Saturday, January 7, 2012

ROAD WALK TO SOUTHERN TERMINUS


THE Florida Keys Overland Heritage Trail ends, at the mile 106 roadside marker. At that point you make a North turn onto Highway 1, and begin a road walk to Chrome road that is suppose to be at mile marker 120, according to the most current hiking/town guide. The 1st few miles are quite interesting as you pass by surprise lake, that is suppose to have some of the last remaining American Crocodiles in it. Although I kept a good look out I was not lucky enough to see one.
Then a long stretch of straight and flat section of road begins. It does get broke up by a couple of roadside harbors that both had drinkable water from hoses, and one had a vending machine with sodas.
My feet were still having a hard time converting to all the pavement pounding, and the only relief I had was some barefoot grass walking. Soon I found myself at dusk near mile marker 120, then 121, and 122. I was now out of water, beginning to get hungry, and mile marker 123, and 124, then 125, and 126. Finally at mile marker 128, I began to see some lights, and right before 129, Chrome road appeared with a much needed mini mart on the corner. I indulged in junk food and soda, while looking homeless on the sidewalk out on the side. I did not care cause I was hungry, and my feet were relieved to be off of them. I grabbed a few snacks, and began looking for spot to make a stealth camp.
After 39 miles and a gorge of junk food, I found a construction site with two lowboy dumpsters. One was full of drywall and linoleum, and the other was clean and empty. Not being picky, I grabbed a piece of new piece of linoleum, and made a nice camp in the dumpster. [My Hiker Trash friends would be so proud.]
Up early the next morning, the walk began in through an industrial area, then switched to an old town/neighborhood then eventually to a farming community. There were one gas station/market after another, that the guide book does not mention at all. I just carried enough water and food for the afternoon, knowing I would hit more along the way, but having enough, just in case it was farther than expected.
After leaving the sidewalks behind and beginning to walk along side farms, the path switched to a soft dirt access road. There were also some nice fruit stands, and shady retreats to kick back in away from the view of passing vehicles. as well.
Not having cleaned up all day and needing some kind of water, I came across a canal. Along its edges, I found animal bones and dead fish. My best guess was, they were left by people hunting for gators. I would soon learn that I was wrong, and that the Everglades is a wild place, and that those were animal kills. Across the road, the canal turned to swamp/river and the everglades went as far as the eye could see.
Still pacing along Chrome road aiming for highway 41, the milage once again was not adding up. So I took a look at my IPhone and figured it out quite easily, and once again the guide book was 3 miles short. I began to think maybe the Author was into playing jokes, but what I really think is she did not walk this part and or guessed the milages and resupplies.
Late that afternoon I found myself at the last resupply for the day on the corner of Chrome and Highway 41. There was a nice picnic table out back with a power outlet to charge my phone and camera. So I hung out till everything was fully charged, including myself. I figured I would catch up on miles later that night. I was now about 13 miles behind my schedule, which sounds stupid, but I had it planned to hit the swamp walk early in the morning in two days and now it might end up being too late to start.



That evening I started walking down highway 41. It was a whole different experience to say the least. I was now walking along side a wide canal, with an array of animals. I saw turtles, birds and my first Gator. It was a small one, but after that, I was searching everywhere for another. It was here though, that I made a big mistake. I passed a bridge to go over to the dirt access road, and found myself hoofing it on the pavement. I saw in the guide book that there was another bridge a couple of miles up with bright lights, and began pushing to get to it in the dark. It was here that I also noticed I had lost my high powered flashlight.
Wearing my weak headlamp, I walked along side a new construction sight for a couple of miles, until I saw the lights from the upcoming bridge. Before the bridge, I walked up on a airboat ride place, and filled my water bottles. Like a dummy, I passed the small foot bridge to get across. I was so focussed on the bridge with lights, I just kept aiming for it, missing the actual footbridge. The access road on the other side of the canal was going to eventually cross back over to the highway, I just wanted over to it for camp.
Eventually getting to the bridge I was aiming for, I was stopped by some lady saying the bridge was private property and that I was Trespassing. I tried to explain, but she was not listening. I figured I could just walk the 4 miles to the next bridge and camp there, and moved on.
Soon I saw a cop, shinning his light all over the place looking for me. I then walked out onto the highway and put my hands up and explained my situation. He was actually pretty cool, and I educated him to long distant hiking and the Florida Trail. He soon left and continued on for another 1/2 mile or so and found a nice camp behind a fenced area, so I thought.
After setting up my new Bug Tent for the 1st time, I had another junk food dinner. I then heard the sounds of aircraft all around me. I apparently found the only piece of dry ground for miles, for I was camped in the middle of an airboat coarse. It turns out that it was frog hunting season, and I was in the middle of there hunt. I did however finally fall asleep, and slept well.

Up early the next morning with the attempt to make up miles from the previous day, I was somewhat surprised how much the land had given away to wetlands all around me.. I was soon out on the highway looking across the canal at the nice dirt road I should be walking. The final bridge was again farther than the guide book said, but right on the other side was a much needed restaurant.
I ate 2 breakfasts and hung out charging my phone and camera. The people here in the restaurant were the 1st people to know about us hikers, and we all had a great conversation while I just kept eating.
After leaving, I hit a market further down the road, and bought 4 days worth of junk food and some ice-cream to go. Shouldering a heavy pack, I moved on and hit one last store, with a nice indian lady who worked for her son. This Market was more of a head shop/liguor store than food resupply.
Next, I moved on to a hunters check point, at my last road intersection, [loop road]. I hung out there a while and talked with the guy a while. He knew a lot about where I was going, and said the water was still high. He gave me some pointers, but when I left there, I was more nervous than ever, with all his Gator stories and high water talk.

video video

SOON after leaving the hunters checkpoint, I had a close encounter with a large Gator. Catching a small video of the encounter, and now more nervous than ever, I walked on down loop road. There were nice houses on one side of me, and swamp on the other. I just continued down the road, checking out all the properties. After a while I had everglades and forest on both sides of me, and every once in a while a large estate or piculliar home would pop up. Nearing dark, I reached a Forest Ranger Training facility. I met several rangers coming out of the swamp, for training, and was bombarded with questions. It was a pleasurable encounter, and I felt better, after seeing those that just exited the swamp.
I took a nice camp spot before dark, for I wanted nothing to do with being out here in the dark, especially without my light. I felt very uneasy in this environment. While attempting to get water in a culvert, I saw another large Gator. I could see many others with my light. I crawled into my bug tent, that was now under my tarp, because of all the moisture, and went over and over my maps and data. I made plans and backup plans, I had no Idea what this swamp was going to be like. To make matters more nerve racking, The sounds of the swamp at night, are nothing that can be explained with words. Alls I can say, is there is a lot of animal activity out there.
The next morning I was in no hurry, I packed everything in waterproof containers, [trashbags and zip locks], and made my way to the beginning of the Florida Trail. I thought maybe I passed it a couple of times, and searched a couple of turnouts, but eventually found it, in a very unexpected place. It had no trailhead or place to park. It was just a kiosk, on the side of a dirt road.