“What you doing homo?” A few minutes prior the final measure of twilight had passed. I was now cloaked by darkness as I walked on Highway 19 about ten miles north of Inglis, FL. There’s nothing out here. I was just about to set up my tent somewhere along the side of the road on this muggy July night in rural Florida when the man in the dark truck yelled these words at me. He couldn’t have seen my rainbow Full Equality NOW! signs, I thought. I was walking against traffic, as I’ve done since the police officer in central Texas stopped me to inform me that pedestrians are to walk so they can see what is coming towards them. Up to that point I was walking with traffic at my back. 2,600 miles not knowing what was coming towards me! Well, I knew now what was approaching and I didn’t like it al all.
But he had already turned off onto Highway 121 when he uttered those words and there wasn’t any light around, except that of the stars. How did he see my signs? He was coming towards me when he turned. The equality signs are on the side of my walking cart. The road curves so he couldn’t have seen my signs from his angle as he turned onto 121 either. And when he shouted to me he was stopped down 121 a couple hundred feet where there was another intersection he had to stop at before making his final turn heading south – or maybe it was west? It was so dark. The moon hadn’t yet risen. Just me, some random headlights from passing cars, my headlamp, and my fear. Maybe he saw me earlier in the day as he headed to work and passed me again as he headed back home? Maybe he sought me out? Maybe he saw me in Chiefland, where I started my walking day?
At this point it didn’t matter. And it wasn’t him yelling out of his truck window that concerned me. I’m somewhat used to that. It was the last word of his phrase, “homo,” that was cause for alarm. I’ve been called homo before. As a child at school I was called homo. Hell, I was called it when I walked through Mississippi. But this time was different. The darkness made hearing the word that much more serious. I froze the instant I heard the word and sharply looked up at his truck, the beam of my headlamp trained directly on him. I waited to see what would happen next. I felt like prey, much like the many Florida deer I saw earlier in the day. These unique deer are small framed with big, bushy tails. They were grazing in the grass to my left most of the afternoon. But each time when they heard me coming they’d freeze, look up, and bolt into the thick woods, their big tails awkwardly bouncing up and down as their back legs kicked a couple feet up in the air to help propel them to safety. Unlike the deer, I don’t have a way to rapidly escape. The choices I considered in this moment were: run off into the woods like the deer, say or do something in return, or wait for his next move. I chose the latter. And since his action in return was to just drive away I knew I was safe for the moment.
I knew it would have been wiser to set up camp before the final light of day had passed. But I was told that there was a campground down here; one that isn’t on the map. I hate roadside camping. I haven’t done it since I was outside of Post, TX. If there was a campground down here I wanted to find it. At “homo” I went from curious to resolute. I will find this campground, or I will walk the rest of the 38 miles from Chiefland to Inglis. The pain built up from a long day of walking in this sticky heat, fighting the Florida state bird (the mosquito) seemed like a non-issue now. Just. Walk.
So that’s what I did. Just walked. I stopped a ways past the 121 intersection to prepare myself with the safety accouterment I’ve acquired along this journey. About a mile later thrashing in the grass to my left stopped me. Again, I froze, accessed the situation, trained my headlamp on the grassy area, and just keep walking. Was it a gator? I saw a dead one on the road earlier in the day. Who cares. Gators. Haters. Who cares! Just. Walk!
Then, a mile or so later I saw a light in the distance. Is it another country home? After the 121 intersection I started seeing a few homes. That’s always a good sign that civilization is near. As I approached the light I could tell it wasn’t a home. Maybe it was a business of some kind? Or maybe it was this non-descript campground. Is it possible? As I swatted mosquitos off of me at an increasing rate I hoped at my core it was what I wished it to be.
At 30+ miles walked for the day I am very glad to say it was in fact a campground! There were lots of mobile homes there – lots of people! I found my home for the night. I felt safe.
I pulled into Village Pines Mobile Park and Campground, went to the office and did after-hours check in. The mosquitos were horrific now! I looked at the campground map and tried to figure out where the hell the showers and campsites were located. After walking down a long road of mobile homes and doubling back after realizing I totally went the wrong way, I saw another promising light, that being of the bathhouse. I hobbled over to it since now I was suffering from a brand new blister that appeared on my left heel between Highway 121 and here – a blister that must have been a result of my accelerated pace to get to Village Pines. After showering in the lukewarm water I fought off dozens of damn mosquitos as I set up camp for the night.
This is the time of year in Florida when heat and humidity permeate not only the day, but also the night. I tossed and turned and tossed some more until a loud clap of thunder was heard in the distance. If it’s that loud now, I’m really in for it if the storm heads this way, I thought. Sure enough, within a few minutes the storm was raging overhead. It was now 5 AM. I hadn’t slept at all! All I could think was, at least I only have six or seven miles to walk tomorrow to get to Inglis. I know there is a motel there. If I make it there, all will be well.
I write this reflection from the restaurant adjacent to my motel here in Inglis. At 8:30 AM I rose, my body fully bound tight from the previous day and night’s drama, and fought the pain and another hot day to get…here.
The walk for full equality continues…