Miami to Clewiston, Part 2 of 2

This post is part two of a two part blog post updating folks on my trek from Miami, Florida to Clewiston, Florida along Krome Avenue, the Tamiami Trail, and the Florida Trail. Part one was published this past Monday.

BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE

After Vance and Danny dropped me off at Big Cypress National Preserve, I noticed it was close to 2:30pm. This concerned me a little bit since the sun was due to set in just four hours and I had a 5.3 mile hike through the swamp to get to my first tent site. This might seem like plenty of time for a hike and normally it is (I hike about 3 miles per hour on average in level terrain). But when you take into consideration that a majority of that 5+ mile hike was through swamp, it is guaranteed you’ll be hiking slower. From what I had read, most strong hikers average about 1.5 miles per hour at best in the swamp and the park ranger I spoke to recommended I plan for 1 mile per hour. So, as far as I was concerned, I might be getting there after dark.

Despite the time crunch, I still took my time to double check all my gear and make sure I was ready to go. I took the obligatory selfie at the Southern Terminus marker for the Florida National Scenic Trail and then began to check-in on the official trail register. As I was writing my entry, a person named Tonya came by to ask where I was hiking from and to and we chatted for a bit. It turns out her husband will be hiking the Appalachian Trail this year! She gave me some trail magic in the form of some water, an electrolyte packet, and some snacks. She was very excited to do her first trail magic and I was equally excited to receive it! Thanks!

So off I hiked. I went full throttle. By the time I actually left the Oasis Visitor Center, it was 3 o’clock. The sun was making its way toward the horizon and I was feeling the pressure to get to camp and set up before dark. Prepared for that not to be the case, I had planned ahead and got my headlamp out and put it on my head. I booked it.

The mud and water were only about calf deep at this point. I was enjoying the cool feeling of the water on my hot feet as I power walked my way north. At about 5 o’clock I stopped for a snack and to check my map to see about how far I had left only to discover that I was less than an 1/4 of a mile from the camp site. Hooray! And with an hour and a half to spare before sunset. I set up camp, made chili for dinner, and prepared for bed.

As I tossed and turned, still energized from my trek, I decided to get out of the tent for a bit. It was around 10 o’clock pm at this point. I’m glad I did. When I arrived at Big Cypress, they had a large poster that said: “See the Milky Way at Big Cypress National Preserve: Half the Park is After Dark!” And now I got to experience why. How absolutely magnificent the night sky was as a backdrop to the shadowy silhouettes of the towering pines and cypress trees. For the first time I could see stars that are part of constellations I’ve gazed upon my whole life, never realizing they were there all along. Maybe it was the exhaustion setting in or maybe it was the direct experience of awe (probably both), but I began to cry. I took a few deep breaths, gave thanks to Creation, and went back to my tent to sleep.

The next day was more swamp walking, but with many welcome breaks here and there upon slightly higher ground. I met a fellow hiker heading southbound called Foundation. He was just killing time on trail between music festivals, but it was nice to have someone to  chat with after hours without seeing another person. He mentioned that the two days he had hiked south from the Seminole Reservation were psychologically taxing. Miles after miles of swamp. I agreed and we went our ways. Oh, how little did I know.

That night I slept at 13 Mile Camp, which is actually at the 16 mile marker. I made a camp fire to dry out my socks and my boots. The mosquitoes weren’t so bad up until this point, in large part thanks to the wind. But on this night they were worse than a vampire attack on an episode of Buffy. So I gave up trying to do any stargazing and hid in my tent for the night, hoping the garlic salt I brought with me might stave them off.

I awoke with the sun the next day and quickly packed up and started out. It was a long day. Instead of giving you a summary, I’d like to share an exact excerpt from my personal journal that evening:

It’s been two whole days without internet or phone communication. The only person I’ve seen was that guy yesterday. I really wish I had a hiking buddy with me. Not because I’m in fear, but because I’m rather lonely and I’d like to be able to share this half miserable, half exhilarating experience with a friend. Sigh.

Meanwhile, today was BRUTAL. I forgot to put on a second app[lication] of sunblock midday and now I’m crispier than Kentucky Fried Chicken. Ouch. I swear if you compared my skin to a Maine lobstah, you couldn’t tell the difference. Boooo.

Also, from the moment I left 13 mile camp (I really ought to tell someone about it being at MM16) until the time I got to Ivy Camp it was ENTIRELY KNEE DEEP WATER AND ANKLE DEEP SILTY MUCKY MUD. UGH. ALL FRELLING DAY.

I’ve not once had a thought about going home nor quitting, but I definitely want the swamp thing to be over already. Who in their right mind decides ‘hey, I’m gonna walk in a swamp for 10 hours today and eat lunch standing knee deep in water and do it again tomorrow?’ Me, apparently. But am I in my right mind? Eh…

Since my phone is dead, I’m going to assume it’s about 7:30pm based on the stars. I’m looking forward to seeing I-75 tomorrow and leaving the swamp. But, and I know this is going to sound strange, right now I don’t even care about the sunburn nor the ten hours of knee-deep swamp walking nor the utter loneliness… because these thousands of fireflies glowing against the millions of stars in the sky is worth all of it. Absolute truth.

As I was reflecting upon seeing I-75 the following day, I started to think about how it would be the first sign of civilization I would have seen in days. But that’s not actually true. Even in the deepest wilderness I couldn’t escape the so called civilized world. Not only did I see the International Space Station fly overhead (something I always look forward to), but also jets and planes and helicopters. I heard four-wheelers and hunters in the distance. And those mounds of ant hills certainly reminded me of a different kind of civilization thriving beneath the surface of the ground. I think I’ll need to expound upon this in a future, dedicated post.

Day Four of the Big Cypress swamp was grueling, but at least I remembered to reapply the sunblock. Except for the sunburn, it was basically a repeat of Day Three, but not as long. I finally emerged from the swamp at about noon and got to the I-75 rest stop around 1 o’clock.

I-75: COLLIER COUNTY REST STOP & NOBLES CAMPSITE

Once I got to the rest stop, I immediately called Larry, the trail angel who maintains a section of the trail north of I-75, for an update on trail conditions. That call made my day when he said the trail was dry from here on out. I hung around the rest stop for many hours. During that time I met Sharon, a person who works there, and got to chat with him for quite a bit. I’m glad to find that she has since reached out on Facebook. She got us both ice cream (thank you!) and we enjoyed continuing to chat for a bit while she resupplied the machines.

After chatting with Sharon I went out and, admittedly, I decided to bum a smoke from someone. (I know, chide me later, please.) As I was enjoying that first cigarette I’ve had in a long time, a Swedish person approached me to ask me for a smoke. When I told him I had, in fact, just bummed that one, he chuckled and we introduced ourselves. Sadly, I did not write down his name. Eventually he was able to get a smoke and we hung out for a bit. He told me he used to be like me, traveling and backpacking. Now his hobby is antique cars. Before he took off on the road, he pulled out his wallet and handed me a $20 bill. (Remember in my last post I had mentioned I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for that upcoming campground?) As I took it, a tear in my eye, I told him that he had no idea what a $20 bill meant to me right now. He smiled and replied, “ah, but I do. Trust me, I do.” And with that he was off.

Sitting outside on the bench, I decided it was probably time to start checking in with folks and posting on social media about where I was, seeing as I was without coverage for four plus days. During that time I was chatting on Facebook with a new friend I had made on the Florida Hiking Syndicate group, trail name ‘Teddy’. She asked if I needed anything. I told her that my blisters had gotten so bad that I would need to get a whole resupply for the medical kit in order to keep up with them. She said she’d be happy to help.

Around 4:00pm I left the rest stop to head north to my camp for the night, Nobles, another 5 mile hike from there. It was a quick walk, though my feet were in a lot of pain and screaming for me to stop – mostly due to the blisters.

The Nobles Camp site was nice and shaded. I enjoyed being there and I think many of the critters were curious about my presence as I kept having visitors pop up. I slept well that night. When I woke up around 5am, still dark, I heard some wild hogs nearby. Hopeful that they didn’t want anything to do with me, I made breakfast and listened to a few chapters of Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise while I ate.

SEMINOLE RESERVATION & THE DIKES OF FOREVERLAND

Shortly after starting out that morning, I entered the Seminole Tribal Reservation. Most of the trail here consisted of a dirt road first through heavy forest, then through vast prairies, and then into the village of the reservation. In the center of the village is the Big Cypress RV Campground, where I was to stay that night. Teddy, the trail angel/friend from Facebook, had driven three hours, round trip, that morning to deliver first aid resupply, a couple Snickers bars, duct tape, and a few other items. I was so grateful for that package!

I checked into the campground and was immediately greeted by Kayak Dan, the trail name for one of the winter RV residents said campground. Turns out he was from just a few streets over the Tewksbury town line from where I grew up! What a small world. He and his family are also avid backpackers and he’s well know as the local Florida Trail Magic guy at the campground, greeting each hiker to the park with a beer and a warm welcome.

After setting up my tent in the back, I grabbed a water bottle and went back on the trail. Since it was early in the day, I decided to keep hiking for a bit. I hiked the last eight or so miles to the end of the reservation, where the dikes for the South Florida Water Management District begin, and began to walk back. When I got to the main road, I found a willing driver to take me back to the campground where I chatted with some of the residents and made myself dinner.

While in the clubhouse eating dinner, a woman by the name of Mary introduced herself and her husband Leroy to me. They were setting up bingo for that night’s activity and she asked me what time I was planning on leaving in the morning. I said I wasn’t sure and she said if I came by her RV by 9 o’clock, she’d fix me up a big breakfast to get my day started. How could I refuse?

So I had breakfast with Mary and Leroy. It was such a great morning and the food was absolutely marvelous. We talked about all sorts of things, traveling among them. Originally from Virginia, they told me how much they love the mountains in the fall and the beach in the spring.  Their motto on their calling card reads: “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” I’m glad to have made such wonderful new friends and hope to meet them along the way again someday.

As I left the camp, a local member of the tribe named Bernie was waiting in a truck. He offered me a ride and took to me to the end gate where he then gave me some snacks and wished me well on my way.

That started the never ending walk on the dikes. Let me just say, that took forever and ever and ever and ever. Mile after mile of walking along the canal without an end in sight. I stayed at a camp site somewhere north of the the STA-5 complex that night.

As I went along the next day, I needed to get some water. My filter had stopped working (I had thought it was broken), and I was having trouble getting water from the canal. It was slow going, trying to get water from the canal and treating it 12oz at a time. At one point while I was walking back to my bag, I was greeted by some kids from the house right in front of where I was treating the water. “Look! There’s a hiker!” I heard them exclaiming. And then they just kept coming out with more and more water. It was such a simple gesture and it meant the world to me to have this family offering me water. I’ll never forget what one of the younger ones said “My family would never let anyone go hungry or thirsty.”

Finally off the dikes, I made the trek into Clewiston. I hiked 30 miles that day, a personal record. I was so exhausted that I didn’t even set up my tent. I just put out my sleeping pad and bag and went to sleep. The next morning, who did I meet (almost 20 miles north)? The mother of the kids and the water from the day before while getting a fountain soda at Wendy’s. We took a selfie and she told me that her kids are now asking every day, “where is Trek staying tonight, mom?” So cool.

That afternoon, my friend Greer’s mom, Halee (now also my friend), came and got me from Boynton Beach. I got a nice shower and was able to finally beat these blisters before returning to Clewiston a few days later. I am so grateful to Halee for her hospitality and for getting to chat with Greer!

That’s it for now. I’ll be sure to tell you all about the next leg of the journey when I can. I know it’s a lot to read. I’ll try to post more often and in smaller chunks as I continue. Thanks for reading. And, as always, if you’d like to help me continue the trek, please consider a contribution to my Go Fund Me page!

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