A New Perspective on Florida’s Water… From an Elevation of About 12 Feet

OK, goodbye to sloshing through mystical cypress strands with bromeliads claiming home on all the tree trunks. No more shoe-sucking muck (for now, I suppose). Now we’re looking down endless miles of canals from a height of about a dozen feet from up on levees here in south-central Florida. About 2000 miles of levees in all, so I read on the website for South Florida Water Management District.

According to my infantile understanding of the reason these levees and water control systems dominate the landscape I’m hiking through is that many decades ago, we invading “civilized” humans decided to improve upon nature and the natural ways the indigenous people lived here. Huge efforts went to redirecting and controlling the natural flow of the water in order to create rich farmland.

Many locks and equipment for controlling the water to and from smaller canals that branched off the bigger ones.

There is now a lot of energy and money going into reclaiming the land for nature and eliminating some of the agriculture here.

Sugar cane is the main crop here.

Although burning off the tops of sugar cane to simplify harvesting the stalk is disapproved of elsewhere, it’s still commonly practiced in south central Florida.

But as the hiker sees it, we’ve got a whole lot of time in the sun walking in a straight line.  A stripe of blue water continues to infinity and beyond on one side.  You are walking on a dirt path or road at about the grand elevation of 12 feet above canal level.  To your other side stretches either another canal…

… or perhaps a more substantial dirt road

Beyond the canals are marshes or sometimes fields.  Occasional farms and cattle ranches can be seen.

Sorry, I can’t resist (it’s my blog): not my dinner!

The hiker can spend time admiring the beautiful blue on either side, looking for alligators soaking up rays on the banks…

… or trying to snap photos of some of the many water birds and birds of prey in flight.

Or perhaps eventually listening to an audiobook or, depending on how large a battery pack you are willing to carry, listening to podcasts.

Just when you think it couldn’t get any more monotonous and lacking in variety, the trail on the levee turns overgrown with grasses, the walking a bit more challenging,  and the hiker moves down to walk on the dirt road, with basically views of zip, zero, nada.

Now’s a good time to daydream about that future backpacking trip in the Rockies or “should I get a new backpack for my next trek?  No, the correct question is which backpack?”  I’ve been known to do mental remodeling projects in our home when bored, including what color I’d paint my yoga room. It’s also good fortune if you have another hiker to walk and talk with. It makes the miles fly by.

When it’s time for refilling the water bottles, you need to be prepared with information. Probably 95 percent, if not 100 percent, of the hikers use the FarOut app, which gives you just about all the info you need about the trail, water, camping, lodging, mileage, and your own location on said trail.  The Florida Trail Association does a great job on its FB site keeping hikers informed of possible diversions due to construction, etc.,  and a thru-hiker support FB group is also a hotbed of up-to-date info.

In my opinion, one of the most amazing things this thru-hiker support group does is securing numerous caches of sealed jugs of drinking water at specific sites along the way, about every 6-10 miles in difficult sections.  Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink unless you enjoy sipping agricultural runoff and perhaps glowing an effervescent green that night. No need for a headlamp. A spreadsheet of precise locations and amount remaining is kept up to date on their FB page.  A true lifesaver, helping hikers achieve their dreams.


The sun takes its toll.  Hikers seek out the tiniest scrap of shade or coverage they can find.

Days come to an end.  A series of various simple camp spots are designated and are supposedly to be reserved in advance.  Supposedly. Some beautiful sunsets and sunrises can be experienced in these grasslands, as well as tents dripping with dew in the morning.  Not fun packing up a wet one, but a mid-day break is a good time to air dry it.

Our first campsite on the levees amazingly had a very clean pit toilet, picnic tables, and a pavilion. I camped this night and the next two with basically the same five to six people. We hiked solo the majority of the time but met up at the campsites. Nice.


It was a nice open space, but the ground was as hard as bedrock, under about one inch of dirt. Very challenging to secure our tent stakes. I found rocks to use.

Nice sunset, but today’s hikers also enjoy the light of their lit up screens. Present company included.

Our second campsite was right by some of the water management equipment, which was thankfully silent.


A foggy morning to another sunny day. One of our hikers can be seen up in the levee. I am always the last one to pack up and leave camp but am seldom the last to arrive at the next location. I just keep on keeping on at my own comfortable pace with few rest breaks, which aren’t much needed.

In the afternoon of the third day of levee walking, we came to Lake Okeechobee!  Yay!  Now we were on a higher, paved levee with lovely views of this huge lake, the second largest lake in the US that lies completely within one state (after Lake Michigan).

At 30 miles at its longest and 29 miles at its widest, it appears to be a sea, since you can’t see the opposite shore. But I’d be very comfortable being on a boat in it, with the average depth just nine feet. Funny, not being from this state, I never really gave this big splash of blue on Florida maps a second thought. It was nice to walk beside it, as traffic buzzed by below on a nearby four lane highway.

Campsite 3 eventually appeared, after 18 long, flat miles on our feet. We were now down to just 3, with a new friend joining us. Hikers always come and go at their own pace. This is a private RV park that graciously accepts overnight tent campers. The grounds were very nicely kept and some of the dwellings were actually permanent mobile dwellings.

Our little party was by the vehicle storage area, but that didn’t bother us. Hiker trash  knows its place.

It was glorious having access to a hot shower again!  My last shower had been a cold one at the Baptist church four days ago.

So the next day, we all headed into the town of Clewiston, with me closing up the campsite as usual. What a joy to have just a four-mile walk into town, where I experienced my first rainfall on this trail. Please, the last one, too?

Sweetest because of its long-standing sugar cane industry.

On the way along the busy commercial street through town, I came upon two of my comrades holed up in the covered entrance to a closed-down laundromat, enjoying fresh tamales.  Funny, in everyday life, most of us would never just sit down on the sidewalk somewhere and enjoy our lunch.  I think regular backpacking reduces or eliminates many of our inhibitions.  It can be fun to be primal.

Looks like hiker trash. Smells like hiker trash. Must be hiker trash. (No offense, guys, I didn’t smell a thing.)

So here I sit in the lovely, comfortable lobby of the Hampton Inn that I’ve splurged on for two nights.  I was in my room by noon yesterday and have luxuriated in its beautiful cleanliness, body-seducing king-sized bed, running potable water, and endless hot showers.

I got all my zero day jobs done yesterday, although I’m finishing up this blog now. My body was scrubbed to a shine, my hiking and sleeping clothes washed, my gear strung all over that formerly pristine room to dry out the dew, my food box from home retrieved from the front desk,  cording purchased to replace my previous left at a campsite, and some of my favorite fresh snacks bought (Wendy’s baked potatoes, plain rice cakes, white corn tortillas, cherry tomatoes and a couple of sweet potatoes).  The only time I’ve strayed from Dr Esselstyn’s dietary guidelines was a serving of orange juice.   He prefers we eat the whole fruit to avoid the sugar rush from the liquified fruit, which can increase cholesterol. Frankly, it tasted too thick for me. I’ll wait for fresh fruit.

Speaking of food, let me add this quick aside: along the way, when other hikers were enjoying their convenience store breakfasts of fresh burritos and various other food items I don’t eat, I found a way to join in. Scouring their shelves, I found cans of potatoes, beans, and corn. Bought them, had the cook open them for me, and rinsed off as much of the excess salt as I could. I let the true flavors of the food shine through sans sauces. I greatly enjoyed my second breakfast.  I’ll keep this in mind for future travel meals on the road.

So today has simply been sleeping in on the cloud that they call a mattress, meditating, yoga and mailing a few excess items home, to lighten the pack weight. Tonight I have a date with tv, probably Friends or the Office.

One other chore I took care of yesterday was going to an Urgent Care.  I actually went twice back in late December when we were vacationing in the Gulf Shores area. An earache had sent me in. Long story short:  stubborn ear wax was removed, but a really bad cold resulted in my ears being very blocked, giving me less than half my usual hearing capabilities. I had the choice of bailing on the FT, going home to Ohio and waiting it out,  or continuing with my plan to hike, taking the antibiotics I was prescribed, along with Immodium to counteract the accompanying intestinal distress, especially to get through Big Cypress. I chose, obviously, to follow my plan. But I felt very isolated at times, unable to comfortably take part in conversations and reminding folks to speak more loudly. Things were starting to improve at the church earlier this week, but the cold has intensified again. This recent doctor has me on a nasal spray and something for the throat. He says to give it time, at least a week.

So I’m used to all of this now. After having to postpone last summer’s Colorado  Trail because of slow knee recovery, I couldn’t face doing that again here.

But it’s going to get better. The rest of my body is A-OK, and I’d rather have blocked ears than the painful blisters and knees other folks have. Ironically, one other woman on the trail also has the same situation with blocked hearing.

And so on I go, along the western banks of lovely Lake Okeechobee. What further surprises does the trail hold in store for me?

I’ve heard it said that the Florida Trail is like a series of beautiful pearls strung together with lengths of twine. I’ll take it all, even the twine.

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Comments 7

  • Gary Smith : Jan 15th

    I really enjoyed reading about your Florida trail perspective. I was so ignorant of that area when I crossed Alligator Alley in my 42′ luxury bus, giving great concern to where I could buy diesel fuel. That phase of my life is over. I am very impressed with your hiking experience. I previously thought that younger people were the only ones out there. It gives me hope that there is still time in my life to hike the Appalachian Trail. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 16th

      Gary, I’m glad my posts give you inspiration. Right now, you are the youngest you’re ever going to be. You’ll never get any younger. I suggest you sit down with a multi year calendar and figure out when, not if, you will do the AT. Remember it doesn’t have to be the huge endeavor of a thru-hike. I’m obviously a big fan of long distance section hiking. You get to choose the best seasons for whatever sections you do, and spread out the fun over the years. Whatever way speaks to you and seems most feasible, make a plan! I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they’d like to maybe do it someday. Quite frankly, talk is cheap. Plan, then execute.

  • thetentman : Jan 15th

    Nice post. Thanks and good luck.

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 16th

      Trent man, thank you for your support. It’s going very well. So glad I’m getting to discover Florida up close and personal.

  • Tucker Storrs : Jan 17th

    This blog was randomly recommended to me through Google, and I have loved these last two posts about the Florida trail!
    As someone who is grown up in Florida my entire life, and has now lived in several different regions of this weird and wonderful state, it’s really awesome to see someone discovering the beauty of my home for the first time. I’m located up in far North Florida now , just off the trail by Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park, and it’s truly an absolute gem of beauty.
    Hopefully I’ll catch you out there on the trail in the future!

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 18th

      Tucker, I’m glad Google directed you my way. I have really enjoyed exploring your state in ways I’ve never done before. Sometimes I feel like I’m visiting a foreign land because of the big differences from our state of Ohio. I’m eager to see what still awaits me. I’m already feeling a big sad that I’m nearing the halfway point of this year’s section. But one of the joys of being a “LASHER” ( Long A** Section Hiker), is enjoyment of the anticipation of returning to the trail the next time. I hope you continue to follow along on my journey.


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