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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 89: Tuesday July 15, 2008

Our hero races to the end of the Florida Trail and the start of new, exciting adventures along the Alabama Trail!

February 29

The orange blazes are nearing an end

Two days after she picked me up, my fellow turtle dropped me back off on the trail at St. Marks. I never did cross the St. Marks river by boat, which would have been fun, but I figured if hailing a boat was acceptable to cross the river, nobody could complain much that I chose to hail a car instead. =)

From St. Marks, large plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the forests on the other side of the river. The prescribed burns were well on their way, and safely on the other side of the river.

There's not much to report about this particular day of hiking. The trail followed a bike path north from St. Marks, a nice easy walk. I stopped at a convenience store near where it intersected US 98 for lunch, then continued along the trail—which did require walking through pools of water, bleh—until stopping for the night at Wakulla Field Campsite.

March 1

More water, because there's just not enough of it in Florida

I swear the whole state of Florida burns at least once each year. Before this hike started, I'd never witnessed a forest fire. At least not close up and personal, and already now I've witnessed several. Not to mention the prescribed burns I could see at a distance, such as yesterday, and the sugar cane fields. Florida sometimes seems like one giant fire.

Even when the trail isn't actively burning, you can often tell it had been recently where everywhere is burned black except for recently fallen pine needles.

And now, once again, walking down the trail, I found a sign hastily put up warning of a prescribed burn in the Panacea Unit. Which, unfortunately, was my goal for the day: Panacea.

I thought I had escaped the prescribed burns in St. Marks, but apparently the Panacea would burn as well. The note did not say that the trail was closed nor was it dated, but I kept my eyes on the horizon for new signs of fire and continued along the trail.

I finally spotted a large plume of smoke near the Marsh Point Campsite. I pulled out my compass to get a precise bearing on it and determined it was well to the south of the trail, but very much in the direction of the town of Panacea. I was just happy the trail wasn't burning this time. I couldn't tell if the fire was before or after Panacea, but I felt confident they'd leave the main road into the town open and I could walk to town with no problem.

Walking into town, the dark plume of smoke seemed to bellow out from the center of town, but that was just an illusion. The town, of course, was not on fire, but rather, the burning was going on behind the town.

Smoke in the air created this interesting reflection of an orange sun in the water

I checked into the Panacea Hotel, rather a luxury really since I had come clean out of Tallahassee just the day before. I was so clean, in fact, I didn't even bother with a shower until the next morning when I hit the trail again.

The main reason for my side trip to Panacea was to resupply food. I could have gotten plenty more while in Tallahassee, but chose to resupply in Panacea so I could carry a very light pack for those first two days out of St. Marks. My guidebook showed an IGA in town, which I figured was good for resupplying.

I never did find the IGA, but I did find a Big Top Supermarket where it was supposed to be with a large banner proclaiming 'Now Open!' It would have to do.

The store generally worked well for resupplying, but I was rather surprised that the vast cereal section did not have one, single type of granola available. Even CVS has a better selection!

Actually, calling the store a 'super' market is giving it more credit than it deserves. It's just an average, run-of-the-mill market. Generally good for resupplies, but not a lot of choices. For instance, there were no frosted cherry Pop Tarts, but that's okay because they did have the frosted cinnamon Pop Tarts which I like too. They didn't have granola cereal, but I found an intriguing banana nut something which looked promising.

I had about 80 miles to my next resupply point, which normally I'd plan to do in four days. I planned for five days, however, knowing the swamp tromp was just around the corner. I didn't know how easy it would be (or not!), but I was giving myself a whole day to do it—just in case. So five days, four nights I'd be out in the wild. Plus a couple of extra meals which I like to carry just in case I'm slower than expected.

And I picked up a handful of items for dinner that night and breakfast in the morning before retiring back to my hotel. Room #4 for those keeping track. And get this—no bugs! =)

March 2

This was my first view of Monkey Creek, the river that marks the start of the Swamp Tromp further up the trail

The next morning, I headed out early, determined to get as close to the Bradwell Bay Wilderness as possible so I'd have the whole of the next day to get through that swamp.

The day was beautiful, crisp, and cool. A perfect day for hiking!

Until, a few hours later, I noticed smoke on the horizon. I didn't see an obvious plume where the smoke originated, so I could only tell that the fire was, vaguely speaking, somewhere northeast of me. Which, alas, was the direction I was hiking.

Throughout the rest of the day, I worried about the fire. I had little doubt it was another prescribed burns—they were really enjoying themselves burning everything up, I thought. I kept my eyes open for notes pinned to trees or another information about where precisely the burns were happening.

But there was nothing. Near the approach to the Sopchoppy River, I could tell the smoke was getting visibility thicker and starting to obscure the sun a bit, casting a reddish glow across everything like it was sunset. Except sunset was still another five or six hours away.

Then I smelled the smoke. It was close, but by this point, the bulk of the smoke seemed to hover towards the west and at this point, the trail curved north to follow alongside the Sopchoppy River. Whew. It was getting close there, and I had no desire to hike through the burn area.

A couple of miles further up the Sopchoppy River and the smoke largely disappeared. I could see it on the horizon, but it was no longer covering the sun nor could I smell it anymore.

So my worries went back to the infamous swamp tromp I'd have to deal with the next day. To give you an idea of what it was, here are a couple of quotes from my guidebook:

I set up camp at the edge of the burn. Can you see the smoke in the background?

"You will get wet crossing the Bradwell Bay Wilderness...1 MPH or less is normal. Keep gear as light and watertight as possible. Pack all gear that might be damaged by water into watertight bags before hiking this section. Hike with a companion if at all possible. Use hiking sticks, as the footing is unstable and each step ahead of you must be probed so you don't fall into a hole."

And my personal favorite: "It's not unusual to wade through water as deep as a tall man's chest."

This description made Big Cypress sound easy by comparison, so needless to say, I was a bit worried. And I sure as heck wasn't going to tell my mom about that 'as deep as a tall man's chest' bit until I was long done with that section!

So I kept my eyes open for Monkey Creek, which I knew I'd be passing soon. While the Swamp Tromp wouldn't start until tomorrow, the start of it is marked by wading through Monkey Creek. The trail today would cross over on a bridge, but I wanted a close look at the creek since I knew I'd have to wade through it further upstream.

And, according to my guidebook, Monkey Creek would be the deepest section of all. Consequently, I was very curious to get a good look at Monkey Creek.

And I did. I walked up to the edge of the water and studied the creek.

Smoke in the trees

Monkey Creek was bigger than most creeks, but I felt confident that, at least at this particular crossing, I could get through without going into the water deeper than my waist. The water was slow moving as well, so no worries about the current knocking me over or carrying me downstream.

If that was the *worst* I had to face, I would have no trouble. Monkey Creek, up to my waist, then perhaps the rest of the swamp tromp wouldn't go past my knees. Definitely doable.

Onward, always onward, and I was considerably relieved after seeing Monkey Creek. I could do this. =)

Then I smelled smoke again. A shift in the wind? I left the burn behind me, after all. At least I thought I did. Then I noticed a couple of particles of ash floating in the air.

Crap. Ashes! I had to be REALLY close to the burn to be seeing ashes. And a few minutes later, I heard a helicopter. I still had no idea where the burn was actually happening, but I knew it was close and my worries went back to the fire.

Ironic, I thought, how my worried flipped from drowning in water to burning in fire in mere minutes. Only in Florida.

The trail came out on FR 348, and I stopped to make an early dinner. I wanted to hike further, as close to the swamp tromp as I could, but the trail left the Sopchoppy River at this point and I figured it would be the last reliable place for water until the swamp. I wanted to make use of it while I could.

I made a bean and rice burrito—oh so good! While cooking it, a kayaker pulled in at the road crossing. He kayaked down the Sopchoppy for about seven miles and stashed a bicycle there to ride back to his vehicle after hiding his kayak.

My immediate thought was that maybe he knew more about the prescribed burns than I did, and that's what I asked him. He had talked to some forest rangers who originally suggested he should not kayak down the Sopchoppy, or at least wait a few hours to do so because of the burns, and he did see the actual burning.

Not good for me, I thought.

He wasn't sure all where they burned, but he thought it was mostly in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.

Double crap, I thought.

But it should be a lot better by tomorrow.

This is my view while laying down under my tarp. Not very exciting, I know, but it's a view I became very familiar with!

Good news, kind of. I'll take what I can get, though.

The man stashed his kayak, and I finished cooking (then eating) my dinner before heading out on the trail again. I figured to get in another three or so miles, but I didn't even get a mile before I started seeing evidence of recent burns.

And after another mile or so, I found smoldering trees and burning bushes. It was time to stop.

Not knowing where all the burning had taken place, I felt my safest option was to camp in the burn zone that had already burned. If I hiked out further, and the flames weren't large or difficult to pass, my fear was the fire would grow during the night and catch up to wherever I set up camp.

By camping in an area that had already burned, I could be certain my campsite would be safe from additional fires.

This, I would think, is what the view from my feet must look like

So that's where I set up camp, about one or two hundred feet away from the area that was actively burning. Kind of like a campfire, and the smoke blew into camp all night long.

Late at night, I could see the orange glow of flickering flames, a rather neat thing to watch. About once each hour, something particularly flammable went up in flames and you could hear a loud crackling until it finished burning and died down again.

And several times during the night, I heard a loud THUNK! as a tree fell, overpowered by the fire.

It was a memorable night! =)

March 3

The swamp tromp, fortunately, proved to be easier than I had feared—but there was still plenty of swamp to tromp through

Packing up camp took a bit longer than normal due to my worries about the swamp tromp. In preparation, I bought a number of those super extra extra large ZipLock bags which I intended to use to make sure my pack, or at least its contents, could survive a prolonged dunking in water. My pack is what I'd call 'water resistant'—which under normal conditions is fine, but not acceptable if the pack is completely submerged.

Frankly, I don't know how well my extra super large ZipLocks would work, but they seemed sturdy and a heck of a lot cheaper than true drybags, which seemed like overkill to use just once.

So I stuffed all of the contents of my pack into ZipLocks—sleeping bag, food bag, stove and cookset, clothes, and all into ZipLocks. Only the water bottles didn't get bagged, because that would have been silly. ;o)

The most critical items that need to stay dry—my sleeping bag, clothes, and food—I double bagged.

The burn area I stopped at continued to smolder, but I hiked through keeping my eyes open for flare ups. I followed through several miles of burned and unburned areas before reaching Monkey Creek and the official start of the swamp tromp.

I stopped to snack, unsure how wet it would be over the next five miles and wanting to go in with a full stomach. Monkey Creek looked deep, but I didn't think it would come up past my waist.

Normally I wear a fanny pack around my waist and put things like cameras and snacks in it, easily accessible without having to take off my pack. (I really don't understand why all backpackers don't do this—I couldn't imagine doing a backpacking trip without a fanny pack. If you backpack, give it a try. Seriously!)

Rather than stringing it around my waist, though, I strung it over one shoulder and under the opposite arm like a sash—a trick I used for Big Cypress. Then I put on the pack and stepped into Monkey Creek.

The water was cold. It seemed ice cold, but that seems unlikely in Florida. These aren't glacier fed streams, after all! But I'm a wimp, and any water below 80 degrees is cold to me. =)

I used my trekking pole for balance and it probe the depths of the creek looking for the shallowest path through, which ended up being along the cypress trees (often using the underwater roots as steps) near the downstream side to get across.

The water was the deepest yet I had to clear, well past my knees but—thank God—mere millimeters below my crotch.

On the other side, I checked my pack—the bottom of it might had dipped low enough to get a dunking—but no, it came out completely dry.

The swamp tromp was supposed to last another five miles, but the Monkey Creek crossing was to be the deepest. No sweat. =) It might be slow going, but I felt like I was in the clear now and hoped the water wouldn't pass my knees anywhere else.

The rest of the swamp tromp wasn't even that hard. Most of the trail was completely dry, and the sections with water rarely got deeper than my ankles. I figured I'd give myself all day to get through, and I did it in three hours.

The one incident in the swamp tromp that took me by surprise was when I ran out of water. Completely and totally out, without a drop to drink.

I'm still puzzled by this since I deliberately filled up with water to last the whole day, and it wasn't an especially warm day so I hadn't had much to drink, but near noon, I went to take a sip and nothing. I was out.

But I was in a swamp walking through water sometimes higher than my ankles, so it wasn't a critical problem. Just a perplexing one.

The swamp tromp officially ended at a dirt road. Still having plenty of daylight left, I took a small snack break then continued on.

I thought the water walking was largely over, but how wrong I was. Time after time I tromped through water, usually up to my ankles, with every dip in the road or trail. Once I realized how much water there was still left to walk through, I decided to push on as far as I could in the hopes of getting past it all. The water was annoying, but a minor one considering that my feet were already wet. The tricky part were the pools of water in the dirt roads, however, because I'd often find myself slipping into knee-deep water when I put my foot on the edge of a ledge but not realizing it. The dirt roads sometimes had deep grooves where the truck tires went through, and I'd put a foot near the grove in ankle-deep water to suddenly find my foot sliding down into knee-deep water. You can't see these these grooves either—the water is too murky—unless you probe for them with a trekking pole. Very annoying.

The trail crossed the Ochlocknee River over a bridge when I first realized that the Ochlocknee River seemed particularly high. I could see the top few inches of palmettos—not normally underwater plants—sticking out from the water.

Perhaps this, I thought, was the reason my swamp tromp didn't seem to end. The trail had flooded, though it did so conveniently after the end of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.

I stopped at the Porter Lake Campground where I filled up with water and ate some snacks. One other family was camped there, with a stack of firewood about five feet high, and I considered walking over to them and asking if I could buy a cold soda off of them. I was hot and sweaty and a cold soda sounded good. Perhaps if I played my cards well, they'd even give me one for free. =) But I'd still have paid for one if necessary.

Bridge over troubled waters. The swamp tromp was officially over, but floods in the area meant that I would still be walking in water.

Before I had a chance to act out, however, the husband walked over to me and asked if he could buy a cigarette off of me. Heh.

"Sorry, I don't smoke." I'd have traded a whole pack for a cold drink if I could, though.

"I didn't think a hiker like you would," he replied, "but I figured it didn't hurt to ask."

I asked him about cold sodas, and he whispered, almost in a conspiratorial tone, "The wife didn't want to go anywhere today. I don't have smokes, I don't have ice, I don't have cold nothing."

He seemed especially bitter about the lack of smokes. I was disappointed about the lack of cold drinks.

We chatted for several more minutes, and I explained a bit about my hike to him before continuing on my way. I was half tempted to set up camp right there—it was a nice campground and the cost was right (free). At the very least, I could enjoy their campfire. =)

But I knew that a storm was blowing in and was determined to get as far up on the trail as I could. I wouldn't beat the storm into Bristol, but I hoped I'd have a nice, dry motel room after slogging all day through rain. I needed miles to pull that off, though.

So back on the trail it was. I didn't get far before I spotted three kids ahead of me carrying guns. Kids, as in pimply-faced teenagers. They looked like trouble to me, but there didn't seem like any other way around them except through them.

"So what are you hunting?" I asked them, wondering if it was even legal for them to be hunting.

"Just shootin' some squirrels." The kids smiled, and I was surprised to see some of their teeth already missing. Yikes!

Then one of them asked, "Do you know if hunting is allowed right now?"

I suspected not—hunting season for most areas had already passed—but I wasn't completely certain either so I said I didn't know.

I wished them good luck, and mosied on past. They seemed friendly, but their guns made me a bit nervous.

Another dip on a dirt road, and another wade through water. This particular dip was deeper than most, however, and I quickly found myself past my knees in water and probing with my trekking pole only showed even deeper water ahead.

It looked like a small creek normally crossed the road here, but it had badly flooded. I found a couple of logs on the right side of the trail, under about three feet of water, which seemed oddly out of place and surprisingly secure. I think it might have been the normal route over the creek for hikers, but the fact that it was three feet underwater suggested that my theory of the flooded creek had some merit.

I carefully stepped up onto the log and slowly inched myself across. I couldn't see the log—only feel it with my feet and trekking pole—and testing each side of it with my trekking pole, I figured I'd be well past my waist in water if I slipped off. This creek was deeper than the dreaded Monkey Creek!

Glad all my equipment was still safely tucked away in super-sized ZipLocks from the swamp tromp. If I slipped, I'd be taking quite a dunk!

Fortunately, I made it across the underwater logs without slipping, and managed to get through the creek barely keeping the cojones dry. =)

I set up camp at Indian Creek where it intersects CR 67. It was a bit closer to the road than I would have preferred, but it did the job. I hoped I'd gone far enough so I wouldn't have to walk through water again for a second day, but only time would tell....

March 4

Sidewalks are so uncommon in Florida, this community needed to erect signs to explain how to use them!

The next day was essentially more of the same. I waded through water, usually no more deep than my ankles, but occasionally past my knees. After spotting a small, cute little turtle during one wading adventure, I started slowing down and looking very carefully where I put my foot—assuming I could actually see all the way through the water. I didn't want to step on any turtles inadvertantly.

I saw several more turtles hiding in the water this way, and hoped my tromping from the previous day hadn't gotten any.

The day was beautiful. Partly cloudy, not especially warm, and I wanted to take advantage of it to push on as far as I could. The weather was expected to grow nasty the next day, and I wanted to be within walking distance of Bristol to insure I had a motel and a dry bed to use at the end of the day. At a minimum, I figured, I should at least reach the Camel Lake Campground.

And I did, and what a beautiful campground it was. Several sites overlooked Camel Lake, and they were some of the nicest campsites I ever laid eyes on.

The restrooms had flush toilets, and garbage cans could be found all over the area. It was much nicer and far more elaborate than I expected. I was thinking it would be something like the previous campground I passed the day before with composting toilets and no regular maintenance. This place, though, was NICE.

I went ahead and made use of the facilities, filling up with water, using the restrooms (flush! flush!), and throwing away my trash. I checked to see how much staying at the site would cost—I knew a campground this nice wouldn't be free—and it wasn't. It ran $10/night, so I walked up the trail a quarter mile or so and set up my tarp in the woods. I could actually still see the American flag flying above the campground from my location, but I figured I was far enough away that no authority figures would ask what I was doing there. =)

I hoped the rain would start early, pour all night all while I was under the protection of the tarp, then have stopped by morning. What actually happened, however, was that the night stayed nice and calm and by morning, the rain finally started.

March 5

So I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, and even peed all under the protective cover of the tarp. I packed my gear into the backpack while under the tarp—making use of the super extra large ZipLocks since I still had them—and only when that was done did I finally come out from under the tarp and into the rain.

I took down the tarp, stashed it into a mesh pocket, took out the umbrella, heaved on the pack, opened the umbrella, and started down the trail singing Spiderpig to myself. (You have to watch The Simpsons movie to understand that reference.)

The trail continued to go through bogs, but my feet were pretty wet from the rain anyhow so the bogs didn't bother me as much this time.

I only had about six or seven miles of trail walking anyhow. Then there was a 10.1 mile road walk up CR 12 into Bristol. Ugh. Road walk. And a long one.

The trail went past the library in Bristol, so I stopped in to check e-mail and Atlas Quest. Originally, I planned to stop for the night at a hotel in Bristol, but the night before, I realized that Blounstown was less than four more miles along the trail. I hadn't realized the two towns were so close since my guidebooks put the two in different regions, splitting the regions right down the time zone. I hadn't looked ahead at the next region—which, if you remember, I tore into pieces back in the Keys and have my mom mail to me on the trail as needed, so the two regions had been physically torn apart.

Only now did I look ahead into the next region and realize that a much larger town, with more motels and food options, lay just another four miles down the trail.

Onward I went, crossing into Central Time Zone over a large, long bridge that crossed the Apalachicola River. The bridge seemed to last for a couple of miles—certainly one of the longer bridges I've crossed since the keys.

And just like that, I went back in time one hour. Alas, sunset now occurred one hour earlier too.

I was rather excited about changing time zones. =) It felt like real progress in my hike, and it hit me that my days in Florida were numbered. Perhaps not *quite* in the single digits, but I had now hiked about 1,000 miles—well past the halfway mark for Springer Mountain, in fact—and had about 200 miles of Florida left. I suddenly felt elated to be rid of Florida so soon.

Don't get me wrong, here. Florida has its nice areas, but it's the state that Never Seemed To End. The Appalachian Trail goes over 500 miles through Virginia, or about 25% of the entire trail, and I was positively elated when I first reached that Welcome to West Virginia sign. Thank God, I was finally done with Virginia!

Now I had done twice that amount in Florida, and I *still* hadn't finished with the state. I could have started on the AT at one end of Virginia, hiked to the other end, turned around and hiked back.... and still be done faster than Florida.

Florida is a freakishly big state, and crossing into another time zone, it finally hit me. I'm almost done with Florida!

Not to mention the fact that I've never hiked to another time zone before.

Completely unrelated to my hike... did you know it's possible to call Oregon from Florida and have it be the EXACT same time in both locations?

It only works one hour each year, but it can be done. The panhandle of Florida, as I've already said, crosses into Central time zone. The southeast corner of Oregon, for some bizare reason unknown to me, was lumped into Mountain time zone. So if call after Central time zone loses an hour due to daylight savings but before Mountain time zone does, you can have two people, one in Florida and one in Oregon, who would both report the exact same time.

It makes a great bar bet. ;o)

Back on topic, however, I continued to walk into Blountstown. The rain finally stopped during my walk through Bristol, and in Blountstown, I actually got to see a pretty nice sunset when most of the sky had cleared.

I checked into the Cherokee Motel (room number 5 for those keeping track) and ran a few errands well into the night. Restocked food supplies at Piggly Wiggly (and who couldn't love a supermarket with a name like that?) I was underwhelmed with options for dinner, however, and settled for Burger King since it was closest to the motel.

That night, I mostly watched—my favorite—the Weather Channel, hoping to glean details about what I should expect to come. The next two days: sun. The night of that second day, rain and thunderstorms, continuing into the third day.

Knowing rain was on the horizon three days away, I pulled out my maps and plotted an itinerary. I decided to shoot for a motel room in Ebro that night it was supposed to rain all day. It might be a wet, miserable day, but by golly, I'd have a warm, dry bed to sleep in that night.

My plans, however, hinged on a nearly 30 mile long hike the next day. I'd done a 30-mile hike once before, so I knew it could be done. It would be all road walking, which is ideal for long, 30-mile days. I could do it, though, putting me at the trailhead for the Econfina Creek area. Day two I'd hike completely through the Econfina area, then road walk the rainy day into Ebro.

That was my plan. I would have liked to cut my first day's miles and put them into the second day, but there did not seem to be any place to camp along the road walk. I'd do the entire distance on day 1, but the bright side is that it would give me a 20-mile hike on day two and hopefully I'd make it into camp before the rains started that evening.

I went to sleep early. I knew I'd need an early start to hike 30 miles the next day.

March 6

I woke up exceptionally early—six in the morning, though admittedly, I had an extra hour head start by being in Central time zone now. ;o)

And made it onto the trail by 7:00.

The first mile or so was nice to walk since it was a paved bicycle path and no cars zooming by, but the rest of the hike was road walk.

A couple of hours into my hike, along SR 71, I saw a police car slow down as he passed me, obviously checking me out since there was no other reason to slow down there, then he sped up again and thought I passed the test, whatever it was he was looking for.

Turns out, he only sped up to a location where he could turn around at easier, because he made a U-turn then pulled up onto the shoulder directly in front of me blocking my path.

Guess I didn't pass the test after all.

I waved to the occupants—I could see a second officer in the passenger side of the car now—and walked over to the passenger side (the side away from the busy traffic—I didn't want any cars hitting me while I chatted with the policemen, after all).

They asked what I was doing and wanted to see my ID, so I explained about my thru hike and handed them my drivers license. (Kind of ironic, isn't it, to have a driver's license on me while walking 1,800 miles.)

"And you're doing this why?" the one officer asked.

"Have you ever been arrested, Mr. Carpenter?" the other one asked.

"For fun," I told the first officer, and, "No," I told the second one.

They ran my license to make sure I wasn't wanted for some major crime, and while waiting for the results, the chattier of the officers told me about a guy he saw a couple of months back who was riding a skateboard from Key West to California for some sort of record.

Which actually interested me very much, since I had heard the same story from the dock master while walking down Card Sound Road nearly 1,000 miles before. Could it possibly be the same guy? How many people are riding a skateboard from Key West to California? What are the chances I'd bump into two people, months and a thousand miles apart, who both met skateboard dude?


My record came back clean, and the non-chatty officer passed my license back to me and told me to be careful 'out there.'

I continued hiking, mile after mile, finally stopping for a short break at Sheltons Store at the intersection of SR 71 and CR 274.

It was immensely disappointing when I went to push open the doors, however, and they didn't budge. The sign on the door clearly said push, but when that didn't work, I tried a pull too with the same results.

What the hell?

I peered into the store, seeing shelves stuffed with Doritos and sodas, but no lights were on and nobody was visible.

Rotten, miserable luck....

There was no message on the door explaining the reason for the store being closed, either.

I set my pack on the bench outside. I needed a break, even if I couldn't buy any snacks inside the store. There were vending machines outside, however, and I dropped in 55 cents for a cold 12 ounce can of Coke. Then rummaged through my pack and gobbled up some Wheat Thins, a Pop Tart (frosted cherry), and Skittles. I was really hoping for a sandwich or hot dog or something from the store, though.

Unable to find a trash can either, I left my empty soda can on the bench. I felt a bit guilty about not disposing of it properly, but I had no intention of carrying the can for the next 60 miles, and gas stations and convenience stores should have a place for such trash. They can pick it up when they decide to open the store again.

I was a bit bitter about the store not being open. ;o)

I set up camp at the trailhead for Econfina Creek, using the fence around the parking lot to help support my tarp

Next came an 11.9 mile road walk along CR 274. It was exhausting. Near the end, I figured I'd reach the trailhead for Econfina Creek around sunset, and was thrilled I'd do nearly 30 miles before dark!

My feet were sore, of course, but not nearly so bad as the 31.5 mile day I did earlier in my hike. My feet were tougher now.

About a mile from the end of CR 274, a mini van stopped and the driver asked if I was thru hiking the Florida Trail.

He ended up pulling over and we chatted for over half an hour. Interesting chat. He'd just come from Econfina Creek and reported a crew had been out there building a bridge. I hoped this meant I might meet some of the trail maintainers, but he said they were packing up to leave that afternoon. Drats, missed them by a day.

He also said a paper in Panama City had done an article on the bridge they were building, so there might be a larger than normal number of people out there to check it out. (I'd love to se the article if anyone can find it online.)

I finally had to insist that I get going—the guy was nice, but I think he would have kept me talking for hours if he could. =)

There's no way I'd reach the trailhead by sunset anymore, but I hoped I could still make it by dark.

At the end of CR 274, the trail followed dirt roads. Much less heavily traveled by vehicles, though surprisingly busy for a dirt road as well.

I tried to go as long as possible without using my headlamp, if for no other reason than on principle. I wanted to reach the trailhead before dark.

Eventually, however, I had to take it out and turn it on. The blazes were getting hard to see and I worried I'd trip over bumps on the road I could no longer see, so for my safety, I finally turned on the headlamp.

And about five minutes later, I stumbled into the trailhead parking lot. I reached it, 29.2 miles, barely after dark.

Rather than go into the forest to find a place to camp, I set up my tarp in the corner of the empty lot.

March 7

It's not very well known, but Florida actually does have an occasional waterfall!

The next morning, my tarp was positively sopping wet from dew. It's amazing how wet it can get even when it doesn't rain, but even I was surprised at how wet the tarp was. Dew does tend to be worse when I camp under an open sky rather than under trees, but still...

I took the tarp down first, laying it out on the railing to dry in the morning sun while working up breakfast and packing up the rest of camp. The tarp was mostly dry by the time I finished, and it went into my pack last.

There's not much to report today. I planned to hike the length of Econfina Creek, stopping somewhere just short of the SR 20 trailhead for the night, a distance of about 18 miles. I could have hiked further, but then the trail follows SR 20 for something like 30 miles, and I'd just as soon camp in the woods away from cars than trying to stealth camp along a busy road. Rain was in the forecast that night as well, and I hoped if I reached camp early in the afternoon, I could have the tarp up and ready before the storm got going.

The creek was scenic, at least by Florida standards, but I can't say I found it particularly impressive. It's nice and certainly better than roadwalks or through timberland, but I didn't find myself gasping at the beauty of the area either.

Strangely, Econfina Creek turned out to be much larger than the Econfina River I passed a couple of weeks ago. Two completely different water sources, but why did they call the larger source a creek and the smaller one a river? That makes no sense to me. =)

Fenton Bridge was only partially completed when I passed by

At Fenton Bridge, I could see where the FTA was busy replacing a bridge. It's a pretty substantial bridge and the work was not completed, but the bridge could still be crossed.

On the far side of the bridge, I saw tracks made by some sort of machine, which I figured must have been used to carry heavy stuff. One project I worked on in Washington once used what amounted to a gas-powered wheelbarrow. Capable of hauling much heavier loads than a conventional one and for much longer distances.

Whatever their device was, though, it was a lot bigger than the one we used to build our own little project. (We built a turnpike, in case you're wondering. Check the AQ glossary if you don't know what a turnpike is.)

I followed the tracks up the trail and noticed they threw a bunch of logs across a muddy section to help their machine getting through, happy they did so since it also kept my feet dry. =)

The trail came out at a clearing where I found the large machine, covered with a tarp and planks of wood keeping the tarp in place. I didn't want to mess around with their gear so I didn't look under the tarp, but I was curious....

I continued following the trail along a fence line for a few minutes, but now that I was no longer admiring the crew's work and tools, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen a blaze for a while.

I set up camp on a nice layer of pine needles—the good life!

I thought a bit, trying to remember the last blaze I saw. Was it at the clearing? Perhaps, but I couldn't remember seeing any there. Nor even on the trail leading to the clearing.

The last blaze I clearly remembered seeing was on the bridge itself they were working on. I hoped I didn't have to backtrack that far, though, and maybe I lost the trail at the clearing.

So I started backtracking. First to the clearing, but I found no blazes so I continued on to the bridge.

This time, while walking between the clearing and the bridge, I noticed orange ribbons tied to trees along the way. Usually they'll do this as a temporary measure when blazes need to be replaced.

But on one of my working vacations rebuilding parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, ribbons were used to mark a reroute. It suddenly dawned on me that these ribbons did not mark the Florida Trail—they were used to mark the route of a new trail. They brought their big machines and tools as close to the bridge as possible, then cut a new trail (or perhaps widened an existing one?) from there to the bridge. But before it was built, someone walked through and marked of the trail with ribbons.

I show off a mouth full of M&Ms—one of my regular snacks on the trail.

And I fell right into the trap.

Drats. Well, at least I didn't walk THAT far out of my way, and I did get to see their staging area with my detour. =)

FTA: do hikers a favor. That new trail is so large and wide and goes straight off from the bridge, it's VERY easy for hikers to miss that sharp turn to the right. I'd put a double blaze at the end of the bridge to indicate a right turn.

The trail continued on, and it became harder to follow once it left Econfina Creek. Much less scenic as well, going through clearcuts and rows of trees in perfect lines.

I finally stopped about a mile short of the SR 20 trailhead, just as the trail came out of those perfectly lined up pine trees into a clearcut.

I couldn't see any trees ahead on the trail, and it was possible the clearcut extended all the way to SR 20. I wanted to camp in trees. They provide an excellent wind break in stormy weather, and I didn't want lightning striking me while camped out in the open. Better to hide among the trees. Sure, lightning could strike a nearby tree, but better that than striking me directly. =)

I give this camp two thumbs up.

So I set up camp under the pine trees where it provided a thick layer of pine needles—my favorite type of ground to camp on.

Not being near a water source, I ate snacks for dinner. I arrived two hours before sunset, giving me plenty of time to catch up on adventures. (I had been about three days behind on writing them.) And went to sleep long before the rain or lightning started.

Which, oh, it did. Rain poured down in buckets and lightning lit up the sky while thunder tore through camp. Makes getting a good sleep difficult, but hey, at least I was dry and under the tarp. =)

A slight breeze pushed a few drops of water under the tarp by my head, and rather than lowering the tarp (I like my head room!), I opened the umbrella to plug up the hole instead.

Then I tried to ignore the lightning and thunder and get more sleep.

March 8

Flowers on the side of a road walk.

The rain stopped by sunrise, but the skies were still ugly, the forecast was for more rain, and tree snot continued to drip onto my tarp so I took care of morning business under the tarp.

With camp chores done, I broke down camp and headed off. I reached SR 20 in about 20 minutes at which point a long, long road walk would ensue. About 40 miles of it, in fact, and more than 30 of it was on SR 20. I would, I knew, become very familiar with SR 20.

For the day, I completed just under 20 miles of it, stopping in Ebro for the night. Yep, that's about all I have to say for the whole day of hiking. There's not much to say. The road walk was a road walk—not fun, but otherwise uneventful. Miraculously, it never did rain this day—a pleasant surprise—but the skies did stay grey and cloudy all day.

The biggest event of the walk was that I lost my precious sunglasses. I stopped at a convenience store to buy a Coke and some snacks, and when I left, the sun peeked out a bit so I put on my sunglasses. About five minutes later, the clouds covered the sun again, so I took the glasses off and hung them on the collar of my shirt like I always have. Keeps them out of the way but easily accessible, and in a place where I won't accidentally crush them.

A couple of miles later, the sun make another brief appearance so I went to grab the glasses, but they were gone. Gone! It was a shock. I know I put them there. I hadn't stopped to rest or leaned over to pick anything up, but now they were gone. I can only imagine one of the large trucks driving by caused a gust of wind strong enough to blow the sunglasses off my collar (those big machines do cause some VERY strong gusts, and I often have to hold my hat on when they pass), and it made so much noise driving by that I didn't hear the glasses fall off in the gust. It's the only explanation. I was bummed, though. I bought the glasses at a Publix in Plantation and I liked them. Now I needed to find a new replacement.

I checked into the Ebro Motel, which was something of a luxury. It was only two days earlier I left my motel room in Blounstown, so it's not like I felt especially dirty or in need of a bed.

But I got the room anyhow for a couple of reasons. One, I wouldn't have to find a place to stealth camp. Two, it still looked like it could rain during the night, and I'd rather be indoors if it did. And three, I was just plain sick of camping. I've slept outdoors more often this year than indoors—37 times, in fact, out of 66 days. The ratio would have been even worse if it wasn't for those hotels I use on a daily basis when Amanda is visiting.

So into the motel I went. Room 115.

I was disheartened to discover that the television received satellite reception, so the Weather Channel showed everything but local weather during the 'Local on the 8s' segments. I had to watch the news on CBS to actually get the local weather forecast (which was very encouraging, I might add).

March 9

The view of a large river while I crossed on a bridge. A cop had stopped an SUV on the other side of the road mere seconds before I took this photo.

The next morning, I walked over to the nearby gas station to pick up some snacks and make a few phone calls.

And then it happened. Something wonderfully unexpected, wonderfully surprising, and reminds me why I do this hike.

Someone drove up on a riding lawn mower, parked it in front of the gas pump, then started to fill it up. =)

I'd never heard of anyone driving a riding lawn mower to the gas station for a fill-up before, and presumably he didn't come from very far away, but the sight was a fun surprise.

The man driving it wore a big, white cowboy hat with something approaching a handlebar mustache.

When the tank was full, he replaced the nozzle, started up the lawnmower, and peeled out of there, doing a sharp U-turn between the pumps and driving away.

The skies had cleared overnight, and I squinted in the sun without my sunglasses. The air was COLD as well. I packed my fleece jacket away in the motel, but a mile down the road I couldn't take it anymore and pulled it out again along with my gloves. Darned cold morning.

At one point, while crossing over a bridge, a guy in an SUV pulled over ahead of me. When I caught up with the vehicle, the man offered me a ride—oh, if only I could—but I turned him down explaining that I was thru-hiking the Florida Trail.

I don't know if he was familiar with the trail or what a thru-hike was, and I never got a chance to find out since just as I said those words, a police officer pulled up alongside the man.

I waved to the officer and continued walking, feeling bad for the nice man in the SUV. You aren't supposed to stop on the shoulder of the road on the bridge, and he'd been busted for doing that because he wanted to offer me a ride.

Fortunately, he might have been caught, but the police officer didn't make the illegal stop official since about ten seconds later, the police car continued along the bridge and a few seconds later, so did the man with the SUV.

I reached the town of Freeport early in the afternoon, a bit confused at one intersection where Highway 331 did not match what my maps showed at all. My official Florida Trail map, the Florida AAA map, and the map of Freeport in my guidebook showed Highway 331 doing a mile-or-so long jaunt down SR 20, but when I reached the intersection, it went straight through crossing over SR 20, but not following it at all.

I concluded that they rerouted the highway, since none of my maps showed any street at all to the right where there clearly was a street now. I'd stick with the established trail directly into downtown Freeport, however, if only because a real supermarket lurked in town and I hoped to get on the Internet at the library.

The supermarket was wonderful, and I filled up with all the needed supplies for the next few days, and the library was open for business. Nobody was there, so they let me use their computers as long a I wanted to, which ended up being about 2 1/2 hours to catch up on the message boards and e-mail. (Most of it, at least!)

Before leaving town, I stopped at a convenience store where I bought dinner (a chili dog, some snacks, and a Coke) before heading up Business 331 and finally leaving SR 20 for good.

My maps showed Business 331 as good old 331. Definitely a rerouting of the highway.

I left Freeport near sundown, and within a couple of miles it was dark with the occasional car passing by.

Where Business 331 intersected with the new 331, traffic picked up significantly—both in volume and in speed. It seemed like hundreds of cars zoomed down the road in both directions, and I pulled out my headlamp to wear. Not to see better, but rather so cars could see ME better.

Apparently, wearing a headlamp on 331 also allowed the police to see me better as well. =)

I first realized they were on to me when a car passed by in my direction going suspiciously slower than most of the traffic, and in the darkness I could see the lights (unlit) on the top of the car.

When the car pulled over to the side of the road, I knew they were after me. They waited several seconds before there was a break in the traffic and they made a quick U-turn, then slid up in front of me.

Two officers stepped out the car Which kind of pleased me—the last two didn't bother doing anything but roll down their window—somehow I felt more important that they'd actually take the effort to step out of their car. For little old me! =)

So they asked what I was doing there and if I carried any ID, which I passed over to one of them to run a check on. We chatted a bit, and I asked if they'd seen someone a couple of months back riding a skateboard to California. They hadn't, but one of them had seen the guy on the news while watching television. That skateboard dude sure got a lot of attention.

When my identity cleared without any outstanding arrest warrants or whatever they were looking for, they told me to be safe because there are a lot of kids out for spring break driving to the beach to party.

And being a Saturday night, no less, I told them there were likely a lot of them driving drunk as well, and wished them luck catching every one of them. Frankly, I didn't want a drunk running off the road and plowing into me. Or a sober person for that matter, but dang, 331 was a heck of a busy road for being so late at night.

I continued walking, though, as far off on the shoulder as I could manage, and am happy to report that nobody, drunk or otherwise, plowed into me.

I stopped perhaps 200 feet short of the trailhead for Eglin Air Force Base, and set up camp behind some trees next to powerlines. The roar of the traffic was a problem, and it never went away completely, but it did die down some after midnight.

March 10

I took this self-photo in Eglin AFB, happy to be back in the woods again.

In the morning, I filled out the form provided at the kiosk at the trailhead, signing my life away and marking my entrance, exit, and other details of the hike. Paperwork, even on the trail.

The trail through the air force base was nice and well-marked, and the day was absolutely perfect. The temperature was cool, the sun was out, and the traffic behind me.

It's actually tough weather to hike in because I found myself wanting to lounge around and enjoy my surroundings than actually hike. If I had a book or magazine to read, I might have lounged anyhow, despite the fact that I was supposed to stop at Bull Camp according to my permit and that was what I told the lady I talked to the day before.

This unusual bridge makes use of a tree that had fallen into the river. They nailed a few boards to the tree and a cable across that hikers can hold onto for balance. It's scheduled to be replaced with a real bridge at some point, however.

My map warned not to touch anything that looked like an explosive—not something I'd likely have done anyhow—but that one of the primary goals of the base was to test munitions. Seems kind of odd that they'd test explosives on an air force base. Shouldn't they be testing planes or something?

Actually, I know for a fact they test and train pilots, because I'd been seeing and hearing the fighter jets overhead everyday since leaving Blounstown, seeming to be in mock dogfights. While it's true I didn't see where the planes took off from, Eglin AFB was the most likely location.

I ended the day at Bull Camp, which unfortunately was close enough to I-10 that I could hear the traffic all night long. I was still far enough away that it didn't disturb my sleep, but it did take away from the seemingly remoteness of the location. For most of the day, I didn't hear any traffic at all.

I test out my new find—a blue pillow, oh so soft and fluffy!

One barely noteworthy event, which I mention only because there is so little to report, is that someone left behind what appears to be a large tent and one of those head pillows you see people with on airplanes. Oh, so soft....

The pillow was in remarkably good condition and didn't look like it had been out in the wild for more than a couple of days, so I took it. =) The tent might have been nice, but it was WAY too big for me to carry out of there, but the pillow—yeah, I could do that. So for now, I have a very nice pillow to use each night. At least until I see Amanda to give it to her or reach a post office to mail to myself for later.

I also picked up what trash I could at the campsite. My name is on record as having stayed at that site, and I'd like to think whoever checks the site later and sees it so clean might think I had something to do with it. Or at least they won't automatically think I'm responsible because the person before me trashed the site. Actually, it wasn't too bad. A few cans, foil wrappers liked you'd find around individual pieces of gum, and the pillow and tarp. The previous campsite has a heck of a lot of trash littering it, but this one is pretty nice now—except for the tent, of course, which was too big and heavy for me to carry out.

This day was largely a repeat. The weather was nothing short of absolutely amazing, and I found myself wanting to lounge around enjoying it and the scenery than to spent my time hiking. Hiking, however, is my job, and hike I did.

I set up camp at the Jr. Walton Pond campsite, a nice little setup at the edge of a pretty pond. And even a picnic table to use for cooking and dining. The good life. =)

I picked up trash again—this time an empty cigarette pack and a receipt from a Burger King printed out two nights earlier. Whoever this litter bug was, they did their evil deed within the last two days.

While cooking dinner (Hamburger Helper!), I thought I could hear explosions in the distance. Hmmm....

March 11

Even when they build bog bridges, they often are of little use.

The next morning, I was woken by a series of aircraft seemingly coming in for a landing nearby. I suspect I must have been in the flight path for one of the runways.

These weren't just any planes, however. No, these planes included fighter jets and bizarre planes with all sorts of weird things sticking out of them. I don't have a clue what kind of planes they were, which I guess means that technically speaking, it would make them UFOS—Unidentified Flying Objects. Yes, folks, I saw UFOs!

I have little doubt that there are people who could identify them, but the important thing to note is that I could not.

As I broke down camp, the first of the rain began. Very sad, but I stayed upbeat knowing that I'd be hiking into Crestview that day and planned to get a hotel anyhow. No matter how wet I got, I'd have a dry hotel room this night.

The hike out was uneventful. The rained increased throughout the morning and started to slacken by afternoon. I tromped into Crestview and checked into the Super 8. I stopped at Wendys for lunch, and picked up all sorts of terrible food for dinner at a nearby mini mart.

March 12

I spotted this black rat snake during one of my road walks. Ugly little thing.

The next day, I felt rather unwell, which I suspected may have been due to my indulgence the night before eating Krispy Kreme donuts, sugary sodas, and other non-nutritious foods.

I also expected Amanda to drive in that afternoon at some point, so I was tempted to take a zero day until I was feeling better. Ultimately, though, I got myself at the door and started hiking without my pack. I planned with Amanda to have her look for me on the trail—all a road walk along US 90 for the day—and to pick me up in Holt. So I leave my full pack behind and hiked with just my fanny pack.

The trail headed into downtown Crestview, which wasn't especially inspiring despite its historic status, then followed US 90 westward.

I called Amanda from a payphone in Milligan, hoping to update her on my progress and make sure she made her flight into Florida okay, but it went immediately to her voicemail. I left a message and pushed on.

One road walk went passed this decorative gate which I thought was kind of cute. =)

In Holt, I tried calling again, but it went immediately to her voicemail. Not knowing where she was or when she'd be around to pick me up, I decided to hitchhike back to the motel Crestview. I left a voicemail saying as much, and if she didn't see me on the east end of Holt trying to hitch a ride back into Crestview, it's because I already got a ride.

This would be my first time trying to hitch a ride on my thru-hike. =) I wasn't actually looking forward to it—I'd rather have just had Amanda swing by and pick me up.

I was out there, on the side of the road for all of about five minutes before I got a ride—from Amanda!

She hadn't been checking her voicemail because she didn't know where her cell phone was. I grabbed a cold drink from the ice chest, where I found her cell phone. She must have been seriously tired to store her cell in the ice chest. *shaking head*

Even more amusing, she seemed surprised when she checked her voicemail that the cell phone was cold. "And do you know why?" I asked her. "Because you stored it in the ICE chest!" =)

We went back to the Super 8 and called it a day.

March 13

I model a new vest that's supposed to help make me more visible to hunters. The back of it reads, "Don't shoot — I am a hiker!"

The next morning, Amanda drove me back out to Holt where I continued walking along US 90 until I reached the trailhead for the Hutton Unit just past the town of Harold. It was an uneventful hike, however, so I'll just leave it at that.

When Amanda picked me up, we took a *long* drive back to Tallahassee to see friends. We laughed, we cried... well, I might have cried. Even on the trail, the IRS is after me. Since my thru-hike is expected to run from January 1st through April 16th, I knew at some point I'd have to square things with the IRS. I wasn't particularly anxious to do so either since I knew I'd be owing them a boatload of money.

So that's what I spent all night working on. And much of the morning as well, I might add, since I didn't finish figuring it all out until about 5:00 in the morning. And I owed thousands. Dreadful thing, taxes.

I paid my dues, though, and submitted my tax stuff electronically.

March 14

The next day, I felt extremely tired. Shocking, huh? Amanda and I found a few letterboxes in the Tallahassee area and hung out with more friends. It was my fifth zero day on the trail.

March 15

Then it was a long drive back to the trail. Amanda dropped me off at the trailhead near Harold and went off to find us a hotel in nearby Milton.

I crashed into the woods, happy to finally be done with the road walk (for now). Considering the long drive from Tallahassee, I only hiked about 10 miles. This section of trail contains some of the highest points on the Florida Trail, and even I found myself surprised at how far I could see from a couple of the domes. (Calling them mountains or even hills still seems too generous.)

The trail passed through a state park—I forget the name and now that I'm in Alabama, I no longer have my Florida maps and guidebooks to check. I walked past a sign that said it cost $1 for pedestrians to enter and to save the bottom portion of the stub as proof of payment.

Frankly, I thought this was unfair since I didn't plan to stay in the park any longer than it took me to hike through. So.... I didn't pay.

A few miles later on the trail, I was startled by two men in uniform riding bikes in the opposite direction. First, I was surprised to see anyone at all since I rarely see people. Second, I was surprised they were on bikes—it wasn't a bike trail I was hiking on and bikes would have been tough to get through on. And third, they were in uniform.

Damn! All this time, nobody ever verifies all the entrance fees I paid, and the one time I skip it, I'm gonna get busted. Or was I already out of the park? I wasn't sure.

The officers asked where I was going, and I told them about my hike from Key West to Springer Mountain, and that I was slackpacking since Amanda was around to pick me up.

"She driving a maroon colored car?"

I had to think a moment. I would have called the car red, but I guess maroon was close enough. "Yes."

"She's already there waiting for you. It's a ways up, though. Probably about 2 1/2 miles."

Yep, that's about where I expected her to pick me up, but she's definitely there earlier than necessary. Probably had a good book to read or something.

They never asked about any entrance fees, and I never offered them any information about that. =)

We continued on our separate ways, and there was Amanda waiting for me just where we planned.

She took us back to Milton for the night.

March 16

I lost the trail shortly after taking this picture from the dam creating Hurricane Lake

A remarkable thing was happening. I was a measly 28 miles from completing the Florida Trail. Technically speaking, I could be done in just one more day. More likely, I'd finish in two, but either way, I was almost done with Florida.

This particular day happened to be Amanda's birthday, so I joked that for her birthday, I'd take her out of Florida. She often complains about Florida—the heat, the humidity, the flatness of it all. She'll complain about South Carolina and North Carolina for the same reasons (minus the flatness), but I'd NEVER heard her complain about Alabama, so I joked that for her birthday, I'd take her out of Florida and into Alabama.

"You must like it," I reminded her, "because I've never heard you complain about it."

"That's only because I haven't spent any time there. Just you wait!"

So Amanda dropped me off back on the trail. My minimum goal for the day was a 20-mile hike to a certain road crossing, and if I was still up for it, to push on another 4 or so miles past Hurricane Lake to a second road crossing a mere 4 miles from the end of the Florida Trail.

There's not much to report about the hike. It was a largely pleasant walk through the woods. A time to remember adventures past and think about the challenges yet to come. Had I chosen to stop at the end of the Florida Trail, I'd have taken the fork that ended in Pensacola and probably be going home by this time tomorrow.

Instead, I have another month and 560-odd miles to Springer Mountain. But at least soon, I will have joined the ranks of successful Florida Trail thru-hikers. Memories for the ages.

After 20 miles, I stumbled out of the woods at a road. To the right, the road was paved, but it turned dirt towards the left over a bridge—the direction I was supposed to go according to my map though I couldn't find any blazes marking the route.

Amanda was nowhere to be seen, so I figured she was probably waiting further up the road. I crossed the bridge, just as Amanda pulled up from the other direction. She parked on the far side of the bridge, got out, and started tapping her foot.

Uh-oh. That can't be a good sign.

She'd been driving around for hours trying to find the trailhead. It didn't help that she didn't have good road maps for the area, but even when she found the correct road, she couldn't find any blazes or signs to mark where it crossed the road and had driven back and forth on it several times trying to find it.

She expected to drive out a couple of hours early, lounge around reading a book, and instead crossed into Alabama several times and only just arrived and hadn't read anything at all. She was not happy.

She had, however, stopped to pick up a sandwich at Subway for me which she pulled out of the ice chest. I ate the sandwich and drank a cold soda, then went back to hiking. I still had miles to do.

I continued down the road. My map looked like the trail ducked back into the woods where I came out after crossing the road, then crossed the road again another half mile up, but I found no blazes.

When I reached the road for the south campground for Hurricane Lake, I knew I'd passed the trail, annoyed at having lost the trail and completely understanding Amanda's anger.

I followed the road to the south campground knowing the trail was supposed to go near it figuring I'll catch it somewhere around the lake.

I did finally find a blaze about 30 feet deep in the woods and tromped out to the trail wondering how I missed where it crossed the road, but happy to be on it again.

It didn't last long, however. The trail crossed over Hurricane Dam to the north campground, and I lost it again.


I wandered around the campground, trying to find another blaze somewhere on the other side, going so far as the youth group site but finding no sign of a trail or any orange blazes.

I finally backtracked to the entrance of the campground (for cars) where I finally found a blaze and continued my trek.

The rest of the took me through still smoldering forests—one last fire, I suppose, before getting into Alabama—but otherwise was non-eventful.

Amanda was waiting at the road crossing, not having nearly the difficulty finding this one as the last one.

It was just four more miles to the border, but I'd save it for the next day.

March 17

I pose with the first yellow blaze

Amanda dropped me off on the Florida Trail for the last time, just four miles from the Alabama border.

The trail went into the woods, then crossed the road again just 1.2 miles from the border. A ribbon blocked off the trail, the kind I've seen put up because of prescribed burns when they don't want hikers to enter.


Don't tell me I can't finish the last 1.2 miles of trail!

I looked for a note or writing on the ribbon to warn of prescribed burns or dates they were burning but found nothing.

It looked to me like the burn had already happened, so I decided to ignore the ribbon and continue on.

The first yellow blaze I found, opposite one of the last orange blazes of the Florida Trail. This sign is about 1/10 mile into Florida, but it was an exciting moment for me because it's the first yellow blaze and the only structure marking the division between Florida and Alabama

No problems, though. I didn't even find any smoldering logs like I would with a recent burn.

I reached a kiosk just shy of the official state line, but I considered it the end of the Florida Trail because it was here I saw my first yellow blaze.

The trail through Alabama—at least the first couple hundred of miles—is marked with yellow blazes instead of the orange ones that mark the Florida Trail.

I record the moment when I officially finished the Florida Trail. Let the Alabama Trail begin!

There were photos taken. Of orange blazes and yellow blazes, of me next to a yellow blaze, of trees, of plants, and flowers. This point may have been the most photographed location of my entire journey. I even took a photo of my pocket watch with the time and date displayed. I wore out the batteries in my camera.

I signed the register there, a bit sad after realizing that I left my signature stamp in my pack. Since I was slackpacking, I didn't have my stamp, and it seemed wrong not to stamp it in on this historic occasion.

I followed the last of the orange blazes to Alabama where the trail came out on a dirt road. I took more photos of the actual last orange blaze I could find and the first yellow blaze that was actually in Alabama. It was a touching moment.

The rest of the hike was largely uneventful. The trail followed forest roads through Alabama. Only two vehicles passed me all day, both fire trucks with the forest service—probably checking out hot spots from still smoldering burns. (Apparently, Alabama likes to do lots of burns too.)

I hiked a whopping 27 miles to reach highway 136 for two reasons. One, it was a major road and Amanda knew she'd have no trouble finding the trail where it crossed THAT road. She might have a much harder time finding me on those forest service roads—especially since I had the maps for them and she did not.

This is the last orange blaze I saw, and my first view of Alabama. You can actually see a yellow blaze on a tree just behind the one with the orange blaze, but it's not obvious in this photo.

The second reason for the long trek was because Amanda's last day with me was the next day, and so I wouldn't have to be dropped off on the trail at 3:00 in the morning, I was determined to reach the trail town of Andalusia. If I could hike in the next day, I could sleep in at the hotel then walk back to the trail when I was ready.

So I did a 27-mile hike to highway 136, where I found Amanda sitting out in a portable lounge chair relaxing and reading a book. She seemed considerably happier this time.

We stayed in the Sunset Inn, a cheap motel about 0.2 miles off the trail and about 17 miles from where Amanda picked me up. An easy hike into town.

March 18

I made it to Alabama, and I cuddle up with an official Alabama Trail sign. =)

The next morning, Amanda dropped me off on the trail. And this time, she had no plans to pick me up. I intended to walk to the motel and meet her there.

The trail came out onto dirt roads then onto the dreaded paved roads. I knew it was just the beginning. I'd be following paved roads for over a hundred miles now. On the road again...

I hiked to the motel and knocked.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent preparing for Amanda's departure. I resupplied food and supplies. I fixed up some last minute details on Atlas Quest.

And once again, Amanda snuck that little bag of joy into her bags and stole off in the middle of the night.

Just in case the sign wasn't obvious, I point out the yellow blaze found on it. =)

It was a time of joy and happiness! The Florida Trail is done, but my adventures in Alabama still lay ahead....

If you'd like to see my camp near a forest fire, download firecamp.avi. It's a 17.4 MB file, though, so you'll want a broadband connection to view it. =)

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