Survived a deluge last night, one of the worst thunderstorms I've been in. It started at 6 p.m. and lasted for over four hours. When the storm front hit, there were strong gusts of wind pushing in the side of the tent. That was followed by a fierce electrical storm, lightning flashing all around, then the booming thunder. Shortly thereafter, buckets of water poured out of the sky. The front left corner of my tent was inundated, soaking the extra clothing I had laid there and dampening the shoulder of my sleeping bag. At 5 a.m. I was jolted awake by heavy drops of rain pounding on top of the tarptent. This second downpour continued for another two hours until the tarptent was reaching saturation point. As soon as the rain began to ease, I arose and packed quickly, the waterlogged tent feeling like it weighed fifteen pounds. My main goaldue to the weather was simply to do fast miles, buy supplies at Store 88, get to camp and hopefully dry out my stuff.
Hunkered up in my rain jacket, I started walking through the scrub and the charred totems of the fire-scarred forest. An hour in I bumped into an older man and his son hiking in the rain, heads lowered and trickles of water running off their gear. When the elderly gentleman looked up, he exclaimed, "Wow! What do you know?! A real person." I suppose it was in reference to the fact that not many people were out hiking the trail in this horrible weather. The rain finally stopped at around nine, remaining overcast for the rest of the day, except for the final hour of daylight when the sun managed to battle through the clouds.
During this time of darkened skies the trail snaked its way along the edge of Hopkins Prairie from Forest Road 50 to the blue-blazed path leading to Salt Springs. There was a sink hole on the north side of FR 50 that would have made for excellent swimming on a warm sunny day, but with conditions as they were, I took a quick look and trudged on by. Walking along the rim of Hopkins Prairie, with trees to one side and open grassland, ponds and lakes on the other was a real pleasure. On the way I saw a wooden structure which seemed a little strange standing out on its own. It looked like a small house on stilts. "Is this some odd shelter hikers can take refuge in?" I thought to myself. Going closer to investigate, I discovered it was actually a house for a colony of bats that help to control the mosquito population. I love bats! Any creature that can eliminate these annoying insects during a nighttime feed is a friend of mine.
The five mile round trip to Salt Springs on a blue blaze was much too far for me. I know you can resupply there and perhaps get a few other services, but I had my sights set on the 0.4 mile blue-blaze to Store 88. Just before reaching the turn off to the shop, I passed the junction where the eastern corridor and western corridor of the Florida Trail merge to head north. I'd successfully completed the fourth section as it is listed in the data book. Yipee!!! Stopping a moment to snap a picture, I hurried off again, eager to reach the shop before it closed.
Store 88 was not quite what I expected. I'm not sure if it even qualified as a store because it was more like a few shelves along the walls in the far corner of the bar stocked with a limited selection of goods. It took me several minutes to decide on which items would do for breakfast, lunch and dinner over the course of the next few days: honey buns, snickers bars, vienna sausages, pork and beans, ham slices and a loaf of wheat bread. I think I cleaned out half the shop. Lord help the thru-hiker who arrives here tomorrow looking for food! To supplement my meager stock, I picked up a small jar of honey someone had left on a post along the trail. I would have grabbed the jar of peanut butter as well, but missing its top, ants had already got to it.
The day's miles were covered by 3:30. I pitched my tent in a copse near the shores of Grassy Pond and hung all my wet clothes and sleeping bag on the limbs of the small oak to let the drying process begin. Then I went to the pond for water. Getting it was more problematic than I had anticipated because I was separated from the shallow waters by a barrier of mud. I tried to find an access point where drier and firmer ground would allow me to reach the water's edge without sinking calf deep in the sucking stuff, but was unable to. In the end, I went in barefoot, skimmed the clearer water off the surface with my tin cup, then transferred it to the dirty bag of my filter. Upon returning to where I had first entered the pond, I had to spend a good while removing the mud from my legs using a combination of dry grasses and water to wipe and clean them off. Dinner was honey ham sandwiches and a danish for desert. By this time most of my clothing and gear were tolerably dry. I do believe I'll sleep well tonight for I'm falling asleep even as I write. Zzzzzz.
Bat House in Hopkins Prairie
East Meets West at the Corridor Junction
Show Me the Way