Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Merry Christmas! Now Leave Me Alone.

I've met a number of folks on the trail, and I'm rather surprised that a large number of them tell me that I seem surprisingly clean and neat for a thru-hiker.

At first I wrote it off to the occasional ravings of a lunatic, but it KEEPS HAPPENING! Never on the AT did anyone ever tell me I looked clean or nice--unless Amanda was in the area and provided me with a nice change of clothes.

The latest incident was a few miles before I camped, a few short miles from Christmas. Two bicycles got off their bikes to follow the Florida Trail into the woods where their paths crossed mine. We chatted, and I told the about hiking up from Key West, destination Springer Mountain.

The man had property near the AT and was familiar with my mountaineer counterparts, and once again, he said the same thing. "You sure look clean for living out in the woods. You're the neatest thru-hiker I've ever seen!"

What changed since I hiked the AT? I think I've figured it out. It's my shirt. On the AT, I wore a white shirt. At least it started white. It didn't take long for it to be permanently stained with dirt, and it *always* looks dirty--even fresh out of the washer.

This time, my shirt is green, and even when I haven't cleaned it for a week, it still looks clean. It might smell terrible, and I know it's incredibly dirty, but it continues to *look* clean. I think that's the difference. I look less like a hobo and more like a respectable citizen with my green shirt. =)

But I digress.... I woke up that beautiful morning of February 1st, and proceeded to hike into the town of Christmas. My guidebook says the post office is 'unusally busy' during December. The understatement of the century. =)

I had a maildrop to pick up in Christmas, with maps and details about the trail up ahead. Actually, I'd largely been without my usual source of information for the last 80 miles--an unfortunate result of my cutting my guidebook into pieces to have my mom send me as needed. Due to poor planning on my part, I needed this section 80 miles before Christmas, and used photocopied pages from Amanda's guidebook to get me through.

Now, however, the missing section finally would catch up to me in Christmas.

You could tell, immediately upon entering the edge of town, it wasn't a normal town. Many houses had Christmas decorations up. Not one or two, but a LOT of them. This was February 1st. Mailboxes often were in the shape of Santa Claus. It was Christmas, all year long.

However, it did not seem like the locals were all that friendly. Most of the houses seemed run down and pretty poor, and almost all of them nailed up signs reading, "No Tresspassing" or "No hunting or fishing." Do they have a problem with people hunting in their front yards? And I'm not sure where anyone could catch a fish in their yard--there wasn't any water nearby. No pond or stream. And they'd nail these signs next to their Christmas decorations.

I felt like they were saying, "Merry Christmas, but leave us the hell alone."

I followed St Nicolas Road to SR 50, and turned left to follow it to the post office.

At the post office, there was a board with letters to Santa posted from all over the world, and a special mailbox just for letters to Santa.

When I walked in to pick up my maildrop, the postal worker took one look at me and asked if I was waiting for a priority mail package. "Well yes, I am." I gave him my name--it almost didn't seem necessary since he already knew who I was--and he returned with my maildrop.

"You're a day late," he joked.

"The date is just an estimate," I replied.

A woman working there said she saw me walking down the road when she drove to the post office, and figured I was coming in for the mail drop. I got the impression they'd been talking about me for several days, just waiting to meet the man behind the maildrop.

I opened the package and examined my detailed maps, calculating how I'd get through the next section of trail and where I would spend the night.

I stopped at a Circle K on my walk back to the trail to resupply some food and buy lunch. (Two hot dogs and a soda for $2.49, plus a bottle of milk, another bottle of orange juice, a roll of powdered donuts, a 3 Musketeers bar, and a LONG bar of Starbursts. I wanted a Slurpee, but alas, their Slurpee machine was broken. *sniffle*)

Then it was back to the trail.

Just before reaching the Orlando Wetlands Park, I reached a check-in station where two older women were watching Opera on a small television. They had deep, gravelly voices from years of smoking--they were smoking now, in fact.

I entered the screen enclosure and introduced myself.

They were running a hunting party, and when I told them I was thru-hiking the Florida Trail, one of them said I shouldn't go down the road in a certain direction since that's where the hunters were and she didn't want me getting shot. Unfortunately, she pointed down the FT.

She started making some phone calls on her cell, and I wondered what the chances of getting shot really were. Couldn't she call them and warn them I was hiking through?

I pulled out the AAA Florida map, pointing out the route of the FT. This other woman seemed fascinated by the whole journey, and wanted to learn more about it.

After a couple of phone calls, woman #1 figured out that the route of the trail actually misses where the hunters were hunting, and I had no fear of getting shot. They weren't allowed to hunt near the road, and then the trail turns north looping around the Orlando Wetlands, and they weren't allowed to hunt there either--just to the south of it.

We chatted some more, and woman #1 asked about my walk into Christmas, and what a bunch of rednecks they were. "They might have Christmas all year," she said in her deep, throaty voice, "but they don't have the spirit of Christmas."

Which made sense to me, considering all of the do not tresspass and no hunting or fishing and private property signs nailed up everywhere. It's a strange little town.

I finally said goodbye to the women, leaving them alone with Opera, and walked around the edge of the Orlando Wetlands.

The trail passed some water control structures along the way, and I puzzled over the fact that porta-potties were near them. How much maintenance did these structures need anyhow?

I was tempted to camp on top of a dike parallel to the trail, but elected not to since I wasn't sure where access between the dike and the trail was up ahead. I didn't want to switch to the dike, then not be able to get back to the trail easily without thrashing through a canal full of water.

So I camped directly on the trail, about a mile short of Wheeler Road.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I thought it would be a nice town to visit too! I guess the elves don't vacation there!

Anonymous said...

Oprah? Not opera, I'm sure

Kaaren said...

Sounds like you met Marge's two sisters.

Anonymous said...

wow, what a wonderous adventure you seem to be having! Just simply incredible!

Anonymous said...

sounds like they need to pretend it isn't Christmas all year long, take down their stuff and find the spirit before next Christmas.

glad you happend onto some nicer people before you found yourself on the trail alone again.

happy hiking, pleasant dreams.

hope to hear more soon.


Anonymous said...

okay Ryan,
how do bicycles ride bikes.
We think you are hiking waaaaayyy tooo long and getting delusional.
take care.
Too bad about the people in Christmas.

Anonymous said...


I have really enjoyed reading about your adventures. I have this strange image in my head of the two smoking women now! LOL Good luck and Happy Trails!

~Moose Lady

midlandtrailblazer said...

ah, adventures in thru-hiking. at least i get to experience this vicariously....

we had our first mini-meet in WV on February 2 -- woo-hoo!!

Trailtracker said...

Was there a Bates Motel in Christmas? I'm glad you didn't stay there for the night!

Anonymous said...

Kaaren, i thought the same thing you did.. Marge Simpson's sisters must live in Florida and run hunting parties!!

Glad you are doing so well Ryan. Stay safe!!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

In Christmas, it's NOT beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. lol!

Hike on!
~Twinville Trekkers