Avid hiker tackles the Big O – at age 96


Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.

Mike Beigel, 65, is riding his bike and working out to build up his stamina so he can keep pace with his hiking partner -- 96-year-old Clifton Moody -- in the 109-mile “Big O” hike around Lake Okeechobee next month.

Moody, a World War II veteran, has done the Big O three times, the first loop at age 88. He has walked across Florida and tackled the Appalachian Trail, Florida Trail and Florida Scenic Trail. Most of his hikes are made with a 25-pound backpack and ski-pole like walking sticks.

The Big O hike is made on the Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds the lake. The hike averages 10 miles for 10 days.

“I don’t know if I can keep up with him. He also wants me to go to on a field trip to Alaska,” Biegel said.

The two men are neighbors in the Oak Run community in Ocala. This is the first organized hike for Biegel, a retired salesman.

Thomas “Pete” Fambrough, 80, of Belleview will join the two on the trek.

“We’ve made the Big O hike before and we celebrated Clifton’s 94th birthday on the Appalachian Trail,” Fambrough said, describing Moody as a “peppy walker.”

In October 2007, Moody, at age 90, hiked across the state from Flagler Beach to the west coast of Florida with a group of hikers 80 and older. “Our group included Ken Smith, who blazed the Florida Trail through the Ocala Greenway area,” he said.

Moody, a native of Pelham, Ga., was born in 1917 and “worked in a cotton gin after eighth grade,” he said. At 17, he tried to join the Civilian Conservation Corps but couldn’t because of the age limit of 18, so he joined the Navy instead. He was stationed in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, and the U.S entered World War II.

“I served as a submarine radioman, first in the S-47 before names were used, and then on the USS Cuttlefish in the Pacific. First we had sonar and by World War II we had radar,” he said.

Moody served for more than 21 years.

In 1957, he moved to Gainesville, where he studied at the University of Florida and became a registered pharmacist. He operated McCollum’s Drug Store in Gainesville until 1972.

In 2004, when Moody was 85, his wife of 66 years, Odessa, passed away. At age 88, he decided to “try hiking.” He soon moved to Ocala to be near family members and began hiking in earnest.

“My doctor said I had no structural damage, and some trouble I had with one leg never reoccurred after I started hiking,” he said.

“I walked on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Once, on a break, some other hikers thought I was injured and I was ‘rescued’ by a group,” he said with a smile.

About five years ago, Moody met his second wife, Lucille, through friends.

“I’m very happy for him, but I don’t join in the hiking. My walk is about out to the mailbox,” Lucille said.

Paul McCathan, 78, and Rudy Chop, 86, recently joined Moody at Oak Run for a friendly game of pool.

“He is an inspiration to us,” McCathan said.

Chop described Moody as a hard worker with a fantastic memory.

Moody’s daughter, Linda Howlett, of Pickens, SC, said she admires her dad for having a “never quit” outlook.”

“I believe he set an age record in his first Big O hike and he may be trying to maintain that. Although he’s getting a little delicate, he’s still like the Energizer bunny,” Howlett, 66, said.

Lucille Moody has volunteered with Hospice of Marion County for about 15 years and Clifton Moody for about six. “My dad wanted to give back after hospice helped when my mother passed away,” Howlett said.

The Big O hike starts Nov. 23 at Pahokee, with a stop in Clewiston for a Thanksgiving dinner, and then wraps up back near Pahokee on Dec. 1.

There is a shortened “wimp walk” at the start of the event and “no backpack necessary” group camping arrangements and hotels available.

“The hike is also sort of a social thing,” Moody said.

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