Date- January 12, 2019
Elevation- 13 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 19.1 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 103.7 miles
Weather/Temp- partly cloudy/70s
Pain level- sore feet
Wildlife encounters- Gators, Birds, Turtles, Iguanas
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 0 (cleaned in bathtub)
CatFox Status- Autonomous Maximus
Food Eaten – Bacon Jerky, Pepperoni Pizza
I was up and packing before 6:30 am and Schweppes was quick to follow. The mosquitoes were thick, and I had to put on my rain pants and bug head-net to thwart them.
The bugs on this trail have been pretty bad. I haven’t written a lot about them because they’re not terrible in the sense that they’re swarming all over you making you miserable all day. They’ve actually been very subtle. Between the mosquitoes, gnats, black flys, ants, chiggers, and who knows what else – I’m covered in bites, scabs, and open sores from head to toe. The open sores are from ripping off scabs of over scratched bites. Rarely do you feel the insects attacking you in real time, but the raised bumps and insanely itchy aftermath of their attacks are present at the end and beginning of every day.
We knocked out 2 miles through more overgrown grass before hitting the next water cache on the side of a road, near a canal bridge.
While sitting on the guardrail next to the bridge, a huge dump truck overfilled with husks of corn came speeding down the road, taking the curve we were standing near just a little faster than I’m sure his HR department would have preferred. Two husks flew out of the truck and landed on the road about 200 feet away.
The only thing that flashed through my mind was “FREE CORN!” I was up and off the guardrail, running to the curve as fast as my sore feet could carry me. I wanted to get to the corn before the next vehicle smooshed it – and I did.
Trotting back to the bridge I offered one to Schweppes, but he didn’t want it. So I offered it to Parks (who’d just walked up) instead. He took it, but I don’t think he wanted to eat it until he saw me eat mine. I’d heard the other day that these were “sweet corn” fields that we were walking next to, so I figured they couldn’t be too bad raw.
I peeled back the husk, rinsed it, and bit in… it tasted like it had been watered with koolaid its whole life. It was so sweet and juicy, I would have thought it had been soaking in a dump truck full of sugar water. I’ve never had anything like it in the way of raw corn on the cobb. It was probably the best corn I’ve ever had, and the great irony was that I’d just picked it up out of the middle of the road. The trail provides… even in Florida.
Parks’s feet were killing him, so he took a shorter route into town while Schweppes and I followed the nonsensical official trail (the super long way around) through more corn and sugar cane fields bordered by gator filled canals. It’s truly a strange feeling to be in what appears to be a midwest farm setting, but with giant toothy reptiles infesting every inch of standing water.
After ten miles of farmland and canal walking, we were finally done with major levee portion of this section of trail. I look forward to seeing trees again, and maybe a little bit of extra shade.
We crossed a highway and climbed onto a paved trail that bordered above the shoreline of Okeechobee, Florida’s largest Lake and the 10th largest lake in North America. I’ve lived in Florida for 17 years, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen it. In all honesty, I try my hardest not to ever leave the panhandle unless I absolutely have to.
We walked the rim of the lake for almost 9 miles, and I gave Katana the most freedom of the trail so far. I’ve been a bit of a mother hen/helicopter parent with her lately. Firstly because she’s blind and I worry about her. Secondly because she’s blind and there’s gators everywhere and I worry about her.
High up on the rim, we finally had smooth, open pavement far above the water and away from the paralleling highway. If there was ever a time to let her cut loose and observe her behavior, this was it.
I set her down, let her do her thing, and kept walking. She’d smell, mark her territory, and investigate the grass around the path. I’d keep walking, letting out a sharp whistle every 5 to 10 seconds so she could keep track of where and how far I was. She’d get 50, 100, and even 150 yards behind us before hitting a fast trot to catch up right to our heels and even lead for a bit. My heart was jumping with joy.
After about 20 minutes, the majority of her smelling curiosities were satisfied and she maintained a steady pace behind, between, or just ahead of Schweppes and I. Anytime I can put her down and walk without the extra 21 pounds she adds – feels like a break. My feet, back, and neck really feel the pressure lift when I set her down. Already I can feel I’m getting much stronger, and when I hike later this year without her, it’s going to feel like I’m carrying nothing. Whenever I carry her, I always feel like the watered down version of Milo of Croton.
We crossed the 100 mile mark this afternoon and finished our 19 miles into Clewiston around 3:30pm. My feet are pretty sore, and I’m looking forward to some R&R. Getting 103 miles in 6 days is a new personal record for me. We’ve definitely broken ourselves in hard. The goal is to make 20 and 25 mile days feel like nothing, even when carrying Katana. This will require some strenuous days in the near future, but we’re ready for them.
We should be around Okeechobee within the next two or three days. Tomorrow we’re going to take it easy, ride our checkout time, and resupply on the walk out of town. I’ve got a hankering for steak this go around… and gator.
I don’t really know what to make of this trail so far. It’s so different from everything I’ve ever done that I can’t really compare it to anything else. So far, there has been less shade than the southern California deserts; more humidity than the Appalachian Trail; and less potable and quality water than all three Triple Crown Trails. The challenges are plentiful and not what you’d always suspect. I’d say most of the difficulty is mental, and I can see why many Triple Crown hikers quit this trail. I’ve had no such inclination thus far, nor can I picture myself developing one. However, I tend to revel in mental challenges more so than physical ones – so I take the mental obstacles of this trail far more personally than the physical obstacles of other trails. I stand by the advice that the key is to take it one mental bite/step at a time. Don’t bite off more than your brain is ready to chew by thinking too far ahead and psyching yourself out. Be here, now.