By the end of the third day we had covered 40 miles. The sky was a cloudy turmoil. The bluster of an impending front brought a breeze, but many of us were dragging. Even Denham acknowledged, “I don’t want to go an extra step if I don’t have to.”
Stop in Looneyville
Our final night was spent on the outskirts of Looneyville. The quirky inholding has a mix of grandfathered houses, camps and trailers. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be open, Denham warned that the dirt track beside our camp saw some off-road-vehicle use.
Sure enough, the growl of an engine signaled an approaching four-wheeler. We cleared out of the way, but the skinny young man driving and woman sitting behind him, jerked to a halt. “You nearly scared me to death,” he said before riding on.
A few minutes later, he circled back. Stopping right in front of us, and with a hint of aggression that can come from being confronted with the shockingly unfamiliar, he asked “Are you environmentalists?” Our various answers were mostly lost under the engine noise.
“Words matter,” Denham said, after they departed. “Environmentalist is a bad word to a lot of people. If anything, I say conservationist. It has the same root as conservative.”
With nightfall, the mosquitoes arrived. We continued talking for a time, but rain showers sent all to bed before 9. The precipitation cooled things, but still I didn’t need to zip up the sleeping bag.
On our final day, we hobbled along, sore and stinky. Denham showed a sense of humor about himself and his wildland rambling. Referring to Florida’s fabled and smelly, Bigfoot-esque monster, he remarked, “I haven’t seen a Skunk Ape, but people looking for them have seen me.”
We left the backcountry close to the Miccosukee Service Plaza off Alligator Alley. It was an abrupt shift from quiet to the noise and bustle by the highway. In the afternoon heat everyone eagerly bought cold beverages and called to arrange carpools back to our vehicles.
Our route had paralleled I-75. Later, driving the familiar stretch of highway that cuts through Big Cypress, I saw it in a different way. I understood what lay beyond the fences and the canals. Having walked that land I had a sense of ownership, an admiration for and desire to conserve the place. I wondered: If I got all that after four days, what does David Denham feel?