Lastnights storm lasted until about 10pm and really shook things up for a bit with the strong winds and driving rain. My hammock was hung specifically for the storm, with no dead branches anywhere near being overhead, and I lined my hammock and tarp to take a sideways wind to help keep the rain out. I still got a few drops on me from the water that ran down my ridge line, but overall it was a good set-up for what came through. At one point I did put my shoes on and got ready to hightail it to the ditch when the winds started to make a steady roar, but it never sounded like a train, so I stayed put.
As morning came and we were all packing up our gear, the talk was about the cold front coming through and the swamps that we will be wadding in, come tomorrow. We are none to excited about it and we were trying to come up with a game plan to best execute the long and wet miles. The answer wouldn’t come until later in the day, as we had to get hiking if we were to finish before dark.
I have been dreading the Aucilla section of the trail since reading about the folks in front of me, who have experienced nothing but deep water through there, but todays hike ended with dry feet after only a few small difficult sections to get around. The river that flows through Aucilla is a crazy river that flows both above and under ground, through a series of “sinks”. It was amazing to see a wide river diving out of sight for a 100 yards or emerging from right under the trail as it flowed it’s wild course. The fauna was totally different too, all around the river it felt like a jungle, and made me feel like I was walking through a section of the Amazon Rain Forest! (It also kinda reminded me of Gilligan’s Island for some reason :)). It didn’t take long for this to become my favorite section of the Florida Trail so far (beating out the Suwannee River)! It may be a small section, but the views are out of this world and stunningly beautiful.
Along the hike I found a long sleeved, double pocketed, 2XL, blue and white flannel shirt that was just hanging on a branch alongside the trail. I’ve been wondering how I was going to handle the cold front coming in, and once again my Guardian trail angel took care of me to keep me moving forward. There is a saying amongst hikers that goes; “The trail provides”, and it is so true from my experiences.
On our lunch break, we forgot to pass the keys to Gray Beard, and we didn’t realize the mistake until we were about six miles separated from him. Luckily for all of us, he knew a trail angle in the area named “Earthworm” that was willing to meet Mickey and me at a road crossing to get the keys and take him them to him (saving us a costly back track of a few hours). On our way to meet Earthworm, we had to bushwack around a stream to find a way to cross it, and along the way my tobacco pouch came out of my pocket. Mickey saw the plastic bag on the ground and gave it to me, but I didn’t realize the missing pouch until after we precariously crossed the stream by balancing on cypress knees poking up out of the water. Knowing I dropped the pouch close by, I got to make the crossing again to retrieve my pouch, (found it) and then made it a third time across, all without falling in. I was glad I found my pouch, because I had made it by hand stitching it myself from buffalo leather, and I really like it. I Guess I will have to secure it better from now on :).
Earthworm was already at the road crossing when we got there (5 minutes late) and she was happy to help us out. It’s gestures like that, that really show how great people are and that she did it out of the kindness of her heart. From the road crossing, we only had 3 miles to finish for the day, and Earthworm got Gray Beard the keys in time for him to make the drive and meet us as we finished up.
The plan for the next few days started to unfold again, and here is what we came up: The next 26 miles of trail will be kinda crazy, but we are driving ahead 6 miles to knock out a 14 mile section of swamp tomorrow, then driving back the next day to do the skipped 6 miles, then to back up to where we will leave off tomorrow to do another 6 miles. It’s called “Flip Flopping” amongst hikers, and it is legal during a through hike as long as every mile is hiked (which they will be) and it keeps Gray Beard from doing a 20+ mile day, with most of it swamp. That’s one of the drawbacks of moving a van forward on the trail is that sometimes there are no trail heads for a long ways. We will get it done though and get his age record in the books.