Five hours later, I woke up worse for wear. The sun was shining in my face, and the car was a veritable greenhouse, the air inside swampy and hot and altogether unfit for breathing. Quickly, I got out of the car, and walked inside the air conditioned Walmart. I sat on a bench in there for a while, trying to get my head on straight, but I was just so tired, and trying again to sleep in the car was such an unsavory proposition. In fact, sleeping at all, had become difficult. I decided to drive to a park where I would lay out under the shade of a tree and try to get some rest. I stayed there most of the day, falling into various states of half-sleep, watching the sun climb across the sky and filter through the leaves deliriously. I never once slipped into a deep sleep, and I left later that day with only a deep sunburn.
After all that, you’d think hiking would be the last thing on my list. And it was. But after a few random turns here and there, I happened upon a trail in the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area near Kenansville, Florida. I hiked the whole 3 mile loop trail, spying a few bald eagles on the way, and came back feeling all right. I had taken 5 bottles of water, and I only went through one. I seemed less winded probably because the entire trail was shaded under these gigantic, sprawling oak trees. It was nice.
I spent most of my day under a tree in the parking lot because it was relatively secluded; no one else had come to hike the trail. It was around 5 o’clock when I left, and I made my way into St. Cloud. I had planned on sleeping in the Walmart parking lot, but the security guard seemed to be watching me. I thought maybe I was being paranoid, because I have a tendency to do that, but, in any event, I left and found a gas station with ample parking.
I left my uncle’s house at around 6:30 at night and I immediately went to the theater to watch Moonrise Kingdom (a great film; go see it). Then I drove east in the dark to a town called Okeechobee. And I realized how illogical it is to try to sleep in your car in the middle of a humid, summer, Central-Florida night. You can’t leave your windows down because of the mosquitoes, and, with the windows up, the inside of the car becomes a sticky-hot sauna. Sleeping sweaty is never fun.
From what I can tell, summers in Florida are the worst. There’s no point at which you can feel comfortable outside. The sun is hot, the atmosphere is moist, the insects are violent, and the thunderstorms and hurricanes are potentially fatal. The caveat to this, of course, is that if you actually spend a majority of your time inside, Florida is just as nice as anywhere else. I found myself wistful about the preceding month at my Uncle’s: the bed, the shower, the eternal air conditioner, the shelter from storms, and the ability to be outside in the heat for hours and come back to a home where I could immediately regain equilibrium.
After Paris, Arkansas, I drove a bit to a town called Dardanelle. I knew there was a state park nearby, and I figured I would see how much it would cost to camp there. It’s called Mount Nebo State Park, and the road up is windy and incredibly steep. My little car was on the verge of overheating, but I made it up safely. From the peak, you can look out over the entire towns of Dardanelle and Russellville. Also within view is Lake Dardanelle with an adjacent nuclear power plant (reminiscent of the Simpsons’ Springfield). It was somewhat disconcerting to see signs around town denoting the nuclear evacuation route, but, in any event you’d be safe on Mount Nebo. Unfortunately, though, the Visitor’s Center was closed, and the posted regulations were confusing. You were supposed to register with them or something, but since they were closed you’d have to complete registration in the morning. I didn’t want to do that, so I went down the steep, windy hill back to town. I drove around in the dark through the empty downtown full of worn-down buildings, and then made my way to the Walmart, where I slept well.
I wanted to hike some more, and there was still plenty of daylight. I picked a random trail called the Military Road Trail and filled my backpack with bottles of water and a Gatorade. To get to the actual entrance of the trail is something of a hike in and of itself. I had to walk another rough-hewn dirt road that’s generally accessible only for ATV’s and maybe pick-up trucks, but even that seemed unlikely.
The entrance is signaled by two worn-out wooden beams sticking out of the ground and a plywood sign whose paint, I assume, has been long stripped away. Fliers warn of the Mexican Gray Wolves that have been reintroduced into the habitat. It’s illegal to kill or hurt them unprovoked—meaning, if you encounter a wolf your first course of action must be to scare it away. Only in defense of human life can you kill or hurt a Mexican Gray Wolf, which is sort of a catch-22, but, I guess, that’s the risk you have to take when venturing into the woods.