The journey I made in Florida scarcely resembled the itinerary I sketched out before leaving. I’d intended to circle Lake Okeechobee and then head north through the Central portion of the trail. But numerous construction sites along the dike - and the somewhat hostile No Trespassing signs, fences and gates that accompany such activity - deterred me. Often I encountered what I came to call the “Corps of Engineers Special”: A fence right before a bridge that I could have otherwise crossed in order to get on the highway and walk the shoulder. But the improvisation I was forced to do in such situations often made for some good adventures, so I shouldn’t complain. And let’s not forget that the Corps is responsible for creating and maintaining this section of the trail to begin with.
I decided to take the Ocean to Lake Trail because I was near to it anyway and, most importantly, it offered the kind of wildness and diversity that I’d been craving through all those weeks in the much more tame and cultivated Lake Okeechobee area. I found a visitor center and then was able to pick up the trail from there. The change happened at once: Tall pine forest, then onto a dirt road that wound in a tuning fork shape around a mine, farmland all around. This felt like a prelude to the actual trail. It started in earnest as tree cover grew denser and I had to wade through water in places.
Probably 90% os the second day’s hike involved sloshing through water. I’d brought crocks along for this purpose, but soone decided to just leave my shoes on and embrace the brutality, as they say. You can’t hike all day in crocks; the rubber plus the wet would blister your feet hideously. And it’s just not feasible to keep changing footwear all day. I filtered water that ranged from green to the hue of dark beer or orange soda. Third day was slightly less water but more mud, the kind you have to constantly fight against because of the suction it creates. I traveled with a group of three other hikers, and we spent the night at the Everglades Youth Camp, where we were able to order pizza and I drank an inordinate amount of cola.
The trail offers spectacular views of numerous lakes and marshes. On day 4 I hiked with my clothes ties to my pack to dry in the sun and lost a few items along the way, among them a pair of my favorite shorts that had accompanied my since the beginning of my adventure. Tent and tarp needed to be laid out in the sun, too, because of heavy condensation during the night. We resupplied at a plaza about twenty miles from trail’s end and then finished up with some brief road walking and then a stretch of sand dunes. Day 6 found us in Hobe Sound with a view of the ocean.