Date- March 12, 2019
Location- Rivers Bend Campsite
Elevation- 23 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 19.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 958.4 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, high 70s, low 80s
Injuries- sore pinky
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- road kill, coral snake
Days without shower- 4
Days without laundry- 12
CatFox Status- Happy to be off road
We lost Critter today. The poor guy just had enough of the Florida Trail. Enough of the road walking; enough of the heat, humidity, mud, and water; but most of all, he’d had enough of this road walk in general. Several miles into the morning, he hitched a ride into the town of Ebro (where we were headed) and then called a ride to take him to the Northwest Florida International Airport about 20 miles away. He said he was going back to Oregon and that he would pick another trail to hike this spring and summer.
This past 140 mile stretch has been a brutal nightmare of a trail. The worst of all the Florida Trail has to offer. Bad enough… that Critter would call it quits on his thru-hike with only 150 miles to go. He was just completely over it.
I haven’t really said much about Critter on this blog… but I’ll have a lot more to say in future writings about this trail.
We got into Ebro a little after 10 am and spent a couple hours eating and resting at the only game in town… a gas station Subway. Two road miles later, we were back on trail.
It was such a gorgeous day today. Not a cloud in the sky, and the humidity seemed to be less than half what it has been lately. A good day to hike, no matter how worn out you feel.
I’m not sure what’s going on, but my left pinky toe feels really sore. I don’t know if this is the result of a blister, a bruise, or my toenail preparing to detach due to a fungus – or some other ailment. I just don’t know. And to be honest, I haven’t even looked at it because I don’t even care what’s wrong. I’m too close to being done, and it’s not hurting enough to be a problem. Also, it’s the kind of deep seeded pain that I know can’t be remedied with a superficial quick fix. No, this is something that just needs time. Time that I won’t be able to give until this hike is done. Until then… I just have to endure.
The trail was wonderfully maintained and unaffected by the hurricane – making for quick leisurely hiking. Only a few muddy wet spots where the feet got a bit damp, but nothing too serious. All in all, a low key yet productive day.
All of the excitement of today culminated in one event. Schweppes was about 20 yards ahead of me when he turned and began frantically signaling me forward with his hands. Thinking it might be a bear or some other animal, I broke into a crouching canter to catch up to him – with Katana across my pack.
“What is it?” I asked in a hushed voice. “Coral snake…” he said as he pointed to a mound of pine straw and leaves. Sure enough, the back half of a coral snake was hanging out of the mound of debris. Red, yellow, and black bands ringed its body. The yellow bands touching the red bands are what gave it away as a coral. If red touches yellow… you’re a dead fellow. If red touches black, you’re okay Jack. Also, if red bands are next to black bands – it’s a milk snake, not a coral. This rhyme will always hold true, without exception.
Coral snakes possess the deadliest venom of all snakes in North America. They’re also a cousin of the cobra. They don’t kill or even bite the most people in the US, but they are the most venomous. This was the first one I’ve ever seen in the wild, so there was no way I’d miss my chance to catch it and take some pictures.
I first tried to uncover the snake with my staff, but it was too quick to burrow into the litter. I couldn’t manipulate it out. The last thing I wanted to do was grab it with my hands, but if I didn’t act quick, it was going to get away. When I realized I only had one more chance to get the snake out before it disappeared – I reached in and grabbed it by the tail before quickly pulling it out onto the trail. Clean grab. No accidents.
Watching the coral snake conduct itself on open ground was a bizarre treat. I’ve never seen such unique behavior from a snake before. It moved only in sharp jerking motions, always covering its head with a part of its body or trying to bury it in the pine straw. It also kept turning its tail into a corkscrew while waving it around like an injured animal. This was an amazing tactic it was using in order to entice its attacker to go for the least vulnerable part of its body while it shielded its head away. I assume as soon as something attacked the tail, it would whip around and get a bite in. Very cool to observe such complex behavior in a reptile.
As far as coral snakes go, this one was a very decently sized specimen. They don’t get very big – maybe a little over 2 ft at the most. This one was in the 20 inch range. I had no designs to pin it or pick it up again. I’d only wanted to get it in the open for my once in a lifetime observation and a picture. I’ve been lucky to check a lot of cool snake encounters off my bucket list during long hikes.
We hiked a couple more miles to an established campsite near a river. It had a fire ring and plenty of fuel around, so I made a fire – the first one I’ve made of this entire journey. I honestly didn’t think I would end up making one on this hike, but I’m glad I did.
From here on out, every town we come to will be a town I’ve been to. In about 4 days we’ll be walking through my hometown of Navarre (pending any unforeseen delays or obstacles). For once I can say I’m excited for a thru-hike to be over, without the added paradox and nostalgia of also wishing it would never end. No, I’m ready for this one to conclude and be on to the next adventure…