Monday, December 9th, 2019
The sun hadn’t yet risen, but we were up and at it to begin our road walk along County Highway 68 to get to the Cracker Trail Country Store. We had coffee and breakfast sandwiches on our minds! We both had our headlamps on to stay visible for the early morning commuters, but we still found ourselves annoyed with some of the drivers who were distracted and swerving at us. The people at the Cracker Trail Country Store were really friendly, and the food was great! We hung out there for a while, enjoying our coffee while people watching from our table inside. Once we were done our coffees, we had to force ourselves out the door before we got too comfortable. The sun was up and daylight was limited.
We followed the white blazes for the high water route until it reconnected to the trail. Before making our turn, we cameled up and refilled by a stile which had another cache there left by “Water Boy”. The turn off the highway had us walking down a residential road which led us to Chandler Slough. The asphalt turned into a grassy field and I could hear the locusts chirping; a reminder of the humidity. We were fairly exposed for a while before we were covered by the overhang of oaks and palms. It was short lived.
After climbing over a stile, we were briefly back on the pavement before the road crossed a railroad and turned into dirt. As soon as we got to Yates Marsh, we wandered under some trees to take a break at Yates Marsh North Camp. We’d be completely exposed again once we finished eating as we walked through an open field, which had the occasional palm and wandering cow. Then we were back on the road again, stopping to watch a Gopher tortoise munch on some grass nearby.
Traffic was limited and it was a fairly quiet walk, that is until we heard a commotion at the ranch up ahead of us. We saw two cowboys in the distance followed by three dogs. One of them was yelling as the other was busy using a walkie talkie, and the dogs were barking a great deal. The yelling got louder, then we heard a gunshot. We were baffled as to what we just witnessed until we got closer. One of the cows had gotten passed the fence and the cowboy was attempting to round it back up, waving his lasso, barking orders at the dogs, and we found out the gun shot was to try the scare the cow out of its current position. The cow not only was on the loose, it had gotten itself stuck in a flooded ravine. It mooed in distress and the cowboy was clearly frustrated that he couldn’t get the cow out. As we continued down the road, a truck drove by with what I believed to be a “Florida Department of Natural Resources” logo on the side of it. I questioned if he was called in for reinforcement.
We watched a turtle “running” across the street. Moving faster than turtles generally do, and with good reason. This street was a bit busier than the last. We walked by residential housing and a large turf farm. The heat of the day was wearing us down, and it seemed like forever before we made it to State Road 70, a busy highway which we had to cross. Once we dodged traffic, we found ourselves walking passed orange groves and more cow fields. We also passed a well kept farm before we reached the lock.
When we got there, we stopped to chat with the lock tender who donated some of his drinking water to us, which was very much appreciated. It was a sweltering, hot day! We even got the opportunity to see him in action when a boat approached and needed to pass. It was interesting to see the process unfold. The tall walls opened up allowing the boat to enter before closing behind it. Then the water from the other side was slowly drained in-between until it filled up enough for the boat to be level with the dammed waterway. Once it was so, the gate was fully opened and the boat was able to proceed to the other side. A simple concept, but still fun to watch.
Our hike continued on a gravel road which followed the river. We passed a truck and several water structures before the gravel turned to dirt and our scenery was blocked by trees. We walked along the dike forever with nothing to look at for miles. It was mind numbing. Right before we reached the town of Okeechobee, we saw a raccoon who was running for the top of the dike before spotting us and taking off in the other direction. Given the amount of scat on the dike, I assumed nature’s creatures considered it to be their restroom. Unfortunately for the raccoon, it would have to poop elsewhere or dance around in place until we were out of sight.
Shortly after, we saw a skunk wandering ahead of us. We both froze when we saw one another. We didn’t want to get sprayed, but I was still determined to get a picture. I have never seen a skunk in the wild. Usually they’re just dead on the side of the road or I catch a whiff of them with their whereabouts unknown. Although some would say, “It’s just a skunk,” I still get excited when I see wildlife. As soon as I got my phone out, it informed me that I was out of storage, of course, and the skunk took off. I was bummed that I missed a close up of the little guy, but couldn’t help but laugh when he was hardly able to keep control of his body as he ran. His hind legs flew over his head on more than one occasion which had him barreling out of control or walking on his front legs.
We saw a huge alligator and a large gathering of water birds before we got to the road. Frisbee was thrilled when he caught a glimpse of all of the cute trailer homes sitting next to the water. This was a fishing town and Frisbee liked to fish! I was more concerned about getting to the closest McDonald’s. I was getting hangry. We didn’t have our thumb out long before an old retired couple picked us up. Frisbee stared in awe at the adorable fishing “villages” that we drove by on our way to the center of town.
“This looks like a drinking town with a fishing problem!”
This gave the couple a chuckle. They were familiar with the Florida Trail and were interested in hearing about our journey, which we shared with them on our way to McDonald’s. McDonald’s was in the opposite direction of where they were heading, but they were more than happy to take us so long as we shared some stories.
When we got there, we ate, sucked up the free WiFi, and I looked at the map to see if there were any churches nearby that we could stealth behind. We had planned on having a zero day in town, but we booked our room for the following night. It was late in the evening and we didn’t want to pay for an extra one.
We wandered around town. Most of the businesses were closed for the day or were in the process of doing so. We went to Walmart to kill some time. We didn’t want to search for our stealth site in the daylight, so we lingered around there until dark. Then we found ourselves walking in circles. There were several churches to sleep at in the area, but their lights were on timers and houses were nearby most of them. There were also a number of police officers driving around, keeping watch of the area. None of which hassled us, but we were well aware that the two of us, who probably looked homeless to them, were being watched VERY closely. We checked out several churches and looked for other potential spots in the area, but everything was either well lit or over exposed. We came to an agreement. We were going to the hotel early and we hoped that whoever was working the nightshift would be kind enough to let us sit in the lobby until daylight. If not, there were options, albeit undesirable ones.
28.8 miles (46.3 km)
Jump Ahead to Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 20
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