Hiking Through Severe Hurricane Damage
ECT Day 279&280
Day 279: 20.5 miles
This morning I woke up around 5:30am and heard Beer Run breaking down camp. Somehow I hadn’t hear him earlier. He was already well into breaking down camp. Apparently he had smelt bacon cooking in the distance! So he figured that someone was there setting up. We wanted to break down camp before anyone showed up if we could.
A lady wound up coming outside and nervously taking a look at us. She had thought that we were homeless and was a bit concerned. When we told her that we were just Florida trail hikers she was so relieved. We explained that the store had been closed last night when we arrived. And that we needed the food to continue along.
We headed inside and grabbed what we needed. It felt good to be indoors in the heat. It’s about 30 degrees outside currently which is rough. I got some food and a breakfast sandwich. Then the ladies working let us sit inside to eat. That was really nice of them.
After we were done we packed it up and set out. It was absolutely frigid! I had all my layers on still as we walked alongside the road. That first hour was pretty damn cold. But definitely not as bad as yesterday when we started the day with soaking wet socks and shoes. It wasn’t long before it began to warm up.
While we were walking along the road we passed one of the most iconic places on the florida trail in my opinion. The vending machine that is just sitting alongside the road! It’s hooked up to the electrical at a house just behind it. You can literally get an ice cold soda while you’re just walking down a random road. Of course we had to stop off there and take a picture and get a soda.
The weather is supposed to be pretty rough the next few days. So when we saw a big grassy area we decided to stop and take advantage. My tent was literally frozen this morning. I had to crunch ice to fold it and put it onto my backpack. The two of us wanted to lay all our stuff out and get it dry if we could. It’s supposed to be cloudy later on in the day. So if we don’t do it now we might not get the chance.
We sat there for a while and laid our stuff out. I even flipped my tent around so I could dry the front, then dry the back. That was a solid move on my part. Once everything was dry we began packing up and getting ready to head out. Just as we did a truck pulled over and the guy inside said he was a hiker and a hiker stalker! And that he loved to help out hikers.
His name was Wing Man and he wound up pulling out a cooler. It was full of Gatorade, beer, and soda. I got to enjoy a soda and some snacks from the box that he kept for hikers. Then we hung out there for a long while talking with Wing Man. He had met loads of hikers this year that Beer Run and I knew. It was cool to hear stories about friends that you knew from other trails.
While we were sitting there Siesta arrived. We had passed her yesterday about 10 miles before the gas station. I was really happy to see her again. She’s still the only hiker that we’ve seen so far on this trail. All of us hung around shooting the shit for ages. It was clear just how much Wing Man liked hikers and wants to help them out.
Before heading out Wing Man asked us what we’d like from McDonald’s! Apparently he is heading that way and then has to drive back later on this afternoon. He’ll be going right past us at some point because we are on a long road walk. In total it’s about a 50 mile continuous road walk in this section. Nothing that we can’t handle though.
He took our orders and then headed out. What an awesome dude! And what a complete and utter surprise for the day. Yesterday Out and About had reached out to me about trail angels on the florida trail. Out and About is one of the hikers who finished the ECT this year. We met back at Amicolola falls on the approach for the AT. He said that if people knew we were around that we’d get a lot of trail angel assistance.
That can be a bit tough for me because I try to keep my blog and social media a bit delayed from real time. But I’m realizing that it might be helpful to get a bit more caught up on posting for Florida. It would be cool to meet a bunch of friendly faces and hiker lovers along this trail.
Once we finally headed out it was after noon! We had sat at that sunny spot for probably closer to an hour and a half or two hours. Time sure can fly. But we got a move on and continued along the road. Since it’s warmed up the weather is perfect now today. I’m cherishing every minute of it. Especially with rain in the forecast.
After an hour or so we stopped off at a church to fill up on water. Then we continue along. The road walking can be a bit boring but it is fairly easy. Especially when it only comes in chunks of sections. I’m just happy not to be exclusively road walking anymore. While I walked I got a bunch of writing done and listened to some podcasts. It’s turned out to be quite the day so far today! I think there’s plenty more excitement and surprises in our future as well.
We continued to walk for another half an hour or so and then stopped off quickly. Not more than 5 minutes after we sat down Wing Man pulled over! He was on his way back and had brought McDonald’s for us. What an incredibly generous and kind thing to do. We sat there in the grass alongside the road and ate lunch. My body was so happy for the protein. I definitely haven’t been getting enough out of my snacking lately.
While we were sitting there a bike packer rode by. He pulled off and joined us. Wing Man invited him to join in on the magic. It turns out the bike packer started up in Newfoundland! He’s doing the ECT bike route, the eastern divide. Boy oh boy did I enjoy talking with him. It made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside to get to talk a bit about Canada. I find myself wanting to talk about it all the time. It was an experience all its own.
All of us hung around and talked for a long time. It was so cool to get to hear about the adventure that that bike packer had been on. He started back in August and is really moving. It’s wild to think how much faster I could have done this route by bike! I’ve been on trail for over 9 months now.
Eventually we packed it up to get back to walking. We had been talking with the bike packer and Wing Man for about an hour. It was such a nice time! I said goodbye to those guys and I thanked Wing Man for everything. He treated us so well today. What an amazing surprise.
Then we got back to walking! I was fueled by a large Big Mac and fries. We continued along the road as we had been. It’s going to be all road walking for the rest of today and most of tomorrow. At this point it was after 2pm and we hadn’t made it far at all. That’s what happens when you stop off for 2-3 hours over the course of the day. But I was glad that we did!
We continued along the road and tried to just keep our heads down and move along. After a couple hours we did stop off for a quick break. But then we continued along. The road wound up getting pretty narrow which wasn’t ideal as it got dark. Before long he sun had set and we were navigating the busy road in the dark.
Not long after it got dark we went by the San Pedro church and cemetery. Rather than continuing to navigate the road at night we decided to call it there for the day. I got my tent set up and got situated. It was so much warmer than the last 2 nights! I was perfectly comfortable with my shorts on and didn’t need rain pants. That’s such a relief. Tomorrow we will continue road walking heading towards Madison, FL.
Day 280: 26 miles
This morning I woke up around 5am and began to slowly pack up. It was the perfect temperature out. Once I was packed up I sat in the grass and waited for Beer Run. Being able to sit there comfortably was a treat. This time yesterday morning I had all my rain gear on and my gloves and was still cold.
We set out a little after 6am and began heading to Madison. It was less than 8 miles away and then we would pass right through town. We needed to resupply there to get us the next 70 or so miles to the town of White Springs, FL. I should have a box there at the post office.
Once we got moving I was pretty deep in thought and in the zone. There has been a lot on my mind lately. While there are still a lot of miles remaining of this journey I also know how close I am to the end. I know firsthand how quickly a month can go by. Today already marks one month that I’ve been hiking down here with Beer Run. It’s hard to fathom that so much time has passed. How was it already a month ago that I wrapped up the IAT in Canada?
That’s how I know just how fast this time is going to pass by. Part of me is ready but another part of me never wants to be done. Even though I’ve had the last 9 months to think about the future and make plans I haven’t made any already. That just hasn’t been my concern while walking. I’ve been focuses on hiking and the general day to day. Personally that’s just how I operate while on trail. But this morning some of those things were on my mind.
The road walk brought us part a bunch of farm land as we walked. I passed by some horses which were very friendly. They followed me do the fence line as I walked past. Then once we got closer to town I got back into service. I did a bit of writing and worked on a couple things that I needed to get done. That helped to pass the time by a bit. Before I knew it I was turning down the road into Madison, FL.
The town was just off trail so I turned and headed in. Beer Run was a ways ahead of me at this point. I stopped off earlier briefly so I fell behind of him. Once I got into town I met back up with him at the Waffle House. We sat down and grabbed some breakfast. I got hash browns, eggs, and bacon. Then devoured it all until there was nothing left.
Leaving there we were working out our next plan. Lately there haven’t been many resupply options besides gas stations. That’s something I’m quite used to at this point. Truly that’s been a consistent pattern these last 3 months. But that’s new for Beer Run. He’s getting sick of the gas stations and wanting some real food. That’s really not an option though unless you want to hitch far. This town has some places to resupply but once again they are mostly all gas stations.
It’s forecast to rain a bunch these next few days so we were trying to plan around that as well. It seemed like Beer Run was a bit stressed about the incoming weather. He only has a tarp and just got a rain jacket this last week. So for him it’s more important to try to navigate around weather and avoid it if he can. For me, I just roll with the punches. If it rains on me then it rains on me. I have all of the gear that I need to deal with rain. If I needed to set my tent up in the pouring rain I could. And once I got inside I’d be able to switch into something dry and get warm. Everyone has different ways that they navigate around these things.
Beer Run basically said that he might want to push out a huge day today and maybe even a 40 mile day tomorrow. That would be worth it to him if it meant that he could end up in town. At least then he could get dry and comfortable. Personally I just can’t make plans like that. I don’t know how I’m going to feel once it’s raining. Depending on how cold it is and how heavy the rain is it might not be that bad. If that’s the case then the rain won’t slow me down at all. I could still get solid mileage in and make it to town in 2 and a half days. I really have no desire though to do a 40 mile day or run to town just because it’s raining. If I’m feeling good and decide to push bigger miles in the moment then that’s one thing. But I can’t plan my schedule around hypotheticals.
I guess we’ll just have to see what happens. I got enough food to worry about myself and get to town in about 2-3 days. Obviously the sooner the better. But I’m just going to keep going with the flow. I would never want anyone to feel like they have to do certain mileage just to hike together. If I’m with someone and they want to go faster or slower then that’s ok! I love hiking with friends, but I’m also perfectly content on my own. I would never want anyone to resent hiking together because they wish they could be moving faster or slower.
After leaving town we continued along the road for hours. Soon enough though we’ll be back in the woods. Plus we’ll be hiking one of the most beautiful sections of the florida trail. The Suwannee river section! Even with the weather that’s rolling in I’m still looking forward to walking along the river.
Around 1:30pm we came off of a dirt back road and were back on a main road. We would be continuing along the main road for another couple of hours. Then would be getting back into the woods. When the sun was out it was super hot and I walked with my umbrella. But eventually some clouds rolled in and the wind picked up a little. That made some comfortable walking weather those next couple hours. You can definitely feel a storm starting to roll in.
A couple hours later we got off the road and were back into the woods. But immediately we realized the trail was wrecked. Hurricane Idealia came through here about a month and a half ago. The damage is extensive. We saw a lot of damaged property along our route today. It really took its toll on the trail too.
For the next hour we began hiking along and had to navigate around blow down after blow down. It was such a mess. Every 10-20 feet there was a massive tree obstructing the path. You had to go so far around it that it was really easy to lose the trail all together. Multiple times I got off trail and couldn’t see a blaze anywhere. Luckily I realized and backtracked. Then was able to use Far Out to get back on track. Somewhere in the struggle climbing around trees I lost my sun umbrella too! It’s supposed to rain so much the next couple days. What poor timing to lose my umbrella.
The trail was almost impossible to follow. Eventually I passed by a dirt road that seemed to parallel the trail. So I followed along that which was mostly clear. I caught up to Beer Run who had done the same. He was smarter though and got on the road much earlier.
Leaving that quick break the trail got worse and worse. We attempted to follow the dirt road but it eventually ended. Then we just continued bushwhacking and climbing over massive down trees. There were so many types of pricker bushes. I kept getting stabbed by things and cut up.
After literally hours of walking we had barely moved. It was going to be getting dark soon too. Eventually we made it back out to a road which was a relief. But we still had 2 miles to go to get to a camp site. I was ignorantly hopeful that the blow downs would stop at the road. Maybe on the other side people had gone in to clean up the trail. But when we crossed the road we were almost immediately met with more blow downs.
It got dark around this time and was going to start raining soon. The trail was somehow even worse than the 6 previous miles. In the dark it was really hard to stay on course while also maneuvering around everything. We took turns leading and bushwhacking along. I really didn’t want to fall behind or get too far off course. In the day time that’s one thing. But at night it’s a little more concerning.
That next mile took us about an hour. Then we were finally able to get back on a dirt road that paralleled the trail. Thank god for that. We moved at a regular pace for that last mile. Then took a longer way around to our camp site to avoid going back on the trail. There is no trail honestly. It’s just a pile of massive down trees and pricker bushes. We didn’t spend more than 5 feet at a time walking along the trail these last few hours.
The dirt road led up to a camping area by the Suwannee River. It was the perfect spot considering it was going to rain. There was a large covered picnic area and 2 tables. We each set up for the night on one of the picnic tables. I got situated and spent 20 minutes picking prickers out of my compression wrap. Then ate something and called it a night.
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