Penetrating far into the tree-darkened forest of the Eglin section of the Florida Trail, I was reminded of something I’d seen some years ago. Sitting on a fallen log that at one time had been chainsawed and rolled aside as part of trail-clearing efforts, I was taken aback to a movie picture that was an adaptation of a book I once read.
In the 1971 film Sometimes a Great Notion, based on the novel by Ken Kesey about the struggle of an Oregon family logging business, Hank Stamper, played by Paul Newman, makes an extraordinary, albeit humorous, statement. As the son of the cantankerous lumberjack Henry Stamper (Henry Fonda), whose family is battling to stay in business amid the changing times brought on by the forces of big lumber operations, Hank exclaims, “Well, if they want this one, they’re gonna have to shoot ’em. Just like King Kong, yuh gotta knock ’em down.”
The unyielding and dogged attitude of the Stampers are evident characteristics apparent throughout the screenplay. The Stampers did not sell themselves short and give into the threatening union thugs. They were not led around by the nose or pushed around; instead, the father and son held fast to their ideals and worked hard for them, despite the ongoing personal cost, family drama, and unfortunate tragic loss.
The decision to hike the Eastern Continental Trail and live in the wilderness for nine months has had some resistance of its own. To accomplish a goal of this magnitude, I have to stick to my ideals no matter what. Excuses and compromises are to be abolished. If this was going to happen, it would be all or nothing and God help anything that gets in my way. In so doing, my whole attitude has changed the way I think about obstacles. Sore muscles, inclement weather, ferocious pit bulls, financial hoops, etc.—everything that worked against me will be overcome and defeated. Waiting patiently for the “doors of opportunity to open” doesn’t sit well with me. I’d rather get out the battering ram.
Speaking of resistance, it rained cats and dogs hiking across Eglin. There was a long soaking rain that lasted from sunup to sundown; indeed, there was enough moisture to soak my every trail possession. Despite the downpour, Eglin was one of the best areas of the entire Florida Trail with pristine pine trees, well-maintained hilly paths, engineered suspension footbridges, and ultra-clear streams. The Eglin hike took two days to complete. The first night, Tank and I bedded down at a point where the trail was relatively close to I-10 and the second night we pitched at Pearl campsite at the end of the Eglin stretch. Not long after entering base property, we ran into Keith and James, two important figures who oversee the Eglin treadway for the Florida Trail Association. These guys work diligently as do countless volunteers that donate their time to improving the scenic trails which hikers are fortunate to walk upon and experience! After a brief conversation, the two men immediately began a chainsaw operation to cut through a trail-blocking tree that had crashed directly onto the FT footpath. Two important milestones were reached at Eglin, the first of which was reaching the highest point on the Florida Trail (272 feet). Don’t laugh, when you’re coming from the Keys, even bridges count as elevation gain! The second important feat was reaching the thousand-mile marker. Although I’d already reached a thousand miles for the ECT by this point, it was still quite satisfying to touch the weatherbeaten FT mile marker. What a long way I had come in just under two months.
After tackling Eglin, Tank and I, with wide eyes and ravenous appetites, scurried into the large town of Crestview where we’d planned on taking a nero. After hitting up a Chevron for hold-over calories (nothing like an early morning chili cheese dog!) and pigging out at Whataburger, we were picked up by Flat Top and Sparkles. The couple are two remarkable trail angels in the area who are themselves avid hikers. Flat Top had thru-hiked the Florida Trail with Steps and told wonderful stories of his experience on the FT. Sparkles cooked us up a delectable BBQ recipe that was out of this world. Overnighting in their guest suite was a real treat and I’m filled with much gratitude for their willingness to assist long-distance hikers. Sean, aka Flat Top for a readily apparent reason, is also very knowledgeable on UL gear. In the course of events, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his feather-light setup with a sub-five-pound base weight. UL is definitely not for everyone but I found his bare rig remarkable, especially when holding his pack with a single finger!
The trail will test a person in deep ways. Like the Stampers, we too, have found ourselves caught up in a world that has completely changed from the time of our youth. At times, it is in our interest to adapt to the ever-moving currents of change; other times, however, one should resist conformance and fight for his values and ideals with cussedness and tenacity. People can walk all over you. It takes hard work and one must remain true to their convictions. Sometimes, the Stampers in us tell us we just have to “bust our humps” and “never give an inch!”