Florida Trail – Stage 3 – Eastern Panhandle

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Alligators of St.Marks

Start:  Apalachicola River

Finish:  Winquepin St./CR 255

Distance:  198.6 miles (319.6 km)

Time:  6.5 days ( December 17-23, 2011)

Daily Average:  30.6 miles (49.2 km)

Total Distance:  433.7 miles (697.8 km)

Highlights:

  • St Mark’s Wildlife Refuge: Founded in 1931, St Mark’s was one of the first wildlife refuges established in the United States. It boasts an incredible combination of flora, fauna and spectacular views;  the gulf coast section was perhaps my favourite stretch of the entire FT. The little kid in me was uber-excited to see alligators for the first time…………….. in the space of a couple of hours, I must have taken 100 photos of these amazing prehistoric marine reptiles!
  • Aucilla River: Gorgeous section, notable for its numerous sinkholes and fascinating geological formations.
  • Bingo Burgers: Best burger on the FT. A “must-stop” for any self-respecting thru-hiker. Situated on the outskirts of St.Marks, I spent a very enjoyable, not to mention filling, couple of hours seated at this roadside eatery.

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  • The Village of St Marks: Favourite trail town on the FT. Friendly people, beautiful setting and a memorable sunrise over the Wakulla River.
  • Shepherd Spring: Along with Devil’s Hole, my favourite swimming spot on the FT. Just watch out for the gators.

Lowlights:

  • Did I mention there’s a lot of road walking on the FT?
  • Ticks: It’s a little known Biblical tidbit, that when Noah was drawing up the final boarding list for the Ark, ticks were given the double thumbs down. Despite the blackballing, these persistent little blighters managed to wrangle a freebie passage on some poor, unsuspecting four legged creature who was just looking for a place to get dry. Ticks have been making their unwelcome presence felt ever since. In the case of the FT, I experienced a maddening three day period before reaching St Marks, during which I must have picked off over 150 of the pests from my person. Every 15 minutes or so I was giving myself body checks, just hoping that one of the little buggars didn’t imbed itself in a place that was not so easily tweezer-accessible. For information on the do’s and don’t of dealing with ticks, check out the following link on The Hiking Life website.
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Sunrise from St.Marks

Notes/Musings:

  • “On Guard”: Forget about gators, snakes or even bears. The only real serious danger facing hikers on the FT are dogs. The FT often passes through small economically depressed towns, which invariably have front yards distinguished by the following characteristics: 1. At least four old motor vehicles in various states of disrepair (the concept of trading in your car doesn’t seem to have reached the southern United States); 2. Grass which hasn’t been mowed since the Reagan Administration; 3. A trash can full of empty Bud Lights, and; 4. An unchained pit bull or rottweiler lying in wait for the unsuspecting Florida Trail Hiker. If you don’t have hiking poles, a sturdy stick and/or a sizable rock and good throwing arm will give you a fighting chance of emerging in one piece.

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