Embarking on the Florida Trail

Florida Trail 1.jpg

I began this part of my ongoing saga in Okeechobee, Florida. Getting there from Albuquerque required a 72-hour train ride spanning Tuesday to Friday. I switched trains in Chicago and then again in Washington. The trailhead initially looks like a beach park and the first few miles are paved like a sidewalk. It runs straight as an arrow, riding the dike built by the Army Corps of Engineers that faithfully follows the canal. The benches are a welcome respite. My plan at this point was to circle Lake Okeechobee and then head north into the Central Florida section of the trail.

Allergies plagued me for a few days, maybe due to the shift from the arid desert clime of the Southwest to high humidity. I saw my first alligators on day 2: One placidly sunning by the canal and another (which I hadn’t noticed) plunging into the water when I approached to fill my water bottles.

You have to get used to the proximity of civilization and resulting lack of privacy on this stretch of the trail. Traffic was often seen - and almost always heard - off to my right, and to my left motorboats frequently powered up and down the edges of the lake. Also, after hiking for nearly two months without issue I got blisters within just a couple days, probably because of the humidity and the monotony of the trail, your feet hitting the hard road in the same way time and again. This forced me to stay in a motel room (in Lakeport) earlier than I’d originally planned. Within a week or so my feet toughened up and I no longer had any problems.

Canal and settlements.jpg

The following night I enjoyed some of nature’s Providence: an orange tree with a dozen ripe fruits was secreted among taller trees right behind where I’d pitched my tent. Then I was forced off the trail by construction - the first of several times that this would occur - and had to walk for several miles on the shoulder of the highway. A family stopped and offered me a ride the rest of the way into Moorehaven.