Before bed lastnight, I reached out to social media to see if there was a hostel or motel in Lake Butler (my next town), and how the trail conditions were between me and there. I got a reply that City Hall let’s you use their shower, power, and camp on their property and there is also a coin laundry across the street. The trail (luckily) is an old railroad bed through the swamp, but the trail itself is dry under foot. There was only one problem, I need to get to Lake Butler’s City Hall by 4:30pm and it’s 22.5 miles away. I did the math, and it should take me about 11 hours to get there, so I set my alarm for 4:15am to get my day started hiking in the dark. As I was falling asleep, I was thinking I should probably get up earlier, but I also wanted my 8hrs of sleep.
As luck would have it (and due to the excessive calories I ate at the gas station), I woke up to the “call of nature” at 2:30am. I figured that since I was up, and I had big miles to do before this afternoon, I decided to pack up camp and I hit the trail at 3:15am. Now, I don’t like night hiking, probably never will, but I saw the benefit in it today. It was kind of eerie walking the rail bed with a deep swamp on either side of me and in the black cover of a cloudy night too. I kept my light on to see the rocks and roots underfoot, but I also kept my light on because I kept spooking up critters about every half mile, and they would dart down the trail or deeper into the cypress swamps. One critter in particular was unafraid of me and was making short charging advances in my direction. My new 400 lumens flashlight has a fast strobe mode, that I used to shine in the critters direction and kept it from emerging through the brush. I think it was just a racoon though as it had little feet :).
The swamp smelled like fresh watermelon for most of the morning from a flowering plant that I could not identify, and if wasn’t for me scanning the area for glowing eyes and scurrying critters, it was partially a pleasant hike. By 7:15, and 4 hours into my hike, the sun was now fully up and I already had ten miles under my belt for the day. I kinda just zoned out for a bit as the miles of rail trail slipped by around me unchanging in view or terrain, like I was on a 3D treadmill. As I got to a section where the rail trail diverted to a road march, I saw a van pull up.
As I neared the van, I kinda expecting someone to ask me if I need anything, but instead a man gets out and throws on a pack. I new instantly who this guy was, and as he waved hello, he said he recognized me from Facebook! The man before me is a legend in outdoor activities. He is the oldest person to kayak the entire Mississippi river (they made a movie about it called ‘from source to sea’), he’s also the oldest man to through hike the Appalachian Trail at 82 years old and is working on being the oldest man to through hike the Florida Trail at 83 years old! His name is… Gray Beard the Adventurer!! We talked about how if either of us had started our morning 5 minutes earlier or later, we wouldn’t have met up and decided it was fate that we hike together. It was a great experience hiking with a legend like him and he’s a funny, humbled guy.
Something else ‘Huge’ happened unceremoniously today, and that was passing over the official halfway point of the Florida Trail! Gray Beard and I were looking for it, but we got caught up in conversation and walked right over it. But it happeded today, I’m officially closer to the last mile of the Florida Trail then from the first mile I hiked 37 days ago! Carrying on our way and about four miles into our hike, I mentioned that I hadn’t taken my pack off for 18 miles today and that I needed a quick rest. On our break, he saw me pull out some oatmeal packets and eat them each by tearing the bag open, pouring in some cold water and spooning it into my face. He said he had never thought of using the packet over his cup, so he doesn’t eat it anymore, but since the packs hold water, he’s going to use my method :).
Once in Lake Butler I found it to be an amazingly hiker friendly town. As I walked into City Hall I was greated right away and told to put my pack down in one of the offices. They told me where things were in town, and indeed let me use their shower and told me to camp anywhere on their grounds. I signed the hiker log and read the comments from the hikers before me then happily used their shower to clean my filthy self off (twice). Gray beard called me from the laundry mat as I was getting out of the shower and he told me that he had Pizza waiting on me over there. It took me no time at all on hustling over there, as I was pretty hungry and more so, eager to wash my clothes proper, in a washer and dryer. I hadn’t done that since Clewiston (413 miles ago)!
The rest of the day was spent resuppling at the local IGA and figuring out the next few days. The 1/4 mile bog is tomorrow (so much for being clean) and the next three or four days will be pretty hard. While Gray Beard and I were eating our dinner of subway sandwiches, Janie Hamilton (the section leader for this section of trail) came over to chat about the previous miles and the upcoming miles. She is the one that got the trail routed through Camp Blanding and makes sure that section is kept up nice (it’s the same section that I liked so much from yesterday). But she is also responsible for the next few days section, and pre-warned me that it is very wet, not well marked, and hasn’t been cut this year (scheduled for next weekend). “Sounds like fun” I said.
So the next few days I might not have cell service and I’ll be in the swamp alone (Gray Beard hiked it already and got lost in the thigh high swamps). It’s going to be a wild time on the Florida Trail for sure.
A glass lizard! I haven’t seen one of these in years!
The Famous “Gray Beard the Adventurer” Dale Sanders
Almost all of todays hike looked like this. Easy to hike at night, but a boring repetition in the light