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.


Anonymous said...

I have been enjoying reading about your travel so far. But for me personally, I would have paid the $2 for the soda.... :-)

-Jersey Trailblazers

Anonymous said...

Each time I finish reading one of your hiking blogs, I feel the way I did when finishing one of the Harry Potter books. Fortunately, the wait for the next segment isn't as long - just seems that way!
Grinch of Grumpy Grinch

Anonymous said...

I probably would have bought a six pack.

71 miles?! Dang! You don't even know who the heck I am, Ryan, but I'm worried about you!

Really enjoyed catching up today.. will be watching eagerly for the next edition telling us you're safe and sound!

Esmerelda, feeling guilty about getting a cold soda out of the fridge

Trailtracker said...

We had a "torrential downpour" two nights ago here in Ohio and I couldn't sleep a wink because I was worried about you too Ryan!! You have lots of trail angels praying to get you to that next phone, next hotel, next good spot to call your sleeping quarters. Now we're all gonna worry until you get through that next 71 miles?! Some of us here in Ohio are going to hike 6 (SIX) miles a week from now and we are worried about finishing THAT---with no big honkin' packs! We're proud as heck of you!

Anonymous said...

oh Ryan,
so many of us that are unknown to you are so worried about you! The first thing I thought of when I heard about the GA girl was, "Does Ryan have a weapon of any sort?"
I love reading these daily diaries of yours and looking at the google map. I was wondering if anyone could make a map of your feet with the blisters marked on it? I've always been bad at geometry. *giggle*giggle*snort*

~resQlou from AQ

Anonymous said...

ok, between reading your last post and this one a few minutes apart,,,,,,,,i now have this picture of you hiking and hiking and hiking in the water filled everglades during the day and i hope not at night........but at night ummmmmmm with all the water.. where are you going to set up camp??????

now i am really concerned........71 miles to the next motel??????

keep on keeping on........


Anonymous said...

I'll be looking forward to your next post. Be safe

Jaxx from AQ

Anonymous said...

Our family provides trail angel services in Okeechobee(laundry, showers, Internet, phone, bed, shuttle, maildrop)..look forward to hearing from you.. 2 section hikers went thru north bound this week..4 last week

Unknown said...

Trying to imagine Ryan's environs? This photo essay of another FT hiker is good:

midlandtrailblazer said...

life is yin and yang -- negative and positive, though if you have a good outlook you can find positives in the negative. hope the next day's travel is better :)

Anonymous said...

Ryan- I can't think of anyother way to relay this info- putting the word "letterbox" into the search engine turned up your site. I'm not a letterboxer, but found the remains of one and thought it might be of interest to someone. (Someone who created it?) In the Arborteum, in Seattle, I was nature walking and leaf hunting today. Found just the lid to a box, marked "two trees", the word "letterbox" and then the letterboxing website address. The lid looked as if an animal had chewed it. THere were in fact two trees near by, so I tucked the lid into the niche.

banjoman said...

Hey Ryan, I am from shoreline originally and did a lot of hiking climbing in the Cascades. I was searching for info about aligators on highway 41 in Forida. I an in Key West and want to go home to St Petersburg along 41 so my 4 kids can see some aligators! I may send them out on an airboat after reading of your experience.

Great blog! I am excited to read the rest of it.