About midnight I hear an animal in the woods and wake up. I know it’s an animal, but it sounds enough like footsteps for my imagination to order up a healthy shot of adrenaline. I know I won’t be able to sleep again, so I pack up. It’s a clear, cool, starry night. The headlight appears to work. I hardly scrape the limits of Alachua before setting off on a dark, traffic-less county road. The headlight goes out again, but I don’t care. It’s lovely out here. I pick out the constellations I know, Casseopeia, Ursa Major and Minor to the north, Orion and the Pleiades above. I’m sure I should know more, but the stars look foreign to the west.
In High Springs I stop to fiddle with my lights and have a snack. Some local kids there ignore me and sound bored to tears. Then I run a red light and a cop stops me. At first he’s very suspicious of me, but as I answer his questions he becomes more curious than suspicious. I show him my map. After we talk a while the red light is forgotten, he even sort of apologizes for stopping me, and I’m off again.
I ride about an hour and decide to stop at O’Leno State Park. It’s about 2:30 am. To my surprise, a couple of guys are standing guard at the gate. They ask me for the password. At first I think they’re joking, but it becomes clear they don’t intend to let me in. But, like the cop, they’re curious and start asking questions. Turns out there’s a Narcotics Anonymous convention here this weekend, and they’re serious about keeping drugs out of the area. When I finally start to leave they insist that I come in. I do, and sleep off the rest of the night on a secluded picnic table.
In the morning I head for Ft. White hoping for breakfast, but finding none I go on to Ichetucknee State Park to cook oatmeal. Ichetucknee Springs is a bright blue pool of water that gurgles up out of nowhere and flows off into the Ichetucknee River. I have the place to myself until some scuba divers show up. They tell me they’re working on cleaning up the spring which was getting clogged with sediment and mineral deposits. They also suggest I walk half a mile to look at Blue Hole Spring.
I do. It’s a big pool of perfectly clear water bubbling up in the middle and swirling around in a big circular pool. It’s 5 to 8 feet deep with a grassy bottom and surrounded by cypress trees. I feel a strong urge to get in. I’m all alone, so I peel off my clothes and plunge. It’s cool, and feels very fresh and pure. I swim to the middle and dive down into the hole where the water emerges from an underground cavern. I peer around the watery cave for a moment, then curl up and let the current carry me to the surface. I take a deep, fulfilling breath and float around until I drift back to the bank. When I get out I feel strangely revived.
Before leaving I fill my water bottles. It’s a tough, windy day, and the hills and towns have lost their novelty. But every time I take a drink I remember the spring and feel invigorated again.
My maps take me on tiny, deserted roads through dry pine forests with occasional fields. Palms and palmetto are gone, as are glades and hummocks. It’s still warm at least.
I’m hungry and tired when I reach Suwanee River State Park, so I scope it out for camping. I guess that I can set up in the campground without being noticed. A black couple are there picnicking. When I explain what I’m doing, the guy has just one question, “What do you do when you get lonely fo’ a woman? Pay for one?” “Same thing all single guys do, I guess,” is all I can think of to say. His girlfriend laughs.
I was wrong about the campsite. Ranger man finds me at dark and collects $9. It’s fine, the state parks have been good to me.