Saturday, January 5, 2019

Lake Okeechobee - Hiking the Big "O"!

Wise Man at start of Florida Trail on western edge of Lake Okeechobee
Well, well Lake Okeechobee, you were good to us, providing easy paved path for most of our hike and views of your watery expanses filled with marsh grasses, birds of every color, and of course them gators! For the last 5 days we have walked around the western edge of Lake Okeechobee, covering roughly 60 miles. Despite it's name, Lake Okeechobee is considered Florida's Inland Sea, covering 730 square miles. It's name derives from the Native American words "oki" which means "water", and "chubi" which means "big". And that it is. Although we often walked beside the rim canal which was formed when the dike was created to protect the surrounding communities from flooding, this canal regularly connected with the larger lake itself, which then almost convinced us we were walking oceanside.

Lake Okeechobee near town of Okeechobee
Opposite the lake we walked beside gradually changing scenery from the idyllic settings of small towns, each home with a its own waterway and dock between its neighboring home, sugarcane fields, which were gorgeous in the setting sun, cow pastures big and small and the way the cows lift their gaze to stare at us as we passed, I imagined we were as exciting to them as they were to us. Oh and back to those birds - so many of them - if I knew my birds better, I would tell you what they were!

A cow wading and watching us from the other side of the trail

Sunset over the sugarcane fields

Birds showing Wise Man the way - also an example of the trail when not paved, a sandy gravel road dotted with seashells

Our days continued to be nearly as hot as they were the week before and our nights nearly as mosquito-filled. But we've got 'em figured out! Rise early at 6:00 am, get out of camp sometime after 7:00 am, which is when the mosquitoes go back to sleep, then get to the evening's camp by 5:00 pm, to be certain to be finished cooking and inside our tent by 6:00 pm. Then hope you don't have to pee. But thankfully, we had a cooler night last night and it does seem as long as our temps drop, which they are predicted to do today, the squeeters should be lesser. And then there were the miles of roadwalk when we had a detour off the dike. However, despite these challenges we had some luxuries. Nearly every day we entered into a small town - Clewiston, Moore Haven, Lakeport, and Buckhead Ridge - where we were able to take a rest in the shade of a building and enjoy a cold drink. 

View from trail atop dike, looking at Lakeport

We also have been surprised to run into a number of Florida Trail folks out here! Firstly, we crossed paths with Tigger and Chuck Norris - I wish we had taken your picture! - in the town of Moore Haven. Turns out we all thought Café 27 was the best place to have lunch. Tigger and Chuck Norris spotted us in our gear and struck up a conversation. Tigger and Chuck Norris are founding members of the Florida Trail Hikers Alliance and have hiked numerous long-distance trails. In fact, both of them were out thru-hiking the AT in 2007, the same year that I did my 1,000 miles. I believe I even remember seeing their names in the trail journals and hikers saying, "There's a guy out here that looks just like Chuck Norris!" Tigger is presently working on completing the Florida Trail for the first time and Chuck Norris is working on his third and fourth as her support, hiking portions when he can. After we enjoyed lunch together, they were so kind as to drop us a jug of water at our next campsite and the next morning, greet us with yet another icy cold bottle of water. Thank you for the trail magic, Tigger and Chuck Norris!

Trucker Bob, Bot and Wise Man - our chance meeting - he had passed us while we were road-walking across a bridge heading for Okee-tantie
Then yesterday as we made our way into Okee-tantie park, Trucker Bob, who I was acquainted with through Facebook, pulled up alongside us and almost got us to hop in and travel back to the terminus of the trail for the annual Florida Trail Kick-Off event. This is a gathering at Trail Lakes Campground (home to the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters) for the year's thru-hikers, giving them a grand send-off. We sure were tempted, Trucker Bob and kind-of kicked ourselves later for not taking your offer! But we could not bear the thought of seeing the beginning of the trail again and what a good groove we are in - northward bound! Trucker Bob has hiked over 500 miles of the Florida Trail and has also visited nearly every county in the country - literally - 77% of them. We look forward to seeing you up the trail, Trucker Bob!

View from camp (not the illegal one) - Liberty Point Campsite
We also had some trail magic of an very unexpected kind and honestly hope that we do not need it again anytime soon. See, there was this one night we were camped kinda-sorta illegally at Fisheating Creek Ramp. There was a no camping sign and all, but word on the trail was to give the local sheriff a call, explain our circumstances that we couldn't make it to the next campsite, and they would look the other way. Well...we called the local sheriff who didn't seem to know a whole lot about that little ramp and explained it wasn't his jurisdiction. We shrugged our shoulders and settled in for the night. About 8:00 pm we had high beams shining on our tent. Wiseman hastily got dressed and popped out from the tent, only to be told in an official sounding voice, "Stay where you are." Turns out that boat ramp is the Florida Wildlife Commission's turf. Thankfully, once the officer could see we were truly hikers and ran our licenses for outstanding warrants which came up clean, he was nice as could be. He did indeed issue us official warnings but he also shared with us that he wished he were out doing a hike like ours and that he admired us for doing it...most importantly he let us stay the night. So thank you Florida Wildlife Commission officer, for being so very cool.

Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) - speckled the grass to either side of the trail atop the dike
And along the way, there were, even amidst the paved walkways and grassy paths, the botanical stars. Spanish Needles (Bidens alba), was a regular on the scene. Considered a common weed, Bidens has an edible flower as well as leaves. Flowers can be eaten raw and leaves can be cooked and eaten as a green. I recently learned that Bidens makes an excellent poultice for bug bites and stings...wish we had known that sooner! I think we may be using this from here on our instead of our Benedryl ointment. It has also been used to treat malaria, snakebites, and as a general antimicrobial.

Pulsey (Richardia sp.) - these seem to dapple the grass wherever we are
Pulsey (Richardia sp.) was another regular sight along our stroll. Also known as Florida Snow because of the way it can blanket a grassy area, these little beauties opened only during the day, and closed tight at night as if taking a snooze. Pulsey is also considered a medicinal but mostly for its emetic properties...so hopefully not one that we will be needing along this journey.

Bot and Wise Man 
So now it's a day of rest in the town of Okeechobee and tomorrow we venture towards the prairie lands, where we will leave all traces of civilization behind and walk wilderness path between the Saw Palmetto and beneath the Live Oaks spreading their branches wide. Thank you for following our journey, will tune back in soon as we can!


4 comments:

  1. Always enjoy your journeys, thank you for sharing! Happy Hiking! Paul and To,in

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  2. We too camped at a different boat ramp, one on SR 60...and was nervous all night. No encounter with LEOs but we did encounter one when we camped near a trailhead at Three Lakes WMA.

    Glad you are enoying the hike and the fun encounters with local hikers!

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  3. So happy to be learning the name of my new little flower friends. TYVM. Warmly, Pearl

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