In 2002, I arrived at Lake Okeechobee for the Big O Hike in November, not knowing exactly what to expect. My good friend Sunny Piskura had bugged me for years to join her on the annual walk around the lake, and I thought she was crazy.
Then I got two book contracts for which I needed to walk around the lake to write about it – Along the Florida Trail and the Florida Trail Official Guide.
So I made plans. But unbeknownst to all of us, Sunny’s cancer returned and two months before the big hike, she died. It was a shock for many of us, especially to be present on the opening day and to watch her granddaughters and her fiance Paul spread her ashes on the dike at South Bay.
That year, that hike, I made fast friends, folks I’ve hiked and traveled with all over the country, folks who I count as some of my closest people in my life.
I came to love the Big O Hike, all 9 days around our massive Lake Okeechobee, its subtleties and its splendor. And its people.
I returned again and did the whole thing twice, then life took me in other directions and I only made it back for work reasons, or to do the kickoff and head home again.
The Big O Hike has had a huge impact on my life. It was at the hike in 2011 that I met John, and we became a couple in 2012. We’ve been hiking and writing and traveling together ever since. Despite having a handful of mutual friends, we never met before we both showed up for the Big O Hike that year.
Read my journal entries and plan to join the next Big O Hike! You’ll find all the logistical details you need in the Big O Hike section.
2011 Journal Entries
2012 Journal Entries
The 2002 Big O Hike
While I didn’t write about the hike online, I did write a chapter in Along the Florida Trail about the experience, and took quite a few photos. Photographer Bart Smith joined us for a portion of the hike as well.
The 2007 Big O Hike
In 2007, I vowed I’d be there for the whole nine days, and I did it unplugged. I’d thought of blogging from the trail, then thought better of it. It was the most relaxing week of hiking I’ve ever had, and it flooded back reminders of why, despite the assumptions people make that “walking on a dike is boring, the view never changes” this hike is anything BUT boring.
Day 1 of the 2007 Big O Hike around Lake Okeechobee starts off with sunshine and a walk to Port Mayaca along the glistening lake waters.
Discovering that the Big O Hike can be a vacation immersed in the beauty of Lake Okeechobee, I take the time to slow down and enjoy nature at my own pace.
On the third day of the 2007 Big O Hike, I walk with Cliff Moody, the oldest man to ever complete the walk around Lake Okeechobee.
Day four of the 2007 Big O Hike evolved into a relaxed walk from the halfway point back into the campground in Okeechobee, greeting hikers along the way.
On Day Five of the 2007 Big O Hike, sunrise over Eagle Bay was the event of the morning before a move to our southerly campground in the afternoon.
Sunrise unfolded ever-so-slowly through the fog-shrouded marshes at Moore Haven, making for the perfect start of Thanksgiving Day during the 2007 Big O Hike.
Day seven of the 2007 Big O Hike is a counterpoint to the previous day, entertaining family with the highlights of Clewiston.
After a moonlight walk the night before with fellow hikers, I arise early for a walk to Torrey Island on Day 8 of the Big O Hike.
The final day of the 2007 Big O Hike sweeps us around the curve of Pelican Bay into Pahokee as the details sink deep into my memories.
The 2011 Big O Hike
I missed all but the first day of the 2010 Big O Hike due to a move, and I didn’t want to miss the whole hike again in 2011. So I pitched an article idea to an editor and picked up enough work to underwrite the cost of the nine days around the lake plus the week and a half away from my normal routine. Like 2007, I planned to be there for the entire hike. What I didn’t plan on was meeting a fellow who I’d fall in love with.
For the first time since the Big O Hike started in 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers denied our hikers access to the dike. So to kick off the 2011 Big O Hike, it’s a roadwalk through Pahokee.
At Port Mayaca, the shape of Lake Okeechobee is obvious, even at dawn, the curvature extending off to the horizon line at the only place in Florida with horizon to horizon views.
Okeechobee’s history runs deep. Today’s walk slips past many ghosts, of fish camps and fish canneries, an early Florida toll road and more shoreline where the lake waters once lapped.
As I hike the Florida Trail past Moore Haven, a sugar cane field bursts out in flame after my discussion with my friend Steve, a sign from above that he’s along for the walk.
It’s a tradition at the Big O Hike to share your talent at Thanksgiving Day dinner. Mine is a poem commemorating the hike and our friends who’ve gone before us.
In hiking and in life, there are tortoises and hares. On the Big O Hike, the Loxahatchee – “River of the Turtles” – Chapter participants walk at all speeds, but the speediest of our hikers are known as rabbits.
When you’re traveling at the speed of feet, it’s easy to spend hours reflecting on the Everglades that once was, the vast wilds erased by the agro-industrial complex that brought sugar cane to Lake Okeechobee.
Breaking away from the everyday for nine days to immerse yourself in the goal of walking around Lake Okeechobee brings on a certain sense of calm, a time out of the normal pace of time, despite time framing each day.
The 2012 Big O Hike
After coming back from the Appalachian Trail without accomplishing our goal of hiking the whole thing, John and I set a goal of creating a new Florida Trail Guide. So the Big O Hike was in our plans for the fall, as we’d visit all the towns along it and hike places we hadn’t yet seen. This hike also enabled him to finish one complete circle around Lake Okeechobee. But this hike didn’t go as planned, either.
Although we’re writing a Florida Trail hiking guide, we decided to come to the Big O Hike since we met here last year, and it’s time to try out the new TravLite!
It isn’t rare for winds to streak across the surface of Lake Okeechobee, picking up speed as they travel. But some mornings are windier than others, and this was one of them.
A moment of Deja vu: discovering a scene that Bart Smith had captured in Along the Florida Trail at the 4Es trailhead.
When a sudden dental problem threw our hiking plans awry, we kicked into research mode and went wandering around Lake Okeechobee in search of information for our new guidebook.
Returning to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation for the first time in a decade, I remember my visits of the past and celebrate the present with John with a panther sighting.