Lastnight was muggy and buggy in the swamp, with the mosquitos staying active longer than their usual 30 minute feast at sunset. I was tempted to ask Gray Beard for some bug spray, but I fell asleep before getting around to it. Even with the time change yesterday, the morning seemed to come around early. With only 15 miles to do today, we weren’t very motivated, and we were all slow to get going, but ended up hitting the trail at our normal times: Gray beard at 7am, and Mickey and I drove the van up north and hit the trail south at 8am. (We stopped using daylights savings time, since we cross the time zone soon and our phones all show different times).
We knew ahead of time that both ends of todays miles were going to be wet, so once we hit the trail, there was no skirting around the swamps or trying to dance across roots, and we just dove right in. We were not expecting the conditions to be that bad overall and actually thought we would blaze the trail pretty quick today, but that was not the case. The first swamp seemed to go on forever, and each time we thought it was over, the ground turned wet again until we were calf deep in the muck.
Hurricane Michele ravaged this area last year, and the forest rangers recommend taking the road walk around, but since it was a low mileage day, we risked it, and there we were experiencing first hand how bad the trail conditions are. The blown down trees progressively got worse as we pressed through the mileage, and combined with the swamps, our pace was reduced to a crawl. The first 5 miles took us four hours to conquer and we took our lunch break then at camel lake. Somehow, it didn’t take long for Gray Beard to show up at Camel lake and tell us all about the next ten miles for Mickey and me. He said that our next mile is tuff, but after that it’s just a few shin deep swamps and a lot of dry land. We told him how hard his next 5 miles are, and he decided to take a short break and press on.
After Mickey and I packed up lunch, we set out to see how hard the next mile could really be. Gray Beard is such an amazing hiker, so if he says it’s hard, it will be. Right away we came up to a wall of debris about 8ft high. It looked like a tornado had ripped every tree out of the ground and tangled them in a giant ball 1/2 a mile wide with the trail somewhere in the center. We decided to bushwack our way through and hope to find the trail in there and started climbing through the tight mix of branches, vines and swamp. Gray Beard said he had to climb 6 to 8 feet in the air over trees, and now we could see he wasn’t exaggerating. Mickey and I decided to keep our feet closer to the ground and soon found ourselves in the middle of the tangle, questioning our decision. In the swamps, the vines grow thick on all the trees and when those trees twist together and fall, it’s nearly impossible to find a way through. We spent 30 minutes struggling through the madness and emerged back on the trail just 1/4 mile further from where we started. Things didn’t get much easier for the next 1/2 mile either as we made our way through another blow down and boggy area, and took a break after a full hour of struggle and finding ourselves only one mile from our lunch spot.
Once we cleared the blow down hurdles, the trail really did open up and let us travel at our normal speed for the rest of the day. We crossed a few oddly placed plank bridges that seemed like they were randomly built in the swamps, and we spent a lot of time as the trail wove through the vast pine forests around the swamps. After a few more hours of trail and swamp, we finally made our way to the last stretch to the van, and decided it was time for a zero day. It has been over 400 miles since my last day off and after the past four days in the Apalachacola Forest, it’s time for a break! There is a town nearby, so we talked to Gray Beard who is ready for a break himself, and plan on zeroing in Bluntstown to shower and do laundry tomorrow, and get back to the miles once we wash the swamp off of us and our clothes.
Apalachacola Forest was a fear of mine for a long time, and now that it is over, I’m glad that I did it. I will probably never enter this forest again, unless it’s for a sufferfest to test my will, but the memories will last forever. My legs are sore from slogging through the muddy swamps and my feet haven’t been dry for the past four days and now they have an uncertain throb about them. I’m ready for this upcoming day of recovery and then getting back to seeing what else Florida has to offer.
The normal look of the trail through the Apalachacola forest
Hurricane Michele damage to a section of pine forest
a few blow downs crossing the trail
The Florida Trail Association put a bench on the bank of the Bonnet pond, but I guess that was a very low water year
the longest “pacheon bridge” along the Florida Trail. (It was about 1/4 mile long)
The slurry under the water. It fills the shoes and tries to pull them off your feet.