Miles of muddy trail
filtering water from the black lagoon
Day two was unlike anything I could have expected.
I have only 13 miles from my camp to the I-75 rest area, and based on yesterday’s travel speed of 2 mph I was planning for a quick 7 hr day and then finding camp near the rest area. Well here is how that plan fell apart.
I got camp packed up and ready to go pretty early but I took the morning slow (since I thought I had the time) and finally got moving just before 8am. The first few miles were easy enough and my swamp shoes (Wal-Mart cheep-O’s), although they are a little tight, they seem like they would do the job. Now I don’t remember the exact mileage marker, but a few miles from 13 mile camp the ground started getting softer and sucking at my shoes to take them as souvenirs. My short term goal was to get to Oak hill camp to get water and I let my mind drift off in it’s own little world. As I was hiking I spooked 5 deer up from their bedding area and surprisingly they were pretty large deer. I watched them unhurried as they woke up and slowly trotted off to some other part of the swamp further from the trail.
A few miles before Oak hill camp the ground became slick, mushy and clingy with each step. My pace slowed to a crawl as I tried to navigate the relentless swampy marsh. There was a large section where I was deciding back and forth on if I wanted to sink my shoes in the muck or try and make my own path through the little trees that scrap my skin and pack. It was hard to figure out which was more pleasant.
At Oak hill camp I dropped my pack and saw it was already almost 11 am. I had only gone about 5 miles in 3 hours! Oh boy that’s not a good pace, but I thought if I made it a quick stop by skipping brunch and only filtering water then I should make the next 8 miles by 3 pm. I filtered 3 liters, drank one and had two in reserve with the plan to filter again further down the trail. What I didn’t know was that forecasted cloudy weather would actually be 100% sunny, there would be no tree cover for shade and no water source until the I-75 rest stop. The ground was nearly impassable without full concentration on foot and body position for each step and the ground was too muddy to put my bag down. I made it to Ivy camp about 4 miles from Oak Hill camp and finished the last of my water. My body was dehydrated and sore and I really wanted to camp there for the night to rest my bones, but I couldn’t without water. I left Ivy camp at 2pm and hiked for what seemed like 2 hrs and checked the time: 2:23… This went on two more times before I finally made it to 3pm. It was the longest hour I think I’ve hiked and I was still left with 2 miles till I got to the rest stop. My mouth was dry and my muscles ached and cramped but when I took my breaks (which were more frequent than the time I spent moving) I felt great. The I-75 rest stop has a huge cell tower next to it which was a huge motivational boost to keep me going and a nice visual of civilisation being near.
Having made it too the rest area my thought was only on finding the nearest spigot or fountain to rehydrate my blood. All the outside spigots had sprinklers or hoses attached, so I cleaned off my muddy wet shoes (the best I could) and went inside. I filled up one liter of water, drank it, filled it back up then headed outside to take off my socks and let my feet dry out. As I sat there, a lady walked up and asked if I started at Oasis? I let her know that I had and proudly said “yesterday”. She looked at me and said that she had dropped of her husband that morning at Oasis and that she was supposed to meet him 10 hours later when he finished the 30 miles. I politely told her that the trail was too difficult to do in such a short amount of time, but she remained hopeful. When she left, another guy came over for trail talk. He suggested that once my feet were dry to head to Nobles Camp at mile 35.7. The idea seemed out of reach to me and I had my own plan to camp at the nearest two trees and crash out.
After my feet were dry, I packed everything up and started my scan for two trees hidden away from sight. I walked under I-75 and then through the gate for the trail. Nothing called out to me as a safe spot, so I kept walking down the trail which is an old limestone road that once lead to a now abandoned Air strip. Rumor has it that the airfield was closed a long time ago partly because it was used a as drug smuggling drop point. On the left of the trail is a canal with gators, so I can’t set up camp there, and to the right is a swampy set of woods that is giving me a bad vibe. It’s dark, I’m tired and it seems that my best bet is to go for it and night hike Nobles camp even though its a few miles away. As I’m hiking, I see panther prints on the trail and start talking out loud to let any cats know that I’m coming their way. My flashlight starts to act up like a scene from a horror movie so I turn it off and hike under the light of a full moon. Every time I hear a sound I flash my light in the general direction to make sure nothing is over there and I keep on truckin’. Three miles from Nobles camp, I hear a sound to my right, so turn the flashlight on and point it in the general direction not expecting anything. To my surprise, I see the glow of a panthers eyes not even 20 yards to my right! The cat was facing away from me, looking over his shoulder and seemed unfazed by my presence. I on the other hand was pretty nervous about being that close to a panther at night with a failing flashlight and far from another human being. I kept walking my same pace to not change the situation and peek his interest, but kept looking back to see if he would follow. I made great time to Nobles Camp after that, and luckily there were three guys camping there already. We talked for about an hour about camping with panthers, alligators, snakes and bears then they gave me a vegan sausage (that tasted like spicy beans). One of the guys gave a weather report of lots of rain tonight and tomorrow, so I set my camp up for rain and I’m secretly hopefully I get to sleep in 🙂