trail through here. Her name was Janie and she seemed genuinely upset that she hadn’t know we were in the area. She said she normally lets hikers stay at her home as they pass through. But this is an unexpected time of the year for SOBOs to be going through.
We talked with Janie for a bit before continuing along. At this point we weren’t super far from the Gold Head Branch State Park. Beer Run’s friend Undie is going to meet us there at the park. He said he’s bringing us McDonald’s too! Which is such an amazing surprise. After a couple of miles, we entered the park and then walked through the park for another couple miles.
When we got to a really nice, covered picnic area we decided to stop off. It seemed like the park was going to be pretty busy. So we figured this would be a good place to hang out. Beer Run and I sat there at the picnic tables for a little while. Then Undie arrived! Him and Beer Run finished the CDT together about a month ago. I’ve heard about him from Beer Run so it was nice to put a name with a face.
All of us hung out at the picnic area and I devoured some McDonald’s. He brought us both a Big Mac meal and a chicken sandwich. I was so hungry, and everything was hitting the spot. We hung out there talking and eating for a while. After an hour or so we packed up and Undie was going to drive us back to the front ranger station. Apparently, that’s where we have to go to pay for a camp site.
Up at the ranger station we found out that the campground was fully booked. That was too bad, but we knew we would find a place to sleep. Undie drove us to a canyon area inside the state park which was really cool. We had to walk down a bunch of flights of stairs to a crystal clear river. That area was so beautiful. It was hard to imagine that it was there all along! We probably never would have gone over there to see it if Undie didn’t drive us.
It was nice hanging out by the spring for a while. But it was starting to get late and we still had to find a place to sleep. Undie drove us back over to the picnic area for us to pick up our continuous footpath. Then we walked through the state park as it began to get dark. I had a good feeling that after dark we’d be able to find somewhere to sleep that wouldn’t bother anyone.
We wound up walking past a large, covered picnic area just as it started to rain. The timing couldn’t have been better. We got under the pavilion for shelter and wound up deciding to stay there for the night. It was well of the road and there was no one around. There wasn’t anything else remotely nearby for us. And it had started raining.
Under the pavilion we set up our camp and hung out. There were even outlets to charge up our devices. Then the two of us hung out talking for a couple of hours. Sometime after 8pm I finally rolled over and called it a night.
Day 288: 27.1 miles
This morning we slept in a bit at the pavilion. As it began to get light out we got packed up. What a perfect nights sleep! I slept wonderfully and stayed dry from the rain.
We got packed up and then made our way through the state park. The trail went down by a small lake and through a wooded area. It was a nice morning going through the park. At one point I was walking and doing stuff on my phone. I walked face first into a massive spider web with a horrifyingly large spider on it.
The spider got on me and I was freaking out trying to find it and get it off. That’s a literal nightmare. Usually I do a good job to pay attention because of that. I’ve stopped last minute so many times just before walking into a web. This time it got me! And I felt so gross.
After a couple of hours, we got off of trail and were back on a road again. It was only 9:30am and the sun was already out and intense! I was sweating as I walked along the road.
Around 10:30am we stopped off for a quick break. Wanted to rest for a bit but needed to find water as well. There appeared to be a source up ahead, but it was still a couple miles away. Before continuing along we sat in the shade and took a quick breather.
Over those next couple of miles as we walked the road, we were on the lookout for water. But a guy actually wound up pulling up to us in his truck and telling us he was a trail angel! He said his name was Tropical Tom and he typically keeps a water cache nearby in NOBO season. No one has really been expecting us around this time of year.
He wound up driving down to his house to grab some water for us. Then he met back up with us and pulled over to give us water. Not only that, but he also brought 2 sodas for both of us. It’s been really hot today so an ice cold soda was such a treat.
It was really nice to meet Tropical Tom. Living right off the trail I’m sure he’ll be able to help a lot of hikers. He seems to be just starting out as a trail angel which is exciting. After giving us some soda and water Tropical Tom was on his way. Then the two of us continued to walk the road. Our moods were magically altered though! Now I didn’t have a care in the world.
We continued on the road for a bit longer before the trail picked back up. Then we would be in the woods on really trail for the next couple of hours. The trail was really cruisy and well managed. There were a lot of wooden walkways that seemed new as well.
After we walked for another hour or two, we stopped off at the Iron Bridge Shelter. I had read on Far Out that it was one of the nicest shelters on the Florida Trail. When we got there, I was surprised to see that there were 6 tents! But no one was there. They must be doing a day hike somewhere. We hung out at the shelter for a bit. It was fully enclosed like a screen porch. I signed the trail register and sat down. Then we kept walking.
Sometime in the next hour or so we ran into the owners of those tents. There was a group of older women all hiking together. They were very excited to see me when I walked out. The lady out front announced, “Look, it’s a real hiker!” I chatted with them briefly and then continued along.
I got to enjoy another mile or so of trail after that. Then the trail ended and we began walking along a dirt road. The ladies had mentioned that we would be walking along dirt road until we reached a bike that. Then the bike path went all the way into Palatka, FL.
We weren’t originally planning on going into Palatka. But there really aren’t any amenities in Silver Spring where we sent our boxes. So it made a bit more sense to go into Palatka to get a shower and do some laundry. Then we could pick up our boxes in Silver Springs in another day or so.
By 3pm we still had another 7 miles or so to go. That felt like a lifetime for some reason. This morning I originally didn’t even know that we were going to go into town. But once I found out it’s like I couldn’t get there quick enough. It will be nice to get clean and properly check myself for tics. I’ve seen some microscopic ones on me lately. That’s always concerning.
Today was a really hot day but it began to cool down after 3pm. The dirt road we were walking along was also pretty shaded. All I could hear was the sound of birds cawing in the distance. I couldn’t stop thinking about how badly I wanted to stop walking. I was just feeling a little tired and wasn’t in the mood today. I lost my motivation once we decided we were headed to town.
Those next couple miles went by fairly slow. For a while I got lost in thought. Then I tried to listen to a podcast to let the time go by. We still had a ways to go. Plus, once we got to the location where the Florida Trail crossed the road then we had to begin hitching. It wasn’t like we were going to be walking right into town. If you wanted to walk into Palatka, it would add another 4-5 miles on.
The trail followed along a bike path toward the end of the day. It paralleled the road and was a nice alternative. Around 5:30pm we got to where the FT crossed over the road. It entered back into the woods there. Anyone who wanted to go into Palatka would have to walk in from there or hitch. But it was starting to get dark.
We had about 20 minutes or so of day light when we got to the road. That was really limiting for the hitch hiking. It was a busy road and there was very little room for a car to pull over. The combination of negative factors was definitely against us. Not long after we got there the sun set entirely. I had my headlamp on trying to hitch. While I have gotten a hitch in the dark before, it’s not super likely.
I tried calling a possible shuttle driver. Beer Run called a couple taxi services. But it was looking like we were shit out of luck. No one was going to take us into town. And even if we did walk in we wouldn’t get in until around 8:30pm. That just doesn’t make any sense.
In that moment we had to make the sad decision to continue walking. I had plenty of food to go further. We really hadn’t planned to go into town yet until Beer Run mentioned something about it last night. It was only about 40 miles from this road to the next town. We won’t get into town tomorrow but will get in the next afternoon.
Years ago this situation would have shook me. As a less experience hiker I would have been so disappointed by not going to town. This would have upset me a lot. But at this point stuff like this doesn’t surprise me. This isn’t the first time this year that I had my mind set on going into town and for some reason couldn’t. I’m still a bit disappointed, but I really hadn’t had my heart set on it.
Just before 7pm we left the road and continued on into the woods. We were only about 2 miles from the Oak Hammock camp. That wasn’t too far and seemed like a good spot to camp. We passed a shelter earlier today which was super nice. If it’s anything like that one it will be a great spot for the night.
It was pitch black as we walked through what seemed like a jungle. The trail had lots of vines and palms. It was a pretty neat section. After a couple miles we came to the shelter. The Rice Creek Hilton did not disappoint! The bottom room is a screen porch cooking area. Then upstairs is a sleeping area that’s also enclosed. I really couldn’t have asked for anything else.
I swept the upstairs area and then got set up for the night. Even though I didn’t eat a ton today I wasn’t in the mood for dinner. I was so excited about town food that never came. That’s the biggest bummer of the day. After getting situated for the night I did my stretching. Then I wrote for a while before calling it a night.
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