Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 13

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

It was a frigid morning and we shivered as we wandered back to McDonald’s for breakfast, passing the panhandlers. After we ate, we walked further down the road before sticking out our thumbs. We wanted to separate ourselves from the local homeless community to increase our odds of getting picked up.

We caught a hitch from a welder named Andrew. He told us about his global backpacking adventures and how they were cut short after getting charged with a felony. He warned us, if we wanted to continue our travels abroad, stay out of trouble! We mentioned to him that we’ve recently quit drinking and he told us that he’s chosen the same path. We also revealed how we wanted to separate ourselves from the panhandlers during our hitch. He told us how he sympathized with them, but doesn’t give money to them anymore. After talking with several of them, he discovered most of them are hooked on heroin and are collecting more money a day than he does making an honest living.

Once we were back where we left off on FL-520, we continued onto Nova Road. The sky had a cloud of yellow haze from a trash fire in the distance and we startled a group of hogs that were rummaging around the side of the road.

We reached a bridge where there was a truck pulled off to the side in the grass, and three men were wandering around. They worked for the state and were checking the water quality. One of the state employees stopped to chat with us, asking about our journey. The next bridge we crossed had a gator under it, and a short distance from there was Deer Park Road where we took our lunch break.

More road walking followed. Given the amount of exposure, I was grateful that it wasn’t a blistering hot day. It was hot, but on a tolerable level. On the way, we ran into a NOBO hiker named August. We said hi and started some small talk with him. He tossed his pack to the side, grabbed his seat pad and plopped down right in the road. We asked him about the stretch to Lake Okeechobee, and he picked our brains a little bit too. When a car approached in the same lane that August chose to park his behind in, we stepped into the grass and he stayed put and got irritated with the driver. The guy in the truck slowed down and drove around him, but August claimed he didn’t swing wide enough. I warned him about the drivers he might come across. I pointed at him.

“You definitely don’t want to do that. They’ll run you right over.”

There have been many times when we were walking in the shoulder, sometimes off the pavement altogether and people have come close to hitting us, either because they were driving distracted, drunk, or because they were swerving at us out of hostility. We wished him luck, then carried on until we reached Wolf Creek to fill up. It was a water source that gators were known to frequent according to our guide, but were fortunately nowhere in sight.

We passed several fields with startled cattle. When we walked by one of the fences, I saw what I initially thought was a dead animal. When we approached, it moved a little, then as we got even closer, we realized it was a calf. It was really young, umbilical cord still attached as it tried to balance on wobbly legs. It was adorable, but seemed distressed. It was so tiny, it could easily squeeze under the barbed wire fence, and it tried! Given the heavy tractor trailer traffic, we gave the farm office a call just to notify them. We didn’t want it to get killed. Its life was just beginning, and we were sure the farmers wouldn’t want to lose the profit. Hopefully someone checked out the situation after we left.

We got a surprise visit from a hiker we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2016 named Bushwhacker. He’s a Florida resident and has hiked the Florida Trail a couple times already. He was taking a break from hiking it again to visit family in Tampa with his wife, and was driving around searching for us. We were hoping to run into him when we hiked the Blackwater section, but he was too far ahead of us.

He and his wife provided us with our first trail magic. They gave us a pastry, Ding Dong cupcakes, raisin bread, bananas, and Gatorade. After catching up with him in their van, he gave us one last offer, a shuttle ride to the end of the road walk. It was a kind offer, but we had to refuse. We wanted to hike the entire trail, even if it was currently a miserable road walk.

“Ah, purists!”

They headed off and we continued hoofing it on the pavement. The beef farm transitioned to an orange grove with the strong smell of orange blossoms in the air. Across the street were a pair of Sandhill Cranes and a Caracara which we stopped to gawk at before taking a break a few miles further at a church.

We ate, got water from the spigot and also received a couple of suspicious glances from the homeowners across the street before heading towards the highway. In the median was a van, three people, and a small car flipped over on its roof. We just missed a nasty accident, but it appeared that everyone made it out safely.

It was a busy highway and the shoulder was narrow. We would have walked in the grass, but it was overgrown and lumpy. I didn’t want a twisted ankle this far in the game. Although I couldn’t wait to get off the road, we did get a vibrant sunset as we approached Bull Creek Wildlife Management Area.

It was a short hike from the parking lot through the woods to get to Jane Green Camp. While searching for a place to set up, we noticed a headlamp glowing nearby. It slowly got closer and closer, and we weren’t sure if it was good or bad company, so we kept our bags packed. It turned out to be a friendly hunter named Danny who was accompanied by his tiny Yorkie named Mitzy. He used to be a volunteer for the Florida Trail Association and gave us our second round of trail magic, a Lara bar and a Nature Valley granola bar. We talked briefly, gave Mitzy lots of pets, then he disappeared into the night as we crashed out around the picnic table.

23.6 miles (38.0 km)

Jump Ahead to Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 14

Jump Back to Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 12


Start from The Beginning

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