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[ft-l] Another Day on the Big 360



Ah, the joys of roadwalking. Wait...am I crazy? I didn't think there were 
any. But Rich and I have started up the Western Corridor, up a segment with 
no orange blazes to guide us. We left them behind at Williams Road, in Three 
Lakes Wildlife Management District, striking out towards Green Swamp, seventy 
miles away.

Seventy miles of roadwalk. Yuck. I tried to talk him out of it. I pointed out 
how much fun it would be to hike Green Swamp all weekend. But no. How else 
can we say we've hiked the whole 360 miles if we skip the roadwalks?

It turned out to be a magical day. En route to the trailhead, we passed a 
field filled with sandhill cranes. A harbringer of things to come. 

Of course, I hadn't thought to carry the GOOD camera equipment. Just a 
snapshot camera. After all, it was just a roadwalk!  We started the first 
segment around 10am. Immediately, a pickup truck full of hunters asked for 
directions to Three Lakes. Several minutes later, two different cars stopped 
to ask if we needed a ride. "No thanks. We're hiking."

I'm sure they thought we were crazy. I did. Until we started to see the 
sandhill cranes up close. Our lack of orange vests - we were on the road, 
after all - helped. We saw them in twos, threes, and dozens, spinning 
haunting, mournful cries, raspy clucking that echoed for miles. They strode 
through pine forests, stood proud in empty meadows. One called to its 
companions, who wheeled overhead, their enormous frames a puzzle of black, 
red, and gray. Another balanced itself atop a young cypress tree, struggling 
to keep steady footing in the tiny branches.

We leapfrogged our cars in five mile increments, giving us a chance to cool 
down and sit down every couple of hours. At one stop, we sat and snacked as 
sandhill cranes hovered overhead. Across the road, shaggy, wild-looking black 
cattle hid, hip-deep, in a duckweed-choked cypress swamp. They exploded out 
of the water, startled by our arrival. Behind them, ibises poked through the 
shallows, looking for snails. A wood stork stood guard over a roadside slough.

The maps lied. The expected waypoints didn't exist. So we made our own. 
Traffic is light on this road, where there are few houses, fewer side roads. 
No gas stations. No stores. Just thousands of acres of cattle ranches and sod 
farms, citrus groves and tree farms. Irrigation canals provided home to 
waterbirds. A water management canal, complete with lock and dam, looked to 
be a fine spot for a long distance hiker to stealth camp. Signs pointed down 
long, dusty roads to fish camps on Lake Kissimmee. The hum of the distant 
Florida Turnpike grows, until we finally cross it.

We see many cows. Most run away as we draw near. But in one surreal moment, a 
herd gathers along a straight line paralleling the fence, ready for battle, 
facing our challenge. The leader steps forward. They decide to follow us down 
the fence line. We ponder cow psychology. Rich moos a lot. I stop to take 
pictures of cows, and a car passes. We're likely amusing the locals as much 
as we were amused this spring by someone taking our picture as we ran the car 
through an automatic windshield wash at a rest area on the Florida Turnpike. 
Several miles later, we cross the Turnpike-and see that very rest area in the 
distance. 

In eight hours, three people stopped to offer rides. The sheriff passed us 
several times, but did not. A dozen motorboats, sitting on their trailers, 
sped north. Fifteen pickups pulling airboats headed south, chasing the sunset 
to Lake Kissimmee. Deer, too, chased the sunset, racing across fields. Wild 
turkeys walked purposefully around a retention pond. An osprey passed in a 
blur, settled in a cypress tree in the waning light. Sandhill cranes crooned 
to each other from branches of live oaks. 

After twenty miles, my feet were in agony. But we'd done it. We'd walked from 
the wilderness of Three Lakes to St. Cloud. On the road. 

* From the Florida Trail Mailing List | http://www.backcountry.net *

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