Saturday, January 7, 2012
I-75 > LAKE OKEECHOBEE
It did not take long that 1st morning, to realize that I was out of the swamp for good. I had travelled several miles on the dirt roads, and I was now on a major road, heading for the canals, that would guide me to Lake Okeechobee. I was so happy to be walking a normal speed. It was a relief not to be looking for snakes at every step, or having to search for blazes for navigation. The roads were straight forward. I passed by Billy's, Swamp Safari, that had a large water pump and a faucet to fill up my bottles and clean up a bit. I passed by some orange and grapefruit orchards, which I filled my pack. I also saw many types of birds, and several road kills along side the roads. The sugar cane trucks had a trail of dropped cane that I collected, it was a nice chew along the way.
With a pack full of water, fruit and sugar cane, I finally was on a long canal access road. It was quite scenic, for there were many birds, jumping fish and a few Gators.
Not wanting to waste daylight, and yet having to dry out my quilt, I strapped it on my back, hanging down to my feet, absorbing the mid day sun. This would become a daily ritual, for the rest of the trip. There is no way to keep a dry quilt with such high humidity.
I was surprised to see how much grass had to be mowed, in order to keep these easements clear. Sometimes the grass was really mowed brush, which made walking hard, and slow. One area had not been mowed in a while and it was a big struggle to make my way through. When that was the case, it was easier to just walk the road, but dangerous with all the big trucks. Other areas, were a nice jeep track that made walking pleasurable. The tracks were a hard packed sand and soft on the feet. But, none of the areas, allowed nice barefoot walking. There were lots of stickers and thorns. The sunsets in the everglades are among the best I have ever seen. I made great miles that day, and finding camp was easy.
The next morning, I needed water and I was on my last sip when I came up to a farm house. There was a water pump in the middle of a field that led to the house, so I made my way to it. Nice cool clean water came out, and I filled by bottles. As I quickly made my way back to my pack that I left back on the trail, I took a drink. With a gust of exhale I blew every drop of that crap out of my mouth. It was sulfur water at its worst. It was like swallowing a rotten egg that had been sitting in the sun a week. This would not change for many miles to come. Almost all hose water in Southern Florida, had the same putrid smell.
I was almost at the Miami Canal, when right in front of me, a whole field went up in flames. I had seen this before, while living in Maui, but never this close. It was making that crackling noise that is like twisting bubble rap, and the whole sky went up in smoke. I took a lot of video, and made my way over to the workers, and hit them up for water.
Hitting people up for water was my new on trail chore. It did not matter if I had some, I would pull an empty bottle out and tip it upside down and almost always they had an extra bottle. Sometimes they had a soda or a beer as well. It isn't like there are many people out there, but it eventually got me to Lake Okeechobee.
Just before I reached the lake, I came across a Post Office. It was not open, but the next door lady invited me in for some hospitality. Her and her husband were airboat enthusiast, and I got a quick lesson on airboats. Theirs had a aircraft engine, and he insisted on starting it up for me. The best part though was the biscuits and bacon I ate. She also sent me off with banana cream pie, and a few new bottles of water. They were nice people and have seen a few hikers over the years, while living next to the Post Office.
I then made my way over to the huge levee that surrounds Lake Okeechobee. Along the way, I found a restroom with running water. I cleaned myself and my clothes, then moved on into the afternoon sun to dry off. The Levee was long, and high. The trail was a asphalt bike path that had a mile marker painted on its surface. There was some great views of the lake and grassy reeds down below. The sounds of airboats were everywhere. At times you would see them racing about.
There were also bass boats, going up and down the channel, looking for a good place to fish. Most were like speed boats, flying across the water. Apparently Lake Okeechobee is one of the best bass fishing spots in the world.
As the evening progressed, the Gators began to patrol, I found it hard to keep walking, while watching this amazing creature. The Lake had some very large Gators. The birds seem to be more active in the evening as well. It was then that I witnessed a Gator leap out of the water, to catch a fleeing duck. It was amazing to witness such a thing from my safe little path on top of the levee.
I found my way into a town, where I had a great meal at a country kitchen, I ran into a previous thru hiker of the Appalachian Trail, that was curious about everything I have been through to this point on the Florida Trail. Not wanting to waste what was left of the dimming light, I got back onto the levee. I walked late into the night, where I found myself in another town for a quick resupply and back up to the levee. I pushed on th another 38 mile day, and found a quiet place to camp down low on the side of the levee.
The next morning I was no longer on asphalt, and was now treading on mowed grass and jeep track. I made my way to a circle K where I did a 3 day resupply in order to get through the next section. I made a nice picnic area out back and ate a bunch of crappy junk food, while my bag was drying out. I found a hose as well, and did a good rinse, as well as cleaning all my socks.
There was another great sunset, and I found a nice upscale restaurant that had a outside eating area. This was going to be my last good meal for a few days, so I ate well. I also charged my electronics and drank some cokes for the caffein hit, cause I had plenty of miles to make up due to my 2 long breaks this day.
I left the restaurant and entered into section 3, a whole bother world.
Posted by Joe Kisner at 4:11 PM