It’s hard to believe that the 20th Annual Big O Hike is over, that just 48 hours ago friends dispersed from the campground back to their everyday lives. I’m finding it a little hard to make the adjustment.
One aspect of this hike that makes it stand out from all other hiking events is the friendships that you make – good, deep friendships born out of traveling together at a walking pace through the communities around Lake Okeechobee. We go to bed and rise at the same time. Hang out together in the campground. Walk with each other on the trail. Kick back at the pool or in a camp chair. Buzz over Happy Hour. Go out to dinner together.
It’s an immersion into each others lives for this period, and it makes for strong bonds. Of my closest friends, the ones I can call or text in the middle of the night, the ones I reach out to for advice and a shoulder to lean on, most of them came from our time together the first few years I hiked the Big O Hike.
There is only one parallel I can draw, and that’s the Appalachian Trail. While our walk around Lake Okeechobee is nothing like the AT in essence, our banding together is in spirit. Both the Big O Hike and the AT are, at their core, a social experience. Meaning to or not, you break off into little groups and get to know a handful of people really well. You may walk in solitude all day, yet be energized by your friends in camp.
From the world of the AT and my ALDHA friends, I miss Walking Jim Stoltz, who, like our Wagonmaster Steve Clark, walked along ahead of us already. Walking Jim’s ballads about life on the trail sure hit home. My favorite, always, has been “Friends Along the Way.” If you scroll down this page of his website – which lets his legacy continue – you can see the lyrics and the notes to play them, if you’re musically inclined. For me, I’ll just quote the refrain:
“It’s the good hearts that spring from the salt of the Earth,
They inspire and brighten my days,
And I owe it all to the spirit of love,
And the friends along the way. ”
In the spirit of Walking Jim, of Steve Clark, Paul Cummings, Gordon Johnson, and thousands of other hikers – here in Florida and on the AT – whose lives have touched mine and made me better for it, look for a new FloridaHikes.com to unfold this week, in gratitude for the friends along the way. See you next year at the Big O Hike – or elsewhere on Florida’s trails.