I was up packing away my things while it was still relatively dark. The plan is to do a high mileage day into Lake Butler along the Georgia Southern and Florida Rail Corridor. The trail is none too scenic as it basically follows a raised path on an old rail line, both sides lined with palm trees and beyond them barbed-wire fences.
It was still foggy when I travelled through the sleepy little community of Hampton. As the last of the fog was burning off around 10, I thought I saw a figure up in the distance, but I couldn't be sure. Drawing closer, I discovered that my eyes had not deceived me. A hiker was resting with his pack off near one of the county road crossings. I'd caught up to Jon Reames a.k.a Swamp Tromp, who I'd been following for the past few days. I'd read his register entries at both The Rice Creek Hilton and Iron Bridge Shelter. This was his first long trek and it seemed as if he were needing some company because, as you know, the trail can be a lonely place for a solo thru-hiker. An army vet like myself, he'd served a good chunk of time in Iraq and Afghanistan as a military intel analyst. He'd recently given up his interior design business. Fed up with dealing with clients and a strained relationship with a business partner, he'd decided to hit the road and scratch an itch he'd had for hiking. Some of his equipment choices surprised me, but as he said, he hadn't spent a great deal of time planning. The long and short of it is that he threw together what he had or what he could grab quickly and was off.
We shared the journey on the abandoned rail line and the New River detour all the way to Lake Butler. It made things quicker and less boring as mile after mile passed in conversation. About the only thing to break the monotony of the rail corridor was when it crossed a river or creek. On some crossings the old rickety bridges were still there, but on a couple the bridge was missing and we had to scramble down the rail bed, follow a path to the banks and then rock hop, log walk, leap or find some combination of the three to reach the other side of the ribbon of water.
The first stop in Lake Butler was at the library where we found out that the change to daylight savings time had happened yesterday, which meant we had an hour less for e-mailing and posting pictures. Funny what you miss when you're out of touch with civilization. I was able to look up a few things about the Appalachian Trail and jot off a note or two to family and friends. Out of the library and off to the post office, where I was finally able to mail of the postcards I've been carrying. As we were about to drop in on the Sheriffs Office to ask permission to stay in the park, an officer just getting off duty directed us to the city parks department over at the town hall. Unfortunately, the town hall's front doors were closed. However, we noticed that the drive-in section was open until 5 p.m. We had fifteen minutes! When we told them why we were there, they had no clue what we were talking about. Needless to say, it was a scramble for them to contact the right people, but eventually one of the men working there offered to put us up in the backyard of a property he owned just a stone's throw from the city park.
Accommodation taken care of, we ventured over to Subway for sustenance. Once there I felt really light-headed and faint. My blood sugar level must have been at low ebb after the 27 miles. A delicious meatball foot long and soda refills had me feeling better in no time.
So, here we are in some person's backyard, tucked in for the night. The town's amenities waiting for us tomorrow and a shorter day it will be---eleven miles less than the ground covered today.
Well, just as we're drifting off to sleep around 10 p.m. a young deputy sheriff stops by and says we'll have to leave. Apparently some elderly people and parents with young children were anxious about us staying there and had placed a few calls to the Sheriff's Office. In response, we were given the boot to the lake front park where we had expected to be allowed to camp all along. It upset me a little though. Two american veterans, both honorably discharged after serving their country, well-travelled, educated, no criminal records, out enjoying one of the nation's scenic trails, camping with permission in the back yard of a residence owned by a private citizen, kicked out because some hyper-paranoid and terribly nosy neighbors think we're what---rapists or pedophiles?!?!?! Sleep well citizens of Lake Butler. You're safe now.