Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
We hiked a bit further before reaching Etoniah Creek State Forest where there was a trail register. We realized we were right behind another southbound hiker named Viper. We’d meet him later on when we checked out the Iron Bridge Shelter. He was a Michigan native, retired military, and was avoiding the cold winter by taking his time hiking south on the Florida Trail. He told us that he hiked the Appalachian Trail last year. Very few people make this their first long distance hike, but hats off to those that do! We invited him to join us in Palatka later on, but we wouldn’t see him, he was taking his time.
This section was really dense and wasn’t too well maintained. Between the silk blazing and overgrowth, Frisbee was losing his mind. He was relieved when we were kicked out onto a sandy, dirt road. After climbing over a locked gate, we would find ourselves on a rail trail the rest of the way to the hitch point.
It took some time, but a Volkswagen GTI eventually pulled over to pick us up. The driver’s name was Phil and he was heading out to take a look at an RV. He happened to be heading to Staples in Palatka, so he was willing to lug us into town on his way there.
We walked to Golden Corral after getting dropped off at a gas station down the street. Out front was a huge crowd of kids, I’m guessing eating there after being on some sort of a field trip. We weren’t the only people who walked up towards the entrance then quickly made a U-turn. Nope, nope, nope. There was a Chinese buffet down the street, so we walked there to eat. It was out of business. Damn. After both of us cursed over the situation, we returned to Golden Corral. We were thrilled to see that all the children were gone.
After stuffing our faces, we struggled to resupply at the Publix down the street. Resupplying while nauseous isn’t too easy. We headed back towards Route 100 where the gas station was. Frisbee ran inside and I ended up talking to the couple parked out front, Jaime and Kerri. They asked me if I was hiking and they were really interested in hearing how our Florida Trail experience had been going. When Frisbee came out to join in the conversation, I asked which way they were heading, and they were more than willing to give us a ride back.
During the ride, Jaime told us that they had purchased a local Little Caesar’s franchise and were in the area to check out the new location. He also mentioned that a departed friend of his, unknowingly at the time, had eaten lunch with a serial killer who ended up murdering people on the AT in the 80’s.
I assume he was referring to Randall Lee Smith, who killed a hiking couple in Virginia in 1981. After being released on parole after serving a measly 30 year sentence (which obviously upset a lot of people), he returned to the same vicinity of the AT where he committed the murders. There, he shot two fishermen he befriended, who fortunately survived the incident.
Although bad things have occasionally happened, the Appalachian Trail is one of the safest places you can possibly be. I’ve always felt less safe and secure around towns than I ever have felt deep in the woods or out in the desert. We told them how our hiking experiences over the years have restored our faith in humanity. Just like Jaime and Kerri, we’ve met hundreds and hundreds of kind and interesting people wherever we’ve gone.
When we returned to the trail, we felt like we just entered Jurassic Park. It was a beautiful palm paradise, but I felt like a T-Rex might poke its head through the dense vegetation at any given moment to eat us whole. We crossed over boardwalks and bog bridges. This area was far better maintained than the one we just left! I spotted the tail end of a small black creature that looked like a cross between a kitten and a dachshund which disappeared quickly into the tannic water beside us. I’d learn later on that it was an otter.
Before reaching our camp site, we saw a large Bard owl spying on us through the trees. We set up our tarps and heard the unidentified “monsters” circling us throughout the night.
17.8 miles (28.6 km)
Jump Ahead to Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 4
Jump Back to Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 2
Start from The Beginning