Mile 61 to mile 79
I wake before my alarm, cold, to find my sleeping bag soaked through with condensation. The dark is just beginning to pale and I sit up blearily, lackadaisically poke at my gear, eat something or other. Suddenly I am treated to the most fantastic sunrise- and egrets lifting into flight, a flock of blackbirds, a gentle warming of the air. I am in a tropical paradise! How did I get here.
My joy lasts until midday, when I have a breakdown. My feet hurt so immensely- I’ve been walking on a crushed limestone road next to a canal all morning, the same canal I walked on yesterday evening, the same one I’ll be on for another 25 miles. Just one road going straight north, sugarcane fields on either side as far as the eye can see. Now and then a white worker pickup, spewing dust. The sun is out, and hot. Water can be gathered from the canal- agricultural runoff, pesticides and fertilizers and things. An oily sheen floats on top.
And my feet hurt so. fucking. bad. So I sit down next to the water and I just cry.
It is a particular pain specific to roadwalks. A hot, achey, burning pain that radiates up through my body, into my hips and my back and my shoulders until it is everywhere, until I’m on fire. I’ve felt this pain before during roadwalks on the PCT- but the roadwalks on that trail are maybe a dozen miles, while the roadwalks here are a hundred. This morning the pain is so bad it makes me nauseous. I take ibuprofen but this only blunts it- I know the only solution is to get off my feet, or get onto an actual trail. But instead I have nothing to look forward to but days and days of roadwalks just like this one. My sub-tropical dream seems to be turning into some strange version of hell. I sit there, looking at the alligators sunning themselves on the banks, the birds doing their thing. I do like alligators. But what have I gotten myself into? Couldn’t I have, like, decided to ride a bike across Florida? Why the long roadwalk? I understand, now, why so few people thru-hike this trail. The weather is a dream, the animals are epic… but the roadwalks. My god, the roadwalks.
I drag myself up, tell myself not to be a whiney baby. If other people can do these roadwalks (I even found a blog of a couple who did the trail in boots!) then so can I. But then the reality of how my feet feel hits me again as I walk along the hard, hot road- it is a pain that will not be ignored.
I decide to quit the trail. This feels awful in so many ways- I sent myself resupply boxes, I flew to Florida, I announced to the world I was hiking this trail- now all that will be lost. But, at least at the moment, the thought that I can quit whenever I want and the roadwalks will be over is just the morale boost I need. Four miles later I reach Evercane road, and stand in the sun with my thumb out. A woman in a huge, shiny pickup pulls up and beckons to me. She speaks little english and I speak no spanish but yeah, she’ll take me to Clewiston, a town about ten miles away. I feel bad about how I smell- I wonder what this woman must think of me, out walking through the fields for no apparent reason. In the car I stare out the window at the sugarcane fields, try and figure out what is important, what really matters.
Clewiston is a small, busy town built around a sugar refinery, bustling with workers coming and going from the fields. There is a string of cheap, rundown motels and I get a room in one, wash the dust off my face and then hobble down the main strip to the walmart, the only grocery store in town. I get lost in the labrynthine store and end up buying lettuce, avocado, roast chicken, carrots, an apple and three oranges. Back at the motel room I eat my dinner and the draw a bath, sinking into the hot water and closing my eyes. What am I even doing. What am I ever doing? What are any of us doing? We fuck up for a little while and then we die, right? Isn’t that life?
I text a few of my friends, tell them I’m quitting the trail. “My feet hurt OMG roadwalks!” One friend, who lives in Florida, offers to come pick me up.
“We can go on a roadtrip,” he says. I imagine myself seeing Florida from the comfort of a car. That sounds nice. And then, who knows what could happen? Maybe I’ll stay in Florida for the rest of the winter, camp in someone’s backyard. Get some sort of job.
Another friend doesn’t want me to quit.
“Get different shoes,” he says. “Stretch more.” I list all of my excuses but they sound hollow to me now, like I’m just being a whiney baby. Foot pain! Drinking agricultural runoff! If other people can do this I can do it. Right?
I fall asleep to the noises in the street, the damp cool florida night coming in the busted window screen.
In the morning I pay for another night at the motel. Whatever happens, I am taking the day off. I eat gluten free pretzels from my foodbag and leftover chicken for breakfast and then wander through town, looking for a place to get my hair trimmed. My feet hurt less today, and that feels good. I find a little place on a sidestreet and $15 later I am free of the split ends that I’ve been too lazy to deal with for over a year. This cute little side street also hosts a thrift store, a furniture shop, an antique store and the single coffeeshop in town, where the only white people I’ve seen are huddled over bowls of broccoli soup. Outside is a wooden bench that proclaims “Clewiston, Florida- the sweetest town in America!”
I pick up my clothes from the lavanderia, where they’re done washing, and cross the main drag to a little cuban food place, which is crowded with locals on their lunch breaks from. I order the lunch special, which turns out to be massive portions of braised pork, chopped lettuce, black beans and rice and fried sweet plantains, along with a basket of toasted white bread spread with margarine. All of this sets me back about $7, and is delicious. I order another lunch special to go, so that I can pack it out- I’ve decided to go back to the trail. I’ve also decided not to hitch back to Evercane road but to start right where I am, effectively skipping 25 miles of roadwalking. My original plan was to give myself 40 days to try and do as much of the trail as possible- I realize now that I likely won’t be able to do the whole thing in 40 days if I have to take breaks for my feet. I’ve accepted this, and will start where I am. Setting out to do most of the trail feels better than giving up entirely.
Back at my motel room I start to blog but instead I fall asleep, lulled by the peaceful warm afternoon. I go in and out of dreams and when I wake there is a moment when I have no idea where I am, what time of day it is, or even who I am. This happens to me often when I wake- this moment where I floating loose from the interconnected web of reality, liberated from my place in all of it. This used to terrify me, but now I cherish it. It’s a sweet moment, and very freeing. I could be anywhere. I could be anyone.
Context comes rushing back in. It’s 6:30 p.m. on a weekday, I’m in a pink motel room that hasn’t been remodeled in a long while in a town that makes sugar. In a land called Florida. The FT is still more roadwalk than trail- There still aren’t any answers.
Some time later I fall back asleep.
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