southern terminus of the Florida Trail
13 mile camp
I technically wasn’t aloud to camp on the boardwalk last night, but I had to improvise to stay safe like I’m sure I will have to do a few more times later down the trail. Knowing I shouldn’t be there, and excited about hitting the trail, I set my alarm for 6:30 so I could be out of there by 7am. I woke up full of energy, packed everything up and said goodbye to the Alligators that were still underneath me. I was lucky enough that an older couple was up early too and checking out the Alligators. I asked them to take my picture in front of the Florida Trails Southern Terminus sign before my journey started. The couple was in their 60’s or 70’s and either Mennonites or traditional Crackers (dressed in such a fashion with hair bonnet and plain dress on the lady and a gray beard and coveralls for the man). They had a hard time figuring out which button to push on the phone, but we got the picture taken and had a quick conversation about the trail and what’s in my pack, how long the trail is, how long will it take to hike, you know the usual stuff. We said goodbye and I turned towards the first orange blaze at 7:09 am and started out on the days hike of 16.9 miles to “13 mile camp”. The first few miles I was finding my grove and trying to figure out my hiking miles per hour and trying to see if I could make it to Oak hill camp at 22 miles down the trail (I couldn’t :)). The reason I wanted to make Oak Hill camp is because it’s in the swamp, and it’s the first filterable water source. I started with 5 liters (which each liter weighs 2.2 pounds) and would have brought more if I could carry it, but my pack was already stressing both the packs capabilities and mine so 5 liters it is. As the math and constant planning and enjoying the scenery was going through my brain, I past a private property sign that grabbed my attention on my right then I saw an alligator immediately to my left and made me jump back. It turned out to be a large concrete statue put there by the property owners and I got a good laugh at their creativity.
Things were pretty fluid up till “7 mile camp”. This is where I took my pack off for the first time of the day, able to stretch a little then I made a big brunch (I skipped breakfast to start the trail early) and relaxed for about 30 minutes. The first 7 miles gave me no trouble, it is well marked, well travelled and only the limestone pot holes needed extra attention.
As I packed everything up to leave and slung the pack on my shoulders and I noticed the weight instantly. Even though I drank 4 pounds of water and ate a pound of food out of my pack, it didn’t feel any lighter, maybe even heavier. It was also a bit disheartening knowing I still had 10 miles to hike before I could set up camp! The good news was that I was averaging just over 2 miles an hour and if I could keep that pace up, I would make it to camp by 3pm.
I have an app on my phone called guthook that overlays your gps position onto the trail map. It’s a pretty cool thing to have if you have gps service, but I feel that it’s kinda cheating so I was really wanting to go the first day without using. I got to mile marker 10 and noticed that the trail was getting harder and harder to follow and that the orange blazes where becoming sporadic. I kept my head up (when not traversing the limestone pot holes that will break your ankle if you miss-step) and was able to successfully navigate myself to mile marker 12 without losing my pace. I stopped to change out my socks because I was getting hot spots on the soles of my feet and used this time for a snack break then pressed on with sore shoulders and hips. It happened somewhere around mile 14 or so that I completely lost the trail. I could see a cypress mound in front of me about a 1/2 mile away and figured the trail went around it, but I wasn’t sure which way it went and I finally had to break down and pulled my phone out to check the app. Luckily I wasn’t far from the trail and saw I just had to aim for the left of the cypress mound to get back on trail.
The last mile to 13 mile camp felt like all the other miles crammed into this one. Navigation was easy but everything else was hard. My feet hurt, my left shoulder had a huge knot in the neck muscle and I was thirsty from conserving water. Once at camp, I dropped my pack and checked the time to see how I did. 3:09pm. 16.9 miles in exactly 8 hours! Not to bad for day one. I timed myself to see how long it takes to set up camp and hang my bear bag. It took about half an hour to get it all set up, then I laid down to relax and eat a little.
It’s currently 7pm and there is a full moon out, it’s beautiful and quiet but I’m ready for bed. Unfortunately my mind keeps turning every noise I hear, every crow shaking a palm frond into a bear or panther creeping through the swamp for a meal. I think I will build a fire and try to rest my tired body until the next loud sound stirs me 🙂