I cannot deny life in the Florida Keys can feel claustrophobic sometimes. You step outside and long for a hill or a valley or a view that stretches to a horizon infinitely far away. But the reality is life is lived at ground level and the amount of land available is not much so you end up feeling grateful for what you've got. And most often the wilderness that isn't water looks like this:
Last weekend Rusty and I were looking forward to a few days alone at home together so when we took off on a walk we had nowhere to be and indeed no one to answer to as my wife is in Italy learning Italian. I sought out a spot where no one was parked and we could amble alone. Spending my nights answering 911 makes me allergic to conversation with strangers and walking the mangroves clears my head.
We started down a Sugarloaf trail that we have visited before, a former state roadway perched on a causeway feet above water on either side, a nice firm surface to walk with no mud after the recent rains. I had an audio book on my phone courtesy of the BBC, a reading of Ben Hur oddly enough, a story I hadn't read since school and the various soothing voices filled my head with no demands except to listen and enjoy. No conversation required there or from my dog.
You'd think it would be a short walk as these islands are small and narrow and confining but in fact the whole trail from the parking lot to the end is three and a half Google miles, as mapped. Out in the middle of nowhere we ambled along together. I didn't plan to walk to the very end but an hour into the walk I was feeling fine and even though the sun was high overhead we mutually decided to just keep going. To the end of the trail...
I have walked the entire length of this trail once before with my elderly Labrador and I ended up carrying her part of the way home as exhaustion overcame her. I had no fear my little dingo would wear out. I was a bit wrong on that score, but we marched along briskly at first...
I remembered the benches along the trail near the end including this absurd one out in full sunshine. I guess in winter it would be less of a griddle but why walk here in the relative cool of winter when you can come in summer, at noon in 95 degree heat?
The trail doesn't vary much and suddenly it ends in a rather uninspired way. You'd like a viewing platform or shaded seating or some other thing (a water fountain?) but it ends abruptly in the remains of a bulkhead and the posts of the road bridge that led off to Geiger Key across the water.
I pointed my telephoto lense on the water more as evidence of having arrived than anything to see. Rusty refreshed himself in the clear crisp saltwater under the mangroves and pretty soon it was time to turn back and face the three and a half mile stumble back to the car.
We were a weary pair on the walk back. The sun was directly overhead and the heat was intense, up where I was breathing and I am sure down there 18 inches above the roadway where Rusty mooched along. In reviewing our progress I couldn't help but feel Rusty would be right to be a bit irritated at me.
I allowed this hike to unfold as long as it did. I knew what was coming and the poor dingo had no idea. However my penance was wearing Crocs in that unrelenting heat and as my feet sweated the rubber rubbed and pretty soon I was enjoying the sweet and much deserved pain of blisters forming on the pointy parts of my feet.
Plus we had no water so I was doing us both in with my insouciance as it were. Bloody stupidity really but it was a mere matter of feeling deprived not of killing ourselves. You would think that humans can't walk five minutes without a bottle of water close to hand. I'm here to say you can walk four hours in the sweltering heat with no ill effects, and not carrying the weight of water felt pretty good actually. I found a discarded bottle with some water in it and Rusty liked that real well. He had two bowls back at the car and I drank enough to feel better. Don't follow my example but rest assured you are more resilient than you think.
We had been out there by ourselves and aside from the boat at anchor all we saw in the way of human locomotion was a military plane overhead. I liked the solitude even after I had out walked my radio play and Ben Hur was happy in old age and Messala met his deserved end. How Hur's sister and mother managed to stay sane after being walled up for seven years struck me as a bit of a fictional liberty, but there we are. The BBC iPlayer is a wondrous app.
I hobbled for a few days on my torn up feet. Rusty slept for 24 hours solid and didn't pester me for a walk for two days more so all in all it was a great success. As Edmund Hillary put it after scaling Everest: "Well we knocked the bastard off!"
Rusty was unimpressed at completing the longest back country walk in the Lower Keys.