Hanging my hammock from the pavilion over the picnic table at City Hall might have been a bad location for a friday night. There is a bar just a block away, and the tables are a popular meeting spot through all hours of the night. I wasn’t worried about any of my gear getting stolen, or anyone messing with me (Lake Butler is awesome), but I had a lot of folks that just wanted to chat, and the more I talked, the more questions they had. I was tired from waking up so early yesterday, then hiking 22.5 miles and spending the afternoon with Gray Beard, so I eventually konked out and slept through the commotion by midnight.
I woke up this the morning at 6:30am as two guys were getting ready to do the fitness trail a few yards from me. I decided it was late enough to get my day started too, and I ate my breakfast and got packed up while they were warming up right by me. Gray Beard slept in his van in the parking lot (a decked out camping van with a bed, a power inverter with AC outlets and everything else a person would need in there). I had used his outlet to plug in my solar charger lastnight, and he brought it over to me as I was putting the last pieces of gear in my pack. We chatted briefly then he wished me well on my treck through the swamp. He told me about a Bed and Breakfast up the trail a few days hike that he will be at on Monday night ($20 a night for hikers with breakfast!). If I can make it through the miles fast enough, he’d like to see me there. We shook hands for the last time in Lake Butler and I set off at 7:15am.
The first 7 miles out of town were down a dreaded highway road march. Luckily Saturday mornings are light traffic and I kind of welcomed the road march for the fast pace, and to get me to the muddy trail with some miles logged. Along the way, I saw an old fire tower in the woods, a short hike away. I wanted to climb up it for a good picture of the forest, but when I got there, it was in poor condition and closed off with a locked gate. I hope I can find one that’s open someday.
Finishing the highway march and heading into the woods, I already knew that the trail would be overgrown and muddy, so it was no surprise that I had to use my trekking poles to push scrub brush, branches, vines and weeds out of the way as I progressed my way through. It was slow going, and although I really wanted 20 miles today, I was also only going to hike until 5pm, regardless of how far I make it.
As I got to the first bog, I was happy to see that the high water mark was well above where the bog level was today. I was able to leave my shoes on and use my long legs to step and hop from the raised tree roots and tall grass clumps enough to keep the water from filling my shoes. I was able to do this until I got to the 1/4 mile bog. When I saw I was there, I didn’t even try to assess it for a dry-ish rought, I simply took of my socks and shoes, the lower half of my pants (they unzip into shorts) and I put on my camp shoes to get wet. The bog wasn’t quite a 1/4 mile long anymore and it was only calf deep at best, but I was happy I switched shoes as it was impossible to maneuver through it with dry feet.
After I conquered the bog I feared, I started looking on my map app for a good lunch spot. I found that just a few miles further was a stream crossing then a campsite with benches. I decided I would get wet once more, filter water and then get some calories in me at the campsite. A quick few miles later, I found myself looking at the stream (that was borderline a river) as a flowing deep water “stream” that I could tell was pretty deep. I did a through scan for alligators, then I thought it would be a cool picture if I could get my phone propped up and the timer on. It ended up taking me three tries of setting up the camera then jumping into the stream to beat the shutter timer, but I did capture a good picture. It was fun for me, and the cool water was soothing on my knee, ankles and feet making it all worth it.
At the lunch spot, I was filtering water and making ramen noodles when I heard someone say “hello”. It was a hiker named “Sunshine” who is hiking half the trail (SOBO) and on her second to last day. She told me what to expect further up the trail and I did the same for her down the trail. As she left, she tossed me a moonpie and then turned to wade through a shallow creek and down the trail. I filtered my water, ate my ramen noodles then I sat there enjoying the extra treat that she gave me before hitting the trail myself.
The second half of my day was spent hiking down farm roads and around their mud holes until about 5pm. It was quitting time, but I was in a bad spot. Not just right where I was at 5pm, but for miles around me was swampy pine and Cypress forest. I was in the middle of the Osceola forest and it is noted on the map app that there is nowhere off the forest road to camp due to soggy ground. Even for a hammock camper like me, there is no good way to get to the trees without standing in mud and thick under brush. I walked for about a mile and a half scanning the ‘shores’ of the road until I found a spot that although not great, would work for the night. The ground is soggy, but there is a thick layer of pine needles on top to maneuver over. As a bonus, I went over 20 miles today, so I’m on track for the B/n/B on monday night. We will see, but I’m not putting money on it yet :).
crossing the stream (for the third time:))
today’s trail conditions for a few miles
a cypress swamp right off the trail
Tonights camping spot. Not ideal, and the animal noises have already started 🙂