Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 5: I Pull Ahead of the Pack

I last left you, camped in a bug-infested site just south of Indian Prairie Canal. By morning, the temperatures had dropped dramatically--a welcome relief from the bugs. I also woke particularly early since it wasn't more than 6:30 in the morning when the rest of the hikers marched past my camp. Previously I had hiked out three miles or so beyond the day's starting point so it would take them an hour just to catch up to me. With the nice backpacker campsite where it was, however, I stopped a mere 0.8 miles ahead of this day's starting point, so it didn't take them more than about ten minutes to catch up.

The last of the group passed me by before I even finished eating breakfast, but that's okay--I'd catch up. I knew I could. At least to the slower hikers, I would. =)

My tarp was absolutely sopping wet--you'd have thought it rained overnight by looking at it! Not a big deal, but wow, the condensation was astounding.

I packed up camp, then headed off to catch up with the rest, which took me about an hour to catch up to the slowest of the slow. I fell a bit behind again when the trail skirted around Harney Pond Canal--there was a convenience store there which I felt I must stop at and splurg. I bought a sandwich, donuts, and grape juice for lunch. Most others also stopped briefly at the store, but for me, it was civilization. Everyone else was just on a day hike. I lingered longer than the rest.

The one other noteworthy point of reference was the "hikers' graveyard"--an area covered with stones used to reinforce the dike, but they are set upright sticking out of the ground looking much like tombstones. I caught up with a few more hikers resting here--it's a nice "resting" spot. I also planted a letterbox here, but I haven't posted the clues yet. (I'm bad, I know!)

Then it was foward and onward, the last couple of miles to a boat launch where everyone else would end the day of the hiking. I however, wasn't anywhere near done.

There were two issues I had to deal with. The first was the fact that the next three miles of hiking was road walk--the one section around Lake Okeechobee not protected by a dike. Camping alongside this road I did not consider an option, and I definitely needed to get past it before setting up camp. Additionally, the three miles immediately after the road walk did take me back on the dike, but it was also immediately alongside Highway 78 and all of its traffic. I could have camped up there, but it wouldn't have been fun or nice.

Secondly, there was the official Thanksgiving dinner the next evening at the Clewiston Inn. The other hikers who'd done the hike in previous years raved about how wonderful it was, and I wanted to join the festivities. However, the hiking schedule would have taken me into Clewiston the day after Thanksgiving. I'd need to hike ahead and get there a day ahead of schedule or get a ride to Clewiston at the end of the day tomorrow.

You can probably guess what route I decided to take--I would hike in a day early. But to do that, I needed to get in as many miles as I could today, the day before Thanksgiving. Seeing as the next six miles of hiking would largely be terrible places to camp anyhow, I decided to push on to another backpacker campsite nearly six miles away.

The hike was uneventful. I walked the shoulder of the road as cars sped up and down the road. I was happy to leave the road and get on the dike, though I still had to listen to the traffic speeding up and down the road.

When I knew the backpacker campsite was coming up, I kept my eyes open for it--and it's a good thing I did because I nearly missed it entirely. All of the other backpacker campsites were immediately off on the side of the dike, clearly visible. This one was tucked a good ways off the dike, barely visible in the distance. The only reason I noticed it at all was because I saw what looked like someone tromping through the tall grass off the dike and I wondered where the heck they were trying to get to. Then I saw the small glint of the metal shelter tucked within a group of palm trees. Was that the campsite? I pulled out my monocular for a better view. Indeed, it appeared to be the campsite.

I tromped through the tall grass, already dreading having to come through it again in the morning. I knew it would be wet with condensation, and the grasses came up past my waist. I would be getting very wet in the morning.

As it turned out, the campsite was absolutely wonderful! I didn't even realized it existed on my thru-hike last January. I walked right past it never even seeing it--but being so far off the trail, I could see how I missed it. The camp was situated on the lake side, away from the traffic on the road, and even away from the people traffic on the dike, right alongside a canal at the lake's edge. Very scenic and tranquil!

I set up my tarp and started preparing dinner when I heard the sound of a tracker. It confused me at first, then I realized--they were cutting the tall grass on the dike! Yes! I hoped they would cut a path all the way to the campsite, and I could see the machine on the dike doing its thing.

Alas, the tractor stopped just before reaching the dike where I was at. It stopped at the edge of the canal where the dike passes over, but on the other side of the canal. Had they cut 50 feet beyond the canal, I could have walked back to the dike without getting so much as my ankles wet from consensation in the morning, but no..... they have to take the day off just before it would have done me any good. *sigh*

Of all the camps I stayed at, this one turned out to be the busiest. A few times during the afternoon and evening boats cruised by along the lake. And shortly before sunset, two men walked into camp with their fishing gear and started trying to catch some fish. They tried for about an hour or so while we chatted, but they didn't catch anything and eventually left back the way they came. They seemed startled when they found my campsite--I guess they fish there quite regularly but had never seen anyone actually camp at the site before.

The bugs, I was grateful, seemed to take the evening off. It was much cooler this evening than the previous one which might have been a contributing factor. All the local Floridians kept complaining about how cold the weather was, but I was grateful. I considered the weather absolutely ideal. The lows overnight typically matched the highs in Seattle during the day. Cold? I don't think so.... And cold enough to keep the bugs away? You bet! I'll take it in a heartbeat! =) I was in my element!

I'd now completed almost six miles of the official hiking schedule for the next day, six miles out of 9.4. The next day, I figured, I'd probably be on the trail hiking before even the quickest of hikers caught up with me again in the morning, and I'd hoof it in all the Clewiston one full day before the official schedule would have gotten me there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ok, you need to plan another hike. even though you haven't finished the story, the hike is over and i know that soon so will the story.............going into withdrawl just thinking about it.