We said goodbye to the Suwannee and hello to Hell's Half Acre or in other words the march through Taylor County's forest/logging roads. Early on while plodding along Kelly 28, we actually ran into heavy equipment being used to gather the cut logs and pull them to where the crane was located. The crane in turn loaded them on the trucks which were waiting to transport them to the paper mill. At another timber harvest area later in the day, logging trucks rolled past us on the dry dirt roads, kicking up clouds of dust that we had to walk through. Hack! Spit! Cough!
Experienced a bit of a problem with the blazing around the Madison 5/6 Junction, but using my maps as a reference we were soon back on track.
The heat built up throughout the day until by mid-afternoon it was almost unbearable, especially as we were surrounded by clear cut areas so there was no respite from the sun's intensity. I finally managed to reach Econfina River, if you can call it that. To me it looked more like a poor excuse for a stream with water darker than Suwannee tea. Drinkable, but I sincerely hoped all that was coloring the water were the pine needles. I'd been ahead of Jon for most of the afternoon as he'll be the first to admit I'm faster at the road walking. In light of this fact, I decided to filter as much water as I could while waiting for him to catch up. When I finally saw him from afar, I could tell that he was hurting. Pulling in at the Econfina, he collapsed on the road, pack still on his back, and started sobbing. "Oh my god," he cried, "I'm in so much pain. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do." At first I thought this was a strange statement coming from someone with a military background, but when I thought about it, the longest road march I ever had to do with rucksack and rifle in basic training was seventeen miles. By the end of the day, we were going to be approaching nearly twice that distance. Thirty mile days are a definite challenge both physically and mentally and Jon was struggling with both at that moment. However, it didn't take him long to steel himself. A little time off his feet and some water, no matter what color it was tinged, did him good. I left him there with water bottles full and told him to take as much time as he needed to collect himself before pressing on.
Up ahead I had another problem at the Madison 1/Deep Bridge Junction where stands a single majestic oak. It seemed as if somebody messed with the blazing, blacking out some of the blazes on the oak and another blaze on a pine tree directing us down the road to the right. A little investigative work on my part and all was clear. I thought it best to wait there for Jon so that he wouldn't take the wrong road. Didn't have to wait as long as I did at the "river".
Again I pushed ahead, this time looking for a suitable place to camp close to the US 221. About a half an hour before the sun set I pulled into a side road that led to a house under construction. Passing the house, I found two locals who were just finishing their evening fishing at a pond. I asked them if it would be alright for two hikers to pitch tents off the side road. One of them knew the lady who was building the home and said she thought it would be just fine.
When Jon arrived he suggested that we just sleep under the roof of the house. It didn't take too terribly much for him to persuade me to take this course of action. So, at dusk we dropped our packs in an unfinished room, ate a quick meal by the light of our headlamps, laid out our sleeping pads and fell asleep on the bare concrete floor.
Towards the End of a Long Day in Taylor County