What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. ~Thomas Paine
Have you ever been so thirsty that it is nearly impossible to drink?
I didn’t actually think this possible, but this past week, back on the Florida Trail for another spring break, I found myself huddled behind a propane tank display in front of a Dollar General desperate for some relief from the sun and unable to choke down any fluid.
One of the many challenges of the Florida Trail – besides the obvious, like swamps, snakes, and alligators – is the frequency of road walks.
While Florida Trail chapter volunteers try to parcel together more and more sections off the roads and into the woods where a trail belongs, gaining permission from landowners and other entities to allow smelly people to walk across private land is oftentimes problematic.
No matter what time of year one chooses to walk the trail, however – most start at the southern terminus sometime in January – there will be countless stretches along roads, paved and un, exposed to a ceaseless, punishing solar barrage. To say that thirst is one of the side effects of these portions is a wild understatement.
While toiling away on one such section, I made some lists in my sunburnt head.
Benefits of Road Walks
- Interesting views
- No coyotes howling on the other side of your thin fabric’d tent, oftentimes from the same direction toward which you are about to walk
- Strategically positioned convenience stores (like the aforementioned Dollar General I found myself at, two bottles of cold liquids in front of me, too tummy-tied and dehydrated to sip even the tiniest amount)
- Hard (but not impossible) to get lost
- Guys in pick-ups roaring by while honking and giving you the finger for no apparent reason
Disadvantages of Road Walks
- Same view, mile after endless mile
- No coyotes: it’s strangely thrilling to hear these magnificent animals yipping and howling OUT THERE while you are burrito’d in a sleeping bag IN HERE. Shivers.) Also, snarly dogs, chained and un, that charge as you cruise by, scaring you out of your very pants
- Convenience stores, right on the very trail – where’s the challenge in that? – with the only options for a gluten-free-dairy-free eater being jumbo pickles and Slim Jims. No more Krispy Kremes for this girl. Frowny face. Also, creepy guys in the parking lot who ask where-you-going-honey-I-saw-you-walking-in-Ebro-yesterday?
- Loot: not willing to walk by a SINGLE PENNY despite the head rush that follows one of these swipe-and-grab episodes
- Getting lost – at almost every intersection, in spite of carrying the Guthook app which basically makes it criminal to ever go off-trail
- Flat. And hot. And did I mention no shade? And pavement, which causes massive blisters on the bottom of one’s tender, un-trail-toughen’d feet
- Guys in pick-ups roaring by while honking and giving you the finger for decidedly nefarious reasons
Lest you think, dear reader, that the Florida Trail is nothing but a paved paradise, let me assure you of its staggering beauty and never-ending surprises. Here’s one more list.
Good Stuff on the Florida Trail
- Soft paths that go on forever
- Pines, everywhere, nascent and established
- Boardwalks and bridges (especially when alligators are suspected)
- Tannin-tinged, sandy-bottomed streams flowing high and cold
- Fruit of the many selfless hours spent by trail volunteers clearing away damage from 2018’s Hurricane Michael. There would be no trail without these amazing humans.
- Evidence of nature’s incredible resilience
- Cypress knees (Haha! Trees with knees – Florida is so weird)
- Trail angels, especially Nancy and Wilton, who become instant friends
- Other hikers. Shout out to Steps and Flattop, with whom I shared my last stretch of 2020, most of which was on the road. Of course.
- Random beauty everywhere
- Other weird things, like tires in trees and gnomes in the forest
- Sunrises and sunsets
I had planned on walking 100 miles this year on the Florida Trail. I only had five days, and I was eager to get back North to watch the youngest’s lacrosse games, hug the middle guy, and spend some time with The Princess and the grandbabe. While I was in the woods, however, oblivious to what was happening out in the world, a tiny, germ-y threat was snaking its way across the sea and canceling everything everywhere.
They say the darkest hour is just before dawn, and I discovered why this time around.
I suppose I never really noticed before, but it became obvious with the moon full throughout the week: there was always a stretch between moonset and sunrise when all went black.
It was a spooky time, especially when you are trying to wend your way through jumbled swamps, skirting sink holes while looking for the orange blazes that mark the trail by the light of a single headlamp.
Perhaps that is where we are right now.
As this virus rages across our lives, our families, we need to remember it is only the in-between. Like those fire-ravaged pines, we humans are resilient in the face of affliction. There will always be new growth.
We walk through valleys dark, knowing there is a Good Shepherd who has water waiting ahead, a place at the table. We don’t need to be afraid.
When I finally add up the miles I have walked this time around, I find it to be only 98.
Two miles short.
Another time, I might have beat myself up for coming so close.
But there is no need, not now.
There are plenty of miles ahead; this is the time for grace.
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