The Last State (Part 8/8)
Oh, Florida… How I missed thee. About an hour after I entered Florida the hills subsided and the roads became flatter. Also, the roads opened up which was really nice.
Oh, Florida… How I missed thee. About an hour after I entered Florida the hills subsided and the roads became flatter. Also, the roads opened up which was really nice. I entered Florida on October 31st!! I walked about 28 miles that day, passing through Monticello and reaching the intersection US19 and I10. Here I decided to stop and get a hotel room because my friend Amanda Houston was coming to pick me up. We planned on going to Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) at Universal Studios, Orlando. HHN is special attraction at Universal where they turn the park Halloween themed, complete with haunted houses and scare zones. I love going to those things so when my friend Amanda told me she wanted to go, I told her I wanted to also. Problem is, she had to drive 4 hours up to get me. That’s why I ended up getting a hotel room, because she didn’t arrive until midnight and there was no way we were gonna drive back at that time. So when she arrived we talked for a while, catching up, then went to sleep. The next day we drove back to St. Petersburg (Don’t worry! I wasn’t done walking yet!) and headed to Amanda’s.
At Amanda’s we looked up ticket prices and were all set to go (Amanda’s husband Ryan was coming too) but then we realized we couldn’t order the Fast Passes (passes that allow you to skip the main lines) since they were all sold out… This was a bummer because it is hard to see everything when you have to wait 1-2 hours in each line. So after some debating we decided to wait til the next day to go since they had Fast Passes for November 2nd. Because we would wait a day I decided to surprise my mom. Amanda drove me home and I waited outside (I didn’t carry keys on me until my mom arrived). She showed up about an hour later and I scared her as she was getting out of the car. While I made her jump, she was extremely happy to see me (obviously… she’s my mother). We caught up that night and hung out the next day before I went back to Amanda’s and we headed to HHN.
Halloween Horror Nights was fun like always. We hit every haunted house, saw a show, and got on the new Transformers ride, so overall it was a pretty successful night. Best haunted house: Cabin in the Woods. Worst: Resident Evil (which is too bad since I love the games). We left around 1am and headed home. I quickly went to sleep. I should also mention that my mom wasn’t the only one extremely excited to see me. My two dogs Jill (a basset hound) and Diamond (a dachshund) were ecstatic.
The next morning, my mother and I woke up really early and headed north, back toward Monticello. We arrived around 8am and I started walking soon after. I did not have my cart. The plan was for my mom to stay up in north Florida for a couple of days. So she got a motel room and while I walked during the day she would drive around to all the small towns and visit the different stores until night came and she would pick me up. We would go out to eat and head back to the motel. The next morning we would repeat the process. It made things easier without the cart, although I would still carry a backpack with food and water/Gatorade. Every night we would just mark where I left off so she could drop me back off at exactly the same spot (no cheating!).
I have to say Florida really is an awesome state… Yeah I know, maybe I’m biased, but I saw the most wildlife in Florida and the most nature. There were also plenty of nature/hiking trails and every road I walked on had a large shoulder. Walking was the easiest in this state, and not having the cart for a majority of the time made it even easier. It felt like I was unwinding from my long trip, even though I still had a ways to go. My mother continued her relaying until 11/7 when I took a rest day to do homework. It was nice being able to do homework at home. The next day I walked 30 miles. In the middle of the day my friend’s dad, Eric, picked me up and we went to Mcdonald’s for lunch. His job requires him to drive all over Florida so he offered to take me to lunch and drop me back off at the same spot.
The next day I changed things up. Instead of my mom picking me up, it was my dad. My dad lives in Tampa so he was closer to me since I ended the day in Brookesville. The next three days were pretty fun as I walked during the day, ate lunch with friends (since everyone lives in or near Tampa), and then slept at my dad’s place. Each morning he would drive me back to my spot and I would continue walking. I found it funny that one of the biggest cities I walked through on this adventure was Tampa. I always try to avoid the big cities because they can be a hassle, but without a cart walking is much easier. Downtown Tampa can be pretty crazy, so all types of weird people, but I guess every city has a section like that.
I got to see a lot of my friends: Eric, Kyle, Jason, and Michael. It was awesome hanging out with people again. I was able to share stories and also hear things that I have missed while on my journey. I made sure I still walked everyday because I didn’t want to slow down. It would have been really easy to stop walking at this point and just end my journey here, but I didn’t want to so I made sure to keep going. To the Keys!!
Rain slowed me down a bit. News flash! It rains a lot in Florida… But every day I took off I would do homework at home. I tried to get ahead of schoolwork since I had steady internet at my house, and it’s one less thing to worry about. Finally, on 11/19 I headed for Arcadia. I headed for Toby’s RV Park which was on the outskirts of the city. I didn’t get there until it was late but I did make and had a good night’s sleep. In the morning when I went to pay the owner told me that I didn’t need to. I told him what I was doing so he let me stay for free. He also gave me information on two other RV parks in the Keys where he said I would most likely be able to stay for free. I thanked him and headed out.
I forgot to mention I was back on my own again at this point. My mom works ya know, so she couldn’t continue to follow me although she definitely wanted to. So I had my cart with me and was back to sleeping in a tent. It wasn’t so bad, I kind of missed tent life.
On 11/20 I reached another RV park known as Sunshine RV Resort. I didn’t get there until late. The sun goes down so early that I would often be walking in the dark for a couple of hours (Don’t tell my mom). I think I mentioned this before but I liked night walking. It’s really peaceful. Maybe I should reword that: I like night walking if I know I’m going to reach a place where I can safely camp. If I’m just wandering around at night and I can’t find a place to sleep it’s very stressful and sometimes scary. Around 9:30 P.M. I reached the RV park. Once again I was able to camp for free. Boy, these people in Florida are nice! I thanked them in the morning and took off, heading down 27.
The next day I ended my walk a tad earlier than expected because I was able to hit another campground. I decided I would stop at the Fisheating Creek Outpost and then aim for another campground the next day. So I found and paid for a site and relaxed. It was only 5:00 P.M. when I got there so I decided to head to their store buy some snacks and then watch a movie on my laptop. When I went into the store I met the owners. I talked to them for a while and we shared travel stories. They were really nice and now we are Facebook friends. They told me that I could have anything I wanted in their store (food/drinks). Not wanting to take advantage of them I only took a few things but they encouraged me to take more… So I did. Two ice creams, four Gatorades, and three candy bars later I went back to my tent and put on a classic movie. I watched Ball of Fire with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. I love the classics.
The next day I headed out. The owners told me that they had a friend in the Keys that they would contact because he would most likely offer me a place to stay. This was a nice day of walking. The sun was out but it wasn’t too hot. I continued down 27 until I hit Clewiston. Here, I stayed at another campground, but since I didn’t reach it until late no one was in the office and there were no slips for payment. I decided to camp there anyway so I picked one of the campsites out of the way. Since I wake up early there was still no one in the office so I left. This is what I call stealth camping. Not that I was trying to avoid payment, but I didn’t want to stick around for two hours waiting for someone to show up. So basically I just borrowed a plot of land for my tent for the night.
On 11/22 I headed south of Lake Okeechobee. They were doing construction on the lake’s trail so I could only follow that part time, the rest of the time I was limited to the highway. But this night I would not have to worry about camping, because my mom decided to come down and help me with the last leg of the trip. She wanted to see me finish and since it didn’t look like I would be done by Thanksgiving (I tried, but oh well…) she wanted to spend some time with me. So she picked me up on the side of the road that night and we got a motel. We started the drop off/pick up method once more and each day I would walk my 30 miles and she would pick me up and we would eat dinner, and usually go to sleep earlier. That day she picked me up would be the last day I used my cart. I can’t say I would miss it but it did help me through some tough times… It also caused some tough times too… It was nice knowing that the last leg of my journey would be easy.
I continued my trek down 27, then diverted onto 997 when I got near Miami. I’ve visited Miami before and I did not want to walk through it. I continued down 997 until I hit US1, which is the only road that heads into the Keys. Mom continued picking me up at night and dropping me off in the morning.
When I hit the Keys it was an exciting day. Smelling the salt water brought on such elation. I was on the last leg of my journey. Another 200 miles…
I walked through Key Largo, Long Key State Park, Marathon, etc. It had been a while since I had visited the Keys; about ten years or so. I really enjoyed seeing them again. I love the ocean and I love islands so this was a treat. Walking, you really get to take in the scenery. I continued to listen to podcasts (Comedy Bang Bang, The Smartest Man in the World, The Indoor Kids, The Nerdist) and audio books (The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, From Russia with Love). Having stuff to listen to definitely helps pass the time. Not that I needed to really pass the time in the Keys. There was so much to see. Each night, mom would pick me up and we would stay at a campground or motel, which were free because she would tell them what I was doing.
11/28 was Thanksgiving. I still wanted to walk this day so I mom decided to bring me turkey for lunch. We ate in the car and talked for an hour and then I was off once again.
The Keys are teaming with wildlife. I saw bald eagles, jellyfish, pelicans, seagulls, fish, iguanas, deer, and alligators. I can definitely see myself living here some day. Maybe it’ll be when I retire but it will be at some point in my life.
On 11/30 I met Mickey. Mickey was friend of the owners of the campground I stayed at a week prior. He loves taking pictures and he snapped a couple of me as I walked over one of the many bridges. That night we stayed with Mickey and his wife Barbara at their place in Big Pine Key. We also met their neighbor Kristy. We all ate dinner and chatted. After dinner I was planning what podcasts/music I would listen to the next day which was going to be my last. That’s right! I only had 18 miles to go! I would hit the southernmost point in Key West tomorrow! But then Mickey asked if he could join me in my walk tomorrow. I told him of course. So the next day my mom drove Mickey and I to the starting spot and we headed out.
Then I finished. Just kidding… Not ending with that sentence. December 1st provided a clear sky and nice weather. Mickey brought his camera and took a lot of pictures. We walked together talking about life, music, and my journey. It wasn’t hitting me that it was coming to a close. I had been on the trek for 6 months and 3 weeks. It was a journey that had its ups and downs. Hell, I started this journey with two friends and here I am finishing by myself. It seemed so long ago that Tony and I split. I met a lot of cool people on this trip, saw a lot of neat places, had some scary moments, some frustrating ones… But I wouldn’t trade any of it. Around 1 P.M., with 2 miles to go, Mickey had developed a blister and decided to stop and meet me at the end. I was surprised he made it that far. I have a lot of friends who would not be able to walk 15-16 miles. So I walked the last 2 miles by myself. I took the scenic route through Key West. I walked along the sea wall and stared out at the water. It was peaceful. Around 2:00 P.M. I made it to the southernmost point; the famous marker. My mom, Mickey, Barbara and a bunch of random people were there. A lot of people congratulated me on my trek and I answered a ton of questions and posed for a ton of pictures. It was over… My journey was complete.
As of this writing I know I have left a ton of information out, but I plan on writing a book sometime soon. I have finished school, making it back just in time for finals. I am now back working and living normally. It’s nice being able to sleep in a bed every night and not have to worry about someone approaching your tent or some animal going through your supplies. Did I discover something about myself? I don’t know. This wasn’t really a spiritual journey, this was more of a challenge. A challenging vacation as I like to say. It has been six months since I finished and I do miss it. Every time I think about the walk I get a little sad that it’s over. Not that it’s not fun being home. It’s nice to hang out with my family and friends again. Maybe someday down the line I’ll take another trip. It most likely won’t be something like this but I’ll think of something. There’s still a lot I want to do in my life. So I end this blog here. Thanks for reading. It was fun recapping events from my trip. Hopefully I have inspired some people (inside joke).