Two nights in Okeechobee, then back on the trail. And by “back on the trail” I mean I took a taxi past the next 9 miles of temporary re-route to where the ‘real’ trail picked up again. The real trail was still a roadwalk but a much more pleasant one. Low-traffic instead of speeding semis.
After six miles the blazes turned off the road and onto real genuine actual trail. It was wonderful! A half mile later I was at the Yates Marsh South campsite and I decided to make an early day of it. The night was full of sounds of cows, coyotes, and a bobcat having a snack.
The next morning I passed by the pond that was the water supply for the campsite. There was a rock sitting in the middle of the pond. I coughed, and the rock slowly rotated towards me before sinking below the surface. The comments on Guthook say a big ol’ gator lives there. I’d brought a lot of water from town so moved on without refilling.
The trail passes through land owned by the South Florida Water Management District, who leases areas out for cattle grazing. The cows I encountered didn’t much care for backpackers – they ran off at the sight. It does mean that there are lots of cow pies to be avoided, and all water needs to be treated.
The trail starts shifting between roadwalks, open pasture land, and oak hammocks. At one point there’s a choice between proper trail and a roadwalk. The roadwalk is the official route in times of high water. This is not one of those times, but the road does pass by a country store with renowned pulled pork sandwiches. I decided my feet could handle a little more time on the road so I made my way to the store. After stuffing myself with the sandwich, fries, gatorade, and Pepsi I bought some snacks, filled up my water bottles, and carried on to the campsite.
When I got to the campsite another hiker was already set up. This was actually Charles’ second night at the site – the sandwiches at the store were really good and kept him nearby an extra day. It had been awhile since I’d shared a campsite with anyone – and the first time I’d stayed up chatting past sunset – which made for a very welcome change.
We were heading to the same spot the next day, which I think would be my longest day on the trail so far. Still not a huge distance – 14.6 miles – but a little further than I’d been doing. Ended up hiking together all day, which is probably the reason I made it the full 14 miles instead of stopping short.
Heading out from the Micco Landing campsite the blazes follow a brand new stretch of trail. For awhile it’s oak hammocks and easy pasture which is really lovely. The trail then starts following a fence line and becomes considerably less lovely. Looks like essentially when defining the trail they took a bush hog and mowed down a swath along the fence, but at this point nothing’s been done to smooth out a path. The ground is uneven and the long cut grass hides many holes. And potentially many snakes though I didn’t see any. The trail is easy to follow but rough on the feet, ankles, and knees.
We stopped for a bit at the Oak Creek campsite so I could let my legs recover a bit before pushing on the last four miles – most of which was paved road. Camper Dan was there, waiting on his brother. He’d hiked the PCT previously with his brother as support and is returning the favor here in Florida. Also met a dayhiker who had previously hiked the whole Florida Trail. She was checking out the new section of trail, and she very very kindly offered us a couple gallons of water and some bananas. She even drove them the four miles to our final campsite so we wouldn’t have to carry the weight.
And more trail magic awaited at the campsite – the attractively-named Starvation Slough. Uncle Buddha, down from New Hampshire to do some camping and exploring, was also keen on helping out any hikers he came across. He’d hiked a good-sized chunk of the southern AT and wanted to pay forward some of the support he’d received. He had water and snacks set out at his campsite for hikers, and he cooked up a couple hamburgers for us for dinner.
There are so many supportive people out here on the trail. The news is always so full of hatefulness it’s good to see the good.
After the 14-mile day it wasn’t until 2AM that my feet stopped pounding, and the next day which would bring us to Kissimmee Prairie, would be about the same mileage.