The day we reached Okee-tantie, I drove a support van until early afternoon. After lunch with Chuck, it was hot and late, but I was ready to be back on the trail.
Hiking alone on the dike above the Kissimmee River was monotonous and hot. We had not seen a day yet where the winter temperature wasn’t in the low eighties. After six and a half miles I set up camp along the bushes at the base of the dike, stopping in time to avoid the hordes of mosquitoes that come out at dust. I gave myself enough time to doctor my feet. More blisters! Double socks and bandages didn’t help!
On the trail at seven, I noticed a single set of bootprints ahead of me. I’d find out later that Rambler spent the night not far away, and was on the trail much earlier than I. Seeing the S-65D lock in the distance, I finished the water I had. Trying to stay hydrated in the heat is a big challenge for me. But I knew there was water available at the lock.
With water bottles full, I started down a narrow paved road. Once again I found myself without a map. I had maps for the section behind me and the one for the next section, but not the one for the next few days. That’s why I’m JK and Sandy’s Navigator, she’s the true navigator of our team!
Chuck just happened to see me along the roadwalk, stopping to see how I was doing and to give me an ice cold Gatorade. Picking up a map from him, I found that I was facing more than an 8 mile roadwalk. Something neither I – nor my blistered feet – wanted to hear.
I hate roadwalks. Yes, let me say it again, I hate roadwalks. I’m still a novice hiker, I don’t have thousands and thousands of miles behind me. So a roadwalk to me is still pure torture. I hope that one day I to will be able to say “oh, it’s just a twenty mile road walk”. But for now, I can only dream of being that kind of hiker.
Mile after mile I dragged on, the blisters on the balls of my feet hurting more and more. After a brief break with Johnny Thunder, I realized that hiking on the road alone wasn’t such a good idea. Alone, there was no one to help the time and miles go by. Watching Johnny grow smaller and smaller in the distance only brought my spirits lower. I knew that the rest of the group was behind me, but where were they? Looking back, I never saw a soul.
Somewhere around the five mile point I saw a small pickup truck quickly approaching. The closer it got, the closer to the edge of the road it seemed to be heading. Right towards ME! I stepped off the road and began waving my arms and hiking sticks. When he went by at a very high speed, his wheel was on the white line along the side of the road. Jumping off the road at the last minute might be all that saved me!
When I realized I was okay, I turned around and started shouting a few not-so-nice things. Looking behind me, I saw the vehicles brakes almost lock up and the back up lights come on. Oh Sh@t… I turned around and kept walking away as quickly as my blistered feet would let me. Hearing the whine on the truck backing up toward me, my mind was filled with “what if’s and what to do’s”. As he pulled up beside me, I could see that he was shaken as well, saying “what in the hell are you doing out here walking along the road, I almost hit you!”
Seeing that this wasn’t going to be any kind of confrontation, I explained that there were around twenty of us that would be along the road today. And he needed to be more careful.
He apologized and said that he was under the influence of all kinds of prescription medications. I’m thinking “here we are to pay our final respects to John who was accidentally mowed down by a person high on ‘legal’ drugs. The driver feels bad and says that he won’t do it again…”
Shaken and hurting, I continued walking the road like a zombie. Just before arriving at the end of the pavement, I came to a beautiful shady spot below a couple of dozen large oaks.
It was time for lunch and a very long break. After eating, while laying there, I could see people milling about. And could see that there was a little community at the end of this dead-end. I was sure that several people had noticed me, the shaggy-haired homeless-looking bearded guy, laying under the trees at the end of their road. While I was there a woman walking her large and handsome Rottweiller came down the street. As they neared, they broke into a jog to get past me, returning to a walk when they were safely by. Then repeating it as they later went by in the other direction
There just are not enough thru-hikers on the Florida Trail for people to notice. They’re too few and too far in-between. Unlike along the Appalachian Trail, where many are seen daily, month after month. Up there, it’s “oh yeah, another AT hiker.” While down here in Florida, the reaction is “hey, what’s that homeless looking guy with a backpack doing in my neighborhood?”
Still wondering where the rest of the hikers were, I continued down the dirt road to Yates Marsh. Arriving at the gate, I had finally came to the Florida landscape I had been missing. Oaks and pines, and orange blazes leading off into the woods.
Here I was, finally in a beauty spot, and I hurt with every step. I had to use the hiking poles as support with every step. It hurt so bad, that I was hating being there! Which isn’t good! I love the outdoors, hiking and backpacking with Sandy. Now I was starting to wish that I had never started this hike.
Yates Marsh is still an active cattle ranch. The ground is covered with large “cow pies,” and there are cows watching you from every direction.
When I finally reached the other end of Yates Marsh, I was done. Every step hurt and I was mentally spent. I looked over the kiosk and determined were I was. I was ready to be rescued! However my phone service said otherwise: no service here!
I moved to the corner of the trailhead parking lot and started to set up my tent. Oh yes, it’s still strapped to the outside of my pack, soaking wet in a plastic garbage bag. Setting up a wet tent, in a dirt parking lot just didn’t sound like fun. So I gave up on that idea.
Following the blazes led me down a dirt road to yet another “Road Walk.” I flopped down on the side of the road, and wanted to go no further. With a very weak signal I tried calling Chuck. A call wouldn’t go through. On the chance that Chuck was also out of service, I called Sandy. I hated to do it but I was done! I didn’t hate hiking, but I hated what today had been like.
When Sandy also couldn’t reach Chuck, she contacted Doug, a long time trail friend in Okeechobee, who came to my rescue. Sandy started the drive south to meet me. While checking into a motel in Okeechobee for the night, we heard that the bulk of the group would be there in the morning for a zero day.