Nonsense’s wife picked us up from River Ranch and we headed up to Gainesville, pausing in Orlando to drop off a section hiker.
The initial plan was to hit up some gear stores, see some Gainesville sights, do some day hikes/overnights in the nearby stretches of the Florida Trail, then go to the film fest. Nonsense had a wedding to attend, so I’d figure out something to do for a few days then we’d start up again down at River Ranch.
We did manage to hit up the gear stores and Nonsense kindly took me around to some Gainesville sights (Museum of Natural History, La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie). For our planned hikes the weather turned cold and very very rainy. It did stop raining for the film festival, which was outdoors at a local brewery. The films were sort of typical inspirational outdoor/sport-type things, one stop on a national tour.
I think at this point our plan for River Ranch had changed slightly – I’d collect my car from Naples and Nonsense would meet me at River Ranch, and we’d use the cars to hop up the trail. Theoretically making the long stretch without resupply options (and a 32-mile roadwalk) a bit easier.
With the weather clearing up we headed up to Keystone Heights to do a day hike through Camp Blanding into Gold Head Branch State Park. We planned on staying at Gold Head two nights, hiking the FT stretch through the park on day 2.
The hike started off with a 4.5-mi roadwalk. At least it was on quiet roads, for the most part. The trail through Camp Blanding was really nice – it skirts a few ponds and passes by a bald eagle nest (helpfully identified with a signpost). It also goes through a scrubby stretch occupied by Florida Scrub-Jays, but sadly I didn’t see any. I managed to trip and fall flat on my face, which was awesome. There was much quiet swearing.
At about 8 miles in my feet started complaining. At 10 miles in they were pounding. At 11 miles in they were toast. At 12 miles I reached the entrance to the park – Nonsense had met a couple friends who had driven up for some mountain biking and they gave us a lift to the campground, postponing the remaining planned 3+ miles for another day.
Cold that night – thankfully my parents had sent me my 20° sleeping bag so I was comfortable in my tent. The next morning my feet felt better but not great. We did a couple short non-FT walks in the park, then Nonsense headed off to do the 3 FT miles from the entrance to the campground. I stayed back at the campground to figure out my plan.
It was clear that I needed to be doing low miles so that I didn’t cause lasting damage to my feet. Our River Ranch plan required multiple days with more than 14 miles per day – and a couple road walk days with 17 miles. Nonsense was up for it but I knew I wasn’t.
So new plan: after a couple more days down in Gainesville Nonsense would drop me off back up at Gold Head Branch and I’d hike south. He would go down to River Ranch and hike north. We’d probably cross paths on the north side of Orlando in a couple weeks