After leaving the more congested area around Crestview we set off on a mostly quiet walk along U.S. 90. Sure there were large semi trucks driving passed but the shoulder was wide enough for us to follow and jump off when needed. The sky went from looking to clear up to getting dark again as clouds passed over continuously throughout the afternoon. Shortly outside of town, before crossing the Yellow River, we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and I asked the cashier if she knew of any camping areas nearby after she questioned what we were doing. After I told her about the Florida Trail and the road walk section she told me of a state park that was probably going to be out of our way. I thanked her anyway and we carried on.
We kept walking knowing that we should stop somewhere around 2pm and get everything set up before the rain came through. Chris and I would peer through woods that we thought might be sufficient for stealthing only to decide it was too close to a house or it wasn’t thick enough for camouflaging us. A few times we’d pass a power line right of way but decide against it at the last minute. Finally we saw a thick strip of trees along the road right of way and then a railroad track with more trees behind it. We scooted across the road and decided to check it out. Sure enough we found a little area to set up camp. It was definitely on private property and we saw that there was fire lane on the other side with a hunt stand but the likelihood of it being used was small. The mound that the railroad track was on hid our tent from the highway and despite a few trains coming through we had a cozy little spot.
Our stealth spot for the night. We ate a few snacks and settled in to take a nap, though the air was stifling with humidity. The rain did come through and I was thankful that we were tucked in our tent for the storm. I read through a book I’d picked up at Publix that afternoon and it felt good to read a book straight through like that. I hadn’t done that in quite awhile. After an early dinner of our Publix sandwiches (they beat Subway any day!) we turned in for the night.
The next morning we walked back to the U.S. 90 for the rest of our roadwalk. We weren’t sure how far up Speaker had gotten the night before or if he’d taken up Gatorade Gordon and gone back to Crestview for the night. The town of Holt was coming up within a few hours for an early morning gas station stop and when we arrived we relaxed at the first, smaller station for sugary breakfast foods that I wouldn’t normally touch. Nothing like a good strudel or muffin laden with fat and sugar to get the hike going faster!
By the time we left the sun was poking out more and it was looking to be a great day. We were planning around 20 or 24 miles that day, I don’t remember, I think it was supposed to be a semi-easy day for us. After we left Holt we passed a unique wood carving in front of a ranch but nothing else was eventful. I just imagined living in some of the farm houses along the way.
A few days prior we’d concocted a plan with Speaker to have a hot dog cook out on one of our last nights on the trail. Since we would be passing several gas stations that day it was going to be perfect for being able to pick up the necessary items for our cookout. We would be reentering Eglin again on the west side of the Yellow River that afternoon and staying at a ‘real’ campsite, so a cookout would be appropriate.
We were also coming up on the Alabama Connector trail, an alternate ending for the Florida Trail that goes to the Alabama border. Folks doing the Eastern Continental Trail take this route up to Alabama and hit the Alabama Hiking Trail and Pinhoti Trail to connect with the AT. Speaker had spent a few days trying to convince us to switch our end point and go to Alabama instead, mostly because it was all forest walking and supposed to be beautiful. We managed to convince him to stay with us to Fort Pickens, though later he did go hike the connector trail with some of the other group in Chuck Norris’ crew.
Once we arrived at the split for the connector we saw the first gas station we were going to scout for hot dog stuff. Right before we got to the gas station, maybe 100 yards, we noticed a sign with a double blaze heading south, a distinct difference in the map and guidebook. The map noted a blue blaze that direction with partial trail so we thought perhaps it was open now. However, we were hesitant. Speaker was sitting at the picnic table outside of the gas station and we threw out packs down and noticed he was concerned about the same trail issues we were. Inside we grabbed some pizza and drinks and went back to sit at the table with Speaker who’d been there for awhile waiting for us to catch up.
After pondering the potential new trail access we decided to call the FTA office and cut to the chase. Turns out it was indeed new trail that was open, would take us off some road, though we did have to walk some road through country neighborhoods, but would put us back in the woods for awhile. And it would add another 6-8 miles for the day. I wasn’t looking forward to a longer day but off we went and crossed I-10 for the very last time. (We crossed it four times.)
The new trail followed a creek for a lot of the way but the trail was brand spankin’ new and not very well done yet. There were needless weaves where trail should be straight, and though it wasn’t the maintainers fault, the trail wass not worn at all and the blazes were hard to follow without some sort of worn trail. The first part of this section was relatively nice but then it seemed to get worse with branches not trimmed and where most maintainers would cut a log the local trail crews routed you to climb over or under downed logs. We also encountered a reroute, already, along the new trail due to logging. I am not a fan of putting trail through logging areas. It completely destroys the whole point of being in nature and makes for crummy trail.
The trail kept weaving and since we had no real idea where we were or where we might come out we had to take a guess. Eventually we were dumped out on a dirt road behind some farm homes where we then followed mostly quiet country roads with homes on it for several miles. Some of the streets had new homes being built, the same cookie-cutter style alternated every so often. Time seemed to keep dragging and we were wondering when the road junction at S.R. 87 and the last gas station stop we were supposed to hit for our hot dogs. It was also quite hot and a cold drink was sounding nicer. At some point Speaker, who’d been with us for awhile, fell behind and we hadn’t seen him in several hours.
Finally we saw the road and were delighted to see the gas station with its abundance of hiker food! Hot dogs were there as were the buns and we stocked up on small packets of condiments. We’d enjoyed our sodas and ice cream for about an hour when Speaker finally showed up looking pretty ragged. We told him we were going to head on down the road to get to the campsite before it got dark. We still had several miles to get back into Eglin.
Down the road we went and I was sick of non-maintained trail that when the trail went to parallel the road along a right of way I decided stay on the road while Chris took the trail. I attempted it for a minute but when I found the trail covered with vines I gave up and moved to the road. We crossed the Yellow River once again, this time a longer bridge over the tannin colored water with beautiful cypress lining the river. It would have made a great paddling area!
On the south side of the bridge we walked down to a parking lot and under the bridge to the west side of the road and then off along another power line right of way before reentering Eglin. At the sign in station we picked up our permits yet again and noticed there was a stack of permits at least two years old! For having such a strict policy I was dismayed that none of the permits had been picked up in so long!
We walked up and over sand hills and through beautiful pine areas before finally reaching the blue blaze for Buck Pond. The guidebook warns that this has potential for being busy as it is accessible by car but we found no one there but a guy bicycling round and round the lake. Not sure what other trail he was following but part of it was on the FT.
The next morning we were up and going early like usual, trying to get to Navarre to meet Chris’ dad for lunch. The rest of the hiking in Eglin continued to be beautiful and we routed around a blue blaze to walk along a deep bluff that offered up gorgeous views that wouldn’t appear to be Florida. The trail cut across S.R. 87 once again and into what seemed to be a more littered area. We were still in Eglin but we found a ditched boat and random household trash.
We also found remnants from Florida’s turpentine days, these old clay pots. We’d seen them off and on throughout the Panhandle section but decided to finally get a photo of them before we left the pines for good.
Then we finally exited Eglin on the south side for the final time. Chris called his dad and told him we’d be about an hour and found out his dad was already near Navarre. More road walking lay ahead of us, pretty much for the rest of the trip unless we walked on the beach later on. Back along U.S. 87 we saw Chris’ dad pass us and found a parking lot for him to stop off and say hi to us for a few minutes. Speaker dumped his pack while I took a few things out of mine and we told his dad we’d meet him and Diane, his wife, further up in Navarre at a restaurant. We’d initially picked a bbq joint but they thought it was closed, however we ended up finding it as we walked by so Chris called his dad and had him drive back down the road to meet us there instead.
After lunch Speaker had to hit the library to check on some potential job offers and we decided to split for the rest of the afternoon since we were planning to get a hotel and he was going to be stealthing somewhere along the beach.
We followed the road to the main area of Navarre and headed for the beach and Gulf of Mexico.