Friday, December 8, 2017

Day 48 / 15: Holt to Yellow River Trailhead

Dec. 8, 2017

This was one of my more difficult hiking days. The weather was gray, rainy and 40 degrees all day long. 

I began in the town of Holt and headed south on a 3.5-mile road route toward the Yellow River Water Management Area. It was drizzling most of the time, but nothing too bad. The wind was at my back -- yay!

Nancy said trail volunteers were supposed to have trimmed back the trail in the Yellow River area yesterday, but since there was some rain yesterday she wasn't sure they got there. First, I missed the turn (it wasn't well marked) and walked about a quarter-mile out of the way. Then, when I got in, it was clear the volunteers hadn't made it.

The trail was pretty rough, and full of prickly plants that tore at my billowing poncho. Then a steady, heavy drizzle began to fall. I was soon soaked and cold. The rain stopped after maybe an hour. At that point I had to ford a creek. I had planned to take off my boots and shoes and wade across in sandals, but my boots and socks were so water-logged, it didn't matter. So I plunged through.

When I got out, I had so much water in my boots I had to stop. I actually poured water out of my boots and then wrung out my socks. When I put them back on, my feet got tremendously chilled. I also had only thin, cotton gloves to wear. Not smart of me, especially since I have Raynaud's Syndrome. I tried to wrap my gloved hands in plastic bags to help protect them, but they still got soaked.

By the time I stopped for lunch, I was pretty miserable. I got out my hand warmers, which helped my hands. But my feet were frozen. So when I started hiking again, I was half-jogging on the trail. That helped; my feet warmed up.

After 11-ish miles the trail spit me out onto a connecting road route of 6.5 miles. The first portion was in a neighborhood. Nancy appeared, bearing a steaming cup of hazelnut coffee for me. WOW! She is so awesome. That put a spring in my step. Then THREE people stopped their cars to see if I needed a ride into town. Restores your faith in humanity.

My final 2.1 miles were along a highway under construction -- which was great, because I got to walk on the new portion cordoned off from traffic. 

When I reached Nancy, I was chilled once again and so glad to be done. That wonderful woman handed me a contained of hot soup for my dinner tonight! She is honestly so awesome.


Day 47 / 14: Jr. Walton Pond to Holt

Dec. 7, 2017

So far I've had nothing but sunny, warm days during my fourth and final trip here. And in fact, during my previous three trips I can't recall any rainy days. Today, however, marked the start of two days of rain.

I lucked out for the most part. The first 7.6 miles were on a lovely, wooded path through the final portion of Eglin Air Force Base. Trail angel Nancy met me halfway in. It was gray and cloudy, but no rain.

Nancy and I parted when the trail emerged onto Hwy. 85, then headed uphill about three or four miles in and through Crestview (hence the name of the city).  There was a strong headwind, which combined with the incline to make a bit of a dreary slog. The positive side: I found 81 cents along the way. :)

After passing all of the chain restaurants and stores, the route took me through the historic portion of Crestview. This was much more pleasant -- less traffic, more interesting scenery. I also found a local coffee shop, where I treated myself to a toilet, warm building and a breve. Then it was back out into the cold. 

The trail hooked west along Hwy. 90, so the wind wasn't in my face anymore. Nice! But a heavy drizzle fell around 1:45. It let up after a half-hour or so, but I was still fairly wet and pretty chilled.

I met Nancy again at the Dollar General in Holt, at the end of my day. What a trail angel! She brought me some chili for dinner, as she knows I've been eating salads in my room. Nancy rocks!


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Day 46 / 13: Bob Sikes Road to Jr. Walton Pond

Dec. 6, 2017

For the last two weeks of hiking, I've had nothing but temps in the upper 70s and mostly sunny skies. That changed today. It was 58 and gray when I started out on the trail in Eglin, with the forecast for rain and falling temps.

I lucked out in that the rain was mostly sprinkles on and off during the day. It was a little cooler than I anticipated, though; I could have used thicker gloves and my hand warmers. Plus my coat. Still, it was fine.

Eglin continued to be lovely, with many areas full of deer moss -- it kind of looked like snow. The deciduous trees and pines were wonderful, and it was fun crossing all of the creeks. The boardwalks were all quite slippery, though, due to the rain.

Nancy dropped me off in the morning, then headed to the western end later in the day to hike in and meet me. So I had wonderful company the last few hours of my hike. We saw an oak snake (Nancy identified it for me) and a few more of those awful banana spiders.

It began raining steadily during our last 30 minutes of hiking. Not bad!


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Day 45 / 12: Hwy. 331 to Bob Sikes Road

Dec. 5, 2017

Today was a big day because I entered Eglin Air Force Base. Eglin is an Air Force base, but also a place where they practice explosives, as in they practice exploding ordnance. Yet the place also has hiking trails open to the public -- not where they explode the ordnance -- plus hosts the FT. Interesting! I would have thought the two were noncompatible.

You need a permit to hike in here, and the base may be closed at any minute if they need to practice exploding things. So you're lucky if you get to walk throughout the base. There are about 100 miles of the FT on Eglin.

Trail Angel Nancy Basque Frey dropped me off at my starting point on Hwy 331. I had about a mile or so walking in the woods, then it was along the busy highway. However, there is construction going on. I was able to walk on the side that was cordoned off; I essentially had a highway lane to myself. Nice! I could have even used a porta-potty on the highway, but I decided to pee in the woods instead. :)

Eglin was fantastic! There were lots of deciduous trees here, which you don't see much of in Florida. I shuffled through several inches of leaves for many miles, which was delightful. There were also many fun creek crossing on boardwalks, and then a ford through the Alaqua River (or is it creek?). There was once a bridge across the Alaqua, but it appears to have been wiped out. A new one is in place and almost finished; it just needs the steps. I almost crossed on the bridge, which was cordoned off, but decided to be good and ford instead.

I think I saw many holly trees. I didn't know holly was a tree, but there were many trees with holly-shaped leaves and berries, so there you go.

All in all, a delightful day.


P.S. I did hear a lot of noises that sounded like explosions. Maybe they fire off blanks, too?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Day 44 / 11: Bruce to Hwy. 331

Dec. 4, 2017

Today started off with a 5.6-mile road walk north of Bruce, continuing from yesterday's road walk along Hwy. 20. But as I started off, following my paper map, I realized my app map showed a different route - a trail. Hmm. Turns out a new trail segment was developed in December 2016 that isn't represented on my maps. The maps I paid $100 for! They could have at least put a sticker on that page and said there was now a trail to replace the road routes. 

Oh well. Too late. I finished the road walk and then hopped on the trail at the Nokuse Plantation, a private pine plantation. (It's pronounced NO guh see.) The trail was great, winding through some beautiful pine forestland. I love those. The ground is so cushy with the pine needles, and the trees are beautifully and symmetrically lined up.

But then it went through some kind of grassy meadow, then into swampland, then along several creeks -- just a wide variation that was a lot of fun.

I was enjoying myself immensely when I looked at the map again and got confused. It looked like I had many more miles to hike than I thought. Long story short, I missed jotting down one trail segment on my itinerary so I had 3.7 more miles to hike. This meant I'd end up hiking in the dark once again.

Luckily the last few miles of this trail were in pretty open land, and it takes about an hour from official sunset for it to get dark. I hit the trailhead just as the sky turned inky. But the trailhead was on a busy highway under construction. Judy and I had to figure out how to find one another; she was pulled over on the side of the road, not knowing quite where I'd come out. It took us about 10 minutes, but we did it. Phew!


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Day 43 / 10: SR 77 and SR 20 to Bruce

Dec. 3, 2017

Judy slept in again today while I headed out to the trail early. I had nearly 8 miles of hiking along SR 20 to start the day. I was hoping that since this was Sunday, there would be little traffic. I'd say the traffic was moderate. But the temperature was cool, so all was good.

At one point a man in a truck slowed down and asked if I needed water. I thought that was awfully nice. Turns out he was a trail volunteer on his way to the weekend work project. He knew I was Snowshoe and kept offering water or food. What a nice guy!

Judy was heading out from the hotel just as I entered about 9 miles of trail in the Pine Log State Forest. She was going to come in from the other end and meet me.

The first few miles weren't much of anything -- just walking along power lines parallel to the highway. Still, it wasn't walking on the highway and the noise was much reduced, so I appreciated it. After 2.2 miles of this, the real trail began. 

It was a nice mix of pine forest, creeks, titi and swampland. I passed through the Sand Pond Campground at one point, also very scenic. 

Unfortunately Judy couldn't find the trail, so she only ended up hiking some side roads. Oh well.

The last 4.9 miles was along SR 20 again. Ugh. There was lots of traffic now. Oh well, that's the hiking life.


Day 42 / 9: Scott Road Trailhead to SR 77 and SR 20

Dec. 2, 2017

What a (mostly) great day! Judy slept in and I drove myself to Scott Road, where I left off yesterday. It was a nice, cool morning (mid-50s). I had about 18 miles of hiking through the beautiful Econfina Creek Water Management Area ahead of me.

The trail was hilly here, winding up and down while following the creek. There were lots of boardwalks and even several swinging bridges. One was called Apple Bridge, and had a carved apple on it, although I don't know why. Another was called Fender Bridge because an old, abandoned fender was nearby.

I ran into a trail crew early on; this weekend they were working on this section of the trail. We exchanged pleasantries and they took my photo; workers always take photos when they run into hikers. I didn't see Eric Lewis, the man I met the other day, but the workers said he was in the area.

At one point I passed what is called Devil's Hole on the map. It appears to be a large sandy area that eroded away into sort of a funnel shape. 

A snafu occurred mid-afternoon. Judy was hiking toward me and said she saw signs saying the trail was closed due to logging. I said it was not; I'd just hiked about 14 of the 18 miles just fine, plus the trail crew didn't say anything about closures. So she kept hiking eastward toward me.

Well, I suddenly crossed a road and saw a sign that said the next mile of the trail was closed for logging in 2017 and 2018. A re-route was in place. What to do? Judy was hiking toward me, and if I took the detour we'd pass each other. My Guthooks app did not show the detour, which it normally does. The signage looked brand new. The trail crew did not mention any detour.

I decided the trail crew must have just created the detour this weekend, and no logging had started yet, so it was best to forge ahead and find Judy rather than get separated.

Bad move.

Judy had turned around by this point, unbeknownst to me because our cell phones weren't talking to each other in real time. After one-third of a mile, I emerged into a clear-cut area. It took me about 20-30 minutes of thrashing around in the ruins, and then the scrub, before finding where the trail continued on. 

When I finally met Judy at the trailhead, I still had nearly 5 miles on the road to squeeze in before dark. I just made it!