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!


Anonymous said...

Well, if the cow is dead maybe its soul is in heaven.

Then it's a...


Love the blog. I am enjoying your adventures immensely.

Call me if you need a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

Ok, not that you may care, but I Googled sugar cane burning and here is what it said..."Many farmers burn their sugar cane crops immediately prior to harvesting. This practice significantly reduces the amount of trash (dried out and unwanted leaves) that need to be dealt with"

Glad to hear that you enjoyed the beautiful sunrise, even if it was in the presence of a holy cow =)

Anonymous said...

ryan, is amanda reading? cuz you sure seem awful anxious to catch up to the two "GIRL" hikers! hahahahaha jk ! :)

Anonymous said...

It must be quite something to hike at night with the moonlight to light your way. I know you really don't have a chance to answer questions, but I have to wonder if you ever get nervous hiking at night. Maybe it's just my natural New York paranoia......


midlandtrailblazer said...

i grew up with the sounds of trains right next to my window! we have cows down the road and they tend to lay down like that. there are times I think they are dead and when i go past again they get up and start grazing.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, I don't post much, but being a native Washingtonian that moved to Florida for 2 years, I expect you will find this amusing . . . Since we have such beautiful lakes in Washington to observe on a scenic drive, we took my dad on a "scenic drive" around Lake O. Yep, never saw the lake until one access point on the SE corner. We did see the burned sugarcane fields and the endless dike. The lake when we saw it - snoozer.
Flaymingyon, Port Townsend, WA

Anonymous said...

2009 Calendar...sunrises??
Likely you will have some awesome ones.
What a blessing to sleep under the stars.

Take care, enjoy the hike

Pilgrims in This Land

Anonymous said...

There have been terrible draughts in Florida in 2007 and Lake Okeechobee dropped to all-time lows. Here is some info about it.

The Lake Is Low; Just How Low Is It?
When the levels of Lake Okeechobee dipped to all-time lows at the end of May and the beginning of June only local residents and people who visited the lake knew what that meant.

Below are a few examples that illustrate the severity:

• On May 31, a low-draft barge being towed by a professional boat towing service was able to traverse Port Mayaca Lock only after stirring up the bottom to a great extent. The trip through the lock was made with great difficulty.
• When representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) came to the Port Mayaca Lock to get the latest readings on a temperature sensor to help study manatees, they found the sensor about three feet from the water line, hanging from the lock and blowing in the breeze.
• A local marina in Okeechobee near the FFWCC office has several “docked” boats on dry land and only a hint of water in the marina area. It will be months before the marina is once again operational.

While many observers would expect the bottom of Lake Okeechobee to be muck, much of it was hard-packed soil and rocks. Numerous boat propellers were bound near some of the rock outcroppings.

• In the Indian Prairie area, where not so long ago there was great crappie and bass fishing, today there are dump trucks removing muck as crews work in a dry, dusty setting.
• Near Okeechobee on the lake side of the dike where normally water would be standing, scores of the rare caracara (a Mexican vulture) are feeding on carcasses left behind by a recent fire.
• A recent Corps expedition to survey the drought damage was originally scheduled in an airboat. That trip was cancelled and instead the crew simply walked the dry lake bed between Okeechobee and Buckhead Ridge.
• Small alligators can be seen congregating in shallow water to avoid being lunch for their hungry bigger cousins who hang out in deeper water.
• Officials of the Corps, the FFWCC and the South Florida Water Management District are making discoveries on the lake bottom ranging from genuine geological digs to numerous boats, duck hunting guns, boat anchors, rare coke bottles and much more.
• The unusual black-necked stilts are nesting on the lake bed, and from all indications, have been quite successful.
• Boat traffic at the Port Mayaca Lock has dwindled to a minimum and there have even been a few nearby sinkings in the St. Lucie River after boaters ignored channel markers.


Anonymous said...

Glad to read you have made it through the south end of Big Cypress. Good luck on the rest of you hike.
Priceless GAME01