Florida trail, day three: hello roadwalk

December 15
Mileage 30
Mile 31 to mile 61

Roadwalking. Roadwalking happens. Roadwalking is a real thing, on most (all?) long trails but especially on this one. So… roadwalking. It’s hot, it hurts my feet. There isn’t any shade. And there are so many different kinds of roads to walk on- dirt roads! Gravel roads! Pavement! The people passing by in their cars stare out the windows at me- what sort of a person am I, and what am I doing in this corner of the world? The enchanted swamp that I waded through is not here; that swamp has been drained. Instead I find farmland, conevenience stores, asphalt. I think about the concept of a “Florida Trail” when so much of at least this part of the state is naturally swamp. And swamp, I don’t think, was meant to be walked on. Maybe in a boat. But not on foot. It was really cool to see all those wild secret swamp places, but walking in the swamp felt ridiculous. Sloshing down the “trail”, thinking- why is this so difficult? Am I doing this wrong?

So, roadwalking today. It’s hot, and I stop midday at Billie Swamp Safari Cafe for fried gator. There are people on ATVs tooling around, some alligators in a pen. I spread my damp sleeping bag and tent out on the grass in front of the cafe like that’s a normal thing to do. Inside, the waitress stares at me- my white shirt is filthy and she can’t figure out what my deal is. The fried alligator I order is so breaded it could be anything- fried racoon, fried shoe rubber. Still, it tastes good.

Back on the hot road. I’m walking through the Seminole Indian reservation- big nice houses, teenagers ripping by on ATVs. Then I leave the buildings behind and follow a gravel road along a canal as the sun sets. Cows gather in the dusk on the other side of a wire fence. Soon it’s just me and the milky way, stars reflecting off the still water, smell of manure, rustle of creatures going about their evening business. In the dark of the cow fields I can see the wink of fireflies; from the water comes the chorus of frogs. I am simultaneously lonely and overwhelmed with the peacefulness of it all, and as the dark deepens I feel my anxiety from the long day on the hot road drop away. The gravel road and canal leave the cowfields and I follow them into an immense expanse. There are waterways on both sides of the road now, great birds lifting into flight as I pass, silouhetted against a lighter dark. The gentle plop! of alligators and other creatures as they drop into the water. I know it’s a canal and I know the swamp has been drained but my god, I can’t believe the number of animals here.

I stealth camp in the mown stretch of green below the road, on the bank of the water. I don’t feel lonely anymore; I feel suspended in a web of everything, none of it hostile. The animals are having a party and I’m invited; I can sleep, if I like, no-one will bother me.

Photos on instagram