Gold Head Branch to Palatka

After a couple more days in Gainesville, including hanging out a bit with a few other hikers (Stretch, RamboJuice, Ryman) collected from the trail, Nonsense dropped me back at Gold Head Branch. I’ve never tended to hike much with other people. Even on the AT I’d stay at shelters with the same people each night or connect up for lunch breaks, but I’d rarely hike with people throughout the day. It was really good being able to do that with Nonsense, even for just a short time.

I set up camp at Gold Head’s primitive campsite and hiked the 5.5 mile loop from my tent to the park entrance then back on the park roads. Feet felt fine for that distance, though I did wish I’d brought more water along.

The next day was a 10 mile walk to the Tinsley campsite. Started off with a mile through the park then onto roads, first sandy then paved, for 8 miles. A woman who lived on the trail offered me water and a lift to the end of the roadwalk, but it was early so I declined. Towards the end of the roadwalk a family ran awesomely out of their house to give me bottled water, oranges, and some snacks. More awesome trail magic! The trail left the road and re-entered the woods at the Etoniah Creek Stste Forest. It was very nice being back on proper trail. Side note: long road walks make bathroom breaks difficult.

Being mindful of my feet I planned on just five miles the next day and ended up getting a rather late start. The trail wandered between ponds through oak and pine. I stopped for a long time at the Fieldhouse trailhead for a late lunch and to charge my phone/battery pack. I have been running down the battery way too quickly – I need to break that habit. Short days mean more time in camp and more playing on the phone, but also more time between opportunities to recharge.

A couple miles later I reached Iron Bridge Shelter. There are very few shelters on the Florida Trail – it was supposed to rain overnight so I thought I’d give this one a chance. It’s a nice building – two levels for sleeping, a screened-in front, etc. Around 8:30pm I turned on my flashlight to find a mouse three feet from my head. Not great but not unexpected. When I shone the flashlight around I didn’t see more mice but did see lots of palmetto bugs. So despite the impending rain up went the tent. It’s a nice clean shelter but I’m not keen on the idea of cockroaches crawling on me while I sleep.

In the early morning hours it started to rain and I ended up getting another late start which was unfortunate because I had 12 miles planned for the day. At least the rain had stopped. The trail started off really nice, eventually following the Etoniah Creek for awhile. Nice trail, nice trees, nice water. There were a number of bog bridges that always make me nervous. I’d slipped on one in Vermont a couple years ago, landing flat on my back and giving myself a mild case of whiplash, so I picked my way very slowly and very gingerly over the wet boards.

The trail left the woods for a 3.5 mile walk on dirt roads, first through the state forest and then on private hunting land. My feet began to wear down a bit during this stretch. After the dirt roads the trail followed a bike path for 3 miles, then crossed a paved road and continued on trail. By the time I reached the bike path I knew I’d be going into town either at this road crossing or the next. Reports were that after this road crossing the trail would be under water for many miles, so I decided to head into town that night so I could start fresh in the morning. This was a poor choice.

To get into town I continued on the bike path after the FT split off for another 2.5 miles then along the road for another mile. This pavement walking was agony. I’d switch over to walking in the grass when I could, but it was long and damp and having wet shoes compounded the problem. I finally got a ride into town, checked into my hotel, ordered pizza, and crashed into bed. When the food arrived I could barely make it to the door.

I’d planned on being on the FT for another 17 days but with how my feet were feeling I didn’t think that was a good idea. So the next morning I called it quits, at least for the time being. I think if I’d continued on to the next campsite, even though I would have arrived after dark, I might have stuck it out longer. But the pavement has been terrible on my feet and I’d like to end this year without permanent damage.

So I rented a car and headed down to Naples.

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