Friday, August 18, 2017
Hiking The Florida Keys - A Walk Across Florida
I checked my map and looked south down the highway towards the Keys. I could expect a raised causeway, about 10 miles of Everglades swamp, and 10 miles of mangroves. It looked like the mangroves would be high on each side, so I couldn’t expect much breeze. The raised causeway is what Flagler’s two dredges built. The railroad was built on it where the highway is now. In April of 1905 two of Flagler’s huge traveling dredges set out from what now is the Florida City area, south heading for Cross Key to Jewfish Creek. The dredges worked side by side with the marked right-of-way in the middle. They piled up the fill between them making a canal on each side and the raised causeway in the center.
As the dredges moved along, rock was brought in and spread on top of the causeway and then tracks laid…..
Why build a railroad to Key West? One may ask.
There were a few reasons. We would be able to trade with Cuba. The Spanish American War with Spain was over, thus the Panama Canal could be completed. Key West, which was then the largest city in Florida with approximately 20,000 inhabitants, had a very nice economy and a natural deep-water harbor. That harbor and its location in the Caribbean would make it an obvious choice for trade from the Panama Canal and the Caribbean nations.
I started off with Australian pines lining the road on both sides. It was a narrow two-lane road so I was on the left side facing traffic. The Sunday traffic was fierce and heavy, but most of it was coming from behind me going to the beaches. Some kids went by in an open flatbed truck playing drums and mariachis. I got hot and stopped to cool off in the canal. I saw a big bass dart away and then some small minnows nibbled on my feet. Since I had left the Australian pines behind me there was no shade, so I just sat there and evaporated off.
All day, as I hiked along, I had to wave back at people. I guessed they didn’t see many hikers. When there was a break in the mangroves, I could feel an occasional breeze as well as a salt smell in the air, not entirely ocean, still some Everglades memories. I tried to get a photo of the ospreys which had some nests on the poles along the highway, but they seemed to scare easily and stayed away. This was sure a long straight stretch. The side of the road was marl and rough coral rocks, really putting my boot soles to the test. I almost felt like I would flake out! Then up ahead I saw a rise in the road. I figured that it must be a Florida flood control canal. It was at least a mile or so away but I poured on the speed and moved out with a last thrust of energy.
It was nice under the bridge, real cool with the breeze moving up the canal. I lay down like I was about to die. After a nice rest I ate my meager rations and drank some old canal water. I was back out on the highway, and in a couple of miles I came to a marina. I stopped for snacks and some fresh water. I had a long talk with some people who had seen me in the morning, on their way out to the beaches. I guessed that is why so many people waved at me the next five miles. They had seen me in the morning when they were driving out to have some fun and relaxation. Here it was late in the afternoon, and this guy is still hiking in the sun!
The traffic coming back from the Keys towards me was solid. Sometimes it stopped, bumper to bumper. Everyone was waving and hollering at me, actually encouraging me. It was like I was a one-man parade and they were all bystanders waving, hollering and whooping. What a time! The enthusiasm just carried me along.