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Ryan's Great Adventures
Volume 80: Thursday January 24, 2008
Ryan arrives in Key West to begin his 1,800-mile hike to Springer Mountain, Georgia.
My flight arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a but late on New Year's Eve, but DebBee was there to pick me up and whisk me away. I spent the evening seam sealing my bags and chatting with her family, but it was the proverbial calm before the storm.
Except the firecrackers people were lighting for New Year's, of course. I think I slept through the official start of the new year, though.
In the morning, we woke up early and headed out for breakfast in Miami where we met up with ThreeHearts. She gave me lots of letterbox clues, a surprise effort among several Floridians to plant a number of letterboxes along the trail for me.
Then it was off to Key West! We made a couple of quick stops along the way to check up on some letterboxes, and arrived in Key West after a short but drenching downpour. The weather, in a word, I'd describe as oppressive, but I figure I'll get used to it or die trying. =)
Hot and muggy, though allegedly a cold front was moving through the area and soon highs would be in the 60s. We can hope!
The rain, cooperatively, stopped after our arrival, and we stayed dry. We hoofed off for lunch, then found a couple of letterboxes in the local cemetery. A sign outside the gate explained that the cemetery is located on the highest natural land in Key West after a storm unburried a few bodies at a lower level cemetery. Ooops! =) I was astounded to learn that they've crowded 75,000 people into that little place--considerably larger than the living population of Key West.
Finally, it was time to start the trail. On the way back to the car, I stopped in a couple of stores and purchased some batteries and an official Key West lighter. When I thru-hiked the AT, I carried an official New Orleans lighter purchased on my way to the trailhead. Seemed right to have an official Key West lighter for my Key West to Springer Mountain hike.
We went back to the car to pick up my pack, which seemed surprisingly heavy to me considering that through the Keys, I figured I didn't need to carry a particularly large amount of food or water. It was still a lot lighter than my pack was at the start of the AT, however, so I'm not complaining.
And a little before 5:00 in the afternoon, DebBee took my photo in front of the so-called southernmost point in the continental United States. If you look on a map, that really does not appear to be the case. Seems like a scam to me! I'd been to the southernmost point in the whole United States, however, which is much cooler to brag about, and it really is the most southern point unlike this one.
I said goodbye to DebBee and her son, and started hiking north.
I didn't get far before I stopped to adjust some straps, check my e-mail, and stopped for a pee break at a restroom I was walking past—one of the nastiest specimens I've ever had the pleasure of using.
By the time I got started again, it was pretty much dark. I couldn't have made it a mile, and it was already dark! That's just not going to fly.
So I continued walking, and walking, and walking.... I walked out of Key West and crossed the first of many bridges. Despite being dark, it was still warm out, and a clammy layer of sweat covered me. If this was what it was like at night, I'm really glad I missed the heat of the day!
I took my next break after about six or seven miles. The wind picked up considerably after I left Key West, and positively blew me over when I crossed over exposed bridges. I must have looked drunk, staggering along the shoulder of the road, trying to prevent the wind from blowing me into traffic.
I watered several bushes along the way—I drank a lot of water since it was so hot, but it seemed to go right through me!
Around 8:00 or so, I passed by a guy sitting in a small portable chair, reading a book on the side of the road. From a distance, I thought he looked kind of dead, but he perked up when I got closer and introduced himself as Spirit.
He was bicycling around Florida—I didn't see his bike anywhere, however—and was just enjoying the evening. I told him my story, hiking from Key West to Springer Mountain, Georgia. "Is that, like, near the Appalachian Trail?"
"Something like that," I replied. =)
He also told me about his special way of hitchhiking. "I wave to people and shit, they pick me up! None of that thumb wagin' for me."
"This is so much better than driving," he continued. "You TALK to people this way. You see more."
I nodded agreeably, but wanted to get some more miles in and departed.
In the first ten miles, I watched two different cops pull over cars. Seems kind of odd to be backpacking and watch police pulling over cars.
By around 9:30, my feet were starting to get tired, especially as I approached Mile Marker 12, and started keeping my eyes open for a place to camp, finally selecting a small area behind a large tower carrying wires (telephone? electricity? cable? who knows?) in the Saddlebunch Keys, about halfway between MM 12 and MM 13.
It was still miserably hot, so I didn't bother to put anything extra on. Just laid out my ground sheet, a sleeping bag, took off my shoes and socks, and crawled in.
I could hear traffic zooming all night long, but most of them weren't so loud as to disturb my sleep. At one point, I heard a strange noise, was was convinced an alligator was out to get me. Would it go for my legs and immobilize me first, or go for the throat in a kill? I curled up in a ball and tried to go back to sleep. =)
By now, the temperature had dropped considerably, so I added my fleece jacket and shell to my night outfit, and put on a fleece hat. Wow, a head can get cold without any hair!
I lived the night, without so much as a single alligator sighting to date.
Even before the sun rose, I was up and hiking. I wanted to get miles in before the day got too warm!
I hiked and I hiked, admiring the views around me. Many establishments tried to lure me into stopping. I did stop at a small grocery store and deli for breakfast (including fresh fruit!), but sadly walked passed a sky diving establishment encouraging people to "Sky dive Key West!" Sounds like fun, huh?
I also walked passed a miniature golf course. Oh, I was tempted, let me tell you.
I finally stopped for lunch in Big Pine Key, ordering a Philly Cheesesteak and a slice of key lime pie at Pizzaworks. The gluttony displayed was terrible. I have now hiked 30 miles, in less than 24 hours no less--quite an accomplishment for not even being trail hardened yet! I also stopped at the pubic library where I got to use a computer for 30 minutes.
Then I started walking again. And walking. And, I was amused to see, making better time than many people traveling in cars. They were backed up as far as the eye could see.
Turns out, there was an accident somewhere south of there causing the backup. Had I arrived into town a bit earlier, I'd have seen it—maybe even have been a part of it!
As I walked past the cars, seven—count 'em—SEVEN of them rolled down their windows asking what was going on up ahead. "I don't know! Whatever it is, it's beyond where I just walked from!" That's how I found out it was an accident, in fact, one of those seven told me that's what they heard on the radio, but they wanted to know how much further away it was.
After a large lunch and a couple of refills on my soda, I realized I had a potentially serious problem. The highway was lined with a chain linked fence to protect the key deer—an endangered species—from throwing themselves under the wheels of passing motorists. It also meant I could not get behind any bushes to pee. And even worse, the parking lot known as Highway 1 provided quite an extensive audience. At least if they were driving at high velocities, I might have been able to pass myself off as a blur...
But I got lucky. There's a small bridge under which key deer are allowed to pass, and the chain link fence stays low to the ground as the bridge rises. I hid out on the side of the bridge and did my thing in peace. I wondered how many others had to resort to the same thing?
Eventually I walked past the backed-up cars, or maybe they finally cleared the road of debris. Whatever, but once again, cars passed by at high velocities, and no one stopped to talk anymore.
Darkness descended, and I started to think about where I would spend the night. Mainly, I had two choices—before the Seven Mile Bridge, or after. If I made it to the start of the bridge, I'd have hiked 28 miles—a record I never reached even in peak physical condition on the Appalachian Trail. I hurt, my feet hurt, but they seemed surprisingly robust given the pounding I've given them.
Once I started on the Seven Mile Bridge, however, I would not be able to stop for seven miles. Now 28 miles is impressive, but 35 miles seemed absurd. But I felt like I could do it, and how cool would that be?
I decided not to, however, for two reasons. One, I've heard the views from the bridge are astounding, and I'd miss a lot of that if I did it in the dark. Second, it looked like it might rain at any moment, and walking seven miles across a bridge in the dark when the roads are wet seemed like a dangerous thing to do.
So I decided to find a good place to camp between MM 37 and MM 40—the first good place I could find.
Crossing the bridge just before MM 37—an impressively long bridge in its own right—was exhilarating. But what fascinated me most were dots of light in the water that faded in and out. I have no idea what they were, but they were interesting to watch. I had heard people could see jellyfish and other marine creatures in the water in the daylight, but what was this bizarre thing I was seeing at night? It didn't seem like phosporesence that I'd heard about before. They looked like pin points of lights, like the stars in the sky, except it was cloudy so I knew it wasn't a reflection. And they faded in and out, in a ghostly sort of way.
I was very happy I decided to do some of my hiking at night—I'd never have seen this sight in the daylight.
Near MM 37, almost immediately after the bridge ended, I camped in a small ditch next to a short chain link fence. I risked being flooded out in the ditch if it decided to rain, but it was still extremely windy—I'd guess 50 mph or more on the exposed bridge—and the ditch provided protection from the wind.
I also liked the chain link fence on one side—at least I knew no alligators could get me from THAT direction! It also seemed unlikely they would attack from the road on the other side as well. I was well protected from large wildlife.
The night was brutally cold, and the wind howled all night. I put on all my layers, and crawled immediately into my sleeping bag. The day was over.
I woke up early—both to get warm by hiking, and because I feared cops might roust me out if I lingered too long now that daylight exposed my hiding place. And, I had a bridge to cross! A big one!
I examined the little toe of my right foot—it was feeling particularly sore and I saw the reason. Blister. A big, ugly blister. I pulled out my mini first aid kit and found a safety pin, poking it into the blister. A geyser of liquid exploded from where I lanced it. I named it France, since the blister surrendered so easily to the proverbial sword.
I patched up the blister, put on my shoes and pack, and started hobbling along. The famed hiker hobble is with me now, and it is worst early in the morning when you just wake up but your feet think they have the day off.
At the Seven Mile Bridge, I ducked off into the woods to pee. I didn't need to go, but I knew I would have no private place to do so for the next seven miles. I also cut back the amount of water I was drinking—better safe than sorry!
For the next two or three hours, I walked across. I tried looking for jellyfish in the water, but the water was too murky. (Probably that wind again, which was still going strong!) The views were great, though, and I took several pictures along the way, including one of myself next to the MM 43 sign (the one closest to the center of the bridge).
At least two people took pictures of ME as they drove past, and two others using video cameras on their drive across will have a cameo of myself. I often waved to cars going in the opposite direction, and most of them waved back.
I enjoyed waving to the families the most. I imagined what the conversation in their car was going like.
"Hey, daddy, why is that guy on the bridge?"
"He's crossing it, son."
"But why, dad? Doesn't he have a car?"
I like to think I inspired others to walk across the bridge.
There's no pedestrian walkway or anything on this bridge. Just one lane of traffic in each direction, plus an 8-foot wide breakdown lane on each side of the road. I walked down the breakdown lane.
Near the top of the bridge, where tall boats go under, I wondered if anyone thought I was a suicide jumper. Why else would anyone be out there?
If they thought this, however, nobody stopped to talk me down, including a sheriff I waved to as he drove past.
After seven miles, I finally reached the other side and the town of Marathon. =)
At the Marathon end of the bridge is a trailhead for people to check out the old historic Seven Mile Bridge, built between 1914 and 1918, if I remember correctly. It was built for trains, and in 1935 converted for use by the automobile. Finally, in 1982, the bridge was abandoned for the newer, flashier one I just walked across. The old bridge does go out to Pigeon Key, but stops at a break in the bridge. I heard rumors they blew up a section of this bridge in the climatic ending of the movie True Lies, but I'm not 100% sure THIS was the bridge they blew up. There's a number of abandoned bridges they could have blown up. =) Supposedly, the locals wanted to blow it up anyhow to allow tall boats to go through, so they partnered up with Hollywood who paid to blow it up for the right to film the excitement. Everyone was happy, except for me who had to walk across the new bridge instead of the old one.
At the trailhead, tourists were everywhere, and I threw myself to the ground, groaning perhaps a bit more than necessary as I took my pack off my back. I hoped to gain sympathy and impress people with my walk across the Seven Mile Bridge, then score some trail magic. Nobody even gave me a glance, though. I don't think they would have known what trail magic was if I hit them over the head with it.
After resting, I picked up my pack and headed into town. I found a library, where I got on the Internet for 30 minutes, then walked over to Wendy's for lunch.
The lady taking my order asked about the 'ski pole,' so I explained I was walking from Key West to Georgia. Her cute Peruvian eyes practically fell out. (She told me she was from Peru later in the conversation.) I also asked if she would fill up my Platypus, which she happily obliged.
After finishing my meal, I wrote my adventures about crossing the bridge and looked into lightening my load. An older gentleman, by himself, took a seat near mine in the sun, commenting how wonderful it was to finally be warm. He was a retired school teacher, on a one-month tour around the area riding around on a motorcycle. Goes by the name Richard. Large, Santa Claus kind of belly, with gray hair and a beard. Not the normal biker look.
We chatted a bit, as I ripped up one of my guide books for the Florida Trail into five different sections. "I'm mailing these other ones to my mom," I said, point to the pile of papers, "so she can mail them to me when they're needed."
Richard told me it's his dream to ride his motorcycle along the crest of the continental divide, or at least as close to it possible. I nodded and said I'd probably hike the Continental Divide Trail someday myself—perhaps we'll cross paths again.
I left Wendy's and used the phone outside to send and check e-mail, then I headed across the street to the post office to mail the dissected book back to my mom.
I dallied around some more, killing time at the grocery store stocking up on more snacks and a Reader's Digest, the perfect size to carry around on one's back all day. Read a couple of articles in it before I continued hiking again just after dusk.
Originally, I planned to hike somewhere between MM 60 and MM 67, about 10 to 17 miles outside of Marathon. That changed, however, when I reached Curry Hammock State Park just short of MM 60. A small bike trail followed along near Highway 1—a real joy to begin with whenever you can avoid hiking on a road with cars—but then a small line of trees sprouted up between me and the road. It blocked the wind, and even protected me from the cars on the road. It was the perfect place to sleep.
I suspect every place I've camped so far is illegal, though technically speaking I haven't seen any signs prohibiting it either. Mostly a matter of 'nobody would camp here' type of location, so they didn't put up a sign. It's almost surely illegal, though, so I stop at night in the dark, and am on the trail again in the morning before the sun is. I would deliberately avoid using my flashlight if cars were around. First, their headlights lit up the area well enough when they were around. Second, I didn't want to draw any passing cops to my attention.
This location, however, had it all. Ample room to lay out flat. So well protected from the wind, there's not at all. And a solid wall of trees between me and the Highway 1.
Anyone walking along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail—the official name of the trail between Key West and Key Largo (at least the part that's done)—will be able to see me, but it's unlikely anyone is out this late. I'll wake up early, though, since there will likely be folks riding their bikes through shortly after sunrise.
Stealth camping also means that you don't leave any trace of your campsite. It's as if you never camped at all.
Without the windchill factor in play, it feels about 30 degrees warmer tonight than it did last night.
I examined France, which needed another lancing. Looks like another blister is starting to form—we'll call it Germany, since it's right next to France. Blisters have a funny habit of multiplying. Probably because when you get one, you start walking differently, favoring the blister, but in doing so, you cause new blisters. Before you know it, one foot is covered with blisters.
Turns out, there's a third blister on the top of my big toe on the left foot. It doesn't hurt at all, and I only discovered it when I was massaging my foot. Let's call it Honduras, which is in another hemisphere from France and Germany, and most people can't even find it on a map. =)
So long as I don't get an Iraq blister, I should be okay. ;o)
I woke the next morning particularly well rested. Without the wind, I was quite toasty all night, tucked in my sleeping bag, with a wonderful view of the stars (and a couple of planets!) twinkling overhead. Since I was hidden away behind a thick row of trees, I didn't worry about cops driving by and heckling me. I took my time packing up camp, and even made a quick breakfast of cereal, cleaning up the bowl, and brushing my teeth before heading out. Previously, I munched on snacks while walking down the road instead of having a proper breakfast in the morning.
The trail continued a couple of miles alongside (but separate!) from Highway 1, passing a couple of scenic lakes and views along the way. At the pullout just before the Long Key Viaduct, I noticed about a dozen shopping carts sitting around, apparently abandoned.
It's not the first time I've seen shopping carts where they aren't supposed to be, but this seemed particularly odd since they all seemed to be in pretty good shape and it seemed like an odd place for a homeless person to abandon so many shopping carts.
With that mystery, I continued across a fishing bridge—the old highway—to avoid the traffic on Highway 1, and about half a mile through on this two mile bridge, I figured out the mystery of the shopping carts. Fishermen.
I passed a man fishing with his daughter, and all of their gear was in a shopping cart. Being such a long fishing bridge, nobody wants to carry out their fishing gear—they push it around in shopping carts instead!
I wonder if Winn-Dixie and K-Mart know about this use of their carts, however.
I passed several two other families off fishing for the afternoon, each of them with their own shopping carts to lug around gear. Damn! Why didn't I think to take a cart for myself to push my backpack for two miles? Stupid, stupid, stupid....
The last family I passed informed me that they saw a red shark not to long ago, and we all peered over the edge to look for it, but we found nothing.
The wind, I'm pleased to announce, has died down considerably this morning. It's still there, but probably has sustained speeds of 15 or 20 mph—much less than the 40+ mph since leaving Key West. The water wasn't nearly so choppy anymore, and visibility in the water increased accordingly. It's still not very good, but it's improving. Without the strong wind, I've stopped wearing my fleece jacket and gone to a simple long-sleeved shirt.
I headed into the bustling town of Layton. My map showed a post office in town, so I had high hopes. Alas, that was pretty much the whole town. It had a fire department, and a city hall, and if there was a pay phone, I never found it. No library, either.
Dejected, I walked on, stopping at a KOA where my guidebook said there was a restaurant. I figured it probably had a pay phone as well.
I found the phone in the laundry room, then ordered an 8" pizza with pepperoni and olives. Oh, it was good....
I sat at the bar—actually, I'm typing this at the bar—rubbing the bottom of my poor, abused feet on the 'step' near the base of the stool. Oh, man, it feels good... =)
The couple tending bar think I'm crazy for walking to Georgia, and said that I could probably take a shower here if I wanted to. I might check it out, but probably not today. In a few more days, I'll be in Florida City and splurg for a hotel.
Actually, if the weather warms up more, I might even go for a swim.
*rubbing feet some more*
Dang, that feels good....
**** time lapse ****
While eating my pizza, it started to rain. Hard. It wasn't looking good for me, and the folks in the bar were thoughtful enough to turn on the television and change the station to the Weather Channel. Slight chance of showers overnight, then cloudy for the weekend.
The rain stopped, and I continued on my way. The woman behind the bar, Pat I think her name was, said she felt bad about me going out, where would I spend the night?
"I'll find somewhere—I always do," I assured her.
I started repacking my backpack, and found TWO umbrellas. Why the heck was I carrying TWO umbrellas? The second one was black and blended into the bottom of my pack, hidden from view.
I left the umbrella behind, telling Pat I'm donating it to the next poor shmuck who walks in from the rain without an umbrella. =)
After leaving the KOA, the sky spit out a few drops of water at me, enough to make me pull out my umbrella, but not enough to make me open it. I waved the umbrella into the air, shouting into the sky, "Don't make me use this, or else!"
I crossed a fishing bridge, which had a surprising number of people on it given how dark it was. The first guy I came across had what looked like a big net made out of PVC pipes, and I asked him what it was for. "Shrimp," he answered.
I came across a tent set up in the middle of the bridge, and stopped long enough to peek in and ask if they were spending the night here. They were trying to catch a shark! They told me a bit about catching sharks, and I told them about thru-hiking before we shook hands and I left.
Eventually the bridges ended, and I walked several miles through civilized country, beginning to wonder if I would find a place to stop for the night. This was one of the longest stretches I'd gone without finding a place to camp—just house after house after house. I contemplated knocking on doors and asking if I could camp in their yard, and even considered climbing into what appeared to be an abandoned crane. Perhaps under the next bridge I reached, where I'd also be protected from the slight chance of rain.
Finally, however, I found a small niche behind some power transmission equipment next to some tennis courts, and found my camp for the night. Perhaps there was something better further up the trail, but this was the best location I found in the last three miles—I'll take it!
Setting up a tarp in the light can be challenging in its own right, and I didn't relish the idea of setting one up in the darkness, so I decided not to put it up. I kept it nearby, however, in case it started to rain.
Of course, it did rain that night, and how clever I thought I was to have the tarp already out and near my head to set up in a moment's notice. I pulled it out, throwing it over myself, making sure it covered me from head to toe, then laid down and tried to sleep again.
Sleep did not come easy, however. Since the tarp was only thrown over me rather than properly set up, I could feel every drop of water striking me, poking me. At least I was dry, though. Breathing under the tarp wasn't easy, however, becoming suffocating, so I propped my arm up in a way to allow some ventilation.
My feet then started to feel a bit wet, so I checked that the tarp covered them, which it did, and wrote it off to being my imagination. It wasn't a pleasant experience.
A bit later, I felt a pool of water collecting on my ground sheet just above my head, so I pulled up the tarp to allow the water to drain off. I wondered how many other pools of water were forming on my groundsheet, but feared if I moved around to check, I'd just make things worse.
It did occur to me that there were probably people a mere hundred feet away, sleeping peacefully and dry in those homes. They'd never know about the problems I faced.
The rain finally stopped, but the tree snot continued to fall with each gust of wind through the trees through morning. At first light, I threw off the tarp and took inventory of the damage.
A large pool of water formed at my feet, quickly explaining why they felt so darned wet all night. While my feet were fully covered by the tarp, the groundsheet was not and the water pooled down at my feet under the tarp and my pack.
My fleece jacket got pretty wet as well, along with the hood of my sleeping bag when I pulled the tarp below my head for better ventilation. I would have to dry the sleeping bag at some point. It had no insulation at all when it was wet, and both the hood and the feet were soaked. Several bags and the groundsheet and tarp were wet, but that was surviveable. I needed to dry out my sleeping bag, however.
Ironically, my umbrella finished the night completely dry. I carry TWO freakin' umbrellas for 70 miles, and neither of them did me the least bit of good.
I did not stop to eat breakfast—tree snot was still falling, and I figured I'd wait until I found a good place to dry out and eat breakfast there.
I stopped a mile or two up the trail, at a rock beach with a plaque about Indian Key, an 11-acre island just east of here, accessible only by boats. Pirates used the island as a hideout many moons ago, and at one point it was the seat of government for Dade County. Which seems odd to me since I thought I was in Monroe County.
I laid out my tarp and groundsheet to dry, but also as a place to lay out the rest of my wet gear.
After about ten minutes, it started to sprinkle again. It wasn't a hard rain, and I could see blue skies ahead, so decided to wait it out, folding the tarp and groundsheet in half, covering the rest of my possessions from the rain like a giant taco.
When the sprinkle stopped, I opened the tacos again and finished up breakfast. The sun came out, and my gear dried out pretty quickly at that point.
A couple of days ago, I littered. It wasn't on purpose, of course, but I just finished eating a granola bar, and in a strong gust of wind, the wrapper escaped my clutches and flew far into the air, far beyond any hope of catching as it blew out to sea.
Things like this bother me, but it wasn't intentional, nor is there anything I could have done to retrieve the trash.
But I've now paid what I feel is sufficient penance. =) While waiting for my gear to dry, I walked around the beach, picking up trash—lots of trash—which I put into a receptacle conveniently provided for such items. It's sad that so much trash would litter the area, and on these keys one can only imagine that most of it ends up in the water at some point. My wrapper might still be out there, but I figure I picked up a good 10 pounds of trash that no longer will pollute the beaches or oceans, including that 40 pound bag of what used to contain potting soil. (Why do I suspect that bag washed onto shore rather than was left behind by someone?)
My karma is in alignment now. =)
Once everything dried, I packed up and hoofed it into Islamorada. Wow, the distractions I faced. I passed by a nudie bar which had a large sign on the door warning not to enter if you think completely naked girls are.... I forget the exact word it used. Offensive, perhaps?
I'd only hiked five miles so far, though. I needed more miles before I stopped for lunch! (They did serve food here.)
Snorkling and dive shops were everywhere, another adventure passed up to get more miles in.
I did finally stop at the library, where I made use of the Internet connection and read a couple of magazines (PC Magazine and BusinessWeek if you must know).
By the time I finished, it was already 2:00 in the afternoon. Ack! Disgraceful—five miles and it was already 2:00. AND I didn't even stop for a nudie bar or snorkling!
I stopped at Burger King for a quick lunch—very quick—then hit the trail again by 2:30.
Nearly the entire walk after this point is non-stop businesses and homes. So many distractions, but I bravely walked past them all. My guidebook mentioned a Dairy Queen ten miles ahead, and I set that as my destination. If I could make it there, I'd treat myself to a strawberry shake.
Two miles before reaching it, I almost caved. My feet hurt, badly, and I stopped by a Winn-Dixie and used their phone to check for e-mail. A McDonalds stood across the parking lot. They could make a strawberry shake for me, I thought.
My inner strength shone through, however. After the short rest at the pay phone, I found the energy to get up again and push on to Dairy Queen.
I walked passed a policeman who'd pulled over a car. I walked past gift shops and stores. I walked and I walked, and I finally made it to Dairy Queen, where I ordered a strawberry shake (among other items for dinner).
I left Dairy Queen, and almost immediately, a small sprinkle started, and I pulled out my umbrella as a precaution. I also reminded the sky that the weather forecast did NOT suggest a slight chance of rain as the previous night did.
I suppose just to spite me, God made the rains come down in torrents. It was time to actually use the umbrella.
This did not go over well with me, naturally. My pants and shoes were getting soaked—not really a big deal since I had a spare pants and shoes were meant to get wet, but inconvenient.
Originally, I planned to stop at the first good place I could find to camp. Now I altered the plan. The term 'good place' to camp came to mean under cover from the rain, such as a bridge, severely limiting options. A hotel, perhaps?
A walked past several hotels already, and noticed that many of them had no vacancies. It was the weekend, but late on a Saturday night, maybe someone would be desperate to fill a room, even on the cheap.
The first hotel, I went to the office and buzzed the buzzer. An older woman, wrapped in a blanket, stumbled into view, and I asked her how much a room was. $88, she answered, and $90 something with tax.
Woah, not a chance! I had passed two hotels earlier with prices in the $60 range, and while I knew the keys were expensive, I wasn't going to pay nearly a hundred bucks for a night for a room just for myself. Especially when I could camp for free!
I apologized for disturbing her and walked off. Then I started to get mad at myself. Why should I apologize? If she just posted the rates somewhere, I wouldn't have had to disturb her. If she was the least bit thoughtful, she would have posted them at the entrance so I could have saved myself the useless walk to the office. She should be apologizing to me!
I'm not very fond of hotels that don't like being upfront about their prices. You know they hide them deliberately to make comparison shopping harder. Suddenly, I was glad I didn't get a room.
I continued to walk in the darkness, and the rain eventually stopped. I walked for another hour or so, and stars started to come out. Maybe that was the last of the rain for the night?
I passed by a large pipe in the center divider for Highway 1, about three or four feet in diameter, and considered sleeping inside of it. I'd be well protected from rain! And how many people can brag that they spent the night in the center divider of Highway 1?
I crossed to the pipe section then saw that each end was covered. Unless I wanted to rip them off and leave indisputable proof of my presence, the pipes would not work. Bummer.
The walking continued. I finally gave up on bridges and hotels, and settled for a small area behind a concrete telephone pole. It was fairly well hidden from the road, but that's about the main thing to brag about. A few stars still twinkled, so I decided not to set up my tarp, but I kept it nearby.... just in case....
During the night, a fat mist developed, like rain, and decided to set up the tarp after all. Just in case. I looped the rope at one end around the telephone poll itself, and the other end around a stout tree at my feet. Then tied the corners to surrounding trees and crawled back into bed.
It never rained hard enough to justify putting up the tarp, but it gave me that extra bit of security.
I needed security too, because I knew I was not alone. I heard animals scurrying about, and I worried they were after my food. I didn't have a god way to keep critters at bay, except to sleep on my stuff and hope my presence kept them away.
At sunrise, I took down the tarp, and noticed a small raisin at the edge of my pack, which I used as a leg rest overnight. It looked like a raisin from my bag of GORP, and it was. Something, at some point during he night, ate through the mesh of my backpack, a handkerchief, and a ZipLock bag to get to the GORP. It looks like whatever it was struck a raisin and disliked it so much, spit it out then and there and went home. My food, saved by a raisin.
I packed up camp, stopping at a gas station with a McDonalds Express for a quick breakfast. I waved to an older guy sitting at a table as I walked in, and he stared at me but did nothing. It was a bit unnerving. I don't trust anyone who won't wave back to anyone. I took my food to go.
I stopped at the Florida Bay Outfitters because my guidebook suggested I stop in and say HI! It seemed odd that they'd pick out this one location for such a task, so I thought I'd drop in and find out why.
It seems that the place is owned (or was owned?) by a former AT thru-hiker, and there was a hiker register for me to sign! Wooo-who! My first on the trip! =) Nobody had logged into it for over six months now, and I recognized a couple of names from people I read about before which was fun. Kind of like being on the old AT.
I picked up some light reading material there, a book called Up Shit Creek, and I'll tell you all about it just as soon as I read it. =)
After leaving the outfitters, I watched another guy get pulled over by a cop. Seems like I've seen a dozen people get pulled over at this point. If I were driving through the keys, I definitely WOULD NOT SPEED!
While walking towards the pulled over vehicle, a second cop went tearing past me in what looked like a dune buggy. I didn't know they drove around these parts in buggies too! The two cops conversed a bit, then the buggy cop moved on to do whatever it was he was to do.
And finally, I stopped at Winn-Dixie to resupply snacks and get some lunch. A beautiful girl from Brazil made my classic American sandwich, and I'm not sure she did it right since it's absolutely enormous and barely fits in the container it was meant for. Tastes plenty good, though, so I can't complain.
I've decided to walk the long way out, NOT on busy Highway 101. It'll add 10 or 15 miles to the hike, but I'm told its much quieter and far more scenic than Highway 1. And anyhow, I've driven through on Highway 1 three times now. It's time to see something new. =)
On my way out of Key Largo, a car came out of nowhere, running up onto the shoulder, with people hanging out the window waving cheerfully. It was DebBee and family, to kidnap me off the trail for lunch. Alas, lunch was long over—they weren't able to find me while driving into town. (I was probably stuffing that huge sandwich down my throat, or laid out in the shade in front of Winn-Dixie digesting it.)
It was really nice to see some familiar faces. =) While catching up, a random person walking by, Carlos, stopped long enough to see what was up, and was full of stories of other people he's seen walking, bicycling, and even skateboarding through the keys.
We all said our goodbyes, and I continued on. Highway 1 veered off to the left, but I decided to take the road less traveled, Card Sound Rd, and continued straight.
Traffic immediately went down dramatically, but the road was still busier than I would have expected. Tall trees grew high on both sides of the trail, limiting visibility to what was immediately in front of or behind me along the road.
According to my map, there was 13 miles from the intersection with Highway 1 and where the road came to an intersection and started heading north again, and I didn't think I'd make it quite that far. The mile markers meant nothing anymore, but new markers labeled C-x (with the mile number replacing x) allowed me to track my progress—about three miles per hour without stops. I tried to take stops no more than once every hour, but by mile 6, I was getting pretty worn.
It was dark, and I took out my headlamp to light the way. There were no longer street lights to light the way. At one point, I saw ominous glowing eyes in the trees on my left. I don't know what was attached to them, but my headlamp reflected from those creepy eyes that watched me like they were mirrors. The eyes were small and low to the ground, so I figured it was probably a chipmunk or squirrel, but who knows? It scurried away as I got closer, but it was a reminder. The forest is always watching. Always.
Then I found a dollar bill—a pleasant surprise sitting right there in the grass I was walking through.
By mile 8, I was ready to call it a night. My feet were screaming at me to stop, and a closer look at my map showed an abundance of water once the road turned north and I figured it might be hard to find a place to camp them.
Except a strange thing happened. I reached a stop light, blinking red in the darkness, and it was the intersection to turn north. Miami, turn left, the sign said.
Not sure what happened, but it was a VERY nice surprise to find myself four miles ahead of where I was supposed to be.
I turned north, and immediately started scanning for places to camp. Definitely no reason to keep going anymore this night!
The roads come to a three way stop, and the fourth direction south had a chain link fence surrounding what looked like a temporary building used during construction projects. I crossed the street to poke around, just as a car blazed through the stop light like it wasn't even there. As soon as I realized the car wasn't slowing down, I moved across the street, and cursed the car as it blew through the stop at probably 50 mph, missing me by mere seconds.
Humans really are the most dangerous creatures I'll likely come across on this hike.
I didn't find any good place to camp, and worried workers might arrive there in the morning anyhow, and continued north keeping my eyes peeled.
About a fifth of a mile from the intersection, I squeezed past a telephone pole to see what was available behind it and found a remarkably large, flat open space. Perfect!
I threw out my ground sheet and couldn't help but notice the large lake opposite the road. It was called Crocodile Lake, and it seemed like a bad idea to camp alongside a lake with such a name, but what else could I do?
For the first time, I knew without a shadow of a doubt I was camping illegally since I deliberately ignored the sign on the telephone pole warning that nobody was allowed beyond it for any reason. Probably because some previous campers were eaten by crocks, I thought cynically. =)
The night was warm and the skies were clear, so I wore nothing heavier than my camp shirt, and even then only to help keep the bugs off. They had grown in numbers since my previous campsites. They weren't BAD, but definitely getting worse.
As I settled into bed, a heard a large splash in the lake. Something big was obviously lumbering around, and I just knew it was a crocodile. What else could it be? It was named Crocodile Lake! It might have been a bird, I suppose, but why would they play in a body of water known for its crocodiles?
I slept a couple of hours rather peacefully considering the traffic and crocs, enjoying the open sky whenever I woke up and opened my eyes, until one time dark, ominous clouds were rolling in. It wasn't rainy, but I didn't want to take a chance and set up my tarp between a couple of scraggly trees and moved underneath it for the rest of the night.
It didn't rain overnight, but I got up well before sunrise to take down camp and get a move on. For one, the last weather report I heard did predict rain for the day, and I wanted to do as many miles as I could before that started. Second, I was anxious to reach Florida City and get myself into a hotel for a soft bed, shower, and a safe haven from rain. And third, I wanted to get as much walking in before the day really heated up.
The views were amazing, overlooking Crocodile Lake. Just before I left, I walked up to the edge and watched half a dozen fish launch themselves into the air in less than a minute. No crocs in sight, though. Stupid fish were making all that noise, and probably fed the crocs as well. It never occurred to me that they would eat fish. Looks like the fishing was good in that lake!
The march began. I had about 17 miles to do to make it into town—a full day's hike, but this time I wanted to finish well before dark.
The first five miles went quickly, passing by scenic lakes, rivers, and then over a large, narrow bride to the mainland. There's no shoulder for pedestrians to walk on, and I hugged the side rail for dear life as I passed over the bridge.
On the far side, there's a toll booth, but only for cars. I could walk through for free, though the guy at the kiosk asked where I was headed and where I came from, impressed with my intended destination. When a car pulled up to pay the toll, I took the opportunity to continue on.
The next car driving past me slowed down, and a guy leaned out the window.
"Need a ride?"
"Where you going?" I asked. Not that I wanted a ride, but curious where I could get a ride to.
"Walking to Georgia is crazy!" he replied.
I laughed. Obviously, the guy at the toll booth was spreading my story.
I stopped at the docks of downtown Card Sound, which so far as I could tell consisted of a dock, a bar called Alabama Jacks, and the toll booths. Alabama Jacks was closed, no surprise there, and I sat on the docks eating snacks for breakfast.
A man walked towards me, asking where I was headed. I wondered if this was a trick question, and if he already knew the answer from the guy in the toll booth, but he turned out to be the dock master (a term I never even heard of!)
When he found out I make websites for a living, he wanted advice for making his own about 'docking disasters.' It seems people get drunk off their asses and get themselves into all sorts of trouble, including driving vehicles into the river and flipping over boats. He wants to film all the disasters and put them on the web. =)
Clouds started rolling in, ugly ones, and the dock master commented, "It's gonna rain on you."
"Yeah, I know," I agreed. "I better get going, Mr.... Dock Master."
A short while later, I found another dollar bill on the ground. Woo-who!
The road curved, then followed a straight line as far as the eye could see. There wasn't much for a shoulder to walk on, and the traffic was heavy so I was forced onto the non-existent shoulder which wasn't easy to walk on.
The mile markers had restarted from 1 when I turned at the intersection the night before, but they stopped after mile 5 just after the bridge, and the lack of visible progress bothered me. Not to mention that as the sun got higher, I lost my shade and the temperature rose.
After another hour of walking, I stopped to refill my Platapus and water bottles from a gallon of water I bought at Winn-Dixie the day before, happy to finally be drinking it instead of carrying an extra gallon of water for 30 miles.
When a large truck drove by in my direction, I started counting seconds until I lost track of it after a minute or so. Assuming it was going the speed limit or a little faster, it would be about a mile away, and I fooled myself into thinking the road curved out of view a mile ahead. Except a half hour went by, and the next car I timed was also a mile away.
The damn road had no end, and the sun was merciless.
I focused on a tower far ahead, using it to mark my progress, but it never seemed to get closer. I started looking for other closer targets to mark my progress. A speed limit sign, a dirt road intersecting the main road, and even larger pieces of trash on the side of the road.
Eventually, even the antenna tower seemed to get miniscually larger, but I wasn't sure if it was my imagination or not.
Several snakes slithered into the bushes along the way, but I wasn't able to identify them.
Clouds came out once again, a welcome relief from the heat of the sun, but toyed with me the rest of the afternoon, coming and going.
Finally, I reached the tower, after about two hours of walking, probably about six miles from the last turn in the road. About halfway to Florida City from where I spent the night.
Ugh. This road seemed to go on forever.
Then I found a third dollar bill, which perked me up a bit. =) Nothing like free money to cheer me up, but I started wondering where all this money was coming from. Each bill was found miles away from the previous one, and I wondered how many others I've walked past not even seeing them. I have a hard time believing that I found three out of three bills on a 20-mile stretch of road.
With an estimated four miles into town, a car pulled to a stop along the shoulder of the road ahead of me, and I could see the driver throwing things into the back seat, clearing room in the front seat. She was going to offer me a ride!
When I reached the passenger side door, I opened it up and joked, "Are you lost? Do you need directions?"
It's hard to get lost on the only paved road in miles in any direction.
"Do you need a lift?" she asked. "I can take you into Homestead."
I shook my head, sadly, I might add, and told the woman I was walking from Key West to Georgia, and I couldn't skip this small section. Oh, I wanted to, but I couldn't.
Her eyes opened wide, shock setting in, then she recovered asking if she could get me a drink.
I assumed she planned to drive into town to get me a drink and bring it back, which seemed like such a wonderfully nice gesture, but I didn't want to inconvenience her unnecessarily that much and declined, reminding her I'd be in town soon enough.
We waved goodbye, and I couldn't help but admire this kind woman, even if I did refuse all her offers.
I saw another sign up ahead, glad for something new to read. Some trees grew near it, however, blocking the words until I got closer.
First letter was... an M. Miami! A sign for Miami! No, second letter is an O. Monroe County? At the bottom of the sign, a 2 showed up, but that didn't make sense. I was in Monroe County, it wasn't two miles away!
Finally the sign became clear: It was the alternate evacuation route for Monroe County. Turn onto the turnpike two miles ahead.
Two miles to civilization!!!
My step picked up a bit after that.
After reaching the antenna tower, I looked ahead for a new target to mark my progress, and had focused on a small, unusual-looking dot on the distant horizon. After a mile or two, I decided it was an American flag.
The dot seemed to shape shift, like a flag blowing in the wind. That was my sole basis for the determination, and I figured if it was a flag, it was probably an American flag. And if it was an American flag, it had to be in civilization.
And now, I knew the civilization was just two miles away.
The shape shifting dot started to show bits of color, and I thought I saw some red and white, and a dark patch where the blue would be.
I liked the idea of hiking to the American flag, and as I got closer, I was disappointed to lose sight of it when trees I got closer to obscured it.
And you know what I kept thinking? Had I stayed on Highway 1, I'D ALREADY BE DONE! Why did I choose the scenic route again?
I finally reached the turnpike turnoff, and pulled out my maps to figure out where to go next.
I wanted food, drink, and an air-conditioned building. I needed to stop at the post office for a mail drop. And I wanted (some people might argue that I needed this one) a cheap hotel.
First, I stopped at Wendy's. I probably could have done better if I waited, but it was the first place I came across, and I love the fact I can get a ceasar side salad instead of fries with the combo meal. =)
Way back in Marathon, I picked up one of those hotel coupon magazines you find in supermarkets and visitors centers everywhere and ripped out two pages of hotels for the Florida City and Homestead areas.
The cheapest option looked like a bit past the turnoff for the post office, so I decided to do the post office next.
From my Google mapping a few days before, I thought it was a couple of blocks off from the trail, but when I went several blocks and saw nothing, I started getting concerned.
I asked a woman at a bus stop where the post office was, and she pointed further up the street. "It's WAAAY up there," she explained. Not at the first light, but the second one. "You aren't walking there, are you?"
"Uhhh.... that's the plan." How far away was this post office anyhow?
"You could take the bus."
I looked down the street, and the second light looked about a half mile away. "Thanks, but I'll walk."
She seemed astounded that I would walk a half mile to the post office. If only she knew how far I actually came already!
At the post office, I picked up my mail drop, happy to see it had already arrived. I really didn't want to come back the next morning again.
Additionally, there was a second package for me from my "Florida Trail Angels." There wasn't any other hint who it was from, but seeing as I posted the address by accident on my blog, it could have come from anyone! Filled with strawberry fruit leather. =)
Walking back to the trail, it started to rain. After coming so far, it finally started to rain on me, mere minutes away from a dry hotel.
The first hotel I tried was booked full, or else they didn't like the way I smelled and gave me that excuse, so I tried another one across the street called the Coral Roc Motel and got a room. First stop, of course, was a shower—my first since starting the trail.
I washed my clothes in the sink, and resupplied food, and am now catching up with the last day and a half of adventures. Certainly plenty to write about!
Yesterday, after stripping off my socks, I did discover two new blisters on my left foot. One wasn't really a surprise—a small thing at the tip of my 'long toe' (the one next to the big toe). It seemed like one was forming several days ago, but I didn't have proof of it until now and it finally formed enough to recognize it as the blister it is. It's not a problem, though, and finding it was like finding an old freckle I had forgotten about. =)
The second new blister was a genuine surprise for me, located at the end of my big toe. I had no idea it was forming, and was surprised at its size when I finally realized it was there. I'll call this one Brazil, and the blister on the long toe Paraguay. (They are in the western hemisphere of my body, after all.)
Popping the blister on my big toe was hard. I jabbed at it with my safety pin, but it wouldn't pop. I was afraid if I jabbed much harder, I'd end up drawing blood!
I did finally get it popped. I didn't make a determined effort to pop Paraguay. It was so small, it hardly seemed worth the effort.
Oddly, even though I didn't feel either of the blisters while walking around, I suddenly felt Brazil once it was popped.
I'm not sure if the blisters no longer bother me because the general soreness of my feet drown out the pain from individual blisters, but I was heartened to discover how much more difficult it was to pop the blisters. My feet are toughening up!
They still hurt—a lot!—but I'm whipping them into shape. =) The individual blisters, though, aren't posing any problem at all.
On another note, I was rather amused in the keys to pass two places labeled as 'foot and ankle specialists.' I don't really need an expert to tell my why my feet hurt—that seems pretty obvious, and there's nothing they can do to stop the pain—but I did find myself curious about what they'd tell me if I walked in. "Good Lord, man! What happened to those.... feet!?"
A lot of long distance hikers live on ibuprofen, a.k.a. Vitamin I, to deal with the constant pain, but I haven't resorted to that. Not yet, at least. I figure it's my body's way of making sure I don't push myself too hard, too fast, so I want to listen to what it's telling me. =)
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