Sleeping in a park in Florida.

When I hiked the Florida Trail I carried an amateurishly  published  thru-hikers guide  book.   I called it the “Hobo Handbook” because so much of the time the logistics it suggested were dependent of the kindness of strangers.     In one town, the guide book said if you check in with the sheriff  he would let you sleep in the park.

First I went to the post office.   I was receiving my big bounce box that had all my maps, trail info, fuel, and other supplies in it.    It was a large plastic bin.    I was also receiving  some other gear and had a pair of shoes I needed to send in for repair.

I gathered my boxes from the post office and sat down under a tree.  While I was getting things organized and sorted, the post office closed.

I put on my pack, gathered up my big plastic bin and other boxes, and walked to the sheriff station.

I was sick, tired, dirty, and my feet hurt but I smiled,  acted enthusiastic,  introduced myself, and said, “I’m hiking from Tampa to Maine.   In my guide book it  says if I check in with the Sheriff I could sleep in your park for the night.”   (big smile)

The guy looked at me with a deadpan expression and yells into the next room.  “Ed, Ed…..come here and look at this.”    Ed comes out and he continues, “She says she is hiking to Maine and wants to sleep in our park.”     They look  me up and down for awhile and smirk the way law enforcement does sometimes,  and I’m realizing that they are not seeing the intrepid adventurer I was hoping to project  but some dirty stinking homeless woman caring all her possessions in  a big plastic bin.

“You say you read  this in a book?  Let’s see the book. ”

I unfold an  8.5 x11 piece of paper from my pocket  and hand it to them.

“I thought you said it was a book, this isn’t a book.”

“I only carry the page I need for the day,  The rest of the book is in my resupply box.”  I pointed at the plastic bin.

“This doesn’t look like a page from a book.”

“Only a few people buy the book so it’s just a self published thing.”

He looks me up and down and then says, “I don’t suppose you have any ID, do you?”

“Well, yeah.  I have a drivers license.”

He tells me to slide it to the guy behind the glass.   Then they run a check on me.  After awhile he says, “Well I guess it would be alright.”

I smile, thank them, and then I say, “Hey, the post office closed before I could send my stuff on.    Could I leave my bin and boxes here until morning?”

“Oh, no! Come tomorrow morning you’ll say there is a million dollars missing from those boxes!”

So I pickup everything and head to the park.

In the park, I’m not sure how comfortable I’m allowed to make myself so I don’t set up my tent.   I lay my boxes all around me, unfolded my pad and lay down.   It was still daylight and there were kids with their parents in the park.   The parents looked at me suspiciously and sheltered their little ones from me.

At night I had coughing fits and I woke to a woman holding a cell phone shouting, “Ma’am, Ma’am  are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m hiking the Florida Trail and I got permission to sleep in the park from the Sheriff.”

“Well, that’s who I’m on the phone to right now.” she said.

Stuff happened all night in that park but about 3am the strangest thing happened.  I heard a  car door slam.   I opened my eyes to see a big man walk like a stiffed leg guard up this pier.  Then he got down on one knee and stayed that way for awhile.  Then he stood up and did that same straight leg walk back to his car and drove away.

The next morning I got everything mailed and hiked on.

It’s hard to be sick on the road but sick on the road with unfriendly people and the world becomes a big and lonely place.   Now I carry antibiotics  because when I’m sick it’s  so hard to have the energy to find a doctor and a pharmacy in a strange place.

Going to Palatka

While I was hiking the Florida Trail,  I got sick and ended up in a motel room in Palatka, Florida.   I was hanging out in the motel, flipping through stations, when I happen upon a show  featuring large women with very long hair and long skirts  singing and playing the guitar.   Then a large older woman stands up at the podium and starts talking.   Only every once in awhile she just starts talking gibberish.  Like, ” yokumah, leakum, radooo, vohalla! Oh yes, Lord, vuhallah!” .    After she was done talking/gibbering the other women would start singing and playing the guitar for awhile.

I had never seen anything like it and couldn’t turn away.

Someone told me his  parents use the term “going to Palatka” as a euphemism for death.

Camping on the Florida Trail.

From reading journals of past hikers, where there were stories like the hiker who was woke up by a sheriff who said, “You get out of here and if I see you here again, I’ll take you to jail.?, I knew I didn’t want to hike the Florida Trail. Still it was January, I was in Florida, and I was waiting for spring, to start the Appalachian Trail. I decided to hike to the Appalachian Trail from Tampa.

After several nights on the trail which including a night were I walked until 10pm on a paved “rails to trails? pathway and after giving up hope of ever finding any woods to sleep in, literally slept in the ditch, I came to a wildlife preserve. I was relieved to finally be in the woods where I could enjoy the outdoors and feel safe.

Looking for a place to camp that night, I eyed a huge oak tree with branches that arched down to the ground and made a magical protected spot within its branches to camp. It was on the edge of a nice savanna, which also would make a nice spot to camp and where I would get more morning light. I debated for a while over which was the best spot and chose the oak tree. I’m glad I did.

As soon as it got dark, I was woke up by probably 6-8 pickups barreling through the savanna with huge spot lights and men perched on the back with riffles.

I learned that night, when you are on the Florida Trail, you need to make camp in between trees so the pickups that barrel through the woods at night don’t run you over. Even still, the pickups came so close to me one night that I almost jumped up and revealed my position. I talked to a hiker who said a pickup came inches from hitting him one night.

Another thing I learned on the Florida Trail, was to sleep like a rat: always ready to respond. There was usually something going on at night. I wouldn’t see anyone all day and then as soon as it got dark the locals would come out with their large packs of dogs, guns, spotlights and pickups.

I got sick on the Florida trail and would wake up with coughing fits. One night I was coughing away and I see a flashlight moving through the woods towards me. I was feeling around in the dark for my cough drops and thinking “Don’t cough, don’t cough?. After that, I went to a doctor.

The doctor echoed the sentiments of every other Floridian I met– “I wouldn’t be out there without a gun.? He warned me about the people that roam the woods at night. He said, “They are doing one of three things, poaching, making moonshine, or checking on their pot plants and you don’t want to meet up with any of them.? Among the prescriptions he gave me, was a very expensive bottle of cough syrup. With a good swig of cough syrup, I slept soundly and wasn’t bothered by a thing at night. That worked great until the cough syrup ran out.

Finally, I just excepted that every night would bring some spine wrenching fear episode and I would say to my self, “Just get some sleep, wake up when the nightly incident happens, be scared, and then go back to sleep.? I also started thinking, that maybe if they found me they may not open fire on me as if I were a road sign. Like the person that left a comment said, “They probably weren’t hunting hikers.? That’s a good thing to believe if you are hoping to get some sleep on the Florida Trail.

The guy pushing a shopping cart across the USA

At the end of the Florida Trail, just outside of Andalusia, Al, I stopped at a little store with a grill and a campground around back. The man there said:

We get all kinds here. Why, once, we got a guy that was pushing a shopping cart across the USA. Well, now, a shopping cart wasn’t meant to be pushed across the USA and so this fellow wasn’t doing very well. I found him some better wheels and rebuilt his shopping cart for him. Never did hear if he made it or not.

He wanted to show me the newspaper article he had saved about the guy, but he couldn’t find it. He turned to his Japanese wife who spoke with a southern accent and said, “Honey, where is that newspaper article about the guy pushing the shopping cart?” She shrugged and he said, “Hmm, someone must of stole it.”

Enjoy your hike but please don’t touch the armaments.

The nicest part of the Florida Trail is a live bombing range. The swamps have bog bridges, so you don‘t have to slog through alligator and snake infested waters and it was one of the few sections I felt safe in; most of the Florida Trail is plagued with armed rednecks that come out at night and roam the woods with spot lights and dogs.

To go through it, you first need to hitch hike or get a trail angel to take you to a place where you see a video on the dangers of walking through a live bombing range.

The video starts with a happy little girl skipping through the woods and then cuts to film of fighter jets dropping bombs and the narrator boasting the merits of multi-use land. I may be wrong, but Florida seems like the only place in the world that would think of combining a park and a bombing range.

Then, in the video you see a hiker surprised to find what looks to be a cruise missile. bomb.jpgShe then takes some flagging tape out of her backpack and begins roping it off. She flags down a ranger, or what ever you call the person that patrols a bombing range/recreational park and reports the armament to him. I never saw one of those guys; I never saw anyone. And as prepared as I thought I was for any event, I had never thought of bringing flagging ribbon in the advent of finding live armament in my path.

You are not to leave the trail, and you are to camp at designated camp sites only, but the trail was so enjoyable to hike, that I kept hiking and would just camp anywhere I was at dusk . Afterwards I thought this rule was probably because there could be bombs in the bushes.

Two days after I walked out of the bombing range they tested the “Mother of all Bombs? there and people in Alabama said they felt it.