In the imaginative play written by Sir James Barrie, Peter Pan lived without ever growing older in the fictional island of Never-Never land. Thru-hikers, in a similar way, step out of society for a great while to pursue a youthful activity and live with a childlike spirit of wonder that transcends age. The trail is a place for dreamers. This, however is not to diminish the role of age. Retirement at 65, although economically rational, makes little sense from a physiological standpoint, especially if one’s ambition is to walk on trail for great distances. One’s knees at 65 are not what they once were at 25.
Spending Christmas on trail was a most unique experience. Although I was not surrounded by kith and kin, I was comforted by the trail and supplied with jungle-like views of central Florida. The morning after Christmas, Tank and I woke up extra early to knock out a notorious thirty-mile roadwalk—a section of busy highway (Hwy 192 and Hwy 520) that connected the trail from Deer Park to Hwy 528. In the dark hours of the morning, a police officer pulled over with his flashing lights but he was just checking to see if we were alright as he had seen our headlamps beaming along the ditch. Another sheriff would later inquire about our journey and was fascinated by our hiking ambitions into the Smokies and Canada. He asked loads of questions and encouraged us with a safe and prosperous trip. Walking for hours on end along a roadway with fast-moving automobiles is not the funnest part of thru-hiking but is nonetheless a necessary linkage that had to be walked.
Having a pleasant hiking experience is largely a matter of attitude. A good attitude can eliminate much stress and bring enjoyment to tough situations. The reality is that a hike of this sort is really hard and challenges one physically, emotionally, and spiritually (what Nimblewill Nomad calls the “Three Wise Men”). Hikers all too often show only the positive aspects of a hike, capturing images of pretty mountains and smiling backpackers; the truth, however, is that walking this far can be excruciating.
Taking a nero in the little one horse town of Christmas, Tank and I loaded up on calories at the convenience store having a burger, pizza, fried okra, and ice cream. We set up camp behind a quaint whitewashed baptist church. The pastor, despite being on vacation, allowed us to set up camp on the church grounds.
The days are sometimes hot so “siesta hiking” (hiking in the morning, taking an afternoon nap, then hiking again into the night) is sometimes a beneficial approach. Nights can actually be quite cool, dipping in the forties. Averaging 19.5 miles a day, I’m moving right along and anticipate many big mile days ahead as the terrain improves.
Tank arranged for us to go into Orlando and stay at his cousin Erica’s house. Erica’s husband Chris picked us up at the Chuluoto Wilderness trailhead. After a solid night’s rest, we spent the day in Orlando doing chores, going to a box retail store and REI to resupply and to send off a resupply box at the post office to a trail town in northern Florida (Crestview).
As central Florida’s hills undulate and the trail meanders and bends, I have to pinch myself in recognition of the good fortune to be in this beautiful state. Being dismissed as a Peter Pan isn’t so bad. For there is a youthful spirit that resides in each of us that never really goes away.