The Eastern horizon is stamped with thick pink color, awaiting a star. It is that beautifully quiet transient period between light and dark. Soon a burning circle peeks above the land, and in an instant, it transforms the low sky into a shimmering wave. Walking the grassy levee above the canal, we have views of endless farmlands. Giant plumes arise from distant sugar cane-field fires.
For miles and miles, we hike under the sun as it climbs to its zenith, beating mercilessly onto the backs of our naked under-sunscreened legs. We see all manner of water birds, alligators, and cooters along the way. Cows stare at us. Their mouths are frozen mid-chew, giving them a hopelessly stupid appearance. Evetually, we settle near the canal just south of John Stretch Park. All night we hear fishermen putting in along the water. Mysterious sounds come from the waters that surround us: splashes, croaks, and chirps.
The Sweetest Town
Just before the sun rises, the sky is filled with a brilliant orange. We pass quietly along dirt roads heading towards “America’s Sweetest Town”: Clewiston, FL. The only sounds are the clacking of our trek poles and the crunch of rocks underfoot. We climb the steep levee to walk along the behemoth Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s “Inland Sea”. We’re content to watch Osprey fly and boaters cruise along the canal that encircles the lake.
One restful day in Clewiston later, we’re faced with a daunting reroute along Florida roads up to the city of Lakeport. We begin this task with our fellow thru-hiker Chickee Charlie, now known as “Nonsense”. The levees are constantly under construction, making the loop trail around Okeechobee decidely unlooped. Upon arriving in Moore Haven, we stay at the seedy canal-side Rice Motel. It was that or camp along a busy road within proximity of a prison and a dump.
Reroutes and Roadwalks
We reconvene with the Florida Trail the following day at Lakeport, taking in views of canal-side retirement communities. Fancy RVs with patios and screened-in porches line the gator-ridden waters. Snow birds wave to us as air boats filled with tourists roar through the water. We pass over locks. The operators inside come out to speak with us. The boatmen passing through look up and speak to us. We camp on the billowy grass beneath the palms, watching the sun set in baby-duck yellows. All the while, telling stories and sharing reconstituted meals with thru-hikers: Damfino and Plod.
The town of Okeechobee offers two amazing things: McDonald’s and Golden Corral. We partake of both with gusto before beginning the brutal road walk west of town- another reroute. Coming face to face with speeding semi trucks, while walking on a crooked, vegetated shoulder covered with litter, is dangerous and disgusting. We’re relieved to retreat back into the woods of the South Florida Water Management District.
Greeted with our first glimpse of unparalled grace and beauty. We pass into an Oak and Palm Hammock. Immediately, you have the sense that you’ve crash landed in a jungle. Palms tower above us. Magestic oaks draped in moss stretch their branches out like tentacles in all directions. Cow patties dot the trail and feral-hog digs make the path uneven in many places. This is a trail full of the unexpected -where a dingy road walk leads to a tropical forest spotted with wild citrus trees. We pick low-hanging fruit and pucker our lips at the sour orange.