My First Florida Bear Encounter
ECT Day 289&290
Day 289: 31 miles
This morning we packed up fairly early in the second story of the shelter. It was so nice to be able to sleep “indoors” last night. I’ve never stayed in a shelter like that before. It was an interesting one.
When we got hiking it was still dark out. Within the first couple miles of the day we walked through Hoffman’s crossing. This stretch of trail was a continuous footpath of boardwalks through swamp. Apparently it was made originally a long time ago. People needed to be able to get through the swamp and this was the only way. I couldn’t help but think about how hard it must have been to make the walkway through the deep water. But I was incredibly appreciative that someone did. Our feet were able to stay dry the whole time.
After walking for about an hour the trail crossed over a busy road. This road also led into Palatka, the town that we were trying to hitch into last night. I was bummed last night that we couldn’t get into town. But this morning my mind had shifted. It all worked out as it should in my opinion. We’re not far from the next town of Silver Springs. I should have some packages there. While I did want to get clean and be comfortable I didn’t mind waiting a bit longer.
At the road Beer Run said that he wanted to try to hitch into town. He had eaten a lot of food yesterday in anticipation of going into town last night. I said that I had plenty to get to Salt Springs and personally just wanted to keep walking. The idea of using up most of the day hitching in and out of town didn’t appeal to me much. He wasn’t certain whether or not he would hitch in. But I said I was gonna continue walking and asked him to text me if he does get a hitch. We could catch up tonight or tomorrow easily.
Leaving the road I headed into the woods “alone”. That’s how it felt at least. I was listening to music and enjoying the day. The trail had been great so far. After another mile or so the trail got pretty flooded. It wasn’t long before I was wading through swamp once more. This time was different though. I hadn’t gone through any deep water by myself yet.
Looking back and having no one around definitely added an element to the deep murky water. But just like anything else I had no choice but to continue forward. I was impressed by myself. It didn’t scare me as much as I thought it would. Every mile I hike, especially solo, I feel myself getting braver and braver. That’s one of my favorite things about thru hiking. After a while it just feels like you aren’t afraid of anything at all. I’m incredibly unbothered by most things.
Once I made my way through the swamp the trail eventually cleared and was dry. I texted Beer Run to see if he had hitched into town. Apparently he hadn’t even really tried. He just continued along. That means he’ll probably be low on food and will want to be moving quickly today. Somehow because of walking on a road to cut off a bit of trail he wound up in front of me too! It was so weird to look up ahead and see him after I knew he had been behind. It’s funny how that happens sometimes.
Within the next hour we got to the H.H.Buckman Lock. Apparently you have to go through during certain hours of the day. The lock is manned but you need a code to get through the gate. We had no problem going through around 10am. You had to walk across a lock, which is sort of like a dam. I guess sometimes you can see manatees there but we weren’t so lucky. Then on the other side there is a gate with a padlock. We unlocked it and continued on.
Around 11:30am we finally stopped off for our first break of the day. It’s nice to push on further between breaks. That’s how I was hiking up in Canada. We would really only sit to break every 3-5 hours depending on terrain and how we felt. Recently we’ve been breaking more frequently. Which is nice on the body, but it makes the day go by a lot slower.
At this point we had gone about 12 miles already. The trail was a double wide dirt path that was lined with big oak trees. The trees were all covered in Spanish moss. It was a really beautiful scene. As we continued along we walked by a Gatorade jug that said “trail magic”. That was super exciting, but sadly the jug was empty.
Later on we were walking along the water again. The trail even crossed right over a dam. There were guys hanging out and fishing there. The weather was absolutely perfect and it was a beautiful day. The trail has been very exciting and variable today. I’ve been having a blast. It seems like every couple miles there’s something entirely new to look at.
Somewhere around the dam I was contemplating stopping for water. We passed by a couple areas where I could have easily walked down and gotten some. But I decided to push on a little further. That was such a classic rookie move. Of course the next source that I was planning to fill up at was bone dry. I had a little more than half a liter and now had to make that last 10 miles. That certainly wasn’t going to kill me. I was just gonna be thirsty!
On the bright side, as the day went on it got cooler and cooler out. That helped to make me progressively less thirsty. I rationed the water that I did have which helped too. Drinking it all at once was tempting. But I knew I’d rather be able to drink a little bit over the course of the next couple hours.
When we were about 10 miles out from where we planned to end the day we stopped again. There is a spot called the 88 Store which is a bar just off trail. They also have a small store and provide showers and laundry for hikers. After sitting down for a bit to stretch and rest we pushed those final miles to “town”. My body is feeling great today. I’m really happy about that. Even doing a bit of a longer day with less breaks I still felt good.
Towards the end of the day it began to rain lightly. I pulled out the dollar store umbrella that I had bought in White Springs. It wasn’t the best but was certainly better than nothing.
The rain wasn’t so bad as we walked through the tree line. Just before dark we got out onto a road and it began to rain harder. The timing was pretty good honestly. As we were approaching the 88 Store it began to pour down rain. We picked up the pace and got to the store just in time. There was a covered porch so we were able to take off our packs and get dry.
The bar was filled with customers drinking and singing karaoke. It was a fun scene. The waitress was super nice and accommodating. We got drinks and ordered a frozen pizza for dinner. Then sat out on the porch out of the rain. It was great to be able to get dry. I was so glad that we didn’t have to set up camp in the downpour.
As the evening went on the rain lightened up. Eventually it stopped all together. The waitress told us that we could camp next to the building under the over hang. That way we would be protected from the rain if it started again. I thought that was so nice of her. She treated us wonderfully. After hanging there for a while and splitting two frozen pizzas amongst ourselves we called it a night. Even under the overhang I still decided to set up my tent. There were tons of people coming and going from the bar still. I wanted at least a little privacy.
It wound up taking me hours to fall asleep. The bar was busy with people signing and drinking. But there was no place I would have rather been. Tomorrow we’re going to walk into Salt Springs and potentially take the day off. So staying up a bit late won’t kill me.
Day 290: 20.5 miles
This morning I slept in until 7am which was wonderful. We began packing up and got ready to leave the 88 Store. When we first started to walk I was looking at the maps on Far Out. We’re really close to the end of the Ocala Northeast map.
Upon further inspection I came to a realization. Apparently the 88 Store is the point at which southbound hikers split off to go either east or west around Orlando. There are two separate maps and you can choose which route to take. Previously we had talked about going west. It gets you closer to Tampa and Beer Run and I both know people in that area. Leaving the 88 Store though we would have had to begin going west already.
Because we didn’t know that we just continued along the trail. That meant we were now on track to head east around Orlando. That’s not a big deal at all. It’s just sort of funny how the whole situation played out. We weren’t planning to go east, but I guess it’s happening now. I’m not mad about it though. It looks like we’ll be going by some really beautiful places over the next week or so.
From the 88 Store we road walked about 6 miles to Salt Springs. We got in around 10am and there wasn’t much open. I got subway and some drinks at the gas station. Then went to the post office to look for my 3 packages. Once again my tent still hadn’t arrived. It’s truly been a never ending nightmare to deal with. I’m not sure exactly why, but the box keeps getting bumped around seemingly randomly.
My shoes and umbrella successfully got to the post office though! And they were sent out after the tent box. For some reason the tent just doesn’t want to arrive. I think that bumping it ahead to different post offices must have made the label confusing. That seems like the only logical answer. Multiple times the box has gone in one direction and then gone back to where it started. Then eventually it gets to its actual destination. It’s very odd.
I was just stoked for my new shoes and new sun umbrella. This is my 7th pair of shoes along the Eastern Continental Trail. And hopefully it will be my last pair as well. This past week I really missed having the gossamer gear sun umbrella. It’s so great for rain but more than anything I like to have it for the sun. When the trail or road is hot and exposed it’s such a godsend.
Sadly there wasn’t a lot going on in Silver Springs. I had seen online that there were cabins for rent. I was hopeful that we would be able to get a small cabin to take a day off and shower. But they didn’t appear to be open currently. Other than that our only options for staying in town would have to be a campground. I floated the idea past Beer Run but he wasn’t a fan of it. I didn’t mind the idea of going to a campground to shower and do laundry. Tenting there for the night didn’t bother me either as long as it wasn’t raining.
Beer Run definitely didn’t want to stay in the campground and just wanted to get in and out of town as fast as possible. That was ok with me too. I want to shower but it won’t kill me to wait another couple days. I’m pretty easy going and usually will just go with the flow.
After getting my things from the post office we went next door to a breakfast restaurant. I got the most delicious French toast there. I was able to use the wifi from the laundromat next door to download the next map for Far Out. I had the Central Florida West route downloaded but not the east route. I needed to pick out a new address to have my package from zpacks forwarded to. That’s been a never ending game recently.
After eating we resupplied at dollar general. Then we walked through town to continue along the trail. It was around 12:30pm when we got going again. That wasn’t too bad for going in and out of town and doing errands. There was a blue blaze trail that led right from Salt Springs back to the Florida Trail. We took that to get back to trail. It was a bit over grown but not too bad. I listened to a podcast as I walked. It was a perfectly beautiful day out. When we got back to the florida trail we sat down quickly at the junction. Then began heading south once more.
The trail skirted around a pond for most of the day. It was beautiful and lined with oak trees which were covered in Spanish moss. A lot of the trees were growing almost entirely sideways which was neat. I really enjoyed those next few hours of walking. The trail was sandy and we moved along the edge of the marshy pond for hours.
In the afternoon we passed some other hikers! That was a total surprise. It was a man named Jeff and a woman named Sunshine. He apparently hiked the eastern continental trail between 2020 and 2021. It’s not every day you meet someone who has done the ECT. Only a handful of people have completed it. He went all the way up through Canada as well. It was great to talk to them. Sunshine even offered me a cider and I couldn’t resist.
I haven’t had a drink since New Brunswick, Canada. Probably 3 months and 2000+ miles ago. My main reasoning for that was because my body was so hurt. I didn’t want to make my injuries worse by adding inflammation into the mix. But today I could not pass it up.
Beer Run caught up as I talked with them. Then I drank the cider as I walked. We found a nice place just down the trail to stop off for a break in the shade. I finished my cider and had a serious buzz on. I know that sounds silly because it was just one drink. But drinking it quickly while hiking definitely had me buzzing. It had been a damn long time.
After sitting there for a little while we continued along. I got to enjoy seeing more cool trees hanging over the trail. Today was fantastic all around. The views were wonderful all day long. I was lost in my own head a lot today though. I’m feeling a bit of unease inside. It’s hard to explain I guess. It’s been a long year of walking and doing my own thing. Sometimes it’s hard to make plans with other hikers. Everyone has there own desires and needs. It’s rare that you want the exact same thing as someone else. Especially on trail.
I’ve been having such a blast hiking with Beer Run. It’s been a really great month. But sometimes I get this urge to hike alone. I swear I’m equally torn at times between wanting to be with another hiker because it can be so fun, and wanting to be alone because its a beautiful experience all it’s own. It’s so much simpler to just focus on myself and my own plans. It eliminates so much complication and possible miscommunication. That’s just something thats been on my mind when we’re dealing with issues surrounding planning and resupplying.
As the day went on it cooled down a lot. I got to watch a lovely sunset. At one point while I was taking a picture of the sunset Beer Run pointed out a bear right in front of me! I was so concerned with the sunset that I didn’t even see the bear. He saw me but must have been so confused. It looked like I was staring right at him, but was really looking at the sunset just behind him. Once I noticed I thought it was hilarious that I hadn’t seen the bear before. It was literally right in front of me. That’s the first bear that I’ve seen in Florida! And the first one that I’ve seen since the Appalachian trail.
Just before it got dark we stopped off to put some layers on. We walked by Hidden Pond which was absolutely lovely. The water was crystal clear for about 20 feet out into the pond. It almost looked inviting, but I know what sorts of things lie beneath the surface. We had talked about maybe stopping there, but it was so early. We wound up continuing on for another hour or so.
It got dark and we walked along the trail through the night. I was up ahead but didn’t mind. I like walking in the dark. Around 7pm we found a nice flat area alongside the trail. It seemed as good a place as any to stop for the night. Today was a funny day. I had originally thought that we might be taking a nero. And instead we wound up doing about 20 miles. I got set up and then laid in my tent and called it a night.
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