By 10:30, however, I was finally on the trail, mostly because that was the checkout time.
I didn't make it far before I got distracted. The hike followed highway 997 north, pretty much from the moment I left Card Sound Road, heading through Florida City and Homestead. In Homestead, I noticed a small bookstore that also claimed to have an Internet cafe, so I popped in to check it out.
I paid $3 in advance, covered by the three one dollar bills I found along Card Sound Road. The last dollar took a couple of minutes to carefully peel open--very fragile from their time in the sun.
Ended up spending two hour there, checking e-mail and working on Atlas Quest. Rather a nice way to spend the afternoon and I could have stayed their longer except miles still needed hiking! I'd gone about a mile and it was now already 1:00 in the afternoon.
I followed Krome Avenue, a.k.a. highway 997, northward. Gas stations with food dotted every intersection, and life was generally good. This time I made it five or six miles before stopping at a Subway for lunch.
Then it was north, always north. A little ways later, a park ranger pulled up alongside me. At least that's what I thought he was, with that official park ranger white-and-green truck he had. Seemed odd for a park ranger to heckle me out in this civilization. I waved, and he rolled down his window asking if I had talked to him earlier through the FTA. I was pretty sure I hadn't talked to him, but I was puzzled since he acted like he expected to see me there.
To make a long story short, he had been talking with some other hiker who planned to thru-hike the Florida Trail, and there not being many of us, thought I might be the same one. He also turned out to be a former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, by the name of Priceless, having done his trek in 2001.
He happened to be driving by when he spotted me, and said, "I can recognize a hiker!" Then he pointed to my shoes, "Though your shoes threw me off for a bit."
We swapped some AT war stories, and he warned me of the trials I'd face hiking through the Big Cypress area. Another guy driving around in an official vehicle stopped to talk to Priceless. I had to imagine it must have looked like a big bust going down to those driving by, requiring two officials to take down my hoboing ways. They'd probably be disappointed if they knew we were chatting about our AT thru-hikes. =)
Priceless asked if there was anything he could do for me, but I couldn't think of anything. I just left from my cozy hotel room earlier that morning, resupplied everything I needeed, and a cold drink was available at every intersection. I wish I could have thought of some trail magic that he'd get for me, but I couldn't think of anything.
The walked continued, straight as an arrow, mile after mile. Unlike the day before, I enjoyed the wide shoulders to walk on and the variety of scenery including restaurants, farms, nurseries, and in general, a rather nice walk minus the noise from the traffic.
Near sunset, I decided to look for a phone to call Amanda--I told her I'd give her a call that day--and upload the rest of the gripping saga known as The Long March, which I also promised to do latter that day.
I eyed a pay phone on the side of the road, and thought one more. At the next intersection, I'll use it.
And, of course, there were no more pay phones. Mile after mile. Now I started to get annoyed--I couldn't stop until I reached a pay phone!
On my map of Florida, it showed an enormous intersection five miles up ahead, and I figured THAT would be the next gas station and the next pay phone. I ambled up, long after dark, excited about finishing, and.... nothing. Not a darn thing at the intersection.
The next phone that I *knew* was available was another five miles ahead, at the intersection with highway 41. Five more agonizing miles....
I walked until 9:30 before I finally reached the gas station at highway 41. The last few miles, I gazed longingly at places to stealth camp, but promises were made. I needed a pay phone, and onward I trudged.
At the phone, I checked e-mail, noticing that Priceless had already posted a comment to my blog. =)
I called Amanda, the last time I knew I'd be able to reach her for several days.
And I uploaded the conclusion of the Long March.
Now I could go to sleep.
An Indian casino stood diagnolly across the street, and I waddled over to ask about room rates. I didn't originally plan to stay a second night in a hotel, but it was right there and I was badly tired.
The lights were blazing, smoke dribbled out the door the moment I pushed it open, and was assaulted by the sounds of people loosing their money to the one-armed bandits. I walked up to the registration desk.
"How much is your cheapest room?"
The well-dressed gentleman behind the counter told me, "That would be $149, sir."
"Is that a joke?" went through my head, but I was tongue-tied. Maybe I misheard him over the noise of the casino? "A hundred and forty....?"
"Nine," he finished. "One hundred and forty nine."
"That's WAAAAY out of my budget," and I turned around and left.
Never tell me the cheapest room available is $149 when I have all the camping equipment I need on my back!
I was not happy about having to now find a place to stealth camp, however.
I didn't spend much time looking for a place either. I walked east on highway 41 for less than five minutes before careening into the trees and setting up camp, still within view of the hotel. I wondered if that empty $149 per night room was watching me now.
Then I took off my shoes and went to sleep.