Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Three, Okeechobee, The Lake

I'm hungry.  Underfed.  I did enjoy one or two snacks.  A bag of cookies I bought for a dollar.  Three granola bars.  Five cans of Pepsi at a saloon.  Something from a microwave.  So I'm not going to starve, not right away.  I got some calories.  At least as many as they recommend, but less than I'm accustomed to.  I'm an American, dammit.  We're big eaters.  Gluttony is our God-given right.

And it has served me well out here on the road.  I know many survive on much less.  But I'm still dropping weight, little by little.  I'm glad I had some in reserve.  Otherwise I'd be gone by now.  And then who'd be James Harry Pierce? 

No one, that's who.  You couldn't recruit.  Not even if you doubled the wages.  There are easier ways to spend your life.  Forget the walking part.  Just being James is trial enough.  I should have quit years ago.

But you fall into habits.  If you fall in a river you'll cling to the first rock you see.  Though you be pelted by logs and debris.  There are worse things waiting downstream.  The current is strong.  You cannot go back.  It's your own fault you're where you are.  A few strangers look blandly on from the bank.  One or two might applaud.  Some are disgusted; most are yawning and bored.  They all think you're out there on purpose.

I did have a sandwich prepared for today.  I ate it last night.  As usually happens.  There must have been a pound of jalapeños on it.  I watched the nice lady put them on.  I did not have the courage to protest.  I didn't want her to think I was weak.  And it tasted fine.  I woke up well before the sun rose.

With intestinal problems, abdominal cramps and a strong sense of urgency.  It was no way to start the day.  It did get me out of bed.  Better than any alarm clock has.  Alarm clocks can be turned off.  This persisted at least until noon.  I managed.  It could have been worse.

Less than a mile down the road I found a bridge to the lake.  Which is encircled by a canal, and a tall embankment.  It's an awfully big lake, 110 miles round.  It is remarkably shallow.  But it can get lippy in hurricane season.  They like to keep it penned in.

It's a good looking lake.  I tried to take pictures.  I don't think it I did it justice.  There are no buildings on its shores.  Just one or two crocodiles.  And more long snakes than I cared to count, the detestable evil things.

I walked along the top of the dike.  The lake was to my right.  Looking very much like the sea itself.  There was no surf, of course.  But the vastness of it.  There were palm trees and a thick buffer of marshland.  To my left was the canal with a few fishermen.  Beyond that were trailer parks.

And some nice homes.  Here and there woods.  All of it teeming with gators.  There was no one out on the lake, insofar as I could see.  And I was up so high I could see for miles.  The sky was wide overhead.  Blue with very tall white clouds.  I was walking into the wind.

Two miles in I passed a sandwich shop.  I did need to get myself fed.  But it was a hundred yards across the canal.  I wasn't about to swim.  And it was a Subway, so no harm done.  There's another six miles from here.  It's where I intend to have my breakfast.  I can hardly wait.

I met a Dutchman down from Canada.  He was riding around on his bike.  He had all sorts of gear; I thought he was going further.  It would take a couple of days.  He took my picture to show his mother.  She is not feeling well.  Pray for her, those of you who do.  She raised herself a fine son.

Would that my own mom could say as much.  She wouldn't if given the chance.  Or probably not.  We may never know.  I still have some work to do.

I met too three hikers with packs.  Men in their sixties, I guess.  They do this sort of thing every year.  This year it's Lake Okeechobee.  They were just about done when I met them.  They went once around in eight days.  They did not appear to be having fun, but I'm not the right one to judge.

They contributed the granola bars.  It was awfully good of them.  It made all the difference.  Now I'm just sad.  If I'd eaten less I'd be mean.  Thanks guys.

Ten miles on I climbed off the dike and back out onto the road.  I was out of water and delighted to find a saloon at the J&S Fish Camp.  Open-walled with a tiki theme.  Run by the lovely Miss Bonnie.  There was no food today.  I filled up on Pepsi cola.  And a "Hot Pocket."  I'm sure it meant well, but biscuits and gravy it's not.

I enjoyed talking to the people there.  It was a real mixed crowd.  There were proper bikers, great fearsome fellows, in addition to the suburban kind.  And retirees and a horseshoer.  He gave me his best advice.  "Learn to eat snake and for your next hundred miles, you won't go hungry at all."

"Not at all," he added for emphasis, and cackled to drive home the point.  He was missing a few front teeth from where a horse kicked him in the face.  Nice guy.  Really.

I talked too to Gale, an unapologetic racist.  He was seventy-two years old.  From Kentucky.  He spewed the most gentlemanly hate speech I have ever heard. 

His wife of forty-five years ran off with a preacher.  You've got to keep your eye on that lot.  Preachers, I mean.  But wives, too.  It's getting so you can't trust anyone.

Nice fellow despite his issues.  I liked him; he laughed at my jokes.  I did not laugh at his; they were inappropriate.  Sill he paid for my lunch.  Which was very kind.  Only in America.  A hater with a heart of gold.

From there I could backtracked to the bridge, and continued to walk by the lake.  But spectacular scenery goes a long way.  I stayed down on the road.  And put in my miles.  At Port Mayaca I came to a bridge, a great tall son-of-a-gun.  It was so steep I thought it was an open drawbridge.  No, it's just one high arch.  Crossing bridges is not my favourite part of Walking Across America.

There was a good wide shoulder but the guardrail was about as high as my knees.  And it was pretty up there; a lot of drivers had their eyes on the view.  I wasn't consciously scared but my heart was pounding by the time I got off the thing.  I had to stop and steady myself.  I sat for almost an hour.

And moved on.  I always do.  Find me now on a sugar plantation.  At least I think it's sugarcane.  Natural history is not my strong suit.  I suppose I can go over and gnaw on a piece, but it looks awfully snaky.  And there are mosquitos coating the outside of my tent.  Cold weather protocol.

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  1. Hi James, Had computer problems (old one)(not Samsung)(Ha Ha) for 10 days so had to catch up with your journey. I was afraid you might have finished your journey. So glad to see you still going. Never been to Florida. Tried to go there a few times years ago. Would have been with the family camping. Goodluck and God Bless on the rest of your walk. Dona

  2. I guess by definition (surrounded on all sides by water), southern Florida is an island. I have boated all the way across the state, from Gulf to Atlantic, via Lake Okeechobee and the canals on the East and West sides of it. Seems I remember depths of around 10-12' in the middle of the lake.