ECT Alumni Joins Me in Florida
ECT Day 306&307
Day 306: 21 miles
This morning I had to wake up bright and early. At least relative to “vacation time”. I was up around 6am and packed all of my things. Then I saw my family a little bit more before my dad and I headed out.
Once again, we had to drive about 2–3 hours to get back to Okeechobee. This time around the driving was smooth and there was little to no traffic. It was so nice over the last few days to get to see my dad, aunt, uncle, cousins, and my cousins girlfriend. I really could’ve stayed another week hanging out with all of them. It was just such a blast.
My dad drove me into Okeechobee. We stopped off at a Publix and I was able to get a chicken finger pub sub. Those subs are so ginormous and they wrap both halves separately. It’s a thru hikers dream. Then my dad and I said our goodbyes, and he drove me back to the park near Okeechobee where I had gotten a taxi ride into town a few days ago. I picked up my footsteps there and continued along.
It felt really sad saying goodbye to him. I hadn’t seen him since back in New Hampshire on the Appalachian Trail. I think that was in July. He is the only family member that I had seen the entire trip up until this weekend. Being able to see my aunt, uncle, and cousins was fantastic. And I’m really looking forward to seeing my mom one day soon. It’s been a really long year. But at least we were able to talk on the phone yesterday.
I got back to walking and the route started out along a busy road. I had to walk across a bridge with a very narrow shoulder. That was such a classic way to get back into hiking after a few days off. A sketchy road walk. After I went across the bridge the trail picked up along a dirt road. It followed along the canal leaving Okeechobee. I was heading south along the western side of Lake Okeechobee.
As I walked I ate the other half of my chicken finger sandwich. It was so delicious. It had chicken fingers on it, mayo, banana peppers, onions, tomato, and honey mustard. That’s one of my favorite sub combinations of all time. I walked and I listen to music and I thought about a lot of things. It was a really introspective day.
Honestly, if I had to characterize my mood for the day, I would just say sad. I don’t think it’s really anything in particular. I know sometimes after birthdays or holidays I can feel sad. I think that’s just because of all of the buildup and excitement surrounding special events. And then afterwards you kind of feel a little bit drained and the excitement is gone.
Especially in this case where I had just seen my family for the first time basically all year. I just had so much fun hanging out all together. It was comfortable and I got to relax. But more than anything, I just got to be surrounded by family. Now I’m back on trail and I have another couple weeks to go.
It’s not even necessarily that I’m excited or ready to be done with the trail. I think I had a really good time the last few days and I was sad to leave it. I also spent a lot of time today thinking about what I want to do after I get off of trail . I reached out to some people to see about potential rooms for rent. I have a lot of different options in mind but I’m really waiting for the perfect situation to arise.
Ideally, I just want to live in a city area that’s walking distance from bars, restaurants and other businesses. I’d love to waitress at a restaurant or bar for three months or so just to save up a bit of money. That would give me plenty of time to still get a full hike in in 2024.
As I continued hiking along I spent a lot of time with my thoughts. After doing that I began to feel better. Sometimes all I really have to do is fully think through something. If I feel sad or anxious usually it’s because I’m feeling and thinking a lot of things inside. When I bring them all to the surface and I really analyze the things going on in my mind, it usually makes me feel a lot better. Sometimes things feel chaotic but it’s really just a lot happening at once.
Right now I’m feeling a lot of different emotions. A 10+ month of journey is about to come to an end. I’m close enough now that I can really feel it. I know that any day now I’m going to be touching them monument at Key West, and that terrifies me a bit. All year long I’ve been completely invested in this journey. I hardly thought about anything else or planned anything else. I just wanted to live in the moment and see this through to the end.
But now I’m here. About 300 miles to go along the eastern continental trail. I am over 5200 miles in now. A number I never could’ve comprehended a year ago or two years ago. It’s finally time to think about the next chapter. It’s just hard for me to think about anything other than hiking. For the last 10 months I’ve just walked day in and day out. It’s simple and it’s beautiful and it’s all that I needed.
For the rest of the day I walked along basically a bike path on an dyke along a canal. I was heading generally in the direction of Lake Okeechobee. But the western route is pretty far from the lake initially. Once I get a bit further south I think I will get closer to the lake. For now I’m just following along these canals, just out of eyes reach of Lake Okeechobee.
Over the course of the day I saw one biker and nobody else. I went by a bunch of different parking areas were guys were bringing their boats onto the canals. They must’ve been fishing or something on the water. After walking for a few hours I passed a nice covered picnic area. I decided to stop off there to take a break. I also wanted to get more water, but wanted to do so in daylight. I don’t like the idea of getting close to the edge of a canal at night.
I got water and did my stretching. Today is the first day in three months that I’m hiking without my compression wrap on my right leg. Almost 3 months ago I tore a muscle in my right calf. I was up in Canada at the time, but wanted to continue hiking. I wound up wrapping it with one of those compression ace wraps and that helped a lot with the pain. That next month up in Canada was pretty painful regularly. I was able to hike though and the pain definitely wasn’t excruciating. It was manageable you could say.
When I finished up in Canada and got down to Alabama, I was still dealing with some pain from the muscle tear. Even 2 full months after the initial injury. Online it says a torn muscle takes about 4 to 6 weeks to heal. But I was saying it would take about 8 to 12 weeks to heal when you’re hiking 30 miles a day. At this point it had been feeling better, but wasn’t healed.
When I began heading south, back in Alabama, along the Alabama road walk it was still bothering me a little. But in the weeks to come it felt like it healed entirely. I kept the leg compression wrapped, but I never felt any pain or discomfort. It’s felt good for a really long time, but I’ve been nervous about taking the wrap off.
Over the last few days seeing family for Christmas I decided not to wear the wrap. I wasn’t walking particularly a lot and I wasn’t using my backpack. I figured it was the perfect opportunity to test it out. Without the compression wrap on I had zero pain these last few days. So I decided to hike out today without it on just to see what happens. I still have it with me, so God forbid I could just wrap it again. But I at least need to know what’s going on. If it hasn’t healed in three months then clearly something is wrong. I’m hoping I can just start hiking without the compression and that it’s been secretly healed the whole time.
As the day had gone on I was well over 10 miles in and had no issues with my leg. I felt completely fine which was an awesome sign. We’ll see how it progresses over the course of today in the next couple days.
After my break by the picnic table I continued along. I wasn’t sure how much further I was going to go for the day. There was a campsite I would hit just around the time the sun sets. Then there wasn’t another campsite for about 6 miles past there. Tomorrow Trucker flies in to Florida and is going to meet me at Clewiston. I’ll be able to get to Clewiston on foot at some point tomorrow.
Trucker already booked a room with double beds and said that if I can get to town by the time that he’s flying in that I can stay at the hotel as well. So the more miles I do today the earlier I get to town tomorrow. Even though I was just in civilization the last few days it’ll still be nice to stay in town again in a couple days. It’s been a long year.
I continued walking along and at some point I ate the other half of my pub sub. This time I dipped the sub into a honey mustard sauce that I had packed out. It was one of those vibrant yellow types of honey mustard, and it was so good on the sub. This half was definitely the better of the two somehow. That filled me up and I was so glad that I packed it out. I have no appetite for bars or other trail food. I find that recently I’m hardly eating unless I’m packing out something real to eat.
Just as it began to get dark I got close to a campsite. I was completely torn on what I wanted to do. I had the energy to continue along. But at the same time I kind of wanted to set up camp before it was pitch black out. All the campsites that I’ve seen today have been down in the grass off of the dyke. The grass has been overgrown in most places, and it seems like it would be hard to get to some of those campsites in the dark. At night you also might not see them.
I walked by a covered picnic table area and initially decided to just keep going. Then I looked in my phone and realized it was about 6pm. I knew that it was gonna be a really late night if I walked another 6 miles and then set up camp somewhere else. It’s also supposed to rain sometime either tonight or tomorrow morning. It would only be about 21 miles today but I still decided to call it there.
The picnic table was down right by the river. I was setting up my tent really only 5 to 10 feet from the shore. That made me a little bit nervous but I wasn’t particularly worried. I got my tent set up and then the mosquitoes were bad. The timing was pretty perfect. Inside my tent I laid up for a while and did some stuff on my phone. I had gotten a lot of responses from people about possible sublet or rooms for rent. I’m trying to focus some energy into this planning over the next couple days. Typically if I focus energy into something, I’ll see results. I just have to take the time.
Eventually, I got the energy to stretch before bed and do my exercises. Then I ate a little snack and laid down for the night.
Day 307: 28 miles
This morning I woke up around 2am to the sound of it raining lightly on my tent. I had set an alarm for 4am because that’s when the rain was supposed to start around. My goal was to beat the start of the rain and pack up super early this morning. I was hoping I’d wake up around four and it wouldn’t have started raining yet. Then I could pack up and keep all of my stuff dry.
Luckily, I still maintained the same motivation. I went back to bed around 2am and got up again around 4am. It was still raining, but I decided to pack up anyway. I packed all my things away while I was still in my tent to keep everything dry. Then I got out of my tent and put everything under the covered picnic table. All that was left was my tent to pack up and put away. Everything else had already been put into the dry bag/trash bag that I keep in my backpack.
I was content that I was able to keep everything dry despite packing up while it was fully raining. I put my rain gear on because it was a little bit cold and the mosquitoes were still bad because it was so early. Then I got moving just before 5am. I was feeling really productive to have such an early start. I had to do a marathon today to get into Clewiston, but I’ll still be done pretty early because of this early start.
I walked for hours in the dark along the paved dyke. There were channels on both sides the majority of the way. I went past all kinds of different water management buildings and things like that. I also went past some boat launch areas and parking lots. I saw a couple trucks out already launching boats. A bunch of cars drove by me as I walked along the road.
Then I got out to a road and most of the walk was on a paved bike path next to the road. There were only a couple times when the trail crossed over a bridge where you had to walk directly in the lane. Then the bike path picked up once you got to the other side of the bridge.
The sun came up around 7am and it was a pretty beautiful day. The rain had only been light throughout the morning and had let up for a while. Then around 8am it began to rain again lightly. Even with the rain though it was nice and warm out. The rain was more of an annoyance than anything. I knew that I was headed to town and to a nice warm room and hot shower. So the rain couldn’t bother me much. I’ll be able to dry out anything that I needed to later on.
Between 8:00-9:30am the rain got pretty heavy. Originally I was just using my umbrella and had taken my rain jacket off. The rain had been so light in the morning that the jacket was just making me sweaty. But around this time the wind picked up and it got a little colder. The rain got heavier as well. I wound up stopping to put my jacket on. After a little while my shorts got soaked from the run off of the rain coat.
After walking for about 5 continuous hours, I made it to a picnic area. There was a parking lot, a restroom, and multiple covered pavilions. Originally I was planning to go under one of the pavilions. But I actually wound up going and sitting in the women’s bathroom for a while. It was way warmer inside the bathroom. And once I stopped moving, I was pretty chilled from being so wet. It felt nice to just sit in there away from the wind for a little while. I got to stretch and take a break where I wasn’t soaking wet in the rain. I still had another four or so hours to go for the day. I was glad to be able to get this break in in between. Pushing for 10 hours straight would have been brutal.
Sometime after 10am I finally packed up and left the bathroom. I continued along the dyke with the channels of water on both sides at this point. The trail would look like this for the remainder of the day all of the way to Clewiston. It’s kept raining lightly for a while, but after a little bit it finally let up. Then over the course of the next couple hours it would rain lightly on and off. That was much better than it had been this morning so I couldn’t complain. I began to dry out a little bit which was nice.
While I walked I listened to a podcast for a while. Then I did some blogging and I looked through some of these responses about potential apartments for rent. It was somewhere in between a semi productive and completely lazy day. Aren’t they all?
Around 1pm the rain had stopped completely, and it had turned into a pretty decent day. It was still a little bit windy, but without the rain I didn’t mind it much. On both sides I was surrounded by a deep channel of blue water. It was pretty cool walking along the levy in between the two channels.
The next hour or so went by pretty quickly. I made my way across the dyke and eventually crossed the bridge over to the mainland. Then I was walking on side streets until I got into the downtown area of Clewiston. The town is pretty spread out, but it wasn’t too bad. When I first got into town, I passed by a bunch of Spanish food restaurants and bakeries. Some of my favorite food ever is Cuban, Colombian, or Puerto Rican food. When I lived in Orlando in 2021 I tried a lot of different things, and fell in love.
Getting into town one of the first businesses I went past was a Columbian bakery. I’m obsessed with pan de bono, a sweet, dense, cheesy, Colombian bread. It’s very uncommon that I find it places so when I do I eat a whole lot of it. I had seen the sign for the bakery, but wasn’t certain they would have the bread. But I went in and they had some very beautiful looking pan de bono. Sometimes the bread comes in rolls, and sometimes it comes in a doughnut shape. The recipe can also vary depending on the style of cooking and the region of Columbia that the bread comes from, or so I think.
At this place I got some bread and I also got empanadas. Then I walked along the road and ate my delicious food. Everything was so good and I was so happy. Only about a half mile or so later down the road I went by another Colombian place. This one had some different food items that I’m also obsessed with.
I wound up getting a big plate with yellow rice, black beans, sweet plantains, and a ground beef. I was so incredibly happy to have found some of my favorite foods in this random town. I’ve been looking for some of these food items for weeks and haven’t found any place that sells them nearby. There is a lot of stuff like this around Orlando and Oviedo but everything would’ve required a car to get there.
I left that restaurant and continued walking through town. It was another mile or so until I got to the best western. Just before I got to the best western I went by a Hawaiian shaved ice business. I had seen this on the map and saw that it did smoothies and milkshakes. I decided the only way to round out my incredible meal would be a nice calorically dense beverage. I wound up getting a blended coffee drink, which was so tasty. I drank that as I walked the rest of the way to the hotel.
At this point it was around 3:30pm. The walk through town wound up being about 2 miles in total. Ordinarily that would’ve sucked but the walk was really just a delicious food tour. It was great stopping off at a few different places along the way. Then when I got to the hotel I was able to check in right away. I headed to the room and begin getting situated.
My tent was soaking wet because I packed up in the rain this morning. I propped up in the door to the room so I could air the tent out over the railing outside. Then I dove in to the giant plate of rice beans and sweet plantains. I was in heaven after eating so much delicious food. My body really needed.
After that, I took a shower and got comfortable. Then I walked across the street to Walmart to do a small resupply. I was feeling lazy and really didn’t want to leave the room. That’s why I knew I had to get over there before I got too comfortable. I got a 64 ounce mango juice at the Walmart.
Lately I’ve been off of soda for the most part but I’m obsessed with juice. I also got a bunch of uncrustables too. The last couple Walmarts that I’ve gone to have sold Nutella uncrustables, peanut butter and honey uncrustables, as well as the regular jelly ones. That’s amazing for someone like me who has trouble eating anything recently. Uncrustables will always have a place in my heart though.
Once I got what I needed I headed back to the room. I cleaned up a little bit and put some of my stuff away that had been drying. I didn’t want the room to look too crazy before Trucker got here. Then I hung around the room for a while and reheated a plate of rice, beans, and plantains. I’m so excited for Trucker to arrive! It’s pretty crazy to think that the last time I saw him was up in Canada toward the end of October. It’s been a really long time since then and I’ve hiked almost 1300 more miles. It doesn’t feel like that much time has passed. Canada feels like it was yesterday honestly.
I wound up watching SVU in bed and snacking on and off. My body feels pretty darn good. Normally when I take a few days off trail it makes me feel pretty sore. I was a little bit extra nervous because I’ve stopped wearing my ace wrap on my leg. My calf is a teeny bit sore but I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary. Especially considering that the ace wrap has been giving support to my muscles for months. Now that I’m not wearing it anymore my muscles are gonna have to adjust a small bit. I’m hopeful that it is just gonna continue to feel good.
For the rest of the night I just laid around the room. I ate the rest of my rice beans and plantains from the Colombian restaurant. Then around 9pm Trucker arrived! It was so cool to catch up and see him again after not hiking together for the last almost 2 months. I’m excited to finish this trail together. I got to finish the ECT with him and now he gets to finish the ECT with me. We ended up staying up pretty late talking and watching TV. Then eventually called it night.
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