There is an old but often-heard fable that came up one day while Tank and I were walking on the trail. It’s a parable for life in general but especially meaningful for hikers—the one about the tortoise and the hare. Tank humorously, but in a most pointed way, compared himself to a tortoise that just “plods along” on trail. Of course the slow-crawling tortoise is racing against an overconfident hare who, in an act of self-assurance, falls fast asleep while still sure he would win the race. The tortoise, however, paces slowly but steadily ahead and perseveres to the end and wins the race.
The moral is that acting slowly and steadily can produce more favorable results than acting quickly and carelessly. On trail, there are many “speed hikers” who preoccupy themselves only with making miles; yet in a long-distance context, consistency and perseverance is what makes the difference in the end. Admittedly, I have hare-ish tendencies and, in that regard, Tank and I make a good team keeping each other in check. It’s not a race to Canada but consistent daily goals matter as do efficient town stops. That is why I have basically abolished zero days (“zeroes”) in favor of near-zero days (“neroes”). This allows for sufficient rest and access to town resources while still putting in some miles such that my daily average does not drop in any significant way. Call it the “speedy tortoise effect.”
Walking upon crunchy oak leaves, I arrived at Iron Bridge shelter, perhaps one of the novelest shelters on the FT. Although I did not spend the night at the shelter, preferring my own tent instead, it did provide an opportunity for afternoon rest. Going through much state property, there were numerous opportunities to enjoy shade structures with picnic tables and flush toilets. After hiking through Etonian Creek State Forest and checking out a stone structure built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Tank and I ran into a lovely couple from Maine who had driven down to Florida with their kids in a modified school bus (“schoolie”). They offered trail magic to us, including Hershey chocolate candy bars and marshmallows. This was of course accepted without reluctance!
Much of the resupplying on the FT has been done in fueling stations. With some creativity and the willingness to eat food from under a heat lamp, it’s definitely possible to survive, albeit with a Little Debbie sugar high! After passing through the quaint town of Hampton, we eventually arrived at the small town of Lake Butler. Some locals filled me in that there was a major federal prison here and that sometimes the inmates break out. There is a death row here as Florida recognizes the death penalty for tried hardened criminals. Lake Butler was a fine place to Nero and I was afforded the opportunity to clean filthy hiker clothes at the laundromat and resupply at the IGA. The town hall in Butler is definitely hiker-friendly, opening it’s doors for hot showers.
This section also had remarkable woodsy views as we penetrated deep into Osceola National Forest. There is a field of Civil War historical interest called Olustee Battlefield Site that the trail goes by. After crossing I-10, it felt as the though I was in the northern reaches of the state; however, the trail would turn sharply west through the panhandle. Finally, Tank and I made it to the hiker-famous Milton’s camp store, which has a screened-in restaurant out back. It was here that we met up with three other FT thru-hikers—Jesse, Whiskey, and Skittles. Like the wild hogs of Florida, we consumed calorically-dense food without a crum left on our plates! A pint of slow-turned cookies-and-cream ice cream finished my meal off.
Without forewarning, I was about to enter the Deep South and experience a region of the country I knew little about. Ignorance, however, is not so bad so long as one is willing to learn and grow with an inquisitive mind and heart for our fellow man.
Well I need to keep on keeping on if I want to get through Florida. A tortoise needs to remain in motion.