Now I don’t believe in luck per se but I count myself as one who has been fortunate in numerous situations over the years.
I have made it past wilderness areas just before they were set ablaze. On a previous long-distance hike of the PCT, I was able to pass through high Sierra mountains when snow levels were just the right conditions for a hiker to get through so as not having to divert around. I have visions—albeit humorous—of everything behind me blowing up in a fiery ball where I just narrowly manage to get through, something out of a far-fetched MacGyver episode! The point is that it seems each trail presents some noticeable level of favorability; but then again, I’m a glass-full kind of person. There are positives all around but one must take notice and conduct himself with an appreciative attitude.
Just before I-75 came into view, a trail angel contacted me and promptly informed me that Big Cypress Seminole Reservation had just reopened. This came as surprising but wonderful news. Prior to this, the reservation was closed for an extensive period of time due to COVID and thru-hikers were having to bypass the reservation altogether. Although this would not be “skipping” mileage since there was no alternate route in place, it was nonetheless a unique ten-mile stretch of trail that went unhiked for many. As for me, the same day that I was to arrive at the rendezvous point to go around the tribal lands was when I received word that I would be able to go through. And that’s just what I did with a permit having already been obtained from the tribe. The reservation itself was actually quite nice and had all the features that one may find in a little American town. It was clean and had a fresh feel that was inviting to passersby. There are a number of newly constructed buildings, among them the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum, which tells the historical story of the Seminole people.
Everyone that I interacted with on the reservation was amiable, although I did have a dog come off some guy’s property and chase after me. I was able to de-escalate the situation by employing a technique with dogs that I have been perfecting since my days as a paperboy! Basically for dog encounters on trail: 1) never lock eyes with the animal (pretend the furious creature doesn’t exist), 2) cross the street immediately (this throws off the animal because it is outside it’s territorial zone), 3) place trekking poles in defensive position between hiker and dog, and 4) have pepper spray drawn and ready for nose squirt to the dog). If you don’t have trekking poles or pepper spray and none of the four steps above work, run!
For lunch I ate at Big Cypress Landing and consumed a fully-loaded double beef burger. Hiker hunger is kicking in okay. At least I don’t feel guilty because I’ll work off all those calories by the end of the day! The place also had Seminole art, which was enjoyable to observe while my Anker PowerCore battery packs were charging. After refilling my Smart water bottles in the men’s room, I resumed my hike on the roadway through the reservation, then walking alongside a canal.
The remainder of the hike from Seminole up to Lake Okeechobee involved walking through and around sugarcane fields. Not having spent much time in the south, I had never experienced such a deep sweet smell before in my life. When the agricultural workers are ready to harvest the crop, they burn off the fields such that the plant is reduced to the sugar stalk. Agricultural fires were ubiquitous, a unique site for a westerner or one who is unacquainted with southern farming practices.
Since there were not many places to stealth camp that were both out of site and away from the noise of machinery, I decided to crank out the miles and ended up with a 34-mile day just outside of Clewiston—the longest day on trail thus far. Hiking well into the dark, I called Crooked Hook RV Park and the campground host graciously accommodated me at the last minute with a tent site. After showering and washing my dirt-covered clothes in the campground’s laundry facility, I lay in my tent exhausted but knowing I had a productive day—I had made it to Lake Okeechobee!