During my hiking adventure I had many brief encounters with helpful and very friendly people. My story is not the usual trail hiking book. I traveled across country using sand roads, grass-covered railroad grades, rural secondary roads, deserted highways, trails through national forests, a levee, a coral-limestone road along the drainage canal through the Big Cypress Swamp, and the old road through the Keys as much as I could. I had to resupply once a week in small towns at their only grocery store. Because of this I was blessed to be able to meet a wide variety of local people.
I had to turn down generous souls offering me ride after ride from cars, trucks and even a Greyhound bus! People immediately helped me when I really needed it...to cross two very dangerous bridges in the Keys. They gave me food and drink, boat rides, tours around their small town and information. Every fire tower I climbed, rangers invited me up. This trip showed me Florida’s real treasure…..its people.
Going North to Go South
I guess I must have been daydreaming as I walked along.
Had it been an hour or two since I left the Lake City roadside? There’s the junction 41 heading northwest and the 441 due north, the one I wanted. I headed to the right and started up the highway. Hey! That pickup’s stopping up ahead. I started to run, Ever try to run with 60 pounds extra on your back and just flopping around from side-to-side? It just doesn’t work very well.
I tossed my pack in the rear and climbed aboard. We bounced back on to the highway.
“Where you heading son?” He said.
Not wanting to brag about cross-state. “I'm going to start at the Georgia border and hike down through Osceola.”
“Shucks son, ain’t nothing here to see ‘cept old pine trees.”
I had heard this kind of attitude before from locals on my hike across the Shenendoah Valley, and I had my reply ready.
“Yes sir, but you see I’m from Tampa and we don’t have any forests like this in the city, nor any logging operations.” (It seems that most of us are not aware of the beauty around us. We just take it for granted.)
He looked up, “As a matter-of-fact, I’m cutting a bunch of them now. I've got a logging operation go’n on now, right off this highway. If you want, I can take you back in and show you what I’m doing.”
“That would be great, sir!” and I really meant it.
You’ll be right on the Georgia border but there won’t be any highway sign, only forest.”
I thought of not getting a picture of a border highway sign, but I didn’t want to miss this. We bounced off the highway and headed into the forest on a graded sand road, tall pine trees on either side. There was a glow of light in the sky overhead. Those pine trees had some color on their very tops.
“There’s Benton Tower,” he said.
I could see its base through the trees on the left. Sure enough, my map had shown a state fire tower in this area. I had been studying the northernmost map quite a lot the last few days at home. We turned a sharp left and best I could make out was that we were heading north. He started to slow down for an old wood timber bridge over a small stream.
“Might see some otter here son. They play around a lot near this bridge.” We approached slow and quiet, but I was to be disappointed. I made a mental note, he was conscious of nature around him.
“How about the water in this area?” I questioned.
“No worry,” he spoke up. “don’t mind the clear brown color, it’s from the tannic acid in the trees. Just as long as it’s movin’, I’ve drank it all my life.”
I could hear the sharp whine of a chain saw now, as well as the running of a powerful engine.
“There’s my operation now,” he said, “and we’re right near the Georgia border.”
The truck bounced up off the sand road and into the clearing. We got out. He headed over and spoke to one of the men driving a huge tractor-type vehicle with large wheels (a skidder). I looked around. All that remained in the clearing was a few saplings, a lot of stumps and lots of broken branches. They sure cleared it out, I thought. In the back near the tall trees, two men were cutting away with chain saws. I had never seen this kind of saw before. It had a big 360 degree circular track for the blade instead of the usual long thin rectangular type.
There was also a tractor-trailer half full of logs and a truck with a boom for loading what the skidder pulled over to it.
The logger came back, “How about it?” he said.
“Real interesting sir.”
“Well I got’ta go, lot of trees to cut. Take it easy son.”
I shouldered my pack and headed back the way we had come in. Walking down the road I could hear the high pitched whine of the chain saws chewing up pine trees in the background.