As I mentioned in my previous post, after I got to Clewiston I was picked up by my friend’s mom, Halee, who brought me to her home in Boynton Beach for a few days to shower, do laundry, and heal up my blisters. During my visit, I helped her get her telescope set up and we got some great views of Jupiter and the four Galilean Moons. Before she took me back to Clewiston to continue on, we got to share a beautiful Shabbat dinner together with her brother.
Once back in Clewiston, I began my trek north again. I stayed at the Liberty Point campsite and the following morning I got to hang out at the local watering hole, Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp. Now here is an interesting place. In addition to it being the place where RVers and campers come to pay their tabs, they also have a variety of snacks and fishing gear. But my favorite part? The older men just sitting around and talking away, smoking their cigarettes and drinking their coffee. It was like a throwback to an era I thought long gone. Perhaps I liked it because it reminded me of dad, who died when I was 16. These were the types of places he liked to hang out too, when we were up fishing in New Hampshire. Anyway, after charging my phone and having some coffee, I was on my way.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of construction happening along the Lake Okeechobee portions of the Florida Trail. So I had to take another one of my much loathed road walks to get around the closure. While on one of the road walk detours, I met a couple of guys cycling from Mobile, Alabama to Key West, Florida. Jim and Jake. We chatted about our journeys and when they said they were going to spend a few days in Marathon, I asked them to say hi to Sherlock and Etchasketch for me.
I hiked into Moore Haven and stopped at the local Burger King for a fountain drink. Yeah, I know soda isn’t really good for me, but when you’re hiking and day dreaming of a cola, it’s just the bees knees.
While I was at the Burger King, I met a person named Jeri. Before I came into the restaurant, I had noticed that there was a Jeep out front with a full rear window decal of the old Pine Tree Flag with the words ‘An Appeal To Heaven’ on it. I recognized it at once as the old Massachusetts Navy Standard from the Revolutionary War. Since she and her friend were the only other customers in the business, I assumed it was hers and introduced myself. We had a nice, but brief conversation and off I went.
I was pretty tired of hiking by the time I got to the Vance Whidden Park, so I decided to set up camp. When I was walking into the park, I noticed a “No Camping” sign posted and wondered if that sign applied to me, a Florida Trail Thru-Hiker. I double checked the trail guide and, sure enough, it said camping was permitted here. Unfortunately, as I was unrolling my tent, someone official from Glades County came by and told me I had to move along and that camping wasn’t permitted anywhere in the park. I showed them my trail guide which stated otherwise, but they said I had to move up to the official Florida Trail campsite in Lakeport. So I did. I’m not unhappy with that decision, in fact I quite loved the Lakeport site. By far one of my favorites. But it did add an extra hour to my hike when I was already feeling quite done for the day.
The next morning, while having breakfast, fellow hikers Minute, Dirtdog, and Nails hiked on by, so of course I stopped them for a brief chat and a selfie. I’m glad I did because they told me about an unannounced detour coming up after Buckhead Ridge. (More construction, of course.)
After a few miles I got to the road and decided to head into Beck’s Store to charge up my phone and grab a drink. As I was walking over the bridge, Jeri (remember Jeri?) drove by in her Jeep and Pine Tree Flag. We both waved exuberantly at each other and she turned around to join me at Beck’s for a few minutes – which also happens to be right next to her office. We chatted about religion. She is a very devout Christian and we talked a bit about our theologies – similarities and differences. Despite how uncomfortable I often feel at first, I actually enjoy having these conversations.
Inside the store I met Linda and Betty Jean. I believe Betty Jean runs the place. They let me set up a one of their tables and charge my phone while I sat and had… yeah, you guessed it, a cola. Betty Jean and I talked a lot about religion and theology as well. While her theology is definitely Christian, she eschews the label and prefers simply to be known as a “Friend of God.” I dig it. She offered me some fresh picked collard greens, but without a way to prepare them, I had to decline. But boy was I tempted.
Off I went, with a hug from both Jeri and Betty Jean. The hike from Lakeport to Buckhead Ridge was about 19 miles, entirely on the dike that follows around the lake. I didn’t meet anyone else along the way.
For most of the 18 miles after Lakeport, I didn’t see another person other than the occasional boater on the canal. So I was alone in my thoughts. I began to dwell a bit on the fact that my significant other had just broken up with me just a few days before. We spoke almost every day, so it wasn’t so apparent until we parted just how lonely I felt on the trail.
It takes about an hour to hike three miles on the Florida terrain. For six hours I kept going over and over a million things: how much I just wanted a hiking buddy to share the experience with me, my sadness and disappointment over the breakup, how behind I was in finishing due to the hospital stay, and how much I longed for getting to the AT. I realized, at some point, that had I not sprained my foot in the Keys nor experienced the neurological problems in my legs in Miami, I’d almost be at the AT by now.
By the time I got to my campsite, I called my friend Rob in Orlando in tears. I’m not entirely sure they were about any one thing in particular, but I was feeling overwhelmed and I needed a friend. So he came and picked me up.
So I think I’m done hiking the Florida Trail for now, having completed the entire South Florida section of the trail, plus the Florida Keys. My current plan is to make arrangements to get to the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail and begin my thru-hike sometime in the next week. In order to do that, I need to raise a some money to cover the cost of Appalachian Trail resupply and minor gear changes. If you can contribute, please head over to my Go Fund Me page. Any contribution helps.
Once I finish in Maine, my current plan is to flip back down to Florida to finish the Florida National Scenic Trail – this time with some friends. I may be an introvert, but I’m beginning to realize just how much I truly appreciate the company and friendship of others.