Woke up early to see what could be seen from Lake Maran Observation Tower, which because of heavy fog wasn't much, just some birds flying past and a patch of open water. Besides, the observation tower indicated on the FT map is really an observation deck. It doesn't take you up a flight of stairs like the tower at Lake Jackson, but is only slightly elevated above the level of the ground, a ramp leading to the platform. Nevertheless, in better conditions, I'm sure there'd be some great views.
On the way back to camp I came to the realization that today's thicker fog was an indication that the weather had changed. Indeed, it was the first day of rain on the trail. Off again, on again with one brief downpour.
Shortly after crossing CR 523 I really couldn't believe what I saw---two other hikers on the trail ahead of me. Human Contact! These were the first hikers I'd met on the Florida Trail in over a week. Going by the trail names Amoeba and Cloudwalker, they were doing bits of the trail as section hikers. We were able to talk for a while beneath the underpass of the Florida Turnpike as we stopped to have a break and take shelter from the rain. Amoeba was from Syracuse, New York and Cloudwalker was from Ocala, Florida. Both have hiked the Appalachian Trail and spent some time on the PCT. Cloudwalker told me that some parts of Florida are experiencing a significant period of drought and that's the reason water levels are so low at the moment. Perhaps the rain falling today will help alleviate that problem.
Hiking between the Florida Turnpike and US 441 was mostly through sparse pine and palmetto. Cypress domes were seen all around on the horizon, dark gray skies threatening rain from above. The one downpour I mentioned earlier occurred while hiking this section and I happened to be caught out in it as the water came down in sheets, soaking me from head to toe. The jaunt along 441 was quick with very little traffic, so I was actually able to walk on the road surface. Along the way I saw three raccoons near a side ditch.
To my astonishment, I became a part of the wildlife tour as I was passing through Forever Florida. Walking on the dirt road that forms this part of trail, the eco-safari bus loaded with tourists rounds a turn and heads in my direction. When the lady who is conducting the tour sees me, she starts speaking over the microphone about how five miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail crosses park lands. Pointing at me, she says, "Look, there's a hiker now." Suddenly, all of these eyes are riveted on me and I feel like some endangered specie at the San Diego Wild Animal Park back home. The tour guide tells me I'm welcome to ride along with them, but I'm going the wrong way to which I replied that I'd started in Miami and was going all the way to Pensacola. Well, that news certainly dropped some jaws among the gawkers as some gasps were heard and more finger pointing ensued. Truly surreal being a part of the Human Zoo.
The Forever Florida campsite is superb. Built for the trail rides offered by Florida Eco-Safaris, it is intended for the stay of Forever Florida guests, but thru-hikers are more than welcome to take advantage of the facilities when not in use. Restrooms with flush toilets, showers with hot water, lights run off of solar energy, potable water, kitchen area with sink, a fire ring surrounded by benches and a picnic shelter---a hiker's Shangri-la. I stopped by for a pit stop and a snack break and was rewarded with a liter of ginger ale that some previous guest had left in the kitchen. Glug-glug!
Another 4.3 miles and I pulled into a more humble abode, Little Scrub Campsite, which I like very much. No mosquitoes, a soft sandy floor for the tent and a true sense of being away from it all. The water pump wasn't working, but no need to worry because I'd filled the 4-liter Platypus tank at Forever Florida. The sun came out around three making it easy for me to dry things out towards the end of a rainy day, including my wrinkly sodden feet. The soft light of the evening was a joy to behold.
Palmetto and Distant Cypress Dome
Little Scrub Camp