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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 87: Saturday March 5, 2008

Our adventurer explores the underground world of the Magic Kingdom, canoes down a wild river, and accidentally stumbles into one of the largest Civil War reenactments in Florida.

February 12

We were given a special dolly to lug the canoe over ground to the launch point.

Amanda and I headed to Juniper Springs Recreation Area for a canoe run. We woke early, and arrived at the location at about 8:30. We paid for the canoe, and I pushed it around on a specialized dolly to the start of the run.

I had my doubts about doing the canoe this day. Amanda woke up in the middle of night, probably around three or four o'clock, whimpering and crying, due to a sharp pain in her neck. (No, it wasn't me!) She thinks she pulled some muscles wrong while carrying heavy bags. At daybreak, the worst of the pain had passed, but her neck was still very sore and tender and she had trouble turning her head. While driving, I'd often look for her to see when it was safe to change lanes.

So I had my reservations about doing the canoe run right now. It could wait a couple of days, but Amanda was adamant that she could do it, so off to Juniper Springs we went.

Amanda ducks under an obstacle on Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs, unlike most water sources I've seen in Florida, is clear, allowing us to watch strange-looking boils in the water. The ground in most of Florida is made up of limestone, and the spring is slowly eroding the rock. Some places where the water comes out of the ground, the rock has been ground down to a fine powder and looks like it's boiling, except that it's limestone powder and underwater. Just wait until you see the videos I took of it!

I took charge of the canoe, sitting in the back while Amanda took the front.

The woman who rented us the canoe warned us the run was not for beginners, and almost immediately, we could see why.

The water level, in most places, is very shallow, so we had to navigate around them into the deeper areas, which has often just a few inches. Then we reached the first of many trees that had fallen across the creek, and we had to guide the canoe (and ourselves) under them. I usually leaned back to get under the trees, but because Amanda's neck hurt, she usually lean forward to get under them.

And at other locations, several trees had fallen across the creek in opposite directions requiring sharp turns to get around them.

This was the first canoe run either of us had been on which required so much work to get through. It was fun, but hard.

I navigate under a low-hanging branch

And we had the river almost completely to ourselves. Only one other person rented a canoe that day, someone who had thru-hiked the AT last year by strange coincidence, and most of the time he was behind us on the river and out of view.

Near the four-mile mark of the seven-mile run, we had to go under another tree. I'm not sure if we were coming in too fast or at a bad angle, or maybe a little of both, but Amanda grabbed the branch yanking the canoe off balance just enough for a substantial amount of water to get into our canoe.

At this critical junction, we both had two very different responses. My thought was, "We're okay. The canoe has several inches of water in it, but we're still afloat and we can paddle to shore, get out, and dump the water."

I fill up a water bottle from the clear, beautiful waters coming from Jupiter Springs.

Amanda's thought, keeping in mind that she was in the front of the boat and unable to turn her head back to examine the situation, was "There are several inches of water at my feet! We're sinking!"

Then she jumped out of the canoe!

In the process, she tipped the already low canoe enough so more water was able to flood over the side, and at this point, my rosy expectations came to a dashing end. We were sinking. Or at least I was—Amanda had already abandoned ship.

My first concern was electronics. My camera, PocketMail, and even my wallet needed to be kept dry. Most things were in my pack, which I was wearing, and my camera was in a pocket of my pants since I had been using it.

I grabbed onto the limb that sunk us, pulling myself up and out of the water.

Then I realized, that was a pretty wasted effort. I had to get to shore, and the only way to do so was to drop into the water and walk. I couldn't get the camera out of my pants since I needed both arms to keep me suspended above the water, so I dropped down into the water, pulled out my camera, and waded to shore where Amanda had already gotten out of the water.

I handed her my camera, terribly wet from the soaking it got, and my backpack. I had to go back in the water to retrieve the canoe, but I could leave these things with her on shore.

Amanda likes this particular picture of me paddling Juniper Springs, the last photo we would take on our canoe run

The canoe went downstream perhaps 15 feet before getting caught in an eddy in a deep pool of water, and I took a couple of steps in that direction before realizing how deep the mud at the bottom of the river was. It was trying to suck off my Waldies.

I took my Waldies off and handed those to Amanda as well, now wearing nothing but socks on my feet.

Then I went in and retrieved the canoe, still stuck in the neck-deep water which suddenly felt ice cold on my chest.

I got the canoe, and brought it back to Amanda on shore. The crisis was over. We still had to empty the canoe of water and I had to assess the damage to my camera and the contents of my pack, but we could take our time about it now.

The other guy in a canoe arrived just in time to watch the unfolding disaster, and I jokingly told him not to do what we did. =)

I had Amanda give me my camera and I took the batteries out. I didn't know how badly damaged or not it was and didn't want to experiment with it now, but having been soaked in water, I didn't want any electricity running through it. Amanda did the same with her camera. My pack I opened, and thankfully, the contents were dry.

Amanda and I tipped the canoe to its side, emptying the water water out. I held the canoe steady as Amanda got in, then she hung onto a branch of a tree to keep the canoe steady as I got in.

The rest of the canoe run went fine, and four hours after we started, we made it to the end. We and our canoes were picked up and it was back to Juniper Springs for us.

We drove to Orlando afterwards, spending the night a couple of miles away from the Magic Kingdom—our destination for the next day.

Both of our cameras suffered water damage, mine more than Amanda's. The lens on Amanda's camera was fogged up but otherwise seemed to work fine. My camera had been completely submerged in water and was significantly more wet. I left the batteries out and took out the memory card, decided to wait until the camera had completely dried before starting it up and seeing how it worked (or not).

"This would never have happened on the Jungle Cruise," Amanda would say. =)

February 13

Amanda, as a Christmas present, promised me a trip to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Not just any trip, though, but a special one that would take me underground into the famed tunnels under the park that employees use and other behind the scenes stuff. Essentially, a factory tour of the house of the mouse.

The tour is called Keys of the Kingdom, and is available for anyone who is 16 and over with $60 burning a hole in their pocket. Amanda made a reservation for us the week before.

On the appointed day, we drove into the park and parked close to the entrance in the second row. It's always neat to arrive before the park opens and end up almost at the front row of an enormous parking lot. (The parking lot, we would later learn, is larger than all of Disneyland!)

Amanda purchased our entrance tickets (that, alas, is not included in the cost of the $60 Keys of the Kingdom tour), then we waited about a half hour for the doors to open.

A few minutes before the doors officially opened, several excessively happy folks came out and sang and danced for us, kind of like the opening credits of a movie welcoming us to the park. It's kind of sappy, but I enjoyed watching it. The theatrical extravagance seemed so incredibly Disney, building the experience for everyone even before we entered the park.

The doors officially opened when Mickey Mouse arrived on the Disney railroad. Most people, at this time, rush to their favorite ride to jump on before any lines have formed, and normally Amanda and I would do the same.

Not today, however. No, this time, we headed to City Hall where we reported in for our tour. We were handed menus and told to select a lunch, which we did, and were handed name tags we could keep forever and forever, and a guest badge which we could keep "for about five hours."

Our tour started at 9:30, which left Amanda with about 20 minutes to explore the gift shops before we had to go to our tour's starting point next to City Hall.

At 9:30, we were given headphones so everyone in our group—about 20 of us—could hear the tour guide easily without having to crowd in close.

Then we were off to learn the Magic Kingdom's deepest, darkest secrets.

Most of the tour, honestly, wasn't that exciting. Our tour guide, Jamie, led us around the 'on stage' (i.e. public) areas of the park, pointing out a couple of hidden Mickeys and telling us stories behind some of the details built into the park. Everything has a story, some quite elaborate, and is part of Disney's attention to detail that you don't find in other parks.

But let's face it—we wanted to see behind the scenes. It took a couple of hours before we finally got to that point, however.

We did go on a few rides, which is kind of fun to do since we were allowed to walk into the exit and cut in front of the line. With line waits of about five minutes, however, it's not like we saved a lot of time doing so.

The first ride we went on was the Jungle Cruise. Our group hijacked our own boat, then our tour guide told us things about the ride most tourists won't ever hear, such as the hippos are only completed above the waterline because the blue water hides the bottom half of them. The animals get cleaned about once each week to keep the mold down, and that sort of stuff. The waterfall is where the blue dye is added to the water, which is done to hide the track underneath the water that guides the boats. (No, those 'drivers' aren't actually driving the boats.)

And there's a hidden Mickey on the side of an airplane on the ride. Look for it the next time you ride it. =)

We also hijacked our own boat from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Amanda was thrilled to see Johnny Depp not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES on the ride.

And we went through a secret side door on the Haunted House ride that fed directly into the stretching room. We didn't hijack our own boats there, however, since that ride isn't really set up for that type of thing.

It wasn't until shortly before lunch where we finally got to see some behind the scenes stuff. Jamie led us around the left side of Splash Mountain, up the road, around a fence, and into the offstage area of the park.

But we were sworn to secrecy and I can't tell you about anything I saw. Oh, what the heck. We saw floats, without their lights flashing. We saw characters like Woody (from Toy Story) without his head on. We saw the no-see green building that houses Splash Mountain.

It started raining then, hard, and we took cover under an overhang that employees can use to wait it out. The rain passed by very quickly.

Speaking of which, Amanda picked an ideal time to take me off the trail, because a terrific storm passed through the night before and even a tornado took off a roof of a building not too far away. Glad I didn't have to spend the night in THAT weather!

Then it was time for lunch at the Columbia Harbour House, I think it was. Lunch was already set out for everyone on the tables, with name tags by each of our meals. They set Amanda and I at a table to ourselves, and the food was good. In the name tags marking our lunch was the official Keys to the Kingdom pin. Look for it coming to eBay soon. ;o)

After lunch, we finally headed underground and into the famed tunnels.

Admittedly, it's not much to look at. They piped non-Disney music through the sound system (they hear enough Disney music above ground!). But the tunnels are long, boring, concrete structures that lead all around but under the park.

We never really saw much except the tunnels themselves. Many doors led off to all sorts of rooms, but we were never taken into any of them. I did see far enough into one to see a break room with video games and vending machines.

Then it was back in the sunlight and the end of our tour.

We returned our guest badges and headphones then had the rest of the day left to our own devices. We road a few rides, but having already done 'the big three'—Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted House—there wasn't much left we wanted to do.

We left then wandered out to Downtown Disney to see if we could find Sits N Knits so Amanda could do some exchanging with her.

And that was our day. We went out to Chili's for dinner and called it a night. I spent the rest of the evening working on Atlas Quest. =)

February 14

I return to the moss man and continue my thru-hike

With no plans other than the vague "I'll do a few miles today," Amanda and I slept in late and took our time packing up the car and leaving the hotel.

We drove straight to Gold Head Branch SP, stopping only long enough to grab a lunch at Wendy's and to pick up a maildrop for me in Keystone Heights.

By the time we arrived, I figured I had about 10 miles I could do before sunset, and decided to hike through to Edwards Grocery off of SR 100 which the trail happened to pass. It would be an easy place for Amanda to pick me up at.

The hike was largely uneventful. I did lose the trail in Gold Head Branch, and finally followed the road to the entrance where I knew the trail crossed at and picked it up again there.

The trail then passed through Cape Blanding where the national guard trains. My data said I was to sign my life away at the kiosk when I entered the area and to sign out again when I left, but I found nothing to sign so walked in anyhow.

In the dirt, shortly past the entrance kiosk, I found a message written in the dirt road that read, "Welcome back, GT! =)" It was signed by Snap. It was fun finding a message for me in the dirt. I figured Snap probably passed by the day before and had at least a 24 hour head start on me since I had taken two zero days.

I arrived at Edwards Grocery a bit early, and Amanda wasn't there yet. I bought something to drink and waited for her about ten minutes before she pulled up.

We found a hotel in Starke, then ate out at Pizza Hut for dinner. Yum, yum. =)

February 15

The trail near Olustee

The next morning, I decided to pull a miserable 20-mile road walk into Lake Bulter. It was nearly all road walk, and I was so not looking forward to it, but it had to be done.

Several miles into the road walk, a white van pulled over and the driver asked if I was thru-hiking the Florida Trail. "Well, yes, as a matter of fact."

It was surprising to me he identified me as a thru-hiker. There aren't that many of us, and I was slackpacking so I didn't have my usual full-sized pack or scruffy clothes. Not even my trekking pole.

But he identified as a thru-hiker (admitting later that it was a close call and he wasn't sure). He introduced himself as Gordon Smith, trail angel, at my service. =)

He was an older man and not in particularly good health, but he used to love long-distance hiking and now prefers to spend his time helping them.

I explained that Amanda was in town and didn't really need any help. (I was already slackpacking, after all!) He seemed a bit disappointed that he couldn't help, but gave me his number anyway and drove off in search of other thru-hikers. He had also told me that he found Snap, who was leaving Lake Butler that day, which indeed put him about a day ahead of me on the trail.

I continued the grueling road walk, and eventually a second vehicle pulled over to ask me about the trail. He said the reroute on the old railroad grade looked like it was done and wondered when hikers would start using that. I had no idea. I knew a reroute was in the works because it was marked on my map as the 'proposed trail' in the future, but I didn't know that status of the reroute or when it would be finished.

The man didn't seem very familiar with the Florida Trail, and I told him about it which seemed to fascinate him, then I continued the grueling road walk.

The trail passes through Sampson City, a small podunk with a few houses. The term 'city' is something of a misnomer.

I started following this new rail-to-trail even though it wasn't done to get off from a terrible roadwalk

While walking along the trail, however, I noticed an orange blaze on the other side of the trees lining the road. The OTHER side. Right where the reroute was supposed to be.

I walked over and checked out the reroute. In this section, it did look done. I could see what seemed like miles down the old railroad grade. Including the fact that even the local guy said the trail seemed to be done, I decided to ditch the road walk and perhaps be the first person to thru-hike this section of the reroute. It might not be official Florida Trail yet, but it would be soon!

The chances of getting lost were zero. The new trail followed an old railroad track and went straight as an arrow about nine miles directly into Lake Butler.

The first few miles were absolutely wonderful. No cars buzzing by, and an easy, wide trail. Trees, a whole forest of them, decorated both sides of the trail.

When the trail reached CR 235, however, I discovered exactly why the reroute hadn't been opened to the public yet. The trail became overgrown, and I had to dodge around a number of fallen trees. It was still passable, but not nearly so easy as those first several miles.

This trestle has a large gap in it that prevented me from being able to cross the river dry. No, I would have to ford this river—my deepest so far.

A couple of miles more, and I found myself at the edge of an old railroad trestle, except the tracks across the top were missing so I couldn't cross it. Looking down, a small river crossed the path.

I scrambled down to the ground level and examined my options. I walked out across a log as far as I could, stuck a long stick in the water to see how deep it was. (The water, as usual, was murky, and anything more than a couple of inches deep was impossible to see through.)

I then held the stick up to myself, and the high water mark went up past my waist. It was deep.

The gap to the other side was about eight feet, too far to jump. The tracks of the trestle actually did pass overhead at this point, and I considered climbing up to the top. I threw out that idea as stupid—trestles weren't designed to climb easily, and if I slipped, I could seriously injury or kill myself. No one even knew I was on this reroute, so they wouldn't even be looking for me here when I didn't arrive in Lake Butler on time.

No, I had to walk across. Damn.

I checked the water level in several places, on both sides of the trestle, and decided to cross just downstream from the trestle. The water was the deepest yet that I had to ford, coming up well past my knees but still below my waist.

I charged through, but I didn't blame the or curse the FTA for my predicament. After all, the route wasn't officially open as of yet. This was my own fault.

But you know what? It was still better than a ten-mile road walk. Nope, I wasn't going to complain.

The trail continued through timber land and some sections you could see had recently been cut. The trail reached two more broken trestles, but the water below was small enough that I could jump over the streams.

I found this odd firehydrant in Lake Butler. I wasn't sure why it was half buried, but I was pretty sure it would make putting out nearby fires a lot more difficult if it ever became necessary to do so.

The trail dumped me out in a neighborhood of Lake Butler, where three kids on bicycles watched me fall out of the woods.

One of them asked, "Where did you come from?" clearly perplexed at my unexpected arrival, and I told them they were standing on what would soon be the official Florida Trail.

I walked down to the IGA store where I called Amanda to find out where she was. She expected me to walk into town on SR 100 and might have been driving up and down the road looking for me, but she wasn't.

Amanda spent the afternoon near Gainsville visiting her stepmom, Suzi, and had gotten stuck in traffic. She was still an hour away. My guidebook mentioned a Hardees on the other side of town, so I told Amanda I'd wait for her there. It was a place I could loiter without drawing attention to myself, and I could eat dinner while waiting.

When Amanda did finally arrive, we drove back to Starke for the night. Lake Bulter didn't have lodging available.

February 16

During the day, I'm Super-Hiker. At night, I'm AQ Man, able to develop cool features for Atlas Quest whenever Amanda was around with the laptop from the comfort of a hotel room.

The next morning, fairly late in the morning as it turned out since I got sucked into fixing a couple of bugs on Atlas Quest, Amanda dropped me off at the IAG.

Within a mile, six different dogs came running at me, often darting across busy roads, uncontrolled and barking. If I had a gun, I probably would have started shooting in a couple of cases, because frankly, those dogs were scary. I guess they thought me scarier, though, since I yelled at them at get away and they would stop their approach about 20 feet away. Never on the trail had so many vicious dogs running loose, though, and I was getting angry about the situation. Is it so hard to keep a dog on a leash, indoors, or a fenced yard?

Annoyingly, I lost the trail almost immediately out of town. The trail turned north on CR 231, and I found a trailhead on the right side of the road marked with blazes and everything. But the trail led south! I couldn't find one going north.

Tired of playing hide and seek with the blazes, I just followed the road instead. Once out of the city, about one car would drive by every 15 minutes, which wasn't so bad, and it would cut off a mile or two from the meandering trail hike, wherever THAT went.

The trail should come out on the road, or at least close to it, twice more during the day, and I could pick up the trail again then.

The road walking went so well and so quickly, I started considering walking the whole darned road. Or at least to the last place the trail came near it at Barton Gap Rd.

After a few miles of road walking, Amanda drove up. =) I told her my sad story about losing the trail (again), and she offered me a cold soda saying the trail came out on the road just around the next turn.

When I told her I was thinking about following the road even further, she suggested that that wouldn't be a good idea. There was trail magic waiting for me on the trail, and I'd miss it if I followed the road.

To the trail, then. It was probably for the best anyhow.

Someone, I suspected, was trying to leave me a message. But who? What could it mean? =)

At one road crossing, someone had written 'Amanda loves Ryan' and 'Lunch 3 miles ahead' in the dirt, and I suspected Amanda might be responsible for the graffiti. =) Or at least one of my many admirers. ;o)

I rubbed out the part about lunch being three miles ahead in case any thru-hikers were behind me. I didn't want their hopes to get up just to be shot down later.

The Civil War reenactment even included a battle between the Merrimac and the Monitor

Five miles more along the trail, I found another road crossing with a note for me attached to a hiker sign from Amanda, telling me that lunch was under some bark and other debris to the right. Amanda, in a car, used her odometer to determine the distance of three miles. On foot, the trail winds and turns and I actually had to hike about five miles to reach lunch.

In the plastic bag, I found a sandwich from Subway, a small bag of Cheetos, a small bag of sliced apples, and a 20 oz bottle of Coke (which was wrapped in a bag with ice, so they were still cold). Marvelous!

I took my stash into the shade and started to pig out, determined to eat everything she left. I almost considered not eating the Cheetos and saving them for later, but then decided I didn't want to carry the full bag out and stuffed those down my throat too.

A car pulled up to the trailhead just as I was finishing—it was Amanda! I waved at her, and she parked and walked over to me.

Amanda reports that of all the days I had to reach Olustee, it would be during their grand reenactment of the largest battle ever fought on Floridian soil.

"You wouldn't BELIEVE the traffic at Olustee!" she exclaimed. Now I just walk my little walk, and I rarely look more than a day or two ahead on my maps to see where I'm going. As it turned out, I would be walking into Olustee SP on the third weekend of February.

Why does that matter? Because it happens to be when they hold a reenactment of a Civil War battle fought there in 1864. Thousands of people descend into this little community dressed up in the blue and the grey uniforms (for the men) and frilly elaborate dresses (for the women). And about 20,000 civilians drop into town to see them.

And, of course, one thru-hiker. =)

Crowds of people, Amanda warned me, swarmed the area....

At the time of the battle, much of the food and supplies that supported the south came in through Florida, so a bunch of Union soldiers were ordered west out of Jacksonville to take and destroy a key railroad bridge in Lake City. When the south found out about the plans, they brought in soldiers to stop the advance.

And the two groups clashed at Olustee. It would be the largest, bloodiest battle ever fought in Florida where 2,807 men lay dead or wounded.

And completely by accident, I'd be walking directly into this reenactment.

Amanda came back to the trailhead to look for me, worried that we wouldn't be able to find each other in the masses at Olustee. If the lunch she left was still there, she'd wait for me. If the lunch was gone, she'd try to intercept me further up the trail. She didn't expect to find me eating lunch, but it worked out well for both of us.

I left the trash from lunch with Amanda, and suggested we meet in front of the museum that my guidebook mentions. The reenactment was to start at 3:30, and I told her most people would leave as soon as it ended. Parking would be then be easy, and she could probably get a front row location!

She headed off, and so did I. Near 3:30, I heard distant booms going off as cannons were shot off, which continued for the better part of an hour. They are LOUD!

This was my slightly disoriented view when I reach the Olustee Battlefield

The trail dumped me out directly at Ground Zero. It's a bit disorienting to be hiking all day by oneself, then walk into 20,000 people attending a reenactment, literally in just three steps.

Cars backed up as far as the eye could see in both directions. Hundreds of people walked along the street, many dressed in period costumes and carrying old muskets.

Amanda intercepted me as I left the woods and crossed the street

Amanda decided to watch for me where I came out of the woods and intercepted me before I could get lost in the masses.

Since we were in the area, we decided to take a look around. Booths were set up where you could have authors of Civil War books sign their work. You could buy period costumes and swords, paintings, and I don't know what all else.

That night, Amanda took me back to a hotel in Macclenny. Early in the morning, Amanda had to fly out, which would have meant dumping me out on the trail again at three or four o'clock in the morning. Not something I'm particularly fond of. =)

Amanda and I wandered around the Union and Confederate camps.

Lord knows where I'd end up going to sleep while surrounded by 20,000 people anyhow.

But I had an idea. Gordon Smith, trail angel, who found me on the trail two days earlier. If he could give me a ride from the hotel to the trail, I could sleep in to a decent hour, or at least when it was light outside, and Amanda woudn't have to drop me off on the trail so we could stay at a hotel closer to Jacksonville. She wouldn't have to drop me off, so the drive was shorter for her. She could sleep in an extra hour or so too! (But she still would have to wake terribly early.)

So I gave Gordon a call, and he said he'd be thrilled to give me a ride to the trail. It was settled.

So we got a room in Macclenny, and Amanda left at four or five in the morning—I was still too unconscious to care.

February 17

Gordon Smith, trail angel extraordinaire, arrives bright and early to take me back to the trail.

I slept in late, until about 8:00, then spent an hour typing up my adventures and another hour putting my pack together.

Gordon arrived at 10:00, and whisked me back to Olustee. It was an act of trail angeling that benefited both Amanda and myself.

"Don't get shot!" Gordon warned me as he dropped me off. =)

"Hey, at least all of these people are shooting blanks," I replied. "I'm more worried about the hunters in the woods that are using live ammo!"

The Confederates put up a valiant fight, with cannons blowing huge clouds of smoke into the air

I'm rather interested in Civil War history and decided to stick around a bit to enjoy the theatrics. The reenactment this day wouldn't start for a couple of hours, so I took a walking tour of the battlefield reading all of the plaques set up to describe the battle. Surprisingly, I was the only person! Thousands of people around, and nobody else thought to walk around the battlefield?

After my history lesson, I went up to the bleachers where the reenactment would take place and took a prime location at the top. Then waited for the main event to occur.

I wrote more adventures on my PocketMail and ate a few snacks for lunch.

Then it was the main event. A narrator explained what was happening, and oh what a show they put on! Horses pranced around, canons blasted smoke O-rings into the air. You could feel the concussion of the blast hitting you. Men walked around firing their rifles. And huge explosions rocked the battlefield. Occasionally, a small palm tree or stick would go flying 50 feet into the air. It was a fine show.

...and eventually, the Confederates would win the day. The Confederates are lined up on the left while the Union soldiers are on the right.

Surprisingly, despite all the gunshots and canons, absolutely no casualties resulted. Not one dead or wounded soldier lay on the ground, and I can only imagine these people must be the worst shots ever.

Eventually, some of the soldiers started playing the parts of dead and wounded, but not for the first half hour.

I finally left about an hour into the reenactment. It was supposed to rain during the night, and a shelter—a shelter!—lay about 10 miles ahead on the trail. I needed to get there before dark.

I found this board in the Confederate camp asking individuals not to camp on the Florida Trail—which is remarkably thoughtful considering that Snap and myself were the only two people during the whole weekend who hiked this section of trail.

While leaving, one person dressed in period costume asked why I was leaving—the battle wasn't over yet—and I explained about my hike and needing to get to the shelter ahead.

I continued to hear the sounds of battle for another half hour or so, and the rest of the hike was uneventful. I arrived at the shelter before dark.

The shelter had no walls—just posts at each corner which held up the aluminum roof, but I wasn't complaining. It was supposed to rain heavy this night, and a roof was more important than walls. =)

I made dinner on the picnic table in the shelter, then laid out my ground sheet and bag near the center of the shelter in case the wind started to blow water in. I wanted to stay as far away from the edges as possible.

February 18

I camped under this shelter near Olustee to avoid the rain, but the rain arrived too late for it to make much of a difference

It wasn't until morning that the rain started, however, disappointing because the last time I checked, the rain was supposed to END by sunrise. The storm must have came in slower than expected.

I had hoped to ride out the storm high and dry during the night, and continue hiking in the morning sun. Now it looked like I'd be hiking through the worst of the rain, and hopefully by the end of the day the rain would end.

At least I could eat breakfast, stand up, and walk around without getting wet. I waited, hoping the rain would let up before I had to leave the shelter, but by 10:00, I decided I could wait no longer.

I pulled out my umbrella, and stepped out into the rain. The wet, relentless rain.

Two hours into the hike, I saw another hiker coming from the opposite direction. "Must be a thru-hiker," I thought. "Nobody else would be hiking in this miserable weather."

The hiker wore a green poncho, and when he got closer, I thought he looked familiar. "Hey, is that Skeemer under there?"

Now I know some people wanted to hide letterboxes for me along the trail, but this is not the way to tell me about them! (But seriously, I don't have any idea why the word BOX is written on the tree with bright orange paint, though I am pretty certain it has nothing to do with letterboxing.)

And indeed it was. I only met him briefly near River Ranch when Amanda and I spotted him on the trail while I was slackpacking.

He was hiking south now, having parked his car in White Springs and figured he'd hitch a ride back to his car after about 75 miles.

I suggested he give Gordon a call—he'd be absolutely thrilled to help. Gordon is actually from Missouri and came out to Florida solely to find thru-hikers to help. I felt kind of sorry for him, seeing as there weren't many of us to be helped, and he was so excited when I asked for the ride from Macclenny back to the trail. "Give Gordon a call," I said. "He'd love you for it. Really."

We went our separate ways, and I continued through the rain.

The rain finally stopped at about 1:00, but tree snot continued to fall long after the rain had stopped. I was wet and generally miserable, but I had one thing to look forward to: another shelter, the Madison Shelter, where I could dry off and sleep somewhere dry.

The trail eventually came out of the woods onto surface streets, and once more the good blazing came to a screeching halt.

Unfortunately, the one place where blazes were good, they led me astray. A double blaze marked a telephone pole, which typically means the trail makes a sharp turn and to pay attention.

I did that, and noticed a small trail on my right. I followed it, finding more orange blazes leading me deeper into the woods.

After half a mile or so, I was still following blazes—some even looked like they had been painted last week—but I had a bad feeling that I wasn't going in the right direction.

I couldn't pinpoint exactly why I felt this way, but I did, and I started paying even closer attention to blazes and the trail.

Another ten minutes later, I reached a gate warning me I that I was entering Big Shoals Public Lands, and finally the alarm bells went off. I was NOT supposed to be here!

Once again, I had walked a mile in the wrong direction. In my defense, however, I was following orange blazes! I can only assume this must have been an old, abandoned route that is no longer the official Florida Trail, or a new route in the making that was not on any of my maps. Or maybe the folks painting blazes wanted to find out how many thru-hikers they could confuse. =)

In any case, I had no idea where the blazes were leading or where I would wind up, and I had my heart set on a shelter that was NOT on this particular trail, so I backtracked the mile back to the road, cursing the blazing for leading me astray.

Madison Shelter was very cute, but cluttered and dirty as well. =)

I followed the road another mile or two, the current correct direction of the Florida Trail, and finally ended the day at Madison Shelter. The shelter seemed cluttered and dirtier than other shelters, filled with decorations, candles, and even a wood-burning stove. Oh, I was tempted to start a fire in the stove—it was going to be a cold night!—but I'm too lazy to search about for wood to burn.

Instead, I lit a couple of the candles, giving the shelter a warm, romantic glow, not that it would do me any good, but it was pretty to look at. =)

I changed into my camp clothes and cooked dinner—mac 'n' cheese with spiral (spiral!) noodles.

After cleaning up, I sat back in the rocking chair (a rocking chair!) and rocked back and forth catching up on writing my blogs on my PocketMail device.

By around 8:30, my fingers started turning numb from the cold, so I put on my gloves, blew out the candles, and crawled into my sleeping bag for the night.

February 19

This was some of the steepest and prettiest terrain I'd seen in Florida, including this tributary that empties into the Suwannee River.

The next morning, and a cold morning it was, I took my time waking up and packing up camp since I planned to stop in White Springs for the day, a measily 12 miles away. No reason to get up early or rush around!

At first, the trail mostly followed roads—not very exciting at all—then the trail went into the woods and followed along the banks of the Suwannee River. In a word—WOW!

The Suwannee is a sizeable river flowing along a relatively deep chasm. Often the trail would descend steeply at a tributary, then climb back up just as steeply where I'd actually find myself breathing hard upon reaching the top again.

And the river banks were beautiful. Some of the prettiest hiking so far in this state. I vaguely remembered a song about the Suwannee, but I couldn't remember any words or even be sure if this was THE Suwannee River, but I hummed a tune close to how I thought it went.

I often sing or hum tunes based on where I am, the weather, or any number of triggers that might set me off. When you're hiking by yourself day after day, it gives you something to think about. In the Florida Keys, I'd sing Margarittaville or Kokomo or something. Near Orlando, it was Disney tunes. In Avon Air Force Base, it was In the Navy by the Village People. (I couldn't think of any air force songs, so I figured a navy one was close enough.) Today, it was the Suwannee River.

The rest of the day's hiking was absolutely wonderful, in any case.

I arrived in White Springs at about 2:30, and my first stop was at the American Canoe Adventures. Apparently, they're very hiker friendly there with a register and a thru-hiker wall of fame, and I could get my picture added to it. =)

Alas, it was not meant to be. They were closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and I arrived Tuesday afternoon and would leave Wednesday morning. Maybe I'll take a picture of myself and mail it to them someday. Seems wrong that I'm not on the thru-hiker wall of fame since I am thru-hiking the trail.

I then did some more mundane chores. Made some phone calls, posted to my blog, and dropped by the library to use the Internet, and finally stopped at the Suwannee River Hotel making arrangements for me to have a room for myself. Room #19 for anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps or sleep in the same bed I did. ;o)

I checked the weather forecast at the library, and in a word, it looked bleak. The next day would be beautiful, but then three solid days of rain would follow. There would be another day or two of sun before the rain continued. The next week would not be fun. In the hotel, I flipped on the TV to the Weather Channel for more details about the forecast. It still looked bleak and depressing.

I emptied out my pack, then started walking up US 41 looking for a grocery store. My guidebook mentioned an S&S Food Store, warning that it was good for short-term resupply, so I planned to skip that. I needed some long-term resupplies—enough to get me 160 miles to St. Marks.

It also suggested Dollar General for groceries, but I never remembered them as being good for long-term resupplies, so my hopes rested with Stormant's Grocery. It sounded like a real grocery store.

Alas, it was nothing more than a mini-mart attached to a gas station. I suddenly realized that I had a serious, serious food problem. I needed a real grocery store, and this town was filled with mini-marts.

I bought a few items at Stormants. A bottle of fruit punch, sliced up watermelon, potato salad, and a slice of strawberry cake, which I ate for dinner.

I also picked up some Stove Top stuffing thinking I could make a meal out of that on the trail in a pinch.

I don't like to cook meals in the rain, so I often end up eating Pop Tarts and other snacks instead. Knowing the weather forecast, I wanted to buy a disportionately large number of meals that did not require heating or cooking.

But the choices available were as bleak as the weather forecast. I prefer a hearty cereal for breakfast, such as granola or something like Smart Start, but the only thing available here were Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. I do like those cereals, but I don't find them very filling and end up hungry an hour after eating them. I wanted a cereal with substance, but they only offered fluffy cereals.

Walking back to the hotel, I hit every mini-mart available along the way trying to stock up enough food to get me through a week of hiking. At Dollar General, I picked up a box of something that at least pretended to have nutritional value on the box. (They don't even try to pretend on boxes such as Fruit Loops.) I have no idea if I'll like the cereal, but I'll be eating it.

And I stopped at S&S Food Store, picking up additional snacks and food items.

Back at the hotel, I laid it all out and started repacking everything into ZipLocks. It was a sorry state of affairs, and seemed representative of my week to come. I was not at all happy with my food situation or the weather forecast.

Plus, my left shoe is starting to come undone. After 600 miles, my shoes finally need replacing, but the next post office on the trail was another 160 miles away.

Frankly, I fell into something of a depression. I was not at all looking forward to the next week ahead, but what else could I do but plod on?

The rest of the night, I watched the History Channel and the Weather Channel. Much better than Project Runway. ;o)

And no, I did not work on Atlas Quest. I didn't have the laptop to work on, and even if I did, the hotel had no wi-fi access.

Actually, it was generally a pretty sad place to stay. When I left to make a phone call, I returned to find a couple of cockroaches noseying around my food. In the morning, when I turned on the hot water in the shower, hundreds of ants came out from behind the knob. There were more bugs and critters in that room than there were when I slept outside, and that's just not right.

The place is a bit run down, and I'm okay with that. I love old, run down hotels. Just not ones with bug infestations.

The rest of the night, I stored much of my food in the mini-fridge. The fridge didn't seem to work when I plugged it in, but I kept the food in there anyhow since its interior seemed bug free. I once heard that many families in India use refrigerators to keep bugs off food. They don't get electricity so they can't keep anything cold, but it's well-insulated so it keeps bugs away from their food. I decided to try the same thing.

And for you viewing pleasure: These are rather large files, so you'll probably want to have a broadband connection to watch these videos.

Juniper Springs: Watch the bubbling boils that mark the source of Juniper Springs. It's hypnotic to watch!

Big Fish: You can't see the fish in this video, but they're there.... ;o)

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