After leaving our stealth/trespassing campsite for the night, the morning was dawning as if it was going to rain. It was spitting when we got up that morning, we ate our breakfast in a hurry, took down camp and hit the road, literally. We had a couple of miles left before we entered the woods again at the Nokuse Plantation. Immediately back in the woods we started following a stream for quite a way. It was a beautiful little creek and we noticed that the clear running water was going to be the trend for the rest of the hike.
The rain continued as we weaved around the creek and then emerged onto an upland pine plantation. Luckily these pine plantations were not reminiscent of the ones outside of Lake Butler, these were much better managed and despite being planted they were beautiful. It was still cloudy and threatening to rain harder but mostly it just spit with a few harder episodes.
Since we’d left camp early I’d started thinking in my head that maybe we could just make it to the campsite at 20 miles for lunch instead of taking a lingering lunch. We were becoming power hikers at this point and were able to do 3mph or more on a regular basis, particularly on good trail and roads. We took our first mid-morning snack in a burned pine area where I mentioned the idea to Chris. He seemed game so we kept on hiking to avoid the rain. He’d been thinking that maybe we’d set the tent up at the first campsite and take a nap in case it rained but the idea of being done by lunch was enticing.
Around the time we entered Lafayette Creek Wildlife Management Area the skies began to clear. We stopped at the first campsite for a break and relaxed. This would have been a great campsite and we were intrigued by the unique benchwork that had been done at the site. A creek was nearby for water.
A couple more miles revealed a sign that gave us the option of avoiding Lafayette Creek itself in times of high water. However this was an exposed and sun filled area so I can imagine it would be pretty daunting on a hot day. Luckily we weren’t in any high water danger so we followed some two track roads before weaving down the hills to the creek. Yep, we were getting into more bluffs in this area and if you look on Google Earth you can really see them in this area. The walk along Lafayette Creek was awesome and beautiful! We didn’t take many photos but let me paint a picture….
As you descend from the pine slopes into the ti-ti lined creek the air cools off from the spring fed creek water. The water is mostly clear, appearing to be free of germs and taunting you to dip you hands in to take a sip. The sandy bottom looks like a refreshing place to sit while the mellow current cools your body, as you watch old leaf litter float downstream. Most of the creek is shadowed with pockets of sun throughout and you know if you dipped in for a bit the water would wash the hiker grime right off.
We stopped along the way, hopping across little side channels that flowed into the main creek, carefully watching for stumps and flat places to walk and the occasional snake. Eventually we turned away from the creek and followed a different north/south creek (Lafayette was east/west) north for awhile before we came up from the creek and crossed the powerlines we’d bypassed earlier in the morning. By this time we were getting hungry but knew we’d be rewarded with the rest of the afternoon off if we kept on going. We knew that we had to follow a branch of another creek east for a bit before finding our campsite and when we started going east on what we thought was the right branch we got disappointed when we crossed that creek and found no campsite. We pulled the map out to look at it, verifying we were on the right track and not passing up the campsite and decided we had to go a bit further. Sure enough we found the right branch as we came up the bluff and started walking on the edge of the trees where we could see across previously farmed fields. We were glad not to be walking in the open sun!
Finally we reached the Steephead campsite and we were there somewhere between noon and 1pm. 20 miles done and we had the afternoon to relax. We started joking about 20 mile nearo’s (near zero day) and how silly it seemed, but we’d done it.
Somewhere around 4pm or so Speaker showed up. We told him we’d been here for several hours and he said he’d taken a few extended breaks back along Lafayette Creek. We continued to relax around the campsite when all of a sudden a few hikers showed up! What? Other hikers? This was an incredibly rare thing on the Florida Trail except in high use areas like Ocala National Forest. They hikers were from the local FTA chapter, out for a weekend hike of the Lafayette area. Several other hikers came in throughout the next few hours.
It’s a bit strange, on the AT I wouldn’t have been so peeved at sharing a campsite with others as having people around is a normal thing but on the FT I’d become accustomed to having sites to ourselves that I didn’t want to share with anyone else. It was nice, though, to talk with the chapter and try to tell them about the plight of FT thru-hikers. Which I don’t think they got. We tried to discuss the whole trespassing/stealth camping concept and even dropped mention that we were coming up on a stretch that offered us no camping alternatives at all and I felt like we got blank stares. It was a bit disheartening.
These guys said they had the best maintained section of trail and I would agree almost 100%. Well labeled, well maintained, just a great chapter. Frankly the rest of the FTA chapters should look to these guys!
The next morning we got up early and left before everyone from the other group was even awake. We had our breakfast and quietly slipped away from the campsite. The other group had warned us that we’d be leaving the creek area and following the trail through some of those fields and we were glad we were going through them in the morning hours instead of the afternoon sun. After a few miles we crossed U.S. 331 where we followed the trail under power lines and then a few detours onto the road as we paralleled Eglin Airforce Base.
I’m really bummed we didn’t take more photos in Eglin because I think it happened to be one of the best sections of trail. I don’t know what we were thinking by not taking photos! We entered the AFB at the appropriate location where we had to sign in and get our recreational permits. FT thru hikers are exempt from paying a fee for a permit but we do have to have an authorized letter from the FTA saying we are thru-hiking in case someone asks. Regular folks can also get recreational permits from the AFB for a pretty meager fee so hiking and hunting (during particular times) is open to the public in certain areas. If you are in this area I highly recommend getting a permit because Eglin is a super cool place to hike.
We entered Eglin and since we have to stay at certain campsites because of AFB regulations we’d decided it was going to be a longer day of around 25 miles. Since we’d done the 20 the day before by lunch we decided to do it again and hit up the second campsite in for lunch. The group the night before had told us about a bridge they built with a downed cypress, how they’d stabilized it, put a wire across to hold on and made the cypress into a foot bridge across an otherwise ford worthy creek. Before we reached that bridge though we had to ford a few creeks and they were cold!
Coming out of some of the ravines we had a few steep-for-Florida climbs of only maybe 100-200′ or so, but apparently the local crews thought they warranted switchbacks! Switchbacks in Florida??? LOL! Straight up would’ve been fine but the switchbacks made me reminiscent about the AT.
We crossed a road with a small parking area full of cars, most with FTA stickers and were reminded that the group at Steephead had said another outing was taking place in Eglin with a short day hike. This is where we got excited about potential trail magic, or just really hoping that day hikers would take pity on thru hikers and give us a soda. Or hot dog. Or chips. Can you tell we were thinking about food? It was a couple of miles to the campsite we were planning to get to for lunch and about half way there we started passing the hikers. One by one they went on and some asked if we were thru hiking but most just said hi and passed right on by! Bummer! Apparently thru hiking is not well known on the FT. Our stomachs were saddened by the thought of eating regular old hiker food for lunch.
Lunch was at a very pretty campsite where we spread out, ate and then lounged about in the pine needle laden ground, between patches of shade and sun. We’d done the 20 or 21 for lunch but still had four or five to our final campsite for the day. I was getting spoiled by these fast mornings and wishing for a lingering afternoon again. After deciding we’d lingered enough we mosied on down the trail through a few more ravines and switchbacked trail.
Another stalling late-afternoon stop at a spring/creek left us wishing we could call it a day. We filled up on water because the campsite we were heading to wasn’t supposed to have water, however when we got there we found a blue blaze leading down the bluffs to what was probably a creek. However, it reminded us of several .3 and .4 hikes downhill on the AT to get water and was thus avoided. The walk between the creek and the campsite was nice, through pine forest that was relatively young but not overgrown. We could hear the distant drone of I-10 and were worried we’d hear it at the campsite, which luckily didn’t happen.
The next morning dawned foggy and misty. Hopefully we wouldn’t rain. Speaker left before us and we’d planned that day to be a 20 miles by lunch kind of day yet again. We were also stuck with staying at a particular campsite. We’d tossed around the idea of stealthing but if we’d been anywhere else with stay-at-campsites-only rules we’d of probably ignored them, however we decided not to mess around with the U.S. military. I doubt the area would’ve been patrolled but you just never know when some random military operation might go on and they would randomly close the area.
The morning was mostly quiet as we hiked through the fog and up and down ravines. We passed a few runners at one point but that was it. Speaker was somewhere up ahead, likely not far but you can never tell when hiking on the trail. We crossed S.R. 285 where the night before we’d tossed out the idea of walking about half a mile or so up to a gas station with supposed hamburgers and food and decided against it. A 20 mile nearo was enticing again.
Eventually we caught up with Speaker who was taking a break on the side of the trail. We decided to keep going only to stop a few hundred yards further when we found a place to sit. Chris is fond of finding a log to sit on while I can easily make do with sitting on the ground. Speaker than leap frogged us and eventually we caught up to him again as we plodded through the slowly dissipating clouds and fog.
We came to a large creek where we knew camp was close, filled up on water and rinse some of the grime off our bodies despite the chill of the water. Oh, it felt good! Had it been a bit warmer a swim would have been perfect. The Walton pond campsite was down road and right on the pond. Originally we thought we’d take a dip in the pond but it was scuzzy and not enticing at all and then we became too lazy to walk back to the creek. It was early but after lunch we set up camp.
We’d called Gatorade Gordon to find out where he might be and if he could potentially shuttle us around during the next roadwalk stretch. We would have to roadwalk up through Crestview and around the Yellow River since the river does not have a bridge across it yet. This wouldn’t be a regular old foot bridge because there is river traffic on it apparently and would require more than a simple bridge built by volunteers. Apparently the local trail crews do maintain a trail all the way to the river, on both sides, but the FT does not follow that trail because of the lack of bridge. Anyway, Gordon said he was waiting for Sparky, the hiker he was supporting, to get through Eglin and Sparky would be passing us sometime that afternoon. They would be staying in Crestview the following night and so it didn’t seem like the coordination would work well for us.
We lounged around the campsite for the afternoon, I laid on the pine needle strewn ground taking on and off naps, read some books and just relaxed. This was what I wanted to be out hiking and doing—hike some and then relax a lot! Of course this could potentially get boring if we did it all the time.
Dinner was being wrapped up with Sparky arrived. He’d been having a tough day, feeling a little dehydrated and felt like the miles were tough. Sometimes the mental part of hiking can be the most challenging part. We’d never met Sparky, though Speaker had at some of the hiker parties earlier on, so we got to talk to him a little about his hiking adventures. He left camp as dusk was settling in, hoping to night hike to the next campsite or stealth somewhere in between.
The next morning we got up early (that’s the headlamps in the photo) and in the dark because we knew it was supposed to rain sometime in the afternoon. We wanted to get through Crestview and somewhere on the roadwalk and get set up before it rained. Chris had been talking to his dad and having him look up the weather so we had a good idea of when the storms would be rolling in.
We hiked with our headlamps for maybe a hour before it was light enough to walk. It was quiet throughout the rest of Eglin and though Sparky had told us to wake up him if we’d stumbled across him on the trail, we never saw him.
We passed the Pearl Creek campsite and kept hiking, knowing that S.R. 85 wasn’t too far away. When we arrived at the road we deposited our Eglin permits into the box so they knew we’d exited the area and found Gatorade Gordon waiting for us. Sparky had told him we were looking forward to hitting up McDonald’s for breakfast and so Gordon offered to let us slack pack our way up the road to the Mickey D’s. Gordon offered us some sodas for a pre-slack sugar rush and off we went down the road with only our poles. Ahhh, freeeeedoooom!
We made it to the McDonalds in under an hour and found Gordon waiting for us. It was the morning after the Oscar’s so the news was displaying clips from the event on the t.v. screens. We talked to Gordon for awhile, about how he helps other hikers and how he didn’t think he’d be doing it for many more years and possibly this would be his last year. His health was deteriorating. I wish we’d gotten to talk to him more but we had to hike on, get a resupply, an early lunch and get on our way before the rain came through. We told Speaker we’d see him up the trail somewhere and coordinate somewhere later on.
Our resupply was at the Publix in Crestview where we tried to be as speedy as possible getting our food for the last stretch of the trail and some sandwiches from the deli for dinner. The rest of the walk through Crestview was easy, the trail follows a road through the old downtown and we stopped at the Tropical Palm Restaurant for an early lunch before heading out of town.
On U.S. 90 we left town and heard the familiar honk of Gordon as he passed us driving west towards Sparky who was ahead of us.