Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stealth Hiking

The first thing, we both decided needed to be done, was that little matter of skipping the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. It was off limits to hiking in January, so I had skipped it, but the farther north I hiked, the harder it would be to get back and do that section. And right now, Amanda was readily available for shuttling me around--she wouldn't be in February.

So we decided to drive down to the reservation and scope it out, perhaps sneaking my way through. One of my guidebooks mentioned, very specifically, that you need a permit issued through the FTA if you entered the reservation on foot, which naturally made me wonder about the legality of entering the reservation via vehicle and leaving on foot.

Was that allowed? I really didn't know, and I didn't want to ask anyone official in fear that they'd tell me no. =) At least I had plausible deniability working in my favor.

But just in case, we considered ways for me to "stealth hike" through the reservation. First, was a good disguise. We decided that I should not look like a hiker, nor should I look homeless. Also, if hiking through looked sketchy, maybe I could do most of my walking on the roads under moonlight, at 3:00 in the morning, when nobody else was around.

Neither of us had ever been to the reservation, however, so we wanted to scope it out first.

The main road, paved, was busy, but we figured I could walk from Billie Swamp Safari to Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum. Surely they wouldn't arrest a simple tourist walking from one tourist stop to another on the reservation?

We drove out past the Billie Swamp Safari to scope out that section of road, and it soon turned into a little-traveled gravel road. That section didn't appear to be well-traveled, so we figured I shouldn't have any problems hiking along it, and that's where Amanda dropped me off--a couple of miles beyond Billie Swamp Safari.

I dressed relatively nice, in clean clothes with a collared shirt. I left the backpack, platypus, and trekking pole with Amanda--those would mark me as a hiker faster than a sign on my forehead would, and I needed to go incognito.

I also left with Amanda my maps and any paraphenalia associated with the trail. If I were searched, such contriband could break my cover. Anyhow, we just drove the section of trail I'd be walking--I knew were I was going.

I took my camera, like any good tourist would, and my wallet--always useful when the police question you and want to see ID--and a small bottle of water I carried in my hands (not a particularly unusual thing for a tourist wandering around the roads of Florida to carry), then I started walking.

Along the dirt road, I saw a few construction workers doing work on a dike as part of the Everglades restoration project, and a few hispanic-looking guys harvesting fronds from the forest who might have more explaining to do to authority figures than I would. ;o)

If an authority figure did question me, I was looking at birds and alligators and enjoying the wildlife, and meeting my girlfriend at Billie Swamp Safari.

Once I passed the Billie Swamp Safari, I continued on to the museum, this time under cover as a tourist walking from one tourist destination to another. I noticed at least one police vehicle that drove passed me, but he didn't even seem to notice me. My camouflage seemed to be working. I blended in with the alligators.

At the museum parking lot, Amanda told me she drove a bit further up the trail, and that the reservation boundary was just another mile or so up the road. "Let's do it," I told her.

So I continued walking, not really having any ready excuse for why I was walking there if I did get questiond. Perhaps just taking a walk in the beautiful light of the setting sun, but I didn't even believe it myself.

Another police vehicle drove past, and again my camo worked. He didn't even slow down to look at me.

Passing one house, a couple of mean-looking dogs came at me, barking like crazy. I did a crazy man yell in return, which seemed to intimidate the, since they stopped in the road and just stared menacingly at me.

I moved on, giving them their distance, and they stayed in the road, sitting there like idiots. Some cars traveling on the road started to honk their horns to scare the dogs out of their way, but the dogs continued to sit and the horns continued to honk.

A few minutes later, I reached Amanda, parked just outside of the reservation boundary, and she asked if all the honking cars were honking at ME, and I laughed telling her no, it was two mean and stupid dogs they were honking at.

I stealth hiked most of my way through the reservation already! Wooo-who! The only section left was about three miles on a very rarely used dirt road to the south end of the reservation, and I'd be done with the Seminoles.

Amanda and I went up to Clewiston to find a cheap motel--the nearest large town with facilities to the reservation, and a good base of operations for the rest of the trail I'd skipped between the reservation and Lake Okeechobee.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


The night was wonderful. Cool, clear, and a brillant moon lighting up the landscape.

I didn't waste much time getting back on the trail after the sun rose, however, because civiliation was waiting about 14 miles ahead. Restaurants, supplies, air conditioning, and all things good. And if the timing was just right, a meet-up with Amanda. I expected her to be in the River Ranch area, perhaps by around 3:00 in the afternoon, so that's when I wanted to be there too.

There's not much to report about this section of trail. It meandered a bit, like most trails do, through cow paddies, which I quite expected at this point.

Eventually it came out and followed some dirt roads for several miles, exposed to the sun, but fortunately not too terribly hot. Then ducked back into trees. I passed a very dead cow, decorated with turkey vultures, and at one point lost the trail completely.

I went back to the last orange blaze, and walked a small semi-circle around it looking for the next blaze, but came up empty handed. Then I walked a large semi-circle around it, and came up empty handed again.

Assuming the blazes really weren't on this side of a small canal, I started hunting for blazes on the other side, finally finding a blaze and back on track again.

When the trail came out at a trailhead, I noticed a bright, shiny car parked on the side, thinking to myself, "It's been awhile since I've seen one of those!"

Then I noticed a head behind the steering wheel waving at me. It was Amanda! =)

I happily threw my pack in the car, grabbed a cold drink she had brought in a cooler, and jumped into the car.

She wisked me away to Lake Wales, the largest town anywhere near the trailhead, where we booked ourselves into the local Super 8 and I spent hours catching up on the Internet with the laptop Amanda brought.

I took a shower, changed into clean clothes Amanda also brought, and we went out for a wonderful dinner at a local eatery, whose name slips my mind now.

Life was good.

We started formulating plans for the rest of the week--Amanda would be supporting me for the better part of a week, and we started planning and calculating what to do for the rest of her time in the area.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Dog that Broke My Heart

At the end of the night, Dan and Bonnie brought out blankets to me in the barn to help pad against the hard floor, and Dan whipped out a propane-powered heater to set up by me for the night! Luxury does not get any better than this on the trail.

I slept warm and good all night.

The next morning, the cold temperatures had finally passed into something comforting moderate, and Dan and Bonnie continued their generous trail magic. Bonnie had real milk to go with my cereal, and put out muffins and bananas and all the fixings to make myself a sandwich for lunch. Wow.

I got a late start on the trail, sucked in by Dan and Bonnie, not leaving until 10:00 in the morning, but it was worth it.

The trail continued on, not nearly as scenic as the previous four miles, but happily free of cows and cars.

When it came out near a trailhead, though, my good luck finally came to an end. An adorable little dog trotted up to me on the trail. At first I looked up the trail for its owner, then I realized.... there was none. The dog was alone.

Oh, the dog was adorably cute and friendly, the tongue hanging out and the tail wagging, seemingly happy to see me.

I tried to ignore it and passed it on the trail, not daring to pet it in fear it would never stop following me.

But it didn't work. The dog started following me. "Shooo!" I told it, waving my arms around wildly. "You don't want to follow me."

But the dog continued to follow me, though at a distance further back. I gave the shoo speech again, apologizing for not being nicer, but the trail was no place for this dog.

Finally, the dog sat still when I continued on.

I went about a quarter of a mile, before I realized it took a shortcut and was ahead of me again. I hadn't lost the dog.

That cute, adorable little face. I could so adopt a dog like that, but I couldn't take this dog with me. Who knows what sort of wild animals would make it dinner.

I had to get this dog to stop following me. At the trailhead, perhaps someone could give it a ride into town and give it a proper home, or find the owner. With me, nothing good could possibly happen.

And I finally figured out how to ditch the dog once and for all. The trail followed alongside a barbed wire fence, as much of the trail along this section does, but this particular fence also included chicken wire near the base so small animals--such as a dog--could not get under it.

If I put the dog on the other side of the fence, it wouldn't be able to follow me anymore.

I started waving the dog closer to me, then petted it, in tears at the betrayal I was about it do. Told it over and over again how sorry I was, but he couldn't keep following me. Then I picked him up--he didn't resist or anything--and pushed him out to the other side of the fence (at that point, he did resist a little).

He dog landed on the other side, turned around, and watched me, seeming to ask, "Don't you like me?"

I started to cry all over again. "I'm sorry--you can't go with me." I was more than a little upset the owner of the dog had lost it out here in the first place.

The trail followed alongside the fence for a short ways, and the dog followed along the other side with me.

"I'm already feeling guilty you stupid dog!" I told it, crying some more. I felt like I was giving it a death sentence, leaving it to fend for itself, but I figured its chances had to be better near the trailhead than with me.

I finally lost sight of the dog for good at what appeared to be a small house or building of some sort. It appeared well taken care of, in the middle of a busy farm where I could see people off in the distance, and I hope the dog found someone there that could take better care of it than me.

I almost wished I was miserable again instead of feeling so damn guilty.

The rest of the day was rather non-eventful. The trail passed into Avon Air Force Base, where I signed my life away on a form at a kiosk at the entrance. The next 12 miles I pushed through as quickly as I could, wanting to reach the northern border of the base by dark, which I did, about 25 minutes after sunset.

I could have camped on the base, but I planned to meet Amanda the next day at River Ranch, and I wanted to get as close to it as possible to meet her there when she arrived. I still would have a long 14 miles to River Ranch, but it was a huge improvement to the 19 miles I'd have to cover if I camped at the last designated campsite in the base.

So I pushed myself through the base, a relatively nice walk despite the cows grazing, and reached the northern border just after sunset, setting up camp a few minutes later in an open area among a field of palmettos.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Best Trail Magic--Ever!

I woke wet, cold, tired, and grumpy. It was a miserable night, but at least the rain had finally stopped.

I skipped breakfast since I wanted to hit the trail to get warmed up, and even wore my fleece jacket for the first several miles before warming up enough to take it off.

The morning was undeniably cold, however. I never did take off the nylon shirt I wore, which usually comes off within minutes of starting my hike in the morning.

Nor did the trail improve any. First it went through several miles of cow patures, then followed US 98 a ways before ducking into the woods for a brief 1.6 enjoyable miles before coming out on US 98 again, this time to follow the highway for 6.4 miles.

It was a terrible walk, with traffic barreling by at high velocities. I had to use the string on my hat around my chin to keep the hat from blowing off whenever a semi drove past.

Near the end of the road walk, I could see those railroad tracks on my left. If I had realized how horrible the walk was the day before, I might have reconsidered walking on the tracks anyhow. I could have skipped all those cow paddies and road walking, and enjoyed a nice mellow walk along the railroad tracks. Not to mention cutting five or ten miles off the hike. Illegal, yes, but oh so tempting....

Too late to do anything about it now, except watch as an Amtrack train passed me. Probably from Okeechobee. If only the passengers knew how easy they had it.

The trail left US 98 for good, then ducked into the woods. The first mile was overgrown and difficult to follow, then the trail curved onto a dirt road briefly, but things started turning around.

The trail became easy to follow--a JOY to follow, in fact, winding through oak trees and palmettos. No cows around, and no cars. Not even any spiderwebs crossing the trail.

The land was flat and dry, and deer and birds could be spotted wandering around with a purpose only they knew.

I had entered the Hickory Hammock, a hiker oasis of beauty and enjoyment.

Halfway through, the trail passed a campsite that even included a trail register, which I eagerly opened and started to read. I was stunned to see that the first entries in the register started in 2001. Nearly seven years worth of thoughts and ponderings filled the book, much too many for me to read them all, as much as I wanted to.

So I read a few pages from each year and different times of the year, to get a sense of how the area has changed, both over time and on a seasonal basis. Another thru-hiker signed in nine days before I did--perhaps I'll catch up to him before the end of the trail.

Mountain Laurel and Mosey had not signed in, and I assumed this meant they had temporarily left the trail for a day or two to be with family that lived near Sebring. I was probably ahead and of them now.

I left my own message, commenting that if the whole trail was as nice as the last two miles, I'd never have anything to complain about. =)

While returning the register, I discovered a geocache behind the post for the register. *shaking head* Okay, I guess everything can't be perfect. =)

The trail continued another two beautiful miles, then dumped me out at a horse camp. Camping was free, but hikers were supposed to reserve a spot ahead of time which I did not do figuring to camp further up the trail.

I did, however, stop to make use of the facilities, including covered picnic tables and a pump that retrieved well water. A sign by the pump said the water was not potable, so for the first time on my hike, I had to treat the water using a nifty little gadget that uses ultraviolet light to kill pathogens. I could have gotten river water, but I figured the well water was probably better than river water, relatively speaking.

The horse camp was practically empty. I saw two people at the far end, enjoying a campfire, and the rest of the seeminging large establishment was completely empty. Seemed odd for a holiday weekend, but I wasn't complaining. I liked the quiet.

Near the center of the camp was a neat looking barn that now doubled as stables for horses.

I took out my tarp, ground sheet, and sleeping bag and threw them each out on picnic tables to dry. The sun still had not come out so I figured they might not dry completely, but ever little bit helps.

Then I decided to make dinner, since it was such a nice location to do so. Plenty of shelter, plenty of picnic tables, and plenty of water. Bean and rice burritos. Delicious!

While cleaning up dinner, the only two other folks in camp wandered by, and I told them about my thru-hike. They'd followed the orange blazes while riding their horses around, but had no idea they stretched across the state of Florida and people like me existed who would hike from one end to the other.

They suggested I spend the night in the barn, which given the circumstances, was pretty darned tempting. It looked like it could still rain at any moment, and the weather was still frightfully cold with a strong wind. The barn seemed tempting indeed, but I was worried about getting caught camping illegally. I never even bothered to get a permit to camp at the camp much less in the barn!

But the two kept insisting, saying they were the only ones there, and they'd only use the far end for their horses. I could camp out on the other side of the barn, and who would care?

So this was my introduction with Dan and Bonnie, a couple of horse-lovers out for the weekend enjoying their horses.

I walked over to the barn to check it out closer, both the first floor where the horses were kept, and the second floor that was empty except for a lot of owl dung (I suppose!) on the floor.

The second floor intrigued me, since it seemed unlikely that a ranger would see or notice me camping without permission up there. =) By golly, I was sold--I'd spend the night in the barn tonight!

Dan and Bonnie invited me over to their campfire where we swapped war stories for the next few hours. They were absolutely stunned nobody else was around, saying it's ususally like a New York traffic jam there on a good day, and they figured it would be terribly conjested with horse campers on a holiday weekend, but no, it was just those two. The bad weather the night before must have scared everyone else off.

After dark, they made a steak dinner with ice cream and pie for dessert, which they invited me to eat as well. =) Bonnie let me use her cell phone to call my mom and wish her a happy birthday (it was, indeed, my mom's birthday). And the campfire was awesome--my first on the trail, no less.

As bad as the night before was for me, that's how good this night was becoming. I needed a little happy trail magic to lift my spirits.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Brutal Heat

The next morning started with a steamy layer of fog, the trail following alongside a dike keeping the Kissimmee River in its place.

The fog burned off after a couple of hours, though, and the heat became brutal when the trail left the dike and followed roads for much of the day, including a 5.6-mile hike along CR 599.

At the turn in the road, I noticed railroad tracks running by, and could follow it up my map about four miles where the trail crossed the tracks, and another eight or nine miles where the trail followed immediately parallel to the track. It seemed almost too easy to jump off the road and follow the railroad tracks instead. It's illegal, of course, to walk along the railroad tracks, but it had to be nicer than walking on the road which appeared to be a lot of coming up, and it was shorter since they tend to run trains in straight lines, geography be damned.

But I didn't. That wasn't the route of the Florida Trail, and for better or worse, I was following the Florida Trail.

The paved road ended at Platts Bluff Boat Launch, where I stopped for a much needed lunch break. I threw out my things under a bunch of beautiful, large live oaks, and made a bean and rice burrito (three of them, in fact) while watching the going ons around me.

Parks are always a fun place to people watch. People are always so happy and friendly, glad to be away from work. There was one apparently drunken family who had a horse dragging them around on a cart, trying hard not to fall off.

And there was another couple I couldn't help but overhear since the woman yelled, "You're the goddamned laziest asshole I've ever met!" and "And that's the only reason you even got me out of that bar last night."

Just wish the man would have spoken louder so I could hear his side of the conversation as well.

Another beautiful day at the park. =)

I rested for a couple of hours, and headed north of a dirt road a short ways, glad for the dirt since it meant less traffic racing by at high velocities, then climbed over a style into a bunch of cattle.

I begged for the road walking to end, but the cattle walk was not an improvement, since I had to keep a VERY close eye on where I placed each footstep, and looking at a bunch of cow crap isn't really very scenic to me.

Through the ranch, the trail seemed to zigzag in every random direction, and I wondered why the heck the folks making it had a problem with straight lines. It wasn't long before I started mumbling things like, "I'd really like to smack someone at the FTA right now." Didn't even matter who--I just felt someone needed a smacking. The ranch had a few places where the trees grew and provided shade, but most of it stayed under the heat of the brutal sun.

Until I reached Yates Marsh Trailhead, and the trail went back to road walking, this time on Lofton Road for the next 5.2 miles.

It was not a fun day of walking. Roads and cattle. Not fun.

Lofton Road intersected with US 98 for nearly a mile, before ducking back into cow pastures.

I had to stop once the trail went back into the ranch land, however. It was getting too dark to continue, even though I would have liked to put a few more miles on the trail. I needed good visibility, both to avoid stepping in the cow paddies and to follow the orange blazes. Any semblance of a trail was long oblivated by the cows running loose, so being able to find and follow the next blaze was critical.

My day of hiking had come to an end, and not at a good place. On one side of the fence, loud traffic from US 98, and on the other side, cow dung all over the place. What's a hiker to do?

I choose the cow dung, finding a nook that appeared to be dung free, threw out my ground sheet and tried to go to sleep in that stiffling heat.

Until I heard a noice, looked up, and saw something watching me. I picked up my headlamp and shined it at my visitor--a possum. Who didn't seem to have a great deal of respect for me.

Damn. There were no rocks around to throw at him and scare him off--what I really wanted to do--so I took a branch laying on the ground nearby and started breaking it up into smaller pieces that I could throw. The possem left as soon as I started breaking the branch, but I kept the pieces nearby the rest of the night--just in case.

Later in the night, I heard a rumble and flash of light--a lightning storm. Normally, I love a good thunderstorm, but it seems in my experience that it often results in rain storms which I did not want since I had not set up a tarp. I took out the tarp and threw it over myself--just in case.

Then it started to rain. Big fat rain, by the buckets, and the temperature dropped from a stiffling heat to a brutal cold.

I spent the rest of that miserable night--my worst on the trail so far--shivering, wet, and cold surrounded by cow crap. The night could not end fast enough in my book.


The next morning, Mountain Laurel and Mosey started stirring early, and we all complained about the darkness coming too early at night and leaving too late in the morning. It's hard to get a full day of hiking in when it's light out for all of about 10 hours per day. In the keys and on the dike, walking at night was easy so that's how I got a full day's hike in, but January does not provide a lot of sunlight even in Florida. At least the days are getting longer, though.

Mosey pointed at my shoes. "Those did NOT go through the Big Cypress," she told me.

Indeed, they did not, then proceeded to tell the sad, heart-wrenching story of shoe-sucking mud and the final demise of my Costco shoes.

I asked about their plan around the Seminole reservation, and they started hiking from the north end of going south on December 31st, just before it was officially closed to hikers. (Hikers who STARTED through by December 31st were allowed to continue through in January--no hikes were allowed to start through the reservation in January, however.)

So they hiked south to Loop Road, then got a ride to the north end of the reservation and continued north where I caught up to them.

They left to the trail while I finished packing my stuff and followed behind a short while later, catching up to them at Okee-Tantie Recreation Area.

At this point, our paths would temporarily split. I needed to go into the city of Okeechobee for a mail drop which included a much needed map further up the trail, and to resupply since it would be the last major place to resupply for quite some time.

In hindsight, Okeechobee wasn't a good place for a maildrop, being located about five miles off from the trail.

I tried calling two different trail angels that lived in Okeechobee, from a list provided by the FTA, hoping one of them could give me a ride into town avoiding the five-mile hike. Doug (who posted a comment on this blog several days ago) didn't answer, and Tommy did answer, but was at work and wouldn't be able to help until he got off at about 5:00 in the afternoon.

Drats, a five-mile hike into town it would be, then. (Only later, much later, did I realize that my guidebook included the number for a taxi service. Doah!)

That said, it was still another three-mile hike along the dike, and I got a couple of views of the big lake that supposedly was out there the last three days. I even saw two alligators on that section, the first I'd seen since Loop Road.

I stopped by the library to get on the Internet, but they wanted to CHARGE me for using it! I never heard of a library charging for Internet access, and with no pressing reason to get online, turned them down and continued on.

I stopped at Dairy Queen for a large strawberry shake--oh so good--then picked up my mail drop at the post office. Annoyingly, the post office had no pens available for writing addresses or filling out forms, and several groups of people had banded together to share a coveted pen. A library that charges for Internet access, and a post office with no public pens? What kind of bizarro world had I entered?

I resupplied snacks and food at the Wal-Mart on the way out of town, pushing my pack through the store in a shopping cart. I didn't use a shopping cart to cross those fishing bridges in the keys, but I use them all the time in grocery stores!

Then it was back to the trail for me. It was still too early to call Tommy for a ride out of town, but I did like the canal walk into town and figured I'd walk out again. Not like I'm in a rush or anything. =)

I walked back along the canal, then crossed SR 78 where the trail peeled off to the north.

The sun had set at this point, and I started keeping my eyes open for a place to camp.

The trail followed alongside the Kissimmee River, lit up along its length by strange boats that looked vaguely like spaceships resting in the water, each one casting off enough light to light up a small city. I imagined the lights were meant to draw fish or some other critter in the water, but I don't know what they were after.

Then what did my wandering eye did see? A flicker and then a gleam of light! I sprung to my saddle... err, sorry, that's a line from Paul Revere's Ride. I did not spring to my saddle because I did not have one, but a did see a flicker and them a gleam of light.

Getting closer, I smelled smoke. A campfire!

Closer still, I saw several fires burning, one rather large that looked more like a bonfire than a simple campfire, and I reconsidered introducing myself. I didn't know who these people were, but they seemed more like partiers than I cared to dwell with. They could have been Boy Scouts for all I knew, but I had a bad vibe coming from them and decided to pass them by.

A few miles up the Kissimmee River, a felt a few drops of water hit me. The start of something more? Rather than risk getting caught in a rainstorm in the middle of the night, I set up camp right there off the side of the road.

I found a soft, grassy patch, threw out my things, then rigged the tarp over me. I didn't have a tree or anything to prop up the tarp, so I weighted down the corners with water bottles and heavy objects, and threw them beyond the edge of my ground sheet. No puddles will form on me this night, I thought confidently!

The set up did work better than the last time I threw my tarp over me, but it still wasn't comfortable when the rain finally did come down in earnest.

Fortunately, it only lasted an hour or so before the rain stopped, and the rest of the night went by without much of anything to note. Just the occasional truck with a boat driving by, its headlamps piercing the fog then fadding away. The people driving it probably never even noticed me sleeping there on the side of the road.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dike Walking, Day 3

At about 4:00 in the morning, it started to rain. I moved my stuff under the covered picnic table, then proceeded to go back to sleep on top of the table. Not as comfortable as nice, soft grass, but definitely better than exposing myself to the rain or setting up my tarp in the darkness.

At sunrise, my campsite companion got up and we resumed our conversation from the night before.

"You scared the crap out of me last night!" he exclaimed. =)

The weather, still raining, of course was a topic of conversation, and I told him of my theory regarding Florida weather.

In Moore Haven, I stopped at the library and checked the weather forecast, which showed a 40% chance of rain for the day, then it bounced around between 10% and 30% for the rest of the week.

"In most places, a 40% chance of rain means a 40% chance of rain," I explained, rather logically, I thought. "In Florida, however, it means a 100% chance of rain that will last for 40% of the day."

"It doesn't rain in January," he replied, then thought better of the statement listening to the rain on the aluminum roof of the picnic area, "Well, almost never. Lord knows they need it this year!"

Then he went off about having never seen Lake Okeechobee so low, ever. "You can't even see it on this side f the lake!" So I noticed. "Business is bad."

During the night, I had spent some time thinking about a new trail name for Happy Feet, and I suggested my first idea: Professor. He was a teacher in a past life, and currently works to develop school curriculums in Florida.

"No," he replied, "that makes me sound like I have more degrees than I do. I don't really teach anymore."

"That's the beauty of trail names," I told him, "nobody but you ever has to know! It's like you can be anything you want!"

He shook his head. Nope.

"Okay," I continued, "How about O? Since you're thru-hiking the Big-O, your trail name can be O. When someone later asks how you got your name, you can tell them about your adventures hiking the Big-O."

He thought about it for a moment, and finally said, "Yes, I like that."

"The next issue to settle," I continued, "is how do you want to spell it? Just O, or maybe O-H?"

He thought a moment more, then said, "I like the O-H spelling better."

So it was settled--the hiker formerly known as Happy Feet (or Dan for those who knew him before that) is now known as Oh. It didn't seem likely that I'd get to help assign a trail name to this remote trail, but by golly, I got to name the first (and so far only) hiker whose path I crossed!

I departed northward--Oh was heading south--into the rain and wind.

The rain stopped within a mile or two, much to my delight, and I stopped at a gas station where the trail crosses a bridge on SR 78. The wind was so strong, I noticed, that it was blowing drops of water UP out of the water drains on the bridge--a strangely surreal thing to watch.

I stopped at the mini market there and bought a bottle of orange juice for breakfast, then (gasp!) applied some moleskin to the back of my right foot where it was rubbing against the top of my new shoe. It wasn't rubbing badly, but it was getting sore and that's where moleskin works it's magic best.

All patched up and ready to go, I continued walking.

This time, there would be no large towns to stop for lunch. For about 20 miles, I was on my own.

I stopped at a designated campsite about 10 miles up the trail for lunch. Originally, I planned to cook an elaborate meal, but due to high winds decided that cooking was out of the question. I didn't have a wind break for my stove, and it's hard to cook in a strong wind.

Instead, I decided, I would eat the one-pound summer saussage at the bottom of my pack. I'd been carrying that stupid thing since Key West, thinking it would make a nice snack through a day, but I didn't have a knife big enough to slice it up, so I kept putting it off. The thing weighed a POUND! That's a lot of excess weight for a hiker, and it had to go.

I pulled out the summer saussage, took off the plastic covering, unwrapped the 'skin' from around it, then just started eating it, ripping bites directly off of it. I felt like an animal, primitive but effective.

About halfway done, I realized it wasn't going to be easy to eat the whole darned thing. Eating an entire one-pound summer saussage seemed like something you would do on a dare or a lost bet.

The last few bites I choked down, but I finished it, and laid back on the bench of the picnic table to let it digest, and mentally calculating how many calories it had. 170 calories per serving, 8 servings per package, so I just finished of 1360 calories.

Quite a few for a simple lunch, but I'd have rathr put down nearly 2,000 calories from a pint of Ben and Jerrys. (Forgetting, for a moment, that there was no frozen ice cream within a ten mile walk of my location.)

But hey! My pack was now a whole POUND lighter! That's awesome. My pack seemed lighter just thinking about it. I carried that stupid sausage about 200 miles. I figure carrying 1 pound 200 miles is equivent to carying 200 pounds for 1 mile. Ugh! Thank God that sausage is gone.

After a suitable period of digestion (about an hour or so), I continued on with the hike.

Near sunset, I sat down to rest a bit and was astounded to discover a beautiful setting sun behind me. It was still cloudy and overcast, but the sun managed to peek through a couple of clouds on the horizon, reflecting off a canal, and it was absolutely gorgeous. Had I not stopped to rest my feet just then, I would have completely missed it!

I passed a lock structure after sunset, which my guidebook said had potable water--a nice surprise since I was running low and thought I might have to dip into the canal water for the night. (Thanks for the tip, Sandra, and yes, you may link to this blog!)

I filled up my water, then hiked into the Buckhead Ridge designted campsite for the night where I found two tents already set up. Amazing! Two nights IN A ROW with other hikers!

It was Mountain Laurel and Mosey, former AT thru-hikers who were now thru-hiking the Florida Trail (and not going all the way to Maine, as Oh had told me.)

They didn't come out of their tents that night, so I wouldn't formally meet them until morning. In the meantime, I set up camp under the covered picnic table once again--the clouds looked bad enough that I didn't trust sleeping out in the open this night.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dike Walking, Day 2

I camped several miles outside of Clewiston. It's actually legal to camp on the sides of the dike, although they recommend not camping ON the top of it since bicycles and the occasional maintence vehicle do go down them.

I found a flat spot in the light of the half-moon near the top of the dike and set up camp.

It was a beautiful place to camp. I watched the stars all night long. I saw what I think were wild boars rumaging around the dike for dinner. Highway 27 turned inland, away from the dike, so all I heard were the birds and the occasional distant horn of a passing train. I grew up with the sound of a distant train, and it's a very peaceful, calming sound to me.

In the morning, the sun created a beautiful sunrise, and I took dozens of photos trying to capture its essence, with birds silhouetted against the red and pink clouds. I took most of them laying down right where I went to sleep, so you can see the silhouette of the grasses on the ground along the bottom of the photos, just as I saw the sunrise when I woke up in the morning. =)

I slept in late, not getting on the trail again until nine in the morning. Then I continued hiking the dike.

A few bicyclists and rollerbladers passed me while I was curled up in camp, but they seemed to disappear when the sun came out, and I walked ten miles into Moore Haven without passing a single person.

I did, however, watch as several large fires sprouted smoke on the horizon. I was walking by sugar cane fields, which they burn on a regular basis for some reason unknown to me, creating large billowing clouds of black smoke. Fascinating to watch, but I'm sure the locals are tired of it.

At Moore Haven, the trail left the dike once again to cross over the Caloosahatchee River on a large bridge for Highway 27. Near the top of the bridge, I found myself out of breath, lethargic, and... could I be suffering from altitude sickness?

Just kidding. Bad Florida joke. ;o) To be perfectly serious, though, Lake Okeechobee lays just 14 feet above sea level. The highest point in Big Cypress I crossed was about 35 feet above sea level. So, in fact, the highest points I've been to in this state are bridges that climb high enough for boats to go under. I'm not sure what is the tallest bridge I've been on (the Florida Keys had a couple of good-sized bridges), but the tops of those bridges are definitely the highest points I've been on since starting this hike.

In Moore Haven, I stopped at the library for Internet access (a whole hour to use them instead of the usual half hour I was limited to in the keys) and Burger King for a quick lunch.

Then it was back to the dike for more hiking....

The sun set, but I continued hiking in the moonlight, determined to reach Lakeport Campsite. The weather forecast a 40% chance of rain the next day, and I wanted the protection of a shelter over the picnic table in case it did rain.

So on and on I hiked, through the darkness. The moon was slightly more than half full allowing plenty of light to hike by without using a headlamp.

Near Fisheater Bridge, the trail left the dike and followed alongside SR 78 for three miles--the only section of Lake Okeechobee not protected by levies. A new bike path had been created parallel to SR 78 for the first part of the way, so new that even the paint on the surface hadn't been finished yet.

At one point, I heard what sounded like an incredibly loud death squeal from a wild boar in the bushes to my right. A quiet, still night, and the freakishly loud squeal from the bushes 50 feet away. I kept my distance and pushed on, a little disturbed by the sound.

At Lakeport, the trail turned back onto the levy, and the levy walk continued for another mile or so to the campsite.

I kept a close eye open at this point, not wanting to miss the designated campsite in the shadows of the darkness--it was near 9:00 at this point and long after sunset.

And there it was, the sharp angles marking a man-made object. I curved down the side of the levy, and noticed a strange sight, indeed--a tent!

Someone was already camping here! I hadn't seen a single hiker since Key West, and here was one in my presence!

The next designated campsite was another ten miles away--definitely no way to reach that that night!--so I decided to introduce myself and share the camp.

"Hello, there! Anyone in that tent awake?" I asked.

A frumpled crash came from the tent, like someone turning over, and I heard, "What? Ya! I'm here! Hello?"

"Hey there!" I said again, "I'm passing through, and hope you don't mind if I camp here tonight."

"Huh? Who is that?"

He seemed a bit discombobulated. I probably woke him up, which I felt a bit bad about.

I introduced myself and told him my story of hiking from Key West to Springer Mountain, and he told me he was hiking the Big-O around Lake Okeechobee. After several minutes, he exited the tent and we spent the next hour or so chatting. He was as surprised to see me, another hiker, as I was to see him.

Although, he explained, he had met two girls hiking from Key West to Maine earlier in the evening, probably camped a few miles up the trail. I quizzed him about the hikers--I might catch up with them and it would be nice to hike for a couple of days with other people for a bit.

They designated his trail name as Happy Feet, but he said he didn't care for it much and wanted a new trail name. I promised to think about it overnight.

"Man," he told me later, "you're a nice guy and all, but you scared the crap out of me when you got here!"

I laughed. It wasn't my intention, but given the circumstances, I could understand. Who would have expected another hiker to arrive in the dead of night after not seeing any for over a week? I must have seemed like a ghost or a troublemaker of some sort.

A little after 10:00, he went back to his tent to sleep, and I laid out under the stars to go to sleep myself.

On a totally unrelated note, I am typing this the next day, while sitting on the side of a levy, and I think there's a dead cow laying on the other side of the canal. It hasn't moved a muscle since I sat down, and it's on its side as if it were dead. Seems kind of morbid to be writing my adventures while watching a dead cow.

Happy trails!

Dike Walking

Due to proper treaties not getting signed or some much nonsense, I'm not allowed to hike through the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. Thus, after a day of rest and resupplies (including new shoes from my favorite shoe store--Payless!)

Speaking of shoes... I had considered duct tape on those old shoes, but the shoes were so wet and muddy, I judged that it wouldn't last a mile before the swamp sucked it right off the shoes (or what was left of them). I've done shoe repairs with duct tape before, and that's not something duct tape is good for.

And a lot of people laugh at my cheap shoes, usually acquired at Payless, and outlet stores, or in the case of those old shoes that are now resting in peace, I paid $15 for them at Costco.

I don't blame them for blisters or foot pains, however, despite their cheapness. I've seen hikers wearing the most expensive, top-of-the-line shoes in more misery than my cheap, lightweight shoes, and I've seen no evidence that price or quality has anything to do with comfort.

However, lightweight shoes are a LOT easier to break in, and they dry out much faster than heavier shoes will.

Additionally, cheap shoes are disposible shoes. When they have problems, I have no qualms about throwing them away and replacing them as often as necessary. Expensive shoes, on the the other hand, I'd want to get my money's worth, and I'd likely keep them long after they should have been replaced.

I'd rather go through two or three cheap sets of shoes than one expensive pair.

All the suggestions and advice people have provided I find rather amusing. How to treat blisters, shoes to use, duct tape, etc. There is no miracle cure for long-distance hiking.

I've seen a lot of things on the Appalachian Trail, and everyone has their own unique way of doing things. There's no one right way to do something (although there ARE wrong way to do things!), and there's absolutely no way to avoid pain.

If you're going to hike 17+ miles per day, you're going to hurt. Nothing will prevent that. Not one person who has ever completed a thru-hike has done so without sore feet. It will hurt. If it were easy, it wouldn't be nearly as fun.

As for how I treat blisters--I do carry moleskin, although I haven't used any as of yet. I haven't found it very effective around my toes, and in the past it has made things worse. I think it's mostly an issue of wrapping a flat surface around short, rounded toes. It gets lumpy and ends up causing me problems.

So why carry moleskin? Because I have found it *enormously* useful on other parts of my foot--such as the back of my ankle where new shoes often chaff badly. It works well on most of my foot--just not the toes. Alas, so far, those are the only places blisters have formed.

Popping blisters helps, and I try to avoid getting them infected by using a lighter on the end of my safety pin before lancing one. (The water walk in Big Cypress probably wasn't good in that respect, but so far none of them appear to be infected!)

All-in-all, I'm doing pretty well. My feet do hurt, but that was expected and there's no avoiding it. The rest of my body is surprisingly pain free. After two weeks on the AT, every muscle in my body was sore, but I think the lack of hills is helping me this time. Going down steep hills is tough on the knees, and going up them is tough on the muscles. Flat walking is relatively pain free--except for the feet, of course.

The blister problem will eventually go away completely as my feet harden. On the AT, it took about six weeks before I felt they were in top shape, and I've only been in Florida for two weeks now. On the AT, the peak pain was probably about three or four weeks into the hike. I still have a lot of pain left to suffer. =)

So why do I do this? I suppose it doesn't sound like fun most of the time. There's not one reason I can give. I like the challenge--pushing myself to the limit. I like seeing new places, and I like the time to myself. I like seeing things that most people never get the opportunity to see. (Yes, the inside of the snake's mouth was white!) I got to watch the most beautiful sunrise this morning, and I'd never seen sugar cane being burned before. It's all new and interesting to me.

But I digress.....

On the morning of the 15th, DebBee drove me out to John Stretch Park in the bustling town of Lake Harbor. I skipped perhaps five days worth of hiking, including the Seminole reservation, all of which I'll have to double-back to complete later on.

John Stretch Park is located near the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, and the Florida Trail splits allowing me to choose which side of the lake to hike. I picked the west side since it is slightly shorter and supposedly more remote and more scenic than the eastern side.

The trail splits at John Stretch Park, then follows along the top of the dike that surrounds the lake. Most of it is a paved bicycle path, although maintenance vehicles can also drive on it.

The dike was built after communities around the lake were heavily water damaged by a hurricane in the 1920s, and some folks go for the annual "Big-O" Hike around the lake each Thanksgiving--a 109-mile loop.

The climb to the top of the dike was also the steepest, longest climb of my hike so far! Of course, Florida is flat, so if you find yourself hiking uphill, you know it's a man-made structure.

DebBee took some pictures of me with my new shoes on the blustery top. Oddly, I didn't see the lake. It looked like a canal on the far side of the dike, with land as far as the eye could see.

What happened to the lake?

Then we parted ways and I started hiking westward around the lake.

The turkey vultures circled by the hundreds for the next several miles. I'd never seen so many together before! Ugly little things. And the wind at the top howled.

Highway 27 followed alongside the west side of the dike, and I hiked with a nice bird's eye view of traffic on one side, and the lake (which did finally make a brief appearance) on the other.

After ten miles or so, the trail left the dike to enter the town of Clewiston. Not because they wanted the trail in Clewiston, but it was the only way around a canal entering the lake without getting wet--using the Highway 27 bridge across the canal.

I stopped at the Clewistown Inn briefly at admire the Everglades Lounge, with a mural painted 360 degrees around the room from the 1940s. Very cool place! But I wanted food, not a drink, so I headed back and stopped at Hungry Howies Pizza for dinner. Very good stuff, there. *nodding* It seemed to be a hangout place where all teenaged-mothers brought their young.

Then I wandered back to the trail and on the dike to continue hiking.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Walking on Sunshine

I wasn't able to finish the groover segment. Pesky size limits to these e-mails I send.

To make a long story short, sometimes, very bad things happen to otherwise good groovers. The stories are horrifying, scary, nightmare-inducing (but sometimes very funny!) of supposedly real-life incidents.

Alas, for those of you familiar with the Golden Groover story, that story is not in this book--but I think it should be included in the next edition. *nodding*

By the time I finished the book (look for this original copy that went through Big Cypress and now autographed by me on eBay soon!), I felt more relaxed and ready to continue.

I hoped the water and mud would be over soon. I didn't know if it continued all the way to I-75, but I hoped and prayed the water and mud would go away.

And it finally did, about a mile or so out of Ivy Camp. The trail dried up, and my pace picked up, and I started whistling Walking On Sunshine while practically running down the trip. Please, oh, please, stay like this, I begged the trail. Don't go back into the water.

The miles clicked down, and at last I saw traffic barreling down I-75.

I fell on my knees with glee. At last, at last, thank God, at last--I've made it!

I shouted at the cars speeding along the highway, "I'm coming for YOU!"

I signed the trail register at the end, just in case the rangers from Oasis Vistor Center were worried enough about me to check that I made it out okay.

I walked up to the rest area and gave DebBee a call to pick me up. I took off my shoes one last time, knowing they would never go on my feet again, but I saved them a bit longer since I figured DebBee would get a kick out of seeing how thoroughly worn out they really were.

I bought a Coke from a vending machine, then waited for my ride out there in the dusk of the setting sun.

I survived Big Cypress.

Technically speaking, there is more Big Cypress ahead, but I've read that it's considerably drier and easier to hike than the area I already passed through. The worst is behind me.

And, alas, it'll be a bit longer before I finish the rest, since it runs into a certain Seminole reservation that I don't have permission to hike through. I'll skip this next section for now, but as MacArthur once said--I will return.

DebBee and her husband, Steve, picked me up from the rest area about an hour later, and took me home and cleaned me up.

The next morning, DebBee took me out to buy new shoes which will hopefully get me another 500 to 700 miles along the trail before they too need replacing. I took a zero day, my first on the trail.

Life is good. =)

This is Ryan, reporting in from Moore Haven.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hiking Through Water (Again)

I woke up at Thirteen Mile Camp and could swear I heard growling. A panther, perhaps? I couldn't find what was causing it, but it sounded distinctly sinister.

I ate breakfast and packed up camp quickly--especially when it started to sprinkle.

The first few miles went quickly, and the sprinkle stopped. But the water had just begun. First it was mud, shoe-sucking stuff that it was, and my shoes had badly deteriorated already in Big Cypress. A distinct hole formed on the side of the right shoe, and the entire front of the sole on my left shoe had come loose. I could see my toes wiggle if I viewed them from the right direction--not a good thing.

Rather than just pulling directly up with my foot, I tried walking by bringing up my heal, then sliding the rest of the foot out of the mud, hoping that would help keep the rest of the sole on the shoe rather than allow the suction of the mud to rip it off completely.

At one point, I nearly stepped on a snaked, coiled in the mud directly on the trail. The snake opened it's mouth, impossibly wide, and hissed loudly at me. The snake was brown, and not one I recognized, but given the particularly agressive nature of this snake, I wondered if it was one of those famed water moccasins. Most snakes slither off the trail, afraid of direct contact, but this snake seemed to act like I had reason to be scared of it.

It wasn't a large snake, and I studied it for a couple of minutes from a safe distance (perhaps three or four feet away), and it sat there, coiled up, waiting for a chance to strike. I walked around it, and it opened its mouth and hissed some more as I did so, but it stayed put, not even adjusting it's position to match my movements.

After a mile or so in the mud, it became ankle-deep water, which actually made walking a bit easier since it acted as a lubricant on the mud. It was still tough walking, but slightly easier.

The water got deeper, nearing my knees, and I sloshed through mile after mile of water and mud. Words like grueling, arduous, exhausting, and Bataan Death March went through my head.

When I made it to Oak Hill Camp, I stopped for abot 15 minutes to rest. I didn't dare take off my shoes--I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get them back on if I did, or that the structural integrity of the shoes would disentegrate completely in the process of getting them on or off.

At Oak Hill Camp, I found an abandoned backpack--I had little doubt that it was all that was left of the last victim, er... hiker through Big Cypress.

According to my data book, the deepest section of water was 0.1 miles after Oak Hill Camp, a dark and scary place known only as The Black Lagoon. The creatures that live there can only be guessed at.

Rather than wear my fanny pack around the waist like I normally do, I adjusted it like a sash, over one shoulder and under the other arm, to get it higher. It had my wallet, camera, PocketMail device, and other items that really shouldn't get wet, and if I ended up to my waist in water, I needed the fanny pack to ride higher.

When the break was done, I felt a bit nervous. How much deeper could the water get? To help psych myself into going, I stood up and yelled as loudly as I could, "Let's DO IT!!!"

I tromped past the abandoned pack and entered into The Black Lagoon.

The trail was completely covered with water--no visible ground could be seen in any direction, and the only clue to the correct direction to hike was following the orange blazes. How you navigated the water from one blaze to the next was up to you, and the water didn't come past my knees, somewhat of a relief.

While the water was no deeper than other places along the trail, it was a sustained deep area. The other places seemed to drop down then come back up within a few feet, but the water stayed up to my knees several minutes before the water level dropped.

I survived The Black Lagoon.

The trail continued for miles, often underwater, always through mud, sloshing exhaustedly from one orange blaze to the next.

At times, where the trail became thick mud, I would walked parallel to the trail, darting between cypress trees that would scratch against my legs and arms. The legs weren't a problem since I wore pants, but more than once did the branches scrach my arms deep enough to draw blood.

It was slow going, but avoided some of the exhausting mud. Grasses and weeds caught between my shoe and its sole, tickling my feet, and I'd have to stop occasionally to pull them out.

I passed more abandoned gear, presumably from the same guy who left the backpack at Oak Hill Camp. First it was a sleeping bag--a terribly large and heavy one better suited to a living room than the great outdoors.

Then later, I passed a plastic garbage bag with more backpacking debris.

I wished I could carry some of it out, but I had my own pack to worry about.

I stopped briefly at a small hammock--a Native American word meaning land over water if the displays at the Oasis Visitor Center are to be believed. I understood the term oasis a lot better as well--a small patch of land above the water that saturates the rest of the area. A place where palm trees florished, and hikers could stop to rest or take off their shoes.

I hadn't planned to stop and rest again until I reached Ivy Camp, but the water and mud wore me out. A collapsed in a pile on a small hammock, exhausted. "Please, let the madness end soon."

I got up again, and whispered to myself--far too exhausted to yell motovational speaches to myself now--"Let's finish this."

I plodded along, passing another abandoned backpack. "Another victim," I thought. "Rest in peace."

I felt a hard bump in my shoe, and discovered a plastic piece on the bottom had come loose and was falling out. I put it in my pocket, now with nothing more than the thinnest strand of rubber and the insole keeping me from being barefoot.

Another 15 minutes, I gratefully stumbled into Ivy Camp, apparently infamous for the abundance of poison ivy that grows there.

I throw out my ground sheet and collapsed in exhaustion. This would be my lunch break. I no longer had enough water left to cook a proper meal, so I ate the rest of the snacks in my pack instead which consisted of gorp and strawberry leather.

I napped a bit, which felt wonderful, then propped myself up and finished reading Up Shit Creek, with some seriously disturbing stories involving groovers. For those of you who don't know what a groover is, it's basicly a backcountry toilet that those on river trips use.

Most rivers require that you pack *everything* out that you bring in, including number 2. Sometimes, however, things go terribly, terribly wrong.

to be continued..........

Where on Earth is Ryan, Part 2?

For those trying to figure out where I am, I got off the trail there at I-75 and took a zero day (no official hiking miles!) in Plantation with DebBee. I have to skip the next section of trail for the time being since them darned Indians won't let me through their reservation, so I'm jumping up to the southern end of Lake Okeechobee this afternoon and continuing north from there, heading around the west side of the lake. I'll have to go back and do the section between I-75 and Lake Okeechobee at some point--hopefully in early February.

Not very convenient from a logistical point of view, but shrug. *shrug* That's the way the cookie crumbles. So look for me along Lake Okeechobee now. =)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Walking Through Fire

I set up camp near the end of the airstrip, just outside of the visitor's center. I could even hear the traffic from Highway 41, though it was a distant, muffled sound and posed no threat to my sleep.

The morning dawned, bright and cheerful, and it wasn't more than a couple of miles along the trail I saw the first evidence of a recent fire. Certainly nothing for me to be concerned about, though. It was pretty well burnt out, and looked like it could have occurred weeks ago.

The trail stayed high and dry, and I reached Seven Mile Camp a little before noon where I stopped for lunch. I decided to get throug Big Cypress using only the water I filled up with from the drinking fountin at the Osasis Vistor Center--the muck in Big Cypress didn't look too appitizing--so carefully conserved my water during lunch. Even going so far as to rinse the pot with water, then drinking it! Better to have that water in me than evaporating into the air, and I probably needed the few extra calories the food particles provided anyhow.

Then I threw out my ground sheet and went to sleep for two hours. This napping in the middle of the hottest part of the day was really appealing to me, and seemed to rest my feet for the next big push. The campsite didn't provide much natural shade, so I used the umbrella to shade my head once again.

A little into my nap, a small plane flew closely overhead, and I wondered if Jack was in it, doing a fly over to monitor hot spots. I wanted to wave, but didn't. Even if he did see me, he might think I was signaling for help--something I definitely did NOT want to happen. So I watched the plane fly overhead, then turn and bank flying over another parallel stretch of terrain.

At two o'clock sharp, my break was over. I packed up, and moved out.

Wasn't long before I came across my first still-smoldering log. The fire through here was VERY recent--it was still going! That's all it was, though, an occasionally log or tree smoldering like a spent campfire.

Until about an hour later, when I saw a thick, black smoke billowing into the sky. That's the kind of smoke, I thought, that Jack warned me to turn around if I saw. It wouldn't hurt to get a closer look, though, would it? Just to make sure the trail wasn't passable?

In a way, I felt strangely safe walking through this burnt-out smoldering wasteland--it had already burned! If the fire was as bad as it appeared in the distance, I could come back here--the fire would have nothing to burn to follow me back.

Finally I could hear the fire, crackling and consuming the forest. Occasionally, a heavy crashing sound pounded the forest, as if a tree finally fell to the firey onslaught.

The trail seemed to skirt around the edge of the fire, but heavy smoke and ash blew onto the trail and I pondered my choices. There was the prudent thing to do, like Jack suggested, and turn back. I, of course, did not do that.

Instead, I pulled out a hankerchief, with lots of survival advice printed on it--a small bit of irony there--and saturated it with water, then covered my face with it and charged through the smoke and fire.

The fire burned along perhaps 100 feet of the trail, but the smoke made my eyes water and I breathed through it for about 300 feet before escaping the channel of smoke. I was through.

The trail wound through Ten Mile Camp, smoldering logs and trees still burning around camp. Ironically, despite the fact that the camp was still on fire, it seemed like a safe place to bed down--the worst was already over here. There wasn't much left to burn--just the smoldering remains that were still burning.

Still, that wasn't my intended stop for the night. No, I pushed on to Thirteen Mile Camp (about seven or eight miles beyond Ten Mile Camp--not the three one would normally expect after subtracting ten from thirteen).

Ten Mile Camp pretty much marked the end of the burn area. There was another mile or so of trail that had burned, but the rest was easy going.

I still had to pay close attention to blazes--it was very easy to lose track of the trail if one didn't pay close attention to the blazes. Often, there would be no visible footpath at all, and you made your own path from blaze to blaze. The burned areas required even more attention since some of the blazes had burned or were on trees that fell after burning through at the base.

Several times, I spent ten or fifteen minutes scouting for the next orange blaze, and I could imagine a lot of less experienced hikers getting lost out here.

I made it into Thirteen Mile Camp near sunset and set up camp. The camp had a register, which I signed and warned about the fire near Ten Mile Camp for southbounders coming through, and so if Jack or anyone else from the park service were worried about me, they'd know I made it to Thirteen Mile Camp in good condition.

Then I wrote up some more adventures on my PocketMail device and went to sleep. It would be my first night at an official, designated campsite. The stars were twinkling, no motorized vehicles around, and the nearest person to me was probably half a dozen or more miles away. It was a beautiful night.

Walking Through Water

I slept relatively well during the night given that no traffic drove by to disturb my sleep. Bugs were the biggest problem, but a few splashes of deet solved the worst of the bugs.

At sunrise, and a beautiful one it was, I ate breakfast, broke down camp, and took my first few steps along the Florida Trail.

The steps were cautious ones, with limestone rocks poking out from slick, wet mud, but the tread wasn't bad. But I wasn't lulled into a false sense of security. No, I'd heard the horror stories, wading through alligator-infested waters up to one's hips. This was Big Cypress, where hikers come to die. Or at least come out of it feeling like they lived to tell about it.

The trail quickly became muddy, but nothing worse than I experienced on the Appalachain Trail. The mud did suck one of my shoes off, which I managed to extract and put back on, tightening the laces as far as they could go.

The thing that puzzled me most--with a name like Big Cypress, I expected a lot of BIG Cypress trees. All I saw were endless, scrawny little trees which I assumed were cypress.

It was near Roberts Strand that I finally got to experience Big Cypress. I reached a point where water blocked the trail and the next orange blaze was on the other side. Nothing to do except plunge in!

The water came up to my ankles, and my initial reaction was, "Wow! That feels relaxingly cool on my feet." I'd almost forgotten how hot and sweaty they were until my feet were plunged into the cool, soothing water.

The water level varied for the next couple of miles, at its deepest going up to my knees. It was a strange and exhilerating feeling, but I was careful about my footing so I wouldn't slip or fall. Falling into the water with all my gear seemed like a decidedly bad idea.

At one point, the trail was so overgrown, I had trouble finding the next orange blaze, and alternated between two possible paths--one heading away from the water, and one going directly into it up to the knees.

I scouted the path away from the water first, but after seeing no blazes in the first 50 feet, decided to check the water route instead.

And yes, there was the blaze, hidden behind some palmettos on the far side of the water.

Further away from Roberts Strand, the water was just an inch deep at times, and the water's surface rippled with activity, like tons of little fish fighting over the little water that was left.

In fact, looking closer in the water, there were fish jumping around with fury! How many of those had I just killed on my hike? Hiking through fish? That was a new one, even for me.

The trail never actually dried out after that, but the water did vanish leaving shoe-sucking mud behind. I slipped and slided through, until reaching the Oasis Visitor Center along Highway 41. I had traveled just 7.8 miles.

At the visitor center, I looked through their displays about the region, learning it was called Big Cypress because the region was big--not because the trees were big. How stupid is that? Next thing you know, Texas will want to be renamed 'Big Texas.'

I approached the ranger at the information table to inquire about the trail conditions ahead and weather forecast.

"The trail is closed today," she told me.

"What?" I was stunned. This was news to me.

"There are prescribed burns going on north of here, so the trail is closed. It might be back open again tomorrow, though. Let me find the person who can get you that information."

I read more of the displays while waiting for my ranger to return.

"Okay, I found the guy I needed to talk to. He's just about to go on a fly-over to check out the situation from the air, which will take about 35 to 45 minutes, at which point he'll return to give you a definitive anwser.

I nodded respectfully, then went outside to a picnic table to make lunch and wait for the flight to finish.

I didn't finish a moment too soon, either, before it started raining.

I went back inside to find out the results of the fly-over and wait out the rain.

The fire guy hadn't returned yet, but the ranger said that there was a LOT of chatter about me over the airwaves. They knew I had walked in from Key West and wanted to support me on the hike, but they didn't want me burning to a crisp along the way either.

"The rain outside," the ranger said in a hopeful-sounding tone, "should improve your chances."

For once in my life, I wanted it to rain on the trail. I wanted rain, by the buckets, to drop from the heavens.

I decided to watch a short video they had to kill some more time, about the history, wildlife, and future of the area. It described how fish and other animals congregate in the small puddles of water as they dry up, reminding me of the fish I walked through earlier. During the rainy season, the video explained, nearly everything is underwater--just one enormous river--and during the dry season, it all dries up. January, the time I'm passing through, is the start of the dry season. Things aren't *completely* dry, but the worst of the flooding is over.

When I exited the theater, the ranger lady asked if I learned anything new.

"Yes!" I told her. "I forgot there were water mocasins out there! Just something else for me to worry about now!" =)

And it's true, I did forget about them. What, with gators, shoe-sucking mud, wading through water up to my knees, and prescribed fire dangers, I kind of forgot about the lowly water mocasins.

Finally, the fire guy arrived, introducing himself as Jack, and asked if I had a cell phone. He didn't seem to like my answer of no, but gave me the scoop. I should not hike more than a mile or two up the trail that day, but if I could find a place to camp within that first couple of miles, that would be fine.

In the morning.... it was hard to say. He showed me a map of the area covering the prescribed burn, which the Florida Trail went right through the middle. "There are still hot spots flaring up, and it would be nice if we could call you with the results of our fly over tomorrow morning."

I shook my head. No cell phone.

"Well, go ahead and continue on the trail in the morning, but if you see smoke, turn around, okay?"

Seemed like a reasonable request.

"There are some buggy trails you could go around the fires with, if necessary," he continued.

Sweet! I had official permission to continue through in the morning, and because I had no cell phone, they couldn't call me back in the morning!

"Don't be fooled by the rain either," he said, waving outside, "it hasn't been raining on the fires.

Jack let me keep the map of the burned area, and I started preparing to leave. I filled up all of my available water stores, made some phone calls, and headed out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Loop Road

It's called Loop Road, but it seems to me like it would be better called the Parallel Road, since it basically parallels Highway 41 for quite some distance.

I camped a couple of miles short of it, but reached the turnoff within an hour or walking. Right there at the turn, there was a picnic table and a bunch of information for hunters and permits. I stopped to eat breakfast at the picnic table, and kept a particularly close eye on my food when I spotted an otter crossing the road. It was an ugly little thing, I'll say that for it. Perhaps in the water they seem cute and cuddly, but on land, they look like miniature monsters, the kind that hides under beds.

I was honing in on the start of the Florida Trail. The Loop Road would be my last road walk, intersecting with the Florida Trail about 2/3rds down the road.

The walk went quickly, first passing by houses of the local Native Americans, then the road became rougher when it left civilization behind.

Along the way, I spotted several alligators, lurking in the canal parallel to the road. It pleased me greatly when they jumped into the water and swam away as I got closer. I'm always happy when large, carnivorous animals that could eat me in several bites show how shy they really are.

I stopped for lunch at a campsite, a free campground with 10 numbered sites and a porta-potty for bathroom activities. A few motorhomes and RVs filled up some spots.

I threw out my things under the shade of a tree, and introduced myself to an older gentleman next to his RV who seemed to watch me with curiosity.

Alas, I've forgotten his name, which is a shame because he ended up being a wealth of trail magic! He lived in Indiana and came south for warmer climates.

We only chatted a few minutes before I excused myself to take a nap. It was warm and hot out, and I didn't get much sleep the night before, and a nap seemed like the perfect thing.

I laid out and went to sleep.

I slept nearly two hours before rising to make lunch. A few others entered the campground during my nap, most of the on bicycles after a morning ride.

I picked up my lunch gear and walked over to Mr. Indiana figuring he'd enjoy seeing my soda can stove in action.

"You can use my stove," he offered.

I passed on the offer--the soda can stove worked well enough, and frankly, I enjoy using it. =)

He also offered to fill up my water bottles with fresh, clear Indiana water, which I gladly accepted. While I had the materials to get safe drinking water from the canals, I didn't have anything to actually make the water GOOD. The longer I could avoid natural canal water, the better.

He also offered me a cold soda and a huge bar of dark chocolate, both of which I accepted. I had my doubts about the chocolate--melting all over everything--and ate it in its entirety as soon as I left the campground. I enjoyed the cold Pepsi in camp so I could leave the can behind.

We chatted for a couple of hours, as other folks from the campground dropped by to say hi as well. All-in-all, it was a real friendly group of people.

But as all good things must come to and end, this was no exception. I headed down the road, eating dark chocolate along the way.

The road eventually turned to gravel, and cars became a genuine rarity for the first time on my hike.

An occasional tourist drove by, but it was a nice, peaceful walk. A woman from Naples showing a young couple from Germany the 'old Florida' (as she described it) seemed fascinated by my journey, and gave me a small bottle of water to my arsenal.

She also told me to take care of myself, but that she would watch the news for any reports of missing hikers so she could tell rescuers where to find me. =)

Near sunset, I reached it. A small kiosk on the side of the road, with a bright orange blaze on it. The southern terminus of the Florida Trail.

I yelled into the sky, trimumpantly. My road walk was over. I would now be following a trail. I high-fived the orange blaze, slapping it with a solid thud. Let the games begin!

The trail enters into an area known as Big Cypress, known for waist-deep waters and slow slogging. With more than three miles to the first campsite, I decided to stay put for the night. I laid out my ground sheet at the base of the kiosk, made a quick dinner, then typed up adventures. So much to write about.....

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Highway 41

Amanda and I, several years ago, once drove down Highway 41. Today, I would walk it on foot.

The walk, for the most part, was fairly easy, with wide shoulders to walk on or--for much of the way--an option to walk on a berm on the far side of the canal parallel the road.

I considered backtracking to the gas station at the intersection with highway 997 to resupply water, snacks, and use the phone, but finally decided not to after reading that such items were available a short ways ahead.

Oh, if I could go back and do things over....

My first stop was Coopertown, population of 0008. Yes, you read that correctly--anywhere the population was listed, it always included three extra zeros at the beginning, as if the eight citizens had grander plans in mind and wanted to make sure their signs could handle the population explosion to come.

I stopped at the picnic tables, took off my shoes, and laid down. A few minutes later, a couple of Kentucky pulled up, asking about airboat tours. I hadn't planned on doing an airboat tour myself--I'd done that with Amanda a couple of years before, but it only cost $19, paid at the end of the 40-or-so minute trip. The guy joked that if you didn't come back, you didn't have to pay. What could go wrong?

I decided to go. Sitting around a boat while the scenery went by? Now THAT sounded like fun! It would only take an hour out of my day, which is how long I probably would have laid around doing nothing anyhow.

Two others showed up shortly before the boat left, a couple from Austria, and the five of us got a nine-mile tour of the everglades.

The airboat rides are a classic tourist trap, but they are FUN. They speed down mere trickles of water at high velocities, seemingly to break the laws of physics, but the boats can travel through as little as four inches of water. I also saw my first alligators since my arrival in Florida, though apparently everyone will see alligators on airboats rides. Our guide took us to several gator holes, depressions that gators dig to stay cool during the dry season, and we could see the fish and turtles swimming in the water.

The everglades, as our guide explained it, is just a gianticly wide river more than 50 miles across but rarely more than a few inches deep. The water travels at about 100 feet per day.

I quizzed the guide on how this environment compared to the Big Cypress area, my gut telling me that I'd be walking directly through this sort of environment soon, and that's pretty much what he told me--except that there would also be cypress trees. Oh, joy. =)

The guide also told us that several movies and TV shows were filmed there, including Key Largo, Gentle Ben, the first episode of CSI: Miami, and a bunch of others I quickly forgot.

At the end of the tour, I asked if there was a spiget I could fill up my water with, and the tour guide got me two small water bottles. "You don't want to drink the tap water here."

Perhaps not, I thought, but I bet I'd want to more than the water directly from the everglades, which while pretty, did not look at all appetizing.

I emptied the two water bottles into my Platypus, thanked him, and headed out again. The phone, promised in my guidebook, was a bust. There were no public phones nearby.

I choose to walk along the road rather than the canal because the left side of the road was still in shade. I wouldn't get the view from the canal, and I'd have to listen to the traffic, but shade trumps all.

I stopped at every airboat ride along the way. I didn't ride in anymore airboats--once was quite enough, but I inquired about pubic phones for use (most of the time, they recommended the gas station at the intersection of highway 997 and highway 41--thanks, but I'm not walking back there!

I considered buying a cold soda, but at $2 for a 20 ounce bottle, felt it was a ripoff.

I became rather discouraged at finding water, phones, and rest at the stops. At times, groups of turkey vultures flew overhead, and I wondered if they knew something I didn't.

A memorial for the victims of ValueJet flight 592 was set up on the far side of the canal, a series of concrete columns laid out in a triangular shape, and I felt drawn to it. I crossed over the canal on lock structure 333, and set my pack down--no sense carrying it over to the memorial just to carry it back.

The plaque with all of the victim's names had flowers, baseball caps, coins, and other miscellaneous items spread out around them, and I felt so sad. It's a simple memorial as memorials go, but there were just so many names. The plane crashed out there, somewhere in the Everglades, and I remembered reading about it when it happened, and how difficult it was for rescuers and investigators to get to the crash site. The memorial was in the shape of a giant triangle, with the plaque at one of the points, as if it were pointing to the location. I don't know for sure if that's the case, but that was the impression I got.

I didn't know anyone from that doomed flight, but I did notice two people named Carpenter died on it which made it seem more personal.

I took out a penny from my pocket and dropped it on the plaque, to add to the other coins there, said a small prayer for them, and walked back to the lock structure and resumed the walk.

These people will always be remembered for how they died, rather than how they lived--a terrible waste.

I didn't walk much further--I stopped at a boat launch, tired of walking, and threw out my ground sheet and took a nap. There was no shade anymore, so I opened my umbrella, wrapping the loop around the end around my wrist to make sure it wouldn't blow away in the wind, and went to sleep.

I still had miles to do, however, and my guidebook mentioned a motel available up ahead in the Miccosukee Indian reservation. Not a casino like the last one, I might add, and that a phone would be available. That's where I wanted to go for the night.

Darkness decended, and I continued the hike by headlamp, finally reaching the Miccosukee village.

I stopped at a restaurant for dinner, and the staff was very efficient and accomodating, but the food was boring.

Just beyond, I stopped at the General Store, the last good store for supplies for the next 71 miles according to my guidebook, when the checker asked about my hike and where I planned to stay the night.

When I mentioned the motel up ahead, she told me it had closed.


It would be another night in the woods for me, then. And there was no phone in town--no updates on my blog this day.

I slept in a small nook just outside of town, using broken branches to mask my campsite, but didn't sleep well between the traffic on Highway 41 and the mosquitoes along the canal.

Where On Earth Is Ryan?

For those trying to keep track of where I am at any given point, my blog entries are typically about a day out of date. Due to the severe lack of phones the last few days, I'm a bit more out of date than that now, and it'll probably be some while before the adventures are completely up-to-date!

To make a long story short.... Mike, I copied the Google link from your comments. I'll update it on the main page whenever I get a chance, but his links will always be more up-to-date than mine.

Which day did I hike Card Sound... *thinking* Gosh, I don't know anymore. =) Four days ago, whenever that was. Is today Friday? So I hiked it on Monday.

I know I posted about the long march the day after I hiked it.

The big question everyone is asking--where is he NOW? Why haven't we heard from him in more than two days?!

I just posted the Highway 997 walk, which was Tuesday. Then I hiked east on Highway 41 pretty much all day on Wednesday. Thursday, I veered off onto Loop Road (labled as highway 49 on some maps, I believe?) and hiked to the official southern terminus of the Florida Trail. Last night, I camped out there on the road, under my first orange blaze, and this morning hiked the first 8 miles of trail (deep in water and mud!!!).

I'm now at the Oasis Visitor Center off of Highway 41, sitting by the phone at the restrooms, covered with mud and filth. =) I shall be heading back into the woods again soon, not to emerge for an expected three days at a rest area on I-75.

I don't really have time to itemize my pack's contents at the moment, but I will for those of you who are interested in it. No promises about when that'll happen, though!

Okay, let me clean up a bit, then I'll post about the Highway 41 walk. (The Loop Road walk and first eight miles of the Florida Trail will have to wait until I emerge again from Alligator Alley.)

Happy trails!

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The Street Walking Continues....

The next morning, I slept in luxuriously late. It was kind of a shame to waste away the cool morning hours, but it would also have been a waste not to use the nice, dry bed as long as I could too. =)

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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Long March, Part II

Finally the sign became clear: It was the alternate evacuation route for Monroe County. Turn onto the turnpike two miles ahead.

Two miles to civilization!!!

My step picked up a bit after that.

After reaching the antenna tower, I looked ahead for a new target to mark my progress, and had focused on a small, unusual-looking dot on the distant horizon. After a mile or two, I decided it was an American flag.

The dot seemed to shape shift, like a flag blowing in the wind. That was my sole basis for the determination, and I figured if it was a flag, it was probably an American flag. And if it was an American flag, it had to be in civilation.

And now, I new the civilation was just two miles away.

The shape shifting dot started to show bits of color, and I thought I saw some red and white, and a dark patch where the blue would be.

I liked the idea of hiking to the American flag, and as I got closer, I was disappointed to lose sight of it when trees I got closer to obscured it.

And you know what I kept thinking? Had I stayed on Highway 1, I'D ALREADY BE DONE! Why did I choose the scenic route again?

I finally reached the turnpike turnoff, and pulled out my maps to figure out where to go next.

I wanted food, drink, and an air-conditioned building. I needed to stop at the post office for a mail drop. And I wanted (some people might argue that I needed this one) a cheap hotel.

First, I stopped at Wendy's. I probably could have done better if I waited, but it was the first place I came across, and I love the fact I can get a ceaser side salad instead of fries with the combo meal. =)

Way back in Marathon, I picked up one of those hotel coupon magazines you find in supermarkets and visitors centers everywhere and ripped out two pages of hotels for the Florida City and Homestead areas.

The cheapest option looked like a bit past the turnoff for the post office, so I decided to do the post office next.

From my Google mapping a few days before, I thought it was a couple of blocks off from the trail, but when I went several blocks and saw nothing, I started getting concerned.

I asked a woman at a bus stop where the post office was, and she pointed further up the street. "It's WAAAY up there," she explained. Not at the first light, but the second one. "You aren't walking there, are you?"

"Uhhh.... that's the plan." How far away was this post office anyhow?

"You could take the bus."

I looked down the street, and the second light looked about a half mile away. "Thanks, but I'll walk."

She seemed astounded that I would walk a half mile to the post office. If only she knew how far I actually came already!

At the post office, I picked up my mail drop, happy to see it had already arrived. I really didn't want to come back the next morning again.

Additionally, there was a second package for me from my "Florida Trail Angels." There wasn't any other hint who it was from, but seeing as I posted the address by accident on my blog, it could have come from anyone! Filled with strawberry fruit leather. =)

Walking back to the trail, it started to rain. After coming so far, it finally started to rain on me, mere minutes away from a dry hotel.

The first hotel I tried was booked full, or else they didn't like the way I smelled and gave me that excuse, so I tried another one across the street called the Coral Roc Motel and got a room. First stop, of course, was a shower--my first since starting the trail.

I washed my clothes in the sink, and resupplied food, and am now catching up with the last day and a half of adventures. Certainly plenty to write about!

Some folks have been asking about my blisters. I hadn't added any updates about France or Germany because there was nothing new to report. They are not getting any worse, but they are still there.

Yesterday, after stripping off my socks, I did discover two new blisters on my left foot. One wasn't really a surprise--a small thing at the tip of my 'long toe' (the one next to the big toe). It seemed like one was forming several days ago, but I didn't have proof of it until now and it finally formed enough to recognize it as the blister it is. It's not a problem, though, and finding it was like finding an old freckle I had forgotten about. =)

The second new blister was a genuine surprise for me, located at the end of my big toe. I had no idea it was forming, and was surprised at its size when I finally realized it was there. I'll call this one Brazil, and the blister on the long toe Paraguay. (They are in the western hemisphere of my body, after all.)

Popping the blister on my big toe was hard. I jabbed at it with my safety pin, but it wouldn't pop. I was afraid if I jabbed much harder, I'd end up drawing blood!

I did finally get it popped. I didn't make a determined effort to pop Paraguay. It was so small, it hardly seemed worth the effort.

Oddly, even though I didn't feel either of the blisters while walking around, I suddenly felt Brazil once it was popped.

I'm not sure if the blisters no longer bother me because the general sorenes of my feet drown out the pain from indiviual blisters, but I was heartened to discover how much more dificult it wa to pop the blisters. My feet are toughening up!

They still hurt--a lot!--but I'm whipping them into shape. =) The individual blisters, though, aren't posing any problem at all.

On another note, I was rather amused in the keys to pass two places labeled as 'foot and ankle specialists.' I don't really need an expert to tell my why my feet hurt--that seems pretty obvious, and there's nothing they can do to stop the pain--but I did find myself curious about what they'd tell me if I walked in. "Good Lord, man! What happened to those.... feet!?"

A lot of long distance hikers live in ibuprofen, a.k.a. Vitamin I, to deal with the constant pain, but I haven't resorted to that. Not yet, at least. I figure it's my body's way of making sure I don't push myself too hard, too fast, so I want to listen to what it's telling me. =)

The Long March: Part I

It didn't rain overnight, but I got up well before sunrise to take down camp and get a move-on. For one, the last weather report I heard did predict rain for the day, and I wanted to do as many miles as I could before that started. Second, I was anxious to reach Florida City and get myself into a hotel for a soft bed, shower, and a safe haven from rain. And third, I wanted to get as much walking in before the day really heated up.

The views were amazing, overlooking Crocodile Lake. Just before I left, I walked up to the edge and watched half a dozen fish launch themselves into the air in less than a minute. No crocs in sight, though. Stupid fish were making all that noise, and probably fed the crocs as well. It never occurred to me that they would eat fish. Looks like the fishing was good in that lake!

The march began. I had about 17 miles to do to make it into town--a full day's hike, but this time I wanted to finish well before dark.

The first five miles went quickly, passing by scenic lakes, rivers, and then over a large, narrow bride to the mainland. There's no shoulder for pedestrians to walk on, and hugged the side rail for dear life as I passed over.

On the far side, there's a toll booth, but only for cars. I could walk through for free, though the guy at the kiosk asked where I was headed and where I came from, impressed with my intended destination. When a car pulled up to pay the toll, I took the opportunity to continue on.

The next car driving past me slowed down, and a guy leaned out the window.

"Need a ride?"

"Where you going?" I asked. Not that I wanted a ride, but curious where I could get a ride to.

"Walking to Georgia is crazy!" he replied.

I laughed. Obviously, the guy at the toll booth is spreading my story.

I stopped at the docks of downtown Card Sound, which so far as I could tell consisted of a dock, a bar called Alabama Jacks, and the toll booths. Alabama Jacks was closed, no surprise there, and I sat on the docks eating snacks for breakfast.

A man walked towards me, asking where I was headed. I wondered if this was a trick question, and if he already knew the answer from the guy in the toll booth, but he turned out to be the dock master (a term I never even heard of!)

When he found out I make websites for a living, he wanted advice for making his own about 'docking disasters.' It seems people get drunk off their asses and get themselves into all sorts of trouble, including driving vehicles into the river and flipping over boats. He wants to film all the disasters and put them on the web. =)

Clouds started rolling in, ugly ones, and the dock master commented, "It's gonna rain on you."

"Yeah, I know," I agreed. "I better get going, Mr.... Dock Master."


"Mr. Charlie."

A short while later, I found another dollar bill on the ground. Woo-who!

The road curved, then followed a straight line as far as the eye could see. There wasn't much for a shoulder to walk on, and the traffic was heavy so I was forced onto the non-existant shoulder which wasn't easy to walk on.

The mile markers had restarted from 1 when I turned at the intersection the night before, but they stopped after mile 5 just after the bridge, and the lack of visible progress bothered me. Not to mention that as the sun got higher, I lost my shade and the temperaature rose.

After another hour of walking, I stopped to refill my Platepus and water bottles from a gallon of water I bought at Winn-Dixie the night before, happy to finally be drinking it instead of carrying an extra gallon of water for 30 miles.

When a large truck drove by in my direction, I started counting seconds until I lost track of it after a minute or so. Assuming it was going the speed limit or a little faster, it would be about a mile away, and I fooled myself into thinking the road curved out of view a mile ahead. Except a half hour went by, and the next car I timed was also a mile away.

The damn road had no end, and the sun was merciless.

I focused on a tower far ahead, using it to mark my progress, but it never seemed to get closer. I started looking for other closer targets to mark my progess. A speed limit sign, a dirt road intersecting the main road, and even larger pieces of trash on the side of the road.

Eventually, even the antenna tower seemed to get miniscually larger, but I wasn't sure if it was my imagination or not.

Several snakes slithered into the bushes along the way, but I wasn't able to identify them.

Clouds came out once again, a welcome relief from the heat of the sun, but toyed with me the rest of the afternoon, coming and going.

Finally, I reached the tower, after about two hour of walking, probably about six miles from the last turn in the road. About halfway to Florida City from where I spent the night.

Ugh. This road seemed to go on forever.

Then I found a third dollar bill, which perked me up a bit. =) Nothing like free money to cheer me up, but I started wondering where all this money was coming from. Each bill was found miles away from the previous one, and I wondered how many others I've walked past not even seeing it. I have a hard time believing that I found three out of three bills on a 20-mile stretch of road.

With an estimated four miles into town, a car pulled to a stop along the shoulder of the road ahead of me, and I could see the driver throwing things into the back seat, clearing room in the front seat. She was going to offer me a ride!

When I reached the passenger side door, I opened it up and joked, "Are you lost? Do you need directions?"

It's hard to get lost on the only paved road in miles in any direction.

"Do you need a lift? I can take you into Homestead."

I shook my head, sadly, I might add, and told the woman I was walking from Key West to Georgia, and I couldn't skip this small section. Oh, I wanted to, but I couldn't.

Her eyes opened wide, shock setting in, then she recovered asking if she could get me a drink.

I assumed she planned to drive into town to get me a drink and bring it back, which seemed like such a wonderfully nice gesture, but I didn't want to inconvience her unneccesarily that much and declined, reminding her I'd be in town soon enough.

We waved goodbye, and I couldn't help but admire this kind woman, even if I did refuse all her offers.

I saw another sign up ahead, glad for something new to read. Some trees grew near it, however, blocking the words until I got closer.

First letter was... an M. Miami! A sign for Miami! No, second letter is an O. Monroe County? At the bottom of the sign, a 2 showed up, but that didn't make sense. I was in Monroe County, it wasn't two miles away!