Wind. It’s persistent at Okeechobee, breezing, buffeting, and battering. Hats went flying today as a steady breeze blew over 14 mph. Clouds raced by, some shedding their loads as gray shadows and the splashing patter of raindrops.
Atop the Herbert Hoover Dike, looming nearly forty feet above Lake Okeechobee, you expect wind. A shallow basin of 730 square miles, it plays with the weather, deflecting oncoming storm fronts and ramping up a gradient that generates wind. With vast flat prairies to the north and the sweep of the Everglades flatness to the south, it’s no wonder the wind pours across this part of Florida, with such large landscapes heated by the sun.
Walking on the dike, wind is always in the equation. It’s either a tailwind or a headwind, and which it is makes a difference on how speedy you’ll be, even on the paved sections of the Florida Trail.
Hiking in the vicinity of Okeechobee means wind. It riffles across the marshy edges of the Kissimmee River and up along the relict floodplain of Taylor Creek. It makes the cabbage palms of Indian Prairie shimmer in the distance. It makes the butterflies cling like glue to flowers when they finally alight.
Camping for more than a dozen years during the Big O Hike, I’ve witnessed the wind. I’ve watched tents turn inside out and tumble away. I’ve tried to sleep as my tent kept collapsing inward, the air pressure making the silnylon slap at me like a Whack-a-Mole. It howls around us, trying to turn our canopy for Primrose into a sail. It tossed our lantern like a rag doll and sent the pieces rolling across the campground.
Yet with the frequent winds of Okeechobee, there is always a freshness to the air. When the wind is blowing, the insects aren’t landing. Hawks – from harriers to kestrels – join ospreys and pelicans, eagles, and caracara in using the wind to hover and hunt.
Okeechobee generally avoids the thick humidity that clings to so much of Florida, thanks to the wind. That’s one of the reasons it’s so pleasant to camp here, and why it’s worth investing in some extra rope and stakes when you pitch a tent – or a canopy – in Okeechobee.
When the wind stops? The insects arrive. So camp prepared.