From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

From Black Water Swamps to White Sandy Beaches

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dunes Camp to Fort Pickens---April 10th

A semi-sleepless night curled up in the dunes sans sleeping bag, but I managed to get some rest nonetheless.  My Neoair completely failed with a resounding POP to signal its demise.  I'm glad to be on the trail early with good cloud cover because yesterday the sun's rays reflecting up from the white sand and off the water cooked my face.  Today even my lips feel burned. 
The Pensacola Beach Half Marathon provided a welcome distraction as we hiked along the bike path.  At the hydration stations music was playing and volunteers were having a good time.  Everyone that talks to us is astounded by how far we've come.  Those at the finish line exhausted by the 13-mile race were flabbergasted to find that we had both traveled hundreds of miles on foot.  Many, like most of the people in Florida, unaware that a national scenic trail passes through their "back yard".
Once out of Pensecola Beach, it was back into Gulf Islands National Seashore passing protected areas serving as plover and tern nesting grounds.  If this was a horse race, we were in the home stretch.  Bad news at the fee station--$20 a night to camp.  Not completely unexpected as the FTA hasn't done the best job of updating the data book.  Fact is, where else are we going to stay?  Becoming squatters in the dunes for the next three days just doesn't sound very appealing and would not be prudent at this juncture.  :-)
The area around Fort Pickens is quite surprising:  nesting hawks, pine trees and scrub oaks, even freshwater habitat for birds and snapping turtles.  The campsite was nice, our site B2, like the rest, had a picnic table, fire ring, electric hook-up and water faucet, a tall pine giving us at least a minimal amount of shade.  Taking off our packs, we left them lying on the picnic table and set off on the final mile of our trek.  We passed Battery Worth, which looked like some sort of bizarre Mayan ruin, and followed the orange blazes until they stopped at a kiosk near the carpark.  Jon was overcome with emotion and it was touching to see the joy and relief that washed over his face.  I, on the other hand, was a trifle confused.  Was this it?  Was this the northern terminus?  There was nothing there to indicate that it was.  The kiosk looked like so many others we had passed along the trail.  Where was the trail register to record our final thoughts?  Confused by this, we went in search of a park ranger to make sure we weren't missing something.  When we found the ranger, she confirmed our status as thru-hikers.  I don't know why I wasn't more excited.  My thoughts at the time were something like "1,100 miles, why it's just a warm up for the A.T."  Eleven hundred miles!!! Are you kidding me?  And my only reaction is one of calm acceptance of that fact.  Strange.  We asked the ranger to take some photos of us, the dynamic duo, then we returned to the kiosk for a few more pics.  Well, that's it.  Now it's down time and a long camp shower.  Ahhhhh!      

Morning Marine Layer
Half Marathon Runners
Snapping Turtle
At the Ranger's
The Northern Terminus

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