Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dodging raindrops and mosquitoes

Looking from the wilderness side across the St. Marks River to the town of St. Marks and the start of the Rail Trail portion of the Florida Trail.

"Key West or Bust" - Day 78

It was time for a day off.  The trail had been getting under my skin--or more literally, the mosquitoes had.  They had been rampant as I slogged through wet areas of Apalachicola National Forest, getting my feet wet frequently and dreading the prospect of stopping to change into dry socks.  They had been a constant nemesis as I passed through the Cathedral of Palms and the eastern Part of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  When I stopped for two seconds to take a photo, they would swarm me.  Something about the unusually warm, damp weather had brought them out - hatched a new crop and made them lust for my blood.

The forecast was providing me with a good excuse to take a zero day.  Rain looked like a sure thing for Tuesday and Wednesday.  I knew the mosquitoes would love that, and I didn't feel like walking with wet feet some more, so I took Tuesday off and accomplished some off-trail business.  I was planning to hike only a little on Wednesday - I would do part of the non-Florida-Trail road walk I needed to do around the St. Marks River.

That was the plan, but the weather had taken an unexpected turn.  I'm going to let my personal journal account cover the story from there:

"I got up and checked radar on the laptop and found that there were no radar echoes coming in from the Gulf of Mexico and none appeared to be threatening for at least several hours. My meteorological ‘sixth sense’ told me that today might be almost rain free despite a long-standing forecast for lots of rain. So I decided to head straight out at first light, do some hiking and keep going until rain stopped me.

I grabbed some breakfast on the fly and then drove the ten miles to the Tallahassee-to-St. Marks Rail Trail crossing at US 98 and was hiking before sunrise. Weather was foggy and breezy and warm and humid—temperature and dew point around 70. I hiked the peculiar 2.6 miles of trail back to where the car was parked. This is ‘single track’ footpath cleared in the woods, but it is entirely within the US 98 right of way, so it’s never more than 25 feet from the shoulder of the road.

This roadside trail was wet and somewhat overgrown so I got my socks and lower pants wet quickly. There were strange sections of this trail where they had painted blazes on telephone poles on the south side of the highway and yet there were blazes in the woods just off the north side of the highway.  Some of the woods sections were through deep bog and had clearly not been maintained for several years, though the blazes were fresh and frequent.  Other parts looked like they were still meant to be hiked. I guess it’s up to the hiker to decide.

Anyhow when I got to the car I changed into dry socks and drove on to Newport and parked by an old fire tower at the junction of US 98 with Lighthouse Road and hiked the road back to the van. This is not part of the Florida Trail, but a necessary connecting hike to keep my Personal Continuous Footpath continuous as I bypass the boat ride that the Florida Trail requires across the St. Marks River.

The weather remained the same – rain free but cloudy and warm and very humid. The mosquitoes were out but most of the time they weren’t so abundant that they felt like a plague. The road walk was uneventful and I used the time to make some phone calls to begin to formulate plans for a visit with my family around New Years when both my children will be back from extended stays overseas.

When I got to the van I drove it down to the St. Marks Nat’l Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and parked there and walked the 3.6 miles back to the car along that paved, mostly straight, very lightly used Lighthouse Road. Only a dozen or so vehicles came by. I walked the middle of the road in order to keep away from the foliage where mosquitoes seem to lurk – even in the grass right beside the road. And it worked. I rarely saw a mosquito during this leg.

Weather continued basically the same, though there were moments of sun and one brief misty fall of a few drops of rain. It was now feeling truly steamy, with the temperature up to the mid 70’s. The wind was now light, so it felt pretty stifling when the sun came through the clouds.

I moved the car down to the parking lot at the visitor center, right beside the van, and went in to the visitor center with a note telling the ranger on duty there, David Moody (who I met yesterday), that I’d be parking the car there overnight tonight. Then I got out my bicycle and started hiking the five mile leg that I need to do out-and-back in order to get to the river crossing point across from the town of St. Marks.

The first three miles are along Port Leon Road - the gated tram road that goes arrow-straight WSW to the ghost town of Port Leon at the end of the old railroad grade. That part I would be able to ride back on my bicycle. Beyond that the trail goes into the woods in an area designated as Wilderness and follows the railroad grade NNW to the St. Marks River.  There were some nice views of grassy marsh areas that line the river.

Mosquitoes were a bit of a problem and there was one very brief but strong rain shower that wet the foliage, but otherwise conditions remained the same.  I was committed by then to hike this leg. I stowed the bike where the trail left the road at a ford of a flowing stream and hiked the 1.8 miles up to where the Florida Trail crosses the St. Marks River. It would have been easy to hail a boat—a couple of them passed while I was in the vicinity of the river crossing. Then I hiked back to the bike and rode the bike back to the visitor center parking lot.

It began to rain steadily and with increasing intensity just as I was arriving and stowing the bike in the van. It turns out that I was rather lucky, as radar showed much more rain coming on shore to the east, hitting the town of Perry, and a smaller downpour rolled through just to the west, which would have thoroughly soaked me if I had been out in it.

It was just before 4PM as I stowed the bike in the van. Ranger David Moody came out of the Visitor Center. He was locking it up—4PM is closing time. He asked if I needed anything before he left and I said no and pointed to my car just to confirm that it would be there overnight. He had received my note, and said he ‘had it on his radar’.  Good to know."

*** end of personal journal account ***

So because the rain held off I accomplished all of the necessary "extra-curricular" hiking to fulfill my 'Personal Continuous Footpath' rules for hiking the Florida Trail.  Tomorrow it will be back to 'normal' hiking, continuing to push east-south.

Below is the map of today's route, and there are a number of additional photos available.

St. Marks River Wilderness area at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Tallahassee, Florida

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