Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Hiking Across Florida

Hiking Across Florida


When I was growing up in Florida, “Beach Week” was a time-honored week off to swim, ski, sunbathe, and play before that summer job began or the packing got underway for college. Of late, it’s been noted in some circles as more of a drinking party mixed with drugs and sex, but in the late sixties and early 1970’s, it was a week for seventeen and eighteen year olds to breathe in summer and be free of work or school.  

 

In June of 1970, after the high school seniors had walked the graduation corridor and the juniors were gearing up for their senior year, a group of six friends gathered for their version of “Beach Week.” All boys.

 

Three of the boys graduated that year. The other three were about to enter their senior year at George D. Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Florida. They could do as many of my friends did and drive to a West Coast beach a few times during the week, but the family of one of the boys owned a vacation cabin on a canal leading to a large lake north of Tampa. A getaway. A place where the boys could take a boat out and ski all day long. They could fish if they liked, play cards in the evening, or simply “hang out.” 

 

After a few days of “all guys” the six decided it would be fun to check out some of the girls at a beach. Not a west coast beach near them. They decided the real fun would be to drive to Daytona Beach on the other coast. That’s where the kids with money headed. It was an easy two or three hour drive. The boys were dressed in “cut-offs” and no shoes. A couple of the guys donned t-shirts. Between the six, they had enough money for gas and lunch.

 

The day started out great. 

Six guys in a ’66 four speed GTO. 

A cool car at Daytona Beach.

 

They cruised the strip along the beach looking at cute girls. They got out to swim in the ocean a couple of times, stopped for a hamburger and late in the day headed back home. At least that was the plan.

 

I-95 was a new interstate at the time. They were close to the exit for Highway 44 West when the transmission went out in the GTO. Not cool. 

 

This was long before cell phones. Not that they were terribly interested in calling home for help. That was sure to involve questions and a lecture of some sort. So they set out on foot. 

 

Once on Highway 44 they hoped to catch a ride back across the state to Floral City. Not many drivers were interested in picking up a rag tag group of boys. So they walked. Eventually, they split into pairs, figuring they might have a better chance of catching a ride that way. That strategy met with some success, but as the day waned, so did the rides. 

 

The boys kept walking. They were about 2/3 of the way along the highway leading west to Inverness and eventually to Floral City when a kind man picked up the last two hikers. The boys waved at their friends as they rode past them. Two of the six told me how at first they were miffed when those guys flew by waving. 

 

It was getting late. Darkness was on them all. The man dropped the two lucky riders off in Floral City. They trekked along the dirt road then swam across a canal at night to get to the house. 

 

The two lucky travelers grabbed the keys to one of the other cars and headed back for their friends. 

 

It was a trip to remember. 

 

Those six boys grew to be strong men. Each has told and retold the story of how they hiked across the state of Florida. I, myself, have heard that story often. I’ve heard it shared as an example of perseverance. I’ve heard it shared as a story of friendship.

 

The story is one of connection and inspiration. It is a story that helped shape two special men in life. You see, my late husband, Tom, and my husband, Mike, were friends. 

 

Tom and Mike. Friends who hiked together across Florida on a late summer night in 1970.



  

10 comments:

  1. Great story! I could envision their steps getting back home and the countryside they traveled. I thoroughly enjoy reading these stories and to think we now live in Inverness where they traveled through getting back home.

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  2. Did they have shoes on…I hope?

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    1. That would be a "no." They had no shoes and only a couple of them had t-shirts! A tougher breed I guess...

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  3. Great story, thank hanks for sharing!

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    1. Glad you liked it! It is one of those stories that the guys leaned in to whenever they were facing a challenge. One of those "If I did that, I can do anything" experiences.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this amazing story! Your writing is impeccable!

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