The Florida Trail, Part 2: From the Ocean to the Pines

Read Part 1 of my Florida Trail updates here.

Tammy’s Hideaway

At the end of Day 4, I arrived in a public park where the Florida Trail crosses from Navarre Beach to the Navarre mainland. It was nighttime, so I got an Uber to get to a house with an available room I found on Airbnb to avoid any potential effects of Hurricane Nicole. The listing was called “Tammy’s Hideaway” and mentioned the host’s “live-in girlfriend,” a phrase I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen in this century.

This place was possibly going to be weird. But it was dirt cheap and close to the trail, and I was too tired to care much. The unplanned hotel night on Day 2 had cut into the budget a bit.

When I arrived, the front door was open. I could see inside the house through the screen door. A large man got up from the living room couch and came to greet me.

“Hi, I’m Maria,” I said.

“Hello! Welcome, nice to meet you.”

He showed me to my room, pointing out the bathroom on the way. He looked and was dressed like a cross between Newman and Steven Seagal, but seemed much nicer than either. Exhausted and a bit nervous that there didn’t seem to be a girlfriend in the house, I holed up in my room and locked the door immediately. Host Guy returned to the couch, switching between a cheesy Christmas movie and Fox News. The TV was on loud enough that I could hear every word. It was only 7:30pm, but I was out cold minutes after getting in bed. I woke up a few hours later and remembered I needed to do laundry. Host Guy was still awake.

“Would you mind if I washed some clothes?” I asked.

“Not at all.” He proceeded to show me the laundry room, and then said he was leaving to pick up his girlfriend from work.

Oh good, she exists, I thought.

I got up early the next morning on Day 5 to get back to the trail. As I was filling my water bottles in the kitchen, a woman came up behind me.

“Good morning!” she said cheerfully but quietly. The house was dark and Host Guy was likely still asleep. She was short, with shoulder-length red hair and wore a black hoodie over what seemed to be her work uniform.

“Hello!” I said, feigning enthusiasm a bit. I had been hoping to hit the road before anyone woke up.

“Nice to meet you! My boyfriend mentioned you’re hiking all across the country? Like Forrest Gump-ing it?”

“Oh, not the whole country, just the Florida Trail. I started at Fort Pickens.”

“That’s incredible!”

She asked if I wanted to check out the backyard, which she called her oasis. It was lush with plants, which were interrupted only by an inflatable pool, a hot tub, and a tree house.

She was very proud of the “hideaway,” and it was apparently registered as some kind of backyard preserve. A pretty white cat appeared as she was pointing out the different types of plants.

“She showed up here a couple of weeks ago,” she said, “I call her Vagrant, or Valkyrie.”

Likely what people call me as well, depending on how many days it’s been since I showered.

As we waited for my ride to show up, she picked up a sand dollar off the dining room table and handed it to me. She had painted a flowery design on it.

“I’m an artist,” she said with just enough confidence that maybe she believed it was true. “I make jewelry and all kinds of things.”

The Uber finally pulled up, and we said our goodbyes. The driver headed toward the park where I had left off on the trail, asking the usual questions about what I was up to.

Breakfast with a Side of Oversharing

I started the boring road walk on the bridge to Navarre. About halfway, I noticed a monarch butterfly on the ground. It was toppled over and seemed dead, so I picked it up. Upon doing so, it jumped right out of my hand and back onto the ground. From the little I remembered about butterflies, I knew they liked sugar water. With only a sugary granola bar handy, I poured a bit of water on the ground and began scraping the bar into it. I wasn’t optimistic it would help, but it was all I could do.

The monarchs had been all over the beach, the one thing that always cheered me up while I slogged through the sand. It seemed like one would show up as soon as I felt particularly low (every few minutes). I had read that it was helpful if people reported sightings, but I lost count after the first dozen.

After reaching the mainland, I grabbed snacks and Ibuprofen at CVS. I was relieved to find a bench to sit on while I took three Ibuprofen tablets to soothe my ankles. It seemed that was my hotspot for pain, everything else was fine. Even after three weeks, I have yet to get a blister.

I kept walking through Navarre to get to Alphy’s Catfish House for my absolute favorite meal, a Southern breakfast. When I arrived, the wait to be seated was about 40 minutes. There were benches and a coffee stand outside, so I was happy to take off my pack and wait.

I sat next to an older couple accompanied by two children. They commented that my pack looked heavy and asked the standard questions. I asked if they had eaten at Alphy’s before, and they spoke glowingly of it. I couldn’t wait to stuff my face.

The boy came up to the woman to quietly complain he was bored. He cleared his throat loudly, and she apologized to me. “The doctor says it’s a nervous tic, hopefully he’ll grow out of it.”

“I’m sure, he seems happy and healthy.”

“Their mom and dad abandoned them, so we took them in. They’re our grandbabies,” she said.

As a total stranger, the admission surprised me. It also didn’t. I seem to have one of those faces that indicates I’ll willingly listen to sad stories and secrets.

“Well, they’re in good hands.”

I didn’t have much to go on, but it seemed like a nice thing to say. The kids were cute with their sandy blond hair and big blue eyes, and they seemed happy.

Breakfast was exactly what I was hoping for—cheesy grits, scrambled eggs, sausage, a biscuit, and a cinnamon bun-flavored waffle. Heaven.

I had a few more road walk miles to get to the trailhead. The Florida Trail is one of the newer National Scenic Trails, and remains “unfinished,” meaning that about 200 or so miles are on roads rather than nature trails. That requires further negotiations to move the trail onto what are currently private lands, as well as some public lands.

Less Chit-Chat, More Woods

Eventually I arrived at a neighborhood that would lead me into the Eglin Air Force Base section of the trail. As I walked past roomy lots with the modest houses, a small dog began furiously barking and running toward me. My own dog is an equally excitable 85-pound German Shepherd, so I had learned to read the body language of “aggressive” dogs. Barking with a wagging tail? You’re good.

Zelda, my silly pup. One of the hardest things about the trail is leaving pets behind. Shout out to my roommate M.B. who’s keeping her alive and happy.

Vicious Florida Trail wildlife.

I greeted the dog and kept walking. I was soon met with four more small barking dogs with wagging tails. The little street gang followed me for a few houses until they were satisfied they had scared me away.

And then, finally, the trailhead to the woods. Trees! Pine cones! Moss! Very slight inclines that still manage to put me out of breath! Solitude!

After a few more miles I arrived at the next campsite. A creek nearby was my first taste of many fun bridges and planks that would dot the rest of this section. Although I enjoy interacting with strangers sometimes, it felt peaceful to be secluded in the woods. I washed my aching feet in the cold creek and collected some water, which I’d have to drink unfiltered. I’d lost my water filter two days prior and there was no way to replace it until I made my next town stop in Crestview.

When I returned to camp, I noticed more people showed up. I got nervous and walked faster toward the fire circle where I’d left all my things. A guy in his 20s and a fit middle-aged lady with a Robin Wright haircut greeted me. The guy was also thru-hiking the Florida Trail, and his mom was joining him for tonight.

I preferred to be alone, but they were nice enough and I wasn’t worried they’d give me trouble. When it got dark, the guy tried to make a fire. Sunset had brought a sudden chill to the air.

“This is kind of crappy, huh?” He said while staring haplessly at the weak-willed flame.

“Here, one sec.” I rearranged the pile he had collected and added more wood. In a few minutes, a medium-sized fire bounced up from it.

“How is your family not terrified that you’re out here alone?” the mom asked me after we had exchanged the usual Q&A.

“Oh, they are. But I have stuff like this in case of an emergency.” I flashed my satellite device with its SOS button.

I thought she should be more worried that her son didn’t know how to make a decent fire.

I was really, really glad I had that skill in my (very small) survival repertoire. If there’s one thing I can point to that made the first few days miserable, it was the cold. The temperature plunged to the 40s, then the 30s, and down to the high 20s one evening. I layered up all the clothes I had brought, but my subtropical lizard body struggled to stay warm unless I was completely zipped into my sleeping bag.

Days 6-8 weren’t terribly eventful, but I was very worn down by the end of my first week. Thankfully, I would soon get my first taste of trail magic.

 

 

 

 

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