You may ask yourself: could I really hike 109 miles around Lake Okeechobee?
And then you read about Clifton Moody of Ocala.
Clifton plans to do it – for the third time. And he’s 96 years old.
In a recent profile in the Ocala Star Banner, Moody tells how he started hiking at 88 and has since has walked across Florida and tackled the Appalachian Trail, Florida Trail and Florida Scenic Trail. He usually hikes with a 25-pound backpack and ski-pole like walking sticks.
Clifton, a Navy veteran and retired pharmacist, says he enjoys the camaraderie of the Big O Hike: “The hike is also sort of a social thing.”
What makes the Big O hike possible for most is that it is nine days, broken into segments of 9 to 15 miles a day.
Every year during Thanksgiving Week, the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association sponsors the Big ‘O’ Hike, and it’s open to everyone who is game.
This year, work on the dike is forcing a change in the hike. About 35 miles of the Florida Trail is closed due to construction on the Herbert Hoover Dike, so this year’s Big O Hike will be “nine days of hiking around Lake Okeechobee” and not a “109 mile walk around the lake,” as is the tradition.
You don’t have to walk the entire route. You can join the Big ‘O’ Hike anywhere along the trail for a few hours or a few days.
Hikers who want just a taste of the hike can start on the first day with the 3.4-mile “Wimp Walk.”
One benefit of this hike is meeting people like 96-year-old Clifton. Participants say you will meet some great people, view great scenery and have a great time sitting around the campfire resting your sore feet.
The hike around Lake Okeechobee
This year marks the 22nd annual hike around Lake Okeechobee. Kickoff is Saturday Nov. 23, 2013, at 9 a.m. at Port Mayaca Recreation Area. (north side of the St. Lucie Canal / Port Mayaca Lock along US 441, Port Mayaca).
From there, hikers move counterclockwise around the lake, atop the 35-foot Herbert Hoover Dike. The trail is mostly paved with no shade, so wear good, well-broken hiking shoes and comfortable clothing. You should also be prepared for changing weather. BRING WATER!
Daily hikers should be at the starting point each day at 6:30 a.m. (Day 1 start is at 8 a.m.) If you want to be part of a shuttle group, then you need to attend the daily 7 p.m. meeting at the campground.
Here’s the schedule:
|Nov 23 | Day 1 | Sat||7.8 mi||Port Mayaca to L&S Fish Camp, Chauncey Bay|
|Nov 24 | Day 2 | Sun||10.2 mi||Chauncey Bay to Nubbin Slough|
|Nov 25 | Day 3 | Mon||9.5 mi||Nubbin Slough to Okee-tantie or|
|13.5 mi||SR 70 to Okeechobee via Okee-tantie|
|Nov 26 | Day 4 | Tue||10.2 mi||Okee-tantie to Indian Prairie Canal|
|Nov 27 | Day 5 | Wed||12.5 mi||Indian Prairie Canal to Lakeport|
|Nov 28 | Day 6 | Thu||9.4 mi||Lakeport to Moore Haven|
|Nov 29 | Day 7 | Fri||5.0 mi||Fort Center Trail and|
|5.4 mi||Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp to Clewiston|
|Nov 30| Day 8 | Thu||8.1 mi||Clewiston to John Stretch Park|
|Dec 1| Day 9 | Fri||11.8 mi||South Bay to Pahokee or|
|11.4 mi||Rafael Sanchez Trail, round-trip|
For a more detailed description of each segment, visit Florida hiking guru Sandra Friend’s web site, floridahikes.com.
The hike is free, but you might want to purchase the 2013 Big ‘O’ Hike guide and T-shirt in advance here.
Official Campgrounds for the Big ‘O’ Hike
There are two campgrounds designated for hikers, and shuttles are arranged cooperatively among hikers for transportation to and from the respective campgrounds for the hike starting and ending points. No reservations are necessary, just show up, identify yourself as a Big ‘O’ Hiker and register to camp with the Florida Trail Association’s “Wagonmaster.” Cash and checks only; no credit cards.
Okeechobee KOA — Nov. 22 to 29– One of the largest KOA in the USA, this campground covers 117 acres and boasts 748 sites for RVs and tents with full hookups. (Half of those sites are set aside for permanent winter residents.) This is a full-service resort with swimming pools, recreation halls and even a 9-hole golf course.The Wagonmaster will arrive to check in campers after noon on Friday Nov. 22. Group rate is $30 per site, with two tents or one camper/RV on a site. 4276 US 441 South, Okeechobee, FL. 34974. 800-562-7748. Web site: koa.com/campgrounds/okeechobee
Clewiston KOA — Nov. 29 – Dec. 1 – located just north of Clewiston. Group rate is $22 per site for two tents or one camper, $33 for RV sites. This is an older, more traditional campground with a heated pool, wifi, and laundry room. Clewiston KOA
If you stay elsewhere, keep in mind that you still must attend the daily briefings at the official campgrounds. The briefings take place at 7 p.m. the night before each day’s hike.
Clewiston Inn — Sugar country’s premier hotel. 108 Royal Palm Av, Clewiston. 863-983-8151
Roland Martin’s Lakeside Resort — Home of TV’s preeminent bass fisherman. 920 Del Monte Av, Clewiston. 863-983-3151
Search for other lodging in Clewiston or Okeechobee