Day 44 miles: 668.4 – 688.0

Our stealth camping spot at the trail head lastnight wasn’t as quiet or stealthy as I had hoped. Two cars ended up coming into the parking lot after dark and the folks milled around for about an hour each before leaving. A young couple (from the second car) walked down the path past my set-up around 10pm, and I was standing by a tree to greet them as they got close. They didn’t see me until they were a few feet from my camp, and not before I caught them off guard with a quick blink from my flashlight. They were easy going though and the guy said he liked how blended my camp was, and that they would announce themselves as they came back through (which they did). Then, around 4am a quick thunderstorm rolled over the area dumping some rain and boldly presenting itself with a few loud claps of thunder, which was an ominous warning for the day to come. By 6am, the weather had cleared to a light fog and it was time to pack things up and for me to try the TKP out first hand.

Getting my pack organized for the day felt a little awkward as I left my main camping gear behind in the van and as I only packed the essentials, but once I picked up my pack and put it on, I could instantly see the benefits of it. My pack weight was probably in the mid teens and I felt like I could run down the trail today. In fact, Mickey and I started out fast at a 3mph pace, but I had to slow it down a bit and we settled on 2.5mph.

The first 8 miles of the day were great as we hiked through the woods and passed under a I-10 bridge for the last time. But we also had to say goodbye to the Suwannee River as we rounded the last bit of trail by her sandy banks and blackwater. Our pace was steady and we passed Gray Beard at our 8 mile mark. We all sat and discussed the trail and the weather, mainly the probability that we were all about to get rained on. Little did we know what was in store for us at time, or we probably wouldn’t have sat around as long. After the break, Gray Beard continued south to the van and Mickey and I headed northbound to finish our miles.

As we started the 10 mile section of roadwalk, it was a complete change of scenery as we transitioned from the narrow trail with limited visibility to the wide open, freshly planted farm fields of the roadwalk. The road was a hard packed sand road too, which I like to hike on, but we noticed that the distant thunder was getting closer and the sky was getting darker. At the time, I was enjoying the cool temps and sun blockage from the clouds, but that all changed when a little rain drop landed on my hand. Looking forward down the road a few miles we could see that the rain band was making its way towards us as the sky began to lite up with lightning and the sounds of rolling thunder. This was no little storm headed towards us like what was predicted, no, this was a full force (summer time like) thunderstorm! As it approached, the rains quickly opened up and fell as hard apon us as any rain I’ve ever seen, and what was supposed to be a light wind of 4mph, were now steadily blowing directly in our faces at 25-35mph! The temperatures dropped dramatically and what was a cool mid 60’s day was now (with a wind chill) somewhere around freezing. The lightening was so constant that for a good 15 minutes the sky was flashing like a strobe light and a continual roar of thunder filled our ears. We found ourselves with our heads down in the driving rain, soaked and freezing with lightning striking all around us and with no place to hide. The wind was blowing so hard that I had to lean forward and really work at moving my legs against the drag of my heavily soaked and hard flapping pants. I was in the lead when I saw a small group of pine trees and stepped off the road, turning back I had to yell loudly at Mickey as she passed me, head down, and just 15 feet away for her to hear me that I was stopping for a bit. We both stood there in the middle of a crazy thunderstorm, shivering and laughing that this is what we do for fun. We waited a few minutes for the winds to die down until we could see through the blinding rain, and hit the road march in the storm again. The rains kept coming down hard for another 15 minutes before slowing down to a normal rain, and the lightening became less frequent. The winds slowed down too, to about 10mph, but the conditions were far from good, only not as bad. We pressed on for 8 miles like this without a break, because to stop moving our already shivering bodies could become a major problem in a very short amount of time.

Two miles from camp is when the rain finally decided to quit along with the winds and lightning, and Mickey and I too quit for a much needed break. We sat down along the road and had a smoke and joked about how insane and long the storm was that we just spent 3 hours walking through. Our bodies were tired, sore and cold and our feet were hurting, but we only had two miles to go. After our break, they were two fast miles, and thankfully Gray Beard was already waiting in his van at the end of the line to warm us up in.

At camp, we changed into dry clothes and immediately went out to eat for a hot meal and a resupply run. We talked about the luxuries of the TKP and how without it, I would still have to make camp, build a fire (if I could) and cook a hot meal just to warm up and still have a resupply to do. I must say that the TKP has it’s perks and would be perfect for a lot of people. In fact, I plan on participating again tomorrow as the forecast is the same as today, only worse, lasting from 6am till 6pm. At least I’m warm and dry until morning…

The last picture of the Suwannee River for this trip. What a great past few days it’s been with this as my daily view

Stealth camping at a church (with permission). Look at all the luxuries: hard cover, dry, water, power, and safety. Thank you Pastor Matt for hooking us up like this.

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