Day 28, 18 miles, fort Pickens campground
Greenleaf wakes me up this morning. I’m like: “Huh? What?”. But I soon see why he woke me up. The sunrise is amazing! I’m only half awake but I’m snapping tons of pictures. Soooo pretty!! We love it!
After staring at the sun for much longer than is good for my eyes, we pack up and continue walking. We get back on the bike path to make our life easier and it’s not like I’ve never walked through dunes before haha. Greenleaf and I come up with a little song; “if you’re spoilt and you know it, raise your hand”. This trail and the Te Araroa have made us realize how spoilt and lucky we are to have seen and hiked all these amazing places. We count our blessings but are prone to whining haha.
Several miles later we leave the national sea shore area and arrive at a shopping plaza with a few breakfast places to choose from. We love the one we pick, they have delicious smoothies and pancakes.
We decide to pack out some sandwiches for dinner like we did yesterday but Greenleaf also wants to sample the chowder only a half a mile further along. I’m stuffed so I don’t order anything. I do sacrifice myself and help him finish his order of shrimp. They are delectable. Against his Greenleaf nature he also orders a giant piece of chocolate cake, who is this person? I’m still stuffed so unfortunately can only steal a few bites.
Finally we put a stop to the gluttony and we walk on. There is some road construction going on so even poor Greenleaf does some beach walking. Single lane road without a bike path is not a good option. Again it’s beautiful but a tough and slanted walk. We soon retreat to the road. It’s two lanes again so we’re good.
We’ve reserved a space at the Fort Pickens campground and the trail goes right through there so we set up our tent and slack pack the last mile to the end. We reminisce about the trail and it feels weird to finish this way. There is no big mountain to climb, no border reached, just a small plaque at a seemingly random spot after a bridge and then you reach the historic fort. We enjoy exploring the fort and soak in the sunset while eating our sandwiches on top of one of the walls. We’re done with the hike. How weird.
After our last few miles in the woods we follow a small road out to highway 87.
The Tom Thumb shop is a welcome little stop but we soon continue on following a side walk into Navarre. I buy some travel soap and shampoo at CVS while Greenleaf is panhandling on the side walk. Of course he’s not really panhandling but a lady stops to chat and gives him two dollars to have a drink on her. And she won’t take no for an answer.
The Florida Trail app mentioned JJ Chago’s coffee shop and when we looked up the menu we got very excited. Fancy coffee, avocado bagel breakfast sandwiches, it sounded delicious! When we get our orders we are not disappointed. The owner has plans to run some of the Florida Trail. I wish him good luck.
The next stretch has us walk over the bridge to the Navarre and Pensacola beaches. Finally we are going the beach! The end is in sight!
We’re making the most of the last restaurant on trail for today and order sandwiches to go. While Greenleaf is ordering inside I enjoy a break on a bench outside. It’s sunny out but nice underneath my shade umbrella. I get a message from TruckerBob who is in the area, he just missed us at the breakfast place but will be on his way to say hi in a bit. He shows up just as GL makes it outside with the sandwiches. To our surprise our friend Bayou from Ocean pond is with him. How fun! We hang out and chit chat for a bit until they have to move on. We move on too but not far. Just a block over to be precise. There is a Tom Thumb there with some smoothie drinks with our names on it.
We take the drinks across the street to some sheltered picnic tables and wait out the heat for a bit. I go and play in the ocean with GL’s sun bonnet on and GL stays in the shade relaxing. Water really isn’t his thing. We’re both happy as clams. Or something like that.
Eventually we move on and it’s still pretty hot and bright. My sunglasses aren’t dark enough for this and my eyes aren’t happy. Luckily GL has an extra pair of darker ones which make my life a whole lot better.
We walk the bike path through a neighborhood with beach condos. There are some high rises too. Somehow we had both expected this area to be less developed. We didn’t quite realize there would be a road all the way to Fort Pickens.
We eventually transition to the Santa Rosa area of the Gulf Islands national seashore. It’s a preserve with no development except for the road and bike path going through. The trail has us go on the beach and I’m looking forward to it. GL is going to stick with the bike path and we plan to meet up later.
I very soon realize that this beach is not like the New Zealand beaches I’ve walked on. The only section of sand hard enough to walk on without sinking in is at the water’s edge which at this time is at a slope. It’s no fun walking this way and as the tide is coming in the sand gets softened up again as I’m walking. Oof, this is tough walking and slow going. I love the beach and the ocean but I decide I’ll be happier on the bike path with Greenleaf and it will be more fun for him too.
Luckily I’m not too far behind him when I get back to the road and I send him a text to look back. Happily reunited we walk on.
Just as the sun is setting we pull up at Opal beach which has covered picnic tables. After shooting a gazillion photos of the beautiful sunset we eat our dinner sandwiches and since the temperatures are so nice now we walk on some more. We miss the turn to the Bayview campsite and sleep out on the beach instead. The stars and the moon are amazing, the little flies less so.
Day 26, 22.6 miles, Dean campsite
It’s warm and humid in the morning. I start with just my summer dress on straight away. Everything feels sticky.
The trail is much of the same and I feel sluggish. We see a dirt road alternate near the trail and decide to cut down on our misery and take the road instead.
We end up walking through a poor neighborhood with yards with trash and mobile homes in poor shape. And the occasional barking dog of course. We wonder what it’s like to live there.
A little bit further there is a private lake with some nicer residences and then it’s back to poor ones again. It takes an interesting turn when on one side of the road we see a mobile home with two tattered confederate flags on the porch and a bunch of junk laying around and a minute later on the other side we see a big beautiful new home with a three car garage and a porch with pillars in front. A long row of expensive houses with shiny cars parked in front follows. We are astounded by the juxtaposition. It’s fun looking at all the different pretty houses on one side and still some more mobile homes on the other. Eventually the whole neighborhood turns into fancy houses and when we pull off the road for a break we feel like out of place vagrants.
We join the ‘trail’ again at the fancy houses where it’s a road walk to 87. We pass by the race track which is quiet now after we heard some noise from it last night. On the corner of 87 there is a Tom Thumb. It’s the local gas station convenience store. It’s lovely. There are healthy smoothie drinks, yoghurt, fruit, all kinds of things we haven’t found in the recent little stores. We loiter outside enjoying our snacks when the sun finally pokes through and fries us.
Luckily there are still some large clouds giving us some relief on what is now a highway walk again. They are widening the road and it’s very interesting to look at the different aspects of building a second bridge. The bridge with all the materials and equipment, the actual new bridge, and the one we are walking on, it’s all there or in progress. We’re walking on a lane blocked from traffic so we can take it all in without worrying.
We somehow fail to find the trailhead so we walk on until we find a little connector road to the trail. This way we pass by the sign-in kiosk, I hope we don’t get in trouble for that.
This section of trail is just as beautiful as the other one in the Eglin airbase was. We love it. Miles are going by quickly and when we get to Weaver Creek we take a nice relaxing break in the shade. We wish all the trail on the Florida Trail were like this.
Dean Creek is less than five miles ahead and we’re camping at Dean campsite near it. We arrive with plenty of day light left and relax some more while munching on whatever we have left in our food bags. We bought some goat cheese in Crestview and eventhough it got a little goopy it tastes delicious on our crackers.
We do some planning for the next days and find restaurants in Navarre to look forward to. Only two more days left!
Day 25, 23.7 miles, random campsite on old road
Our first stop in the morning is Panera bread. We get sandwiches to go for lunch and I finally get my much craved latte. While sipping my latte we make our way to downtown Crestview. We’re planning on having breakfast at the Waffle House but when we walk by a local place and see people go in we follow.
After breakfast we continue on along US 90 which I was dreading. It turns out not to be a big deal. It’s not that busy on Saturday morning and there is a big flat grassy berm we can walk on. There are also a few stretches of dirt track paralleling the highway which make for pleasant walking. Along the way a homeless person points out to us that they’re handing out free food across the street. He’s carrying a few bags full. We thank him for the tip. I guess we must look worse than we think.
While we are fending off some of the many barking dogs (these guys actually left their yard), a truck pulls over and offers us drinks and snacks. We feel pretty lame when we say we’re trying to cut back on the sugary snacks but we appreciate a cold drink. It’s Grip (I think), a fellow long distance hiker. He tells us he hiked about 600 miles of the Florida trail as well and couldn’t see how someone could enjoy it. Yep. It’s not easy.
The miles go quickly and before we know it we are in Holt which has two diners and a small store. We decide to try out Susan’s restaurant and have some delicious mullet again. I guess we’ll save our Panera sandwiches for dinner.
We’re finally off US 90 but still on roads, there is less and less traffic but more and more dogs. One place was selling puppies and had a bunch of the older ones just roaming around. They barked at us and followed us down the road for a bit. A little further down there is the lone non barking dog who just wants to say hi and sniff us. It’s a sweet doggie and it gets all sad when I yell at him to go home. I’m just afraid he’ll dart in the road and don’t want him to get hurt.
Soon after the road turns to dirt we turn to trail again. There is a section next to some swamp but the water level is low enough to keep dry feet. It’s a weird bit of trail. Some of it is burnt, most of it is messy with lots of twigs and thorns and things to trip over. There are also a few boggy areas and some even messier areas. It reminds me of some of the crap trail of New Zealand.
There are several streams and while I pose for GL on a mostly rotten log bridge I see a snake in the water. Yuck!
We’re very annoyed by the crap trail and when we get to a stream without a bridge GL loses it. The stream is beautiful with a nice white sandy bottom but his patience with the trail has run out. We ford and he throws a tantrum. The tantrum is followed by venting via silly songs and soon he feels better again.
We get to a more open area and the sky is beautiful, I love it.
We’re losing light quickly and when we see a decent campsite we decide we’ve had enough for the day.
Day 24, 20 miles, Crestview.
Today is soooo nice.
The trail is good, the scenery is good, the water sources are beautifully clear flowing over white sand.
There are some planes flying overhead but the highway is further away so we don’t hear that noise anymore.
We have lunch at Walton pond, a beautiful spot. We see two hunters driving by but nobody else there. I’m a little out of it today. I mentioned having hot coffee at lunch and Greenleaf is all ready to make it for me but neither of us has unflavored water so then he dumps in some Nuun flavored water before I realize I could have just walked a few feet to get water from the pond. Duh!
And later I’m a bit concerned about being dehydrated because my pee is yellow and then I realize I’m wearing my brown tinted sunglasses. Not too bright!
The miles go quickly and we soon arrive at yet another highway to walk. Luckily this one isn’t too bad. There is a big grassy area next to the highway and it’s not sloped so we mostly just walk that. I think some motor cyclists ask GL where his shirt is, like he cares haha. When it’s hot the shirt comes off and it doesn’t go back on until we’re truly in town. And here I am with my bandanna tucked in my sternum strap covering my décolleté (also because the sternum strap clasp is irritating but that’s besides the point).
Where both a little fried when we get to the Econolodge and just rest before we go to the Asian buffet next door. GL was really looking forward to that. I’m more looking forward to going to the Panera next door in the morning.
This being in a motel room every other night feels kind of stupid but I must admit that the bed is comfy (and Defuniak springs definitely wasn’t planned).
We’ve booked a campsite at the Fort Pickens campground at the end of our trip now we’re just hoping that winter weather won’t mess up our flight plans. If all goes well we only have four hiking days left.
Day 22, Defuniak springs, 22.5 miles (I think)
We survived the storm last night but are finding lots of branches on the trail. We decide to take the high water route around the flood plain swamp area since we’re sure it’s going to be a mess after the storm. Even the high water route is slightly soggy at times.
The trail passes several pretty streams. Clear water with a sandy bottom. So nice after all the tannin colored water we’ve seen the past weeks. We’re feeling better after yesterday’s funk and find a nice spot for lunch. It’s slightly open and breezy so we are able to dry out our tent even if it’s not sunny.
It’s pretty cloudy today with some showers in the afternoon.
At lunch I check out the upcoming section and discover we have to walk around another flood plain. The Alaqua creek wasn’t safe to ford mid January and that was before the two latest storms so I can only imagine what the water levels are now.
I’m the one who is grouchy now. I’m so over the highway walking. This detour will add at least 6 miles to the regular 2 on highway 331. First we walk about 2 miles parallel the road on nice trail but then we’re pretty much along it. To top it off there is major road construction going on and it’s a mess. We cross two or three times according to what side looks better for us to walk. At times we find a power line road or an elevated berm or even a concrete ditch. Anything is better than right next to the road since there is no shoulder because of the construction. The reroute brings us to Defuniak springs. We really didn’t want to spend another night in a motel but it seems our timing is off for this one. We stay at the Sundowner motel, at least it’s affordable and nice. And there is a good Mexican restaurant next door. Yum!
Next up is figuring out the Eglin Air Force closures. The map I pulled up initially showed a section of the trail in a closed area but a later map showed it open. I’m so confused and really don’t want to road walk around. For now it looks open but I’ll check again in the morning and make sure. So many obstacles on this trail. Ugh.
Our resolve to be end to end hikers is waning. Walking the highway is not only silly it can be dangerous too. Is it really worth it?
We love these fluffy trees
A pretty section
The beginning of the highway walk. When we got closer to the machinery I wondered where we could possibly hike. We crossed the road and found a ditch to hike in. Seriously.
Day 21, 14 miles, near airport road
The beds are comfy but we have to keep hiking. We head back to the dreaded SR20 and hike for a mile and a half to the trailhead. We are excited for the newly constructed trail. It’s supposed to be nice.
Soon we enter a burn area, a little bit of a bummer. Then we get to the cool new boardwalk, it’s pretty sweet. Then there is more burn area. Out of the burn area we enter a pine plantation. They’ve built up rows to plant the pine trees in and we’re walking up and down across the rows. It gets to be really annoying. We’re really bummed out that this supposed nice section is so disappointing and GL is about to lose it. He’s had it and walks a road out to hwy 81 while I continue on the last mile of trail. This last part is actually quite nice and with the low water tables also dry. We meet up again at the hwy trailhead.
The next section is sweet trail along a crystal clear creek followed by an old pine plantation with level trail. GL is still grouchy and leaves the trail again to roadwalk to our planned campsite.
Since the trail is shorter and still nice I beat him to the intersection but I see him coming so I wait. He checked the radar and severe rain is supposed to hit us soon. This is not the time to split up. He follows me up the trail and we see the clouds getting darker and the wind picking up. We head for a more forested area hoping to set up the tent before it starts raining. Our timing is impeccable. It’s only light rain at first but it turns into a downpour pretty quickly.
At first we think it’s funny and we’re nice and dry. When it really hits us it’s no longer fun and games. We hold on to the tent so it doesn’t blow in, the back end collapses once. Water is coming in from the sides and we use our little dollar shammy to mop things up. When I go outside to restake the back end I see fallen branches all over the place. The thunder and lightning intensify. I am definitely not a happy camper. I hate thunder storms!
We try to keep our important things dry and don’t get our sleeping bags out until it really looks like the worst is over.
We can still hear thunder in the distance but are now comfy in our bags reasonably dry.
Day 20, 26.5 miles of which 13 on pavement.
The oak tree we’re camped under kept us nice and dry last night. This morning is much warmer and soon we’re down to our summer outfits. We pass by Rattlesnake pond which has an early fisher man.
We make our way through a sandy clearcut which is less pleasant but the new plantings make Greenleaf happy. The landscape is slightly hilly and once through the clearcut it’s quite pretty with tall grasses and small trees.
Then it’s on to the not so enjoyable part of the day. About 14 miles of highway walking along SR 20. In the beginning it’s not too bad, there’s not much traffic and there is a good shoulder to walk on. It soon gets hot though and our highly anticipated stop at the Chevron station is cut short because we can’t find a good shady spot to hang out. The No Loitering signs don’t help either. They do have some good fried foods and we decide to pack them out to have them for lunch in a random shady spot on the side of the road. Feeling classy eating my fried chicken in the ditch surrounded by trash. I still don’t understand why people throw their trash out the car window. Every road side is littered with cans, beer bottles and even the occasional diaper.
I can’t wait to walk some trail again but Greenleaf has his eye set on getting to the next town. I can’t blame him, the trail makes a long detour south just to get back to SR 20 six miles later. He continues about 2-3 miles along the Highway and hangs out at the Greyhound race track bar for a few hours while I continue on trail.
My first mile off the highway is possibly worse than the highway since it’s a sandy logging road in the hot sun with a short soggy section. I don’t even mind getting my feet wet but the sun is baking me. I had stowed my sun umbrella but need to take it out again.
After I leave the logging road the trail improves and soon I’m in the forest with shade and good tread. There is even a sweet little section with a stream next to a boardwalk. I do feel silly basically walking in the wrong direction but once I reach the Sand Pond area I forget all about that. There are two ponds, one with a beautiful reflection and some ducks and the other has an awesome cypress forest lining the shore. So cool! It’s a good thing GL isn’t here because I take my time taking pictures.
A little further along there is a sign to a boardwalk. That’s sounds intriguing. It’s only about 1/4 mile past the Florida trail turn off and I decide to explore. The board walk goes though the cypress swamp. I’m surrounded by a gazillion cypress trees, I love it!
Back on trail there are a few more pretty ponds with cypress trees to walk by and then it’s on to a residential road. My feet are hurting badly at this point and when Greenleaf suggests staying in a motel in Ebro I’m easily convinced. I hobble the .7 to the motel and don’t move much for a while. Luckily GL surprised me with a Subway sandwich so I didn’t have to hobble across the parking lot. My feet are throbbing.
Day 19, 24.6 miles, flat spot in oak hammock.
Last night must have been the coldest night so far. We see some frost and our tent is soaking with condensation again. Brrr!
Wearing all of our layers we head out to the road again. The sunrise is pretty but otherwise it’s pretty boring. There is lots of trash on the side of the road and a gazillion barking dogs. It’s always fun when they leave their yard and chase you.
Thank goodness we have some music to listen to and traffic isn’t too bad.
Eight miles later we make a small detour to the Dollar General. We have an early lunch with all kinds of random things with too much sugar and cheese. A lady excitedly asks us if we are traveling light and when we say yes she offers a big bar of Amish soap. We say that it’s too heavy but much appreciated.
All hyper from the food and drinks we continue on the road for another three miles. Along the way I suggest we dry out the tent since it’s sunny and there is a bit of a breeze. We must have been an odd sight on the side of the road holding our tent up.
At the trailhead we meet the section leader for this section of the trail and he and his friends ask if we need anything. We’re still carrying too much food and just stuffed our faces so unfortunately all we ask for is some water.
We’re entering the Econfina segment and follow the Econfina River. It’s a beautiful section with quite a variety of vegetation. And some side streams have clear water! And the trail tread is great! We’re loving it!
There are quite a few ups and downs which we’re no longer used to but we’re both wishing for more of this.
Our campsite for the night is sweet. On nice pine duff underneath a big oak tree with frogs singing their songs.
It was cold!!!
The Econfina bluffs