Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hike 9: Hwy 331 near DeFuniak to JW Hollington Road

On Sunday, October 2, 2011 nine of us meet up to hike a 13.5 mile section of the Florida Trail. There are three new hikers joining us on this trek - Fresh Meat! We hit the trail at 8:10 am and expect to make good time across what we expect to be an easy trail.

The first 3.9 miles follow along the edge of Hwy 331. We are able to stay well off the road for most of this part - hiking along a telephone pole roadway. Unfortunately, some area are grown up with sticker bushes and other areas are rather muddy. I was wise and wore long pants today so "no problemo" for me. Most of the others chose to wear shorts (oh foolish ones) and when we reach the point to hike across 331 and enter the next trail section, they are scratched and bleeding just a bit.

The next couple of miles are unlike any we've hiked so far. The land has been stripped bare in most spots but no true development of the property has occurred. The result is that we must hike through grasses and weeds that cover the fields and make the trail barely visible. We cross a few unnamed creeks along the way and do see some rather beautiful fields of wildflowers.

At about the halfway point of the hike we cross Steephead Ravine on a small bridge and head up the ravine to Steephead Camp where we break for about 10 minutes to rest, eat and drink. Those in shorts survey the scratches on their legs and hope that we hit no more of that landscape. I'm feeling a bit guilty because this is the most undeveloped section of trail we've hiked and I've brought three newbies on the trek. I wonder if they will return. The "Steephead Ravine" by the way is as steep as those I hiked in Vermont. The difference is the climb lasts about 100 yards in Florida versus about 4 miles in places in Vermont.

We spend what seems to be several miles working our way around the edge of a large cleared field. however, we spend this time most in the woods along the edge of the clearing. along the way we cross Little Coyote Creek, Snake-eating Creek, and Tom Turtle Creek. I am in front at this point, fighting the occasional spider web, when a 3 1/2 foot black snake crosses in front of me. I remind myself to watch where I step and move on. We begin to follow a beautiful rushing creek. We walk right along the edge of the creek for 2-3 miles and, while the scenery is beautiful, it means we must navigate multiple twists, turns and many roots and Cypress knees. At one point it crosses my mind that, if I trip and fall, I'm likely to impale myself on a Cypress Stump. Jon Brooks, the leader of the Faculty Assembly at the College where I work is right behind me, so I pick up the pace to keep a few yards of space between us just in case he decide a change in college administration might be a desirable thing.

When we finish the march through the roots we reach a forest road and cross a bridge. We pause there and comment that we hope the roots are behind us as our feet are feeling the workout. It is supposed to be a short 0.4 miles to our finish but three of us, led by me, walk right past the stopping point and continue another half mile before we realize we've goofed. we backtrack and reach the finish point in about 5 and 1/2 hours having covered about 14.5 miles (1 of it by mistake). We are now well on our way to the Panama City area and will hike again soon.

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