Mosquitoes were whining outside my tent this morning much as they had at dusk yesterday. They're really not that bothersome because not long after the sun rises they disappear and remain hidden for the rest of the day. Where they go during the daylight hours is a mystery to me. Who cares really, as long as they're gone.
Today's journey started with the traverse of a morning meadow minefield and in order to successfully navigate it I had to employ what I'll call the "bovine bowel biscuit ballet". Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe...leap, land and twirl. Thankfully I passed through the grassy gauntlet with relatively little foreign matter on the bottom of my shoes. Walking in cattle country truly poses unique challenges!
Beyond the pasture was a sign informing hikers that the Chandler Slough was closed and directing us to a reroute on NW 144, which, looking at the map, was simply an extenuation of Lofton Road. I was frustrated at having to continue on another road until I reached the spot where the reroute again joined the trail. There on a wooden sign next to the stile was an explanation of why Florida Trail officials felt the closure was neccessary. Waist Deep Water. Muck bottom. A possible problem with chomping gators. Guess the roadwalk wasn't that bad after all. Ha.
When an orange blaze directed me over another stile off of US 98, I climbed over, walked 50 meters down the trail, dropped my pack between some bushes off to the side and then returned to the highway. The Kracker Store was a little over a mile away in Basinger and I needed to get enough food for a five-day resupply. The walk took more time than I thought it would under the hot Florida sun. I had to improvise a bit to fill the menu, but in general the store had enough of the hiker staples like peanut butter, pop tarts and tortillas. Bringing a basketful of goods to the check-out, the shop assisstant asked if I was a Florida Trail thru-hiker. When I answered in the affirmative he told me to go grab a free soda. Thank you very kindly, sir. Don't mind if I do. The can was empty before I stepped off the front porch.
Back where I dropped my pack, I took some time to rest a few minutes, snacking on some food I had bought while packing the rest away. There was a short stint of oak, palmetto and, ever so briefly, cypress that eventually led back to US 98. Just before the fence crossing a long, thin black snake lay in the path, twitching its tail rapidly on the leaf litter as a warning. Touching it with my trekking pole, it darted away.
It was an unpleasant two-hour slog walking along the uneven side of US 98, feet never finding anywhere flat to tread as the ground angled from the asphalt into the ditch on both sides of the road. I didn't want to walk up on the pavement as there was no hard shoulder to speak of and I was afraid of being hit by a passing car. To make matters worse, there was little to no shade along the highway. What a relief it was to finally cross the Istopago Canal and make the turn into the shady reaches of Hickory Hammock.
After one more hour, hiking under arching branches and palm fronds, I was in camp. My feet throbbing as a result of pounding the pavement, my shoulders stiff from carrying a heavy load, the pump water smelling of rotten eggs and not tasting much better, I was dirty, smelly and beat, yet, as on other days, completely satisfied. The skeeters set in again at dusk, but try as they might, they couldn't penetrate my tent's mesh defenses. Time to start another book. Last of the Mohicans this time.
Closure of Chandler Slough
Beyond the Stile
The Arching Branches