DAY 84 -12/7/2012 Piney Creek Campground, Apalachicola National Forest

We left Walmart/Target errands and the Interstate knowing there were several big green expanses stretched out before us on the map.  Hoping to find more refuge we slowed for the first promising road, Log Landing, to see a closed gate and notices of “No County Maintenance”.  Drive on and hope.  Our ally is patience, the only enemy is the fatigue and irritation of driving too far or too long.  Today we know not to drive too far, we are just overcoming those pesky colds and planned to drive 2 hours max.

Bingo!  The next possibility (a road with a campground icon) from our detailed Garmin computer map is Piney Creek and here it is with a nice brown National Forest sign.  We drove in to the end where we saw a boat ramp and a family camping.  Each in high rubber boots and camo.  This turns out to be the uniform of choice, the boots have later been called snake-boots by our hunter friends.  I withold judgement as semi-friendly guy walks to my driver side door.  Are ya’ll looking for the campground?  Its the first dirt road on the left.  A little clarification and smiling banter later and we’re on our way.

Always aware, always checking we parked on the bigger dirt road and walked a few hundred yards into an idyllic clearing.

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Here were 80-100′ tall pines with barely a branch until the high canopy above.  Several nice, level, grassy areas were scattered in the clearing.  Palmetto surrounds and makes up the the thick underbrush.  Deep in the back were three tents, already set, extra canopies, a cooking area/grill canopy and a small wooden shelter-box with hay in it but No trucks.  Hmmm?  Probably hunter camp.

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We’ve become more and more comfortable with hunters as the trip winds onward, but remain wary.  We set up away from their zone, and found visual blinds feeling they may or may not come at all.

We donned our blaze orange vests and took a short hike.  Picking up the few strewn beer cans was an exercise in seeing how much we could do.  The parking lot walks, putt-putt golf had taxed us as much as our cold had allowed!   Wow, from five-thousand foot mountain hikes and intense shoreline mt. bike rides to this.  Waffling around, coughing at sea level.  Jane worried aloud whether we will have lost our fitness base.

I reassure her that one week of rest can be a wonderful restorative respite.  Some of my fastest races in the 80’s followed “longer” rests like this.  I hope for a quick return to the healthy state we have been building.  Low stress, long sleep, great food, good sights and nice people are surely the nicest environment we could have hoped for.  We’ll be strong soon.  This flatland sea level thing is funny though.  We both yearn for mountains.

Night fell after a nice cooking fire.  The Milky Way bodes us well and we asleep before 10.  Both of us alert as a truck pulls in through the sandy road and parks.  Men unload and it is clear they are occupying their hunting camp.  It is only midnight, they moved in at a modest pace, but before long I heard the long zzz,  zzz, of sleeping bag zippers, Later a bit of snoring.

Their dog Katy was first to notice me as I went out.  She bayed a wagging approval and curiosity.  Sniper, the beagle was better behaved.  I walked oner to meet three brothers; Angelo, John and Gus.  Each was gracious and had a story or two to share.  Gus had painted bridges all over the country.  His tales went to many of my favorite places.  His reaction, much as my own.  There are more good people than there are bad!

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The next night we find ourselves guests at their fire/table as Angelo came over, explained the Greek roots of Tarpon Springs, FL.  The signature dish tonight was spoken in Greek and we reiterated it’s name, then promptly forgot.  Suffice to say that blackened onions, pasta and feta cheese go well together!

The brothers were a true joy to be with.  We shared many common interests, described some differences and were struck by that quick comfort found in people sometimes.  They described some unsavory types who used to frequent this forest, but between the rangers, game wardens, and brothers, the place is nice again.

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Palmetto detail courtesy of Jane!

– David

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