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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 85: Saturday March 5, 2008

Lost, desperate, and a heck of a long walk....

January 23

Morning dew sometimes helps in finding spider webs on the trail with something other than my head. =)

The first thing, we both decided needed to be done, was that little matter of skipping the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. It was off limits to hiking in January, so I had skipped it, but the farther north I hiked, the harder it would be to get back and do that section. And right now, Amanda was readily available for shuttling me around—she wouldn't be in February.

So we decided to drive down to the reservation and scope it out, perhaps sneaking my way through. One of my guidebooks mentioned, very specifically, that you need a permit issued through the FTA if you entered the reservation on foot, which naturally made me wonder about the legality of entering the reservation via vehicle and leaving on foot.

Was that allowed? I really didn't know, and I didn't want to ask anyone official in fear that they'd tell me no. =) At least I had plausible deniability working in my favor.

But just in case, we considered ways for me to "stealth hike" through the reservation. First, was a good disguise. We decided that I should not look like a hiker, nor should I look homeless. Also, if hiking through looked sketchy, maybe I could do most of my walking on the roads under moonlight, at 3:00 in the morning, when nobody else was around.

Neither of us had ever been to the reservation, however, so we wanted to scope it out first.

The main road, paved, was busy, but we figured I could walk from Billie Swamp Safari to Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum. Surely they wouldn't arrest a simple tourist walking from one tourist stop to another on the reservation?

We drove out past the Billie Swamp Safari to scope out that section of road, and it soon turned into a little-traveled gravel road. That section didn't appear to be well-traveled, so we figured I shouldn't have any problems hiking along it, and that's where Amanda dropped me off—a couple of miles beyond Billie Swamp Safari.

I dressed relatively nice, in clean clothes with a collared shirt. I left the backpack, platypus, and trekking pole with Amanda—those would mark me as a hiker faster than a sign on my forehead would, and I needed to go incognito.

I also left with Amanda my maps and any paraphernalia associated with the trail. If I were searched, such contraband could break my cover. Anyhow, we just drove the section of trail I'd be walking—I knew were I was going.

I took my camera, like any good tourist would, and my wallet—always useful when the police question you and want to see ID—and a small bottle of water I carried in my hands (not a particularly unusual thing for a tourist wandering around the roads of Florida to carry), then I started walking.

Along the dirt road, I saw a few construction workers doing work on a dike as part of the Everglades restoration project, and a few hispanic-looking guys harvesting fronds from the forest who might have more explaining to do to authority figures than I would. ;o)

If an authority figure did question me, I was looking at birds and alligators and enjoying the wildlife, and meeting my girlfriend at Billie Swamp Safari.

Once I passed the Billie Swamp Safari, I continued on to the museum, this time under cover as a tourist walking from one tourist destination to another. I noticed at least one police vehicle that drove passed me, but he didn't even seem to notice me. My camouflage seemed to be working. I blended in with the alligators.

At the museum parking lot, Amanda told me she drove a bit further up the trail, and that the reservation boundary was just another mile or so up the road. "Let's do it," I told her.

So I continued walking, not really having any ready excuse for why I was walking there if I did get questioned. Perhaps just taking a walk in the beautiful light of the setting sun, but I didn't even believe it myself.

Another police vehicle drove past, and again my camo worked. He didn't even slow down to look at me.

Passing one house, a couple of mean-looking dogs came at me, barking like crazy. I did a crazy man yell in return, which seemed to intimidate the, since they stopped in the road and just stared menacingly at me.

I moved on, giving them their distance, and they stayed in the road, sitting there like idiots. Some cars traveling on the road started to honk their horns to scare the dogs out of their way, but the dogs continued to sit and the horns continued to honk.

A few minutes later, I reached Amanda, parked just outside of the reservation boundary, and she asked if all the honking cars were honking at ME, and I laughed telling her no, it was two mean and stupid dogs they were honking at.

I stealth hiked most of my way through the reservation already! Wooo-who! The only section left was about three miles on a very rarely used dirt road to the south end of the reservation, and I'd be done with the Seminoles.

Amanda and I went up to Clewiston to find a cheap motel—the nearest large town with facilities to the reservation, and a good base of operations for the rest of the trail I'd skipped between the reservation and Lake Okeechobee.

January 24

The next morning, Amanda drove me out to the Seminole reservation once again, this time with the intention of hiking south from where I started the day before to the I-75 rest area. Only the first three miles or so would be in the reservation, along a bad dirt road that looks like it is rarely ever visited, and I was optimistic I'd see no one along the way who would challenge my being there.

I was a bit sad, however, to be hiking southbound. I never hike southbound. I did the entire Appalachian Trail northbound. I'd done the entire Florida Trail (until today) northbound. It seemed kind of wrong to do this section southbound, but it would be easier for Amanda to wait at the rest area on I-75 to pick me up than on the reservation where I'm not supposed to be hiking. Not to mention that little technicality my book mentions that says you only need a permit if you enter the reservation on foot. By hiking southbound, starting in the reservation, I can honestly say I did not enter the reservation on foot. I left it on foot—twice, in fact—but I never entered on foot.

Amanda dropped me off at the junction of the well-graded gravel road and the badly maintained dirt road, and I touched the small tree with a pink ribbon on it, then started hiking south.

I touched the pink ribbon, because I used that to mark my starting point the day before, touching it before hiking north. By touching it on my way south as well, I could be sure of not missing so much as one single footstep across Florida. =)

The road, as predicted, contained no people or cars, and I reached the reservation boundary after about an hour. The reservation was done! I was free of them! Free at last!

The trail continued to follow dirt roads all of the way to the rest area, and I made much better time than I expected. I knew north of I-75, Big Cypress wasn't as wet or muddy than to the south, but I had no idea it would be completely dry and on dirt roads the entire time!

I told Amanda I expected the hike to take about five hours, which included a half hour break for me to rest. Instead, I hiked all the way through, non-stop, in three hours.

Predictably, Amanda was off sight seeing somewhere, and not waiting at the rest area for me. I called her from a payphone—the same one I called DebBee when I needed her to pick me up—and when she answered, I asked, "Can you bail me out of jail?"

She didn't believe me for a moment, though, but said she was about an hour drive away and she was on her way.

I bought a Coke from the vending machine, the same vending machine I used while waiting for DebBee, except I selected the Coke from A-4 this time. (I got it from D-1 while waiting for DebBee. I like to shake things up when I can.)

Then I sat at the picnic table with the least bird poop on it, and started typing away my adventures.

Amanda pulled up about an hour later, with a large burrito and chips for lunch, and I dug into them while telling her about the hike.

It was still early in the afternoon, however, and Amanda asked if I wanted to hike more today. "Yes," I answered.

We drove back through the reservation, to the northern boundary where I had stopped the day before, and continued hiking. North, this time, after slapping my hand against the street sign that I used to mark the end of my hike the day before.

Amanda drove up the road about three miles, about an hour worth of hiking, and occupied herself with reading, cross stitching, and sleeping until I caught up to her.

The road walk was tediously boring, with large vehicles speeding by which is never fun. The hike southbound was rather nice, with no traffic and scenic views. The road had nothing compelling to enjoy.

I found Amanda, parked off the side of the road about an hour later, and told her I'm good for another hour of hiking. "Meet near the intersection with highway 835?"

And so the road walk continued, with vans packed full of migrant workers driving by all afternoon. I wondered how many of them were illegal, suddenly proud that I was no longer in the reservation and on the right side of the law. =)

Once again, Amanda was waiting, and offered a cold drink from an ice chest and ask if I wanted to continue on.

I said no to the drink, but did continue on, this time a couple of miles down Highway 835 where the road and the trail finally splits into two different directions.

This segment provided a small dirt path parallel to the main road, alongside a canal, and I walked on the dirt path happy to finally be away from the speeding vehicles.

About 45 minutes later, I found Amanda, parked behind a bush. I walked around it, pounding the top of the post behind the car to mark the end of my hike for the day, then jumped into the car, startling Amanda who had not seen me behind the bush or at the back of the car. =)

It was now sunset, and since the road split from the trail, it was no longer convenient for me to hike further this day.

We drove back to our hotel in Clewiston. The day was done.

January 25

Sugarcane is a common crop found in the Lake Okechobee area, and they burn it quite regularly!

There was still about 30 miles left to do of the section I had skipped, and we decided to break it into roughly two 15 mile segments. The trail mostly followed dikes alongside canals in the area, crossing CR 835 at the halfway point. Additionally, because we'd been driving CR 835 the last two days while I was hiking the reservation, we knew that there were several picnic tables alongside the road that either of us could wait at for the other to arrive. That would be where we cut the hike in half.

Amanda dropped me off where I stopped the evening before. I touched the post, and continued on a dirt road until reaching a canal then followed the dike north. It went straight, for miles on end, with nothing particularly interesting to note. It passed sugarcane fields mostly, and a few houses. The two things I am happy to report is that the weather was relatively cool and there was no longer fast-moving traffic to deal with.

About five hours later, I arrived at the road crossing, and Amanda was already there waiting for me. She had picked up a Cuban sandwich for lunch, so I dug into that and a cold Coke from the ice chest as she drove back to Clewiston.

January 26

A few flowers alongside the trail

The next morning, we largely repeated the process. She dropped me off at the road crossing, and I continued following canals around the sugarcane fields. This time there was marginally more interesting things to see since the trail curved several times and intersected CR 835 once again for about a mile before following canals again.

I arrived at John Stretch Park, tagging the telephone pole I touched to start my hike when DebBee dropped me off in what seemed like eons ago.

Being a Saturday, the park was considerably busier than the last time I visited it.

This time, Amanda picked up lunch from Taco Bell, and once again, we drove back to Clewiston.

This time, however, we did not stop in Clewiston. I had officially finished hiking the section I had skipped earlier, so it was time to head back to River Ranch and continue my hike north from there.

Amanda booked us in a hotel in Winter Haven using Priceline or Hotwire or something—a bit further out from River Ranch than we would have liked, but we were committed to it now. =)

So it was off to the HoJos in Winter Haven for us.

January 27

The view from the bridge crossing the Kissimmee River

The next day would be Amanda's last full day, and we figured I'd use it to walk from where she picked me up in River Ranch to a parking area in the Three Lakes WMA, a short nine-or-so mile hike for the day. I would have liked to do more, but there were no easy points for her to pick me up beyond the entrance for the Three Lakes area.

We first drove to where she would pick me up so we both knew where to meet, and to give me a chance to scout the trail I'd be hiking.

The trail leaves River Ranch, then follows SR 60 for about six miles to the entrance for Three Lakes WMA.

When the road crossed over the Kissimmee River, we noticed what appeared to be a hiker crossing the bridge! He had a big pack, carrying two trekking poles, and we figured it HAD to be a thru-hiker! Nobody else in their right mind would voluntarily HIKE SR 60. It was a thankless walk on a busy road with high-speed traffic.

A weekend backpacker would have hiked before the road or after it, but certainly not ON the road. Only a thru-hiker has any reason to hike road walks.

We continued on to the destination, scouting it out and deciding on a pick up point, then cruised back towards River Ranch keeping our eyes open for the hiker. We wanted to talk to the hiker. =)

We found him, not far from where we first saw him, and Amanda pulled over onto a frontage road where he was hiking.

I rolled down my window and asked, "Are you a thru-hiker?"

He seemed surprised by the question—understandable since not many people pull over and ask that question. Most locals don't even know the Florida Trail runs through their backyard much less that there are crazy people who'd hike the entire length of it.

He was, indeed, a thru-hiker, named Skeemer, and I introduced myself. (Don't be fooled by the car, I told him, I'm really a thru-hiker in disguise.) I was the first thru-hiker he'd come across, and it turned out we shared another adventure together—we both thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2003. He started and finished the trail about a month before I did, however, and never did our paths cross. I probably read many of his registry entries, but since I was always behind him, he had never read any of mine.

We chatted a bit, and I offered him a cold soda from the ice chest which, surprisingly, he turned down. But we both had miles to do, so he continued his road walk and Amanda drove me back to River Ranch so I could begin my own.

The rest of the day's hiking was non-eventful. I hiked, and I hiked, walking far off the shoulder of the road so cars wouldn't hit me, and arrived at the end point about a half hour before expected.

Amanda had no arrived yet, so I sat down in the shade had ate a couple of granola bars to kill the time. She pulled up about five minutes after I arrived, and it was back to Winter Haven. My last night in a hotel.

I can't say I got a lot of sleep that last night in our hotel. Our neighbors kept making lots of noise, long past midnight, including a visit by the police at some point. Then Amanda woke us up at an ungodly hour to drop me off on the trail at 6:00am so she'd have time to drive to the airport for a flight in Orlando.

January 28

Most of the Three Lakes area looks like this with wide open plains and occasional trees

Which is where you found me at 6:00 on that cold, cold morning. It was too dark to be hiking, and I was still tired, so I through out my ground sheet and sleeping bag and promptly went back to sleep. Yawn!

I slept in late, a result of that lack of sleep, and wasn't hiking again until 9:30.

I wasn't hiking for more than a half hour before I lost the trail. The blazes seemed to indicate a sharp turn to the left, so that was the direction I hiked. I didn't see much in terms of blazes, but stupidly wrote it off to a fire that had recently gone by.

By the time I realized I was no longer on the trail, I'd gone too far to want to backtrack.

I ended up on Road 10, which, according to my map, would eventually intersect the trail up ahead. So I started following the gravel road north.

Eventually, it intersected with Road 9, which excited me greatly since I knew the trail was supposed to cross Road 9 to the east, so I followed Road 9 hoping to find where the Florida Trail crossed it.

I was so excited to finally find this blaze after hours of hiking without any, I took a picture of it for posterity. =) That's Road 10 in the background that I followed for so many miles.

Perhaps I didn't search far enough, but I only found one small trail crossing Road 9, and with no blazes to show for it. Was it the right one?

I went ahead and followed it a bit, but grew tired of that when no blazes continued to show themselves and the trail started crossing ditches with lots of water. (On a happy note, my data book did say I'd cross ditches with water, so it might mean I was on the right path—but I still couldn't find any blazes.)

Frustrated and tired, I followed a dike back to Road 10 and continued north, finally intersecting the Florida Trail after a couple of hours. UGH!

At least I was back on the trail again.

Another 30 or so minutes later, I lost the trail again. I could still see the last blaze—I just couldn't find the next one. In frustration, I yelled something obscene about the FTA and threw my trekking pole across an open field, which made me feel marginally better.

I retrieved the trekking pole, and almost decided to backtrack to the road and pick up the trail again further down, but the hidden blaze showed itself at the last moment and I followed them deeper into the woods.

At this point, the trail followed scenic areas and following the trail became easier, so my mood lightened.

I pushed on about a mile beyond CR 523, where the trail splits into two different directions around Orlando. The east side, they say, is more complete, slightly shorter, and has less road walks, which was pretty convincing to me, so I followed the trail east, camping as soon as I got out of earshot of all but the loudest vehicles on CR 523.

January 29

The next morning, I followed the trail under the Florida Turnpike, and that's where I lost the trail again. My map and data book described the trail as following Williams Rd, a gravel path, but a blaze I did find almost immediately took me off of Williams Rd.

Beyond that blaze, I could find nothing. Disturbingly, however, a trailer filled with freshly cut trees rested on the side of the road, and I hoped those trees didn't have any blazes on them.

Unable to follow the blazes, I decided to follow Williams Rd and the directions provided on my map and data book.

For miles, I never saw anymore blazes, and I assume the trail must have been rerouted. Unable to follow the blazes, however, I was left following old directions on dirt roads.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, I spotted the trail crossing Williams Rd, pretty much confirming my reroute theory, but I was puzzled why the reroutes weren't mentioned in my data. I had the latest editions, printed mere months ago. Other reroutes in the works were mentioned.

I found this lizard basking in the sun on an orange blaze!

In any case, I was once on the trail again, making my way to Springer Mountain.

The rest of the day's hike was largely scenic and nice, minus a short road walk on US 441. I finally stopped to camp at Little Scrub Campsite in the Bull Creek area.

It was a wonderful little site, with a well for pumping water and picnic tables to use.

While watching the sunset (and a beautiful one it was!), I heard shotgun blasts not too terribly far off. Hunters. BAM! BAM! Until after dark, I might add.

Fortunately, the pictures still turned out nice. =)

The sunset from camp was gorgeous, but at least you can't hear the shotgun blasts going off in the background in these photos!

January 30

The sunrise from the same camp was pretty nice too—I took this one while standing on the picnic table

The day started bright and cheery, but I wondered about the day to come. My information showed a nice, leisurely hike for about a dozen miles, then a whopping 30-mile road walk with no places to camp. Obviously, I'd be camping somewhere, but I had no idea how developed the area was or how hard it would be to stealth camp. Should I do it early on, or later up the road? I had no idea, and none of my information had any suggestions at all for this 30-mile road walk. I'd have to wing it.

I'm always fond of those water crossings that actually have bridges across them. =)

A few hours into the hike, I caught up with Mountain Laurel and Mosey, a nice little surprise. I suspected they were ahead of me since I took four days off to hike the section I skipped, but I couldn't be certain or even know how far ahead they were.

I hike faster than them, and only hiked with them a few minutes before moving on, but it was long enough to watch Mountain Laurel take a dive into some mud—it happens to all hikers, including myself, but it's still funny. =)

It was also long enough for me to get caught in a spiderweb and go, "Arrrghhhh! So you two have been breaking these cobwebs for me all morning."

And they laughed and said yes, that was so.

About 15 minutes later, I met a hiker coming from the other direction, a man, by himself, but decked out full of official FTA merchandise.

Turns out, Larry just finished an official hike with the FTA to a nearby cemetery, but he knew Mountain Laurel and Mosey were somewhere on the trail and planned to hike out for an hour or two in the hopes of running into them.

"Have you seen them?" he asked me.

"Oh, about 15 minutes ago. I wouldn't be surprised if they walked up while we were talking."

He was surprised but obviously happy they were so close. He didn't expect them to reach this point until the next day.

I continued on, stopping at the Jane Green campsite a few minutes more down the trail. Two men were there, sitting and chatting, and I asked if they were part of the FTA group that just finished their hike.

I found this sign proclaiming that I reached the end of the trail, but I didn't break out the bubblies just yet.....

"Talking to Larry, huh?"

Yep. =)

They asked about the two girls thru-hiking, and I repeated the information—they probably weren't more than ten or fifteen minutes behind me.

This got them excited, and one of them tried using his cell phone to call some of the other hikers who'd left mere minutes ago to get them to come back. It seems Mosey lives nearby, and is friends with a lot of the FTA members from the area, and they're all very supportive of her hike.

We heard voices coming from the trail, and sure enough, in walks Mountain Laurel, Mosey, and Larry. It was a happy reunion with Mosey, and hugs went flying. =)

I decided to cook lunch. I had a nice picnic table and well water to work with, and knowing there was a 30-mile road walk ahead, I wasn't sure I'd have a lot of convenient places to cook a meal ahead.

I asked everyone about the best place to camp along the road walk, and nobody had a good answer. Guess I'd just have to wing it, which was what I was planning to do anyhow.

I finished lunch—spaghetti for those who must know—and brushed my teeth. I don't normally brush my teeth after lunch, but spaghetti makes my mouth feel dirty or something, so I did.

This is the last photo taken of me before I started my very long road walk....

We walked out to the road and the start of our road walk. I was planning to stop at a small grocery store at an intersection a mile or two up the road, excited for a cold drink, until one of the hikers informed me it had closed. There was no more grocery store.

This had two immediate implications for me. The first, I wouldn't get a cold soda except for the semi-cool Diet Pepsi that Larry offered me. I was very sad he only had diet sodas—on the trail, I want calories, lots of them, and I don't care where they come from. I took the soda, happy for something other than water, but oh how I longed for an ice cold soda with calories, and now I'd have none.

The second immediate problem I had was water. I planned to stock up on good, clean water at the store, and now that was no longer an option. Had I realized the store had closed, I'd have filled up with well water from the campsite, but I didn't want to backtrack at this point.

I had less than a liter of water left. At long last, I would have to resort to drinking surface water—the brown, ugly-looking stuff I'd walked along and through for so many miles. I didn't want to drink the surface water, especially on the road walk which passed through agricultural lands with the accompanying cow poop and pesticides.


I filled up with a few liters of water from what essentially amounted to a puddle on the side of the road. I only had one liter, and I didn't know how common water sources would be up ahead. Best to have at least a few liters at any given time, and restock as needed. I'd carry two days worth of good, clean water if I could, but there was no sense carrying two days of bad water when I could get more down the road. =)

The road walk started on US 192, a mile or two west of Deer Park. Once the trail hit the road, I wouldn't see another blaze for 30 miles. I find that a little annoying. The FTA seems to have a habit of not blazing sections (or blazing them poorly) when the trail is 'obvious.' It's hard to get lost when you're following roads for 30 miles, but those orange blazes are like friends, and you start to miss them after awhile. Even when they aren't needed, they still comfort me. Like saying, "Yes, you're going the correct way. Keep up the good work!"

The trail turned north on CR 419 at Deer Park, and I passed by cows and orange trees bursting with oranges. I might have been tempted to grab one (an orange—not a cow!) except they were fenced off with barbed-wire.

I hiked about ten miles along the road, not seeing *anywhere* to stealth camp. It was exposed as exposed could be.

I stopped to rest, contemplating my next move. I already hiked 20 miles for the day, and the sun was now setting. I ate some snacks for dinner, and washed it down with brown, ugly water. (Happily, the water *tasted* normal, but it was brown and ugly, and probably full of pesticides.)

I thought about throwing myself under a passing car, but alas, there weren't any when I tried.

I decided to continue hiking. At night, as far as my feet would take me. Walking at night had two distinct advantages: One, it wasn't nearly so hot, and two, there were fewer cars driving on the road. I felt pretty sure I could do at least five more miles and not have to do them the next day.

I hiked and I hiked. My feet hurt, but they always hurt, so I kept hiking. If I could just reach the intersection with CR 532, I thought, I'd have half my road walking done!

And on I hiked. I reached the intersection with CR 532—26.9 miles from where I started that morning. That beat my longest day on the Appalachian Trail already.

I could do more, though.....

I decided to pull a 30 mile day. I'd never done 30 miles of hiking in a single day, not even on the Appalachian Trail, but if there was ever a time or place for it, this was it. I had a flat, easy road to walk that was far nicer to walk at night than under the brutal sun. It almost 10:00 at night now, but I felt sure I could push on at least another hour.

So onward I walked. My feet screamed to stop. I yawned with exhaustion. But I kept going, knowing every step I took that night was still better than a step under the brutal light of day.

I figured I passed the 30-mile mark around 10:45 in the evening, but I didn't have a convenient landmark to figure out exactly where 30 miles was, and on I kept hiking.

I didn't need a flashlight, even though the moon wasn't up. The horizon glowed from the lights of Orlando and Cape Canaveral, lighting up the clouds overhead and lighting my way through the darkness.

Shortly after 11:00, I was practically falling asleep and could barely keep my eyes open anymore, and I crashed on the side of the road after hiking what I estimated to be 31 miles. My data book described a highway bridge over Taylor Creek at 31.6 miles, and I hoped to reach that so I had a definitive landmark to judge my distance, but I was too tired. I was certain I passed the 30-mile mark, in any case, which was an amazing feat for my feet! =)

There was nothing stealthy about my camp this night. The shoulder of the road sloped down into a ditch, then came back up the other side where it flattened out, and I threw out my ground sheet on the flat area, safe from cars on the the other side of the ditch.

But within clear view of absolutely any and every car that drove past. In the dark, people might not notice me sleeping there, but as soon as the sun started to rise, every single person driving by would have to be blind as a bat not to see me camping on the side of the road.

I didn't care anymore, though. I was tired.

I tried to sleep, but every minute or so, a sharp pain would flash from one of my toes and up my leg, and I found it ironic that my feet actually hurt more now that I stopped than when I was walking! I couldn't fall asleep because of those shooting pains, though, and finally remembered I carried Advil. Vitamin I. That's what I needed.

I popped two tablets, hoping it also caused drowsiness, and almost immediately fell into a deep sleep. My day was finally over.

January 31

This is what one's feet looks like after hiking 31.5 miles in a single day.

The next morning, I woke up early. Not just because the sun woke me up, but traffic on the road started to pick up as well. I wondered what everyone driving by thought when they saw me. Did they think I was a dead body? A homeless person sleeping on the side of the road? I can't imagine anyone's first thought was I had hiked there from Key West.

I ate breakfast, then as I sat there brushing my teeth, a truck pulled over and drove down to the ditch that I was on the other side of. Uh-oh.

A man in a black uniform stepped out of truck, and I waved at him with my left hand has my right hand continued brushing my teeth.

If you've ever been stopped by a cop while brushing your teeth, you'd realize what a ridiculous and embarrassing position to be found in. It's kind of like getting caught with your pants down (and thank GOD he didn't stop while I was changing my pants!)

He asked me if everything was alright since it wasn't normal to see people sleeping on the side of the road like that—not in this area, at least. So I told him about my thru-hike. He didn't seem to even know the trail existed, and I pulled out my maps showing it's path across the state, and particularly in the area we were at now.

"But it's a 30-mile road walk here, and there isn't anywhere to camp," I explained.

"Not a problem," he said, "I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. You're lucky you're doing this now and not during the summer. The mosquitoes then could carry a man away!"

"It isn't by accident I'm here this time of year," I assured him. =)

"So do you have any criminal history in Florida?" he asked.

I answered no, but the question amused me. Does that mean if I had murder rap in Georgia, he wouldn't care?

"Do you have any identification?"

I pulled out my driver's license, and he told me to continue brushing my teeth while he checked it out.

I finished brushing, and a couple of minutes later he returned with my license and wished me luck on the hike. I told him about the two girls hiking behind me—I guessed they were probably 10 or 15 miles behind me (assuming they didn't hike through the dark like I did), and they were likely camped in a well-exposed location like myself. They were also thru-hikers, though, and that's why they're out there as well. Just in case he spotted him later in the morning, he'd know what was going on.

"Have you been bothered by other policemen?" he asked.

"Nope, you'd be the first," I said. =) Then I explained that usually, I'm better hidden than I was this morning, camped deep in the woods. On a 30-mile road walk, though, this road walk in particular, there wasn't much of anywhere I could hide to camp.

The officer left, and I finished breaking camp and continued my hike.

My feet, you might be surprised, felt just fine. Sore, as usual, but nothing out of the ordinary. No additional pain relievers beyond that which I used to help me fall asleep.

I didn't hike for five minutes before I reached a highway bridge across Taylor Creek. Probably camped about 0.1 miles before reaching that landmark, which I thought was still a half mile or more away. The landmark would have meant I hiked 31.6 miles the day before, but seeing as I camped so close to it, I figure I did 31.5 miles. What a workout!

I continued the rest of the road walk the next morning. CR 532 turned into SR 520, a four-lane highway. The trail ducked under SR 528 (the Beeline Expressway), where I stopped to rest in the shade under the overpass. I wondered if a policeman might stop to talk to me, thinking I was setting up residence under the overpass, but none did.

The road walk continued on Yates Road, a small road with virtually no traffic, through a residential neighborhood, and FINALLY ended my road walk at Tosohatchee Reserve.

I'd only done about a dozen miles so far, however, so I continued on, planning to camp within a few miles of the town named Christmas by nightfall.

The forest had its nice area, but I was terribly disappointed when, for the first time since Big Cypress, I had to walk through long sections of water. The water never passed my ankles, but I had hoped the last of my water walking was over. I knew it probably was not, but I hoped.

So I ended the day with wet, soggy feet.

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. =)

February 1

The town of Christmas celebrates the holiday of Christmas 365 days of the year.

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 'unusually 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.

Many houses, such as this one, seemed to say, "Merry Christmas... now leave me alone!"

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 Trespassing" 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.

This is a permanent Christmas Tree, set up almost across the street from the post office.

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.

I took this photo after buying a big jug of beautiful clean water. Look at the water it's replacing! Bleh!

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.

This is the fanciest stile I've ever had the pleasure of crossing over. They actually built staggered steps for your feet!

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 trespass 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.

Sunset from my campsite in 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.

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