Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Been There, Done That

My flight arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a but late, but DebBee was there to pick me up and whisk me away. I spent the evening seam sealing my bags and chatting with her family, but it was the proverbial calm before the storm.

Except the firecrackers people were lighting for New Year's, of course. I think I slept through the official start of the new year, though.

The next morning, we woke up early and headed out for breakfast in Miami where we met up with ThreeHearts. She gave me lots of letterbox clues, a surprise effort among several Floridians to plant a number of letterboxes along the trail for me.

Then it was off to Key West! We made a couple of quick stops along the way to check up on some letterboxes, and arrived in Key West after a short but drenching downpour. The weather, in a word, I'd describe as oppresive, but I figure I'll get used to it or die trying. =)

Hot and muggy, though allegedly a cold front was moving through the area and soon highs would be in the 60s. We can hope!

The rain, cooperatively, stopped after our arrival, and we stayed dry. We hoofed off for lunch, then found a couple of letterboxes in the local cemetery. A sign outside the gate explained that the cemetery is located on the highest natural land in Key West after a storm unburried a few bodies at a lower level cemetery. Ooops! =) I was astounded to learn that they've crowded 75,000 people into that little place--considerably larger than the living population of Key West.

Finally, it was time to start the trail. On the way back to the car, I stopped in a couple of stores and purchased some batteries and an official Key West lighter. When I thru-hiked the AT, I carried an official New Orleans lighter purchased on my way to the trailhead. Seemed right to have an official Key West lighter for my Key West to Springer Mountain hike.

We went back to the car to pick up my pack, which seemed surprisingly heavy to me considering that through the Keys, I figured I didn't need to carry a particularly large amount of food or water. It was still a lot lighter than my pack was at the start of the AT, however, so I'm not complaining.

And a little before 5:00 in the afternoon, DebBee took my photo in front of the so-called southernmost point in the continental United States. If you look on a map, that really does not appear to be the case. Seems like a scam to me! I'd been to the southernmost point in the *whole* United States, however, which is much cooler to brag about, and it really is the most southern point unlike this one.

I said goodbye to DebBee and her son, and started hiking north.

I didn't get far before I stopped to adjust some straps, check my e-mail, and stopped for a pee break at a restroom I was walking past--one of the nastiest speciums I've ever had the pleasure of using.

By the time I got started again, it was pretty much dark. I couldn't have made it a miles, and it was already dark! That's just not going to fly.

So I continued walking, and walking, and walking.... I walked out of Key West and crossed the first of many bridges. Despite being dark, it was still warm out, and a clammy layer of sweat covered me. If this was what it was like at night, I'm *really* glad I missed the heat of the day!

I took my next break after about six or seven miles. The wind picked up considerably after I left Key West, and positively blew me over when I crossed over exposed bridges. I must have looked drunk, staggering along the shoulder of the road, trying to prevent the wind from blowing me into traffic.

I watered several bushes along the way--I drank a lot of water since it was so hot, but it seemed to go right through me!

Around 8:00 or so, I passed by a guy sitting in a small portable chair, reading a book on the side of the road. From a distance, I thought he looked kind of dead, but he perked up when I got closer and introduced himself as Spirit.

He was bicycing around Florida--I didn't see his bike anywhere, however--and was just enjoying the evening. I told him my story, hiking from Key West to Springer Mountain, Georgia. "Is that, like, near the Appalachian Trail?"

"Something like that," I replied. =)

He also told me about his special way of hitchhiking. "I wave to people and shit, they pick me up! None of that thumb wagin' for me."

"This is so much better than driving," he continued. "You TALK to people this way. You see more."

I nodded agreably, but wanted to get some more miles in and departed.

In the first ten miles, I watched two differnt cops pull over cars. Seems kind of odd to be backpacking and watch police pulling over cars.

By around 9:30, my feet were starting to get tired, especially as I approached Mile Marker 12, and started keeping my eyes open for a place to camp, finally selecting a small area behind a large tower carrying wires (telephone? electricity? cable? who knows?) in the Saddlebunch Keys, about halfway betwen MM 12 and MM 13.

It was still miserably hot, so I didn't bother to put anything extra on. Just laid out my ground sheet, a sleeping bag, took off my shoes and socks, and crawled in.

I could hear traffic zooming all night long, but most of them weren't so loud as to disturb my sleep. At one point, I heard a strange noise, was was convinced an alligator was out to get me. Would it go for my legs and immobilize me first, or go for the throat in a kill? I curled up in a ball and tried to go back to sleep. =)

By now, the temperature had dropped considerably, so I added my fleece jacket and shell to my night outfit, and put on a fleece hat. Wow, a head can get cold without any hair!

I lived the night, without so much as a single aligator sighting to date.

Even before the sun rose, I was up and hiking. I wanted to get miles in before the day got too warm!

I hiked and I hiked, admiring the views around me. Many establishments tried to lure me into stopping. I did stop at a small grocery store and deli for breakfast (including fresh fruit!), but sadly walked passed a sky diving establishment encouraging people to "Sky dive Key West!" Sounds like fun, huh?

I also walkd passed a miniature golf course. Oh, I was tempted, let me tell you.

I finally stopped for lunch in Big Pine Key, ordering a Philly Cheesesteak and a slice of key lime pie at Pizzaworks. The gluttony displayed was terrible. I have now hiked 30 miles, in less than 24 hours no less--quite an accomplishment for not even being trail hardened yet! I also stopped at the pubic library where I got to use a computer for 30 minutes. (For most of you reading this, you'll appreciate the fact that I just paid for another six months of Atlas Quest and the blog you are now reading.)

Happy trails!


Debbie St.Amand said...

Glad to hear you're doing okay. And hey, you've met your first Keys Character!


Anonymous said...

Good luck, Ryan!!! Perhaps next year you might be interested in the Katy Trail, a flat rails-to-trails that goes across Missouri from St. Louis to Kansas City. If so, let me know and I can get you started!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are off to a great start! I am enjoying living vicariously through your hike. Plus looking forward to reading your book. You will write a book, right?!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like your off to a Great Start Ryan.

Glad the noise wasn't a gator;) I don't think I could have gotten back to sleep after that.

Thanks for posting about your trip:)

Trish of Team MTpt101

Anonymous said...

Yay, very glad to read all is well so far and that AQ will be around long after wassa's coup. Thanks for the update, keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Being a native of Florida, I've driven down to the keys many times. I admire you for what you are doing. I would have been lured by anything within the first mile and given up. :) Keep the posts coming!

Holly said...

Good Luck Ryan please keep us posted, and don't worry we will keep Wassa in line ! LOL


Anonymous said...

You're such a good story teller. I love it!! Thank you and be safe!

♥ Lady Lilac

Anonymous said...

Ryan if it is still this chilly when you reach Orlando, Mischief Cat agreed to giving you her bed for a night or two!
Brrrr... (which I realize is completely relative!)

be well AND warm on your hike!
lorax and MC

Anonymous said...

Hey Ryan,

Keep your eyes peeled for alligators. Seems like you're off to a rousing start, 30 miles in less than 24 hours. You da man! Keep the adventures coming.

Be safe,

Anonymous said...

well ryan from where i and many other michiganders sit tonight, your warm weather sounds so we are covered in snow......and yes even Hell(MI) is frozen over :J

i am also glad that it wasn't a gator coming for a midnight snack..and i agree with trish, i know i would have packed it up and hiked till morning or warmer and then slept knowing i was not gator food.

keep us up to date on your ventures.


Unknown said...

If Ryan is able to go through Big Cypress on his way west around the Big O, he can look forward to some cheap but excellent, authentic mexican food. There is even a place right on Goverment Road (833), and more up in Clewiston.

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed...30 miles in less than 24 hours...that's kicking it! When you said that your feet were starting to get tired at 9:30, I kept thinking, "dang, my feet are tired and I'm only sitting at my desk!" LOL. We're all behind you and wish you the are MUCH braver than me for sure.
Sweet n Sassy

midlandtrailblazer said...

what, skipping miniature golf? your trip is off to a poor start.

Anonymous said...

Lucky for you alligators can't digest their food in cold weather so they fast through the winter months. :)