Date- December 30, 2018
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 7 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 7 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 7 miles
Weather/Temp- Clear/low 80s
Pain level- Zero
Wildlife encounters- Alligators, Birds, Lizards, giant cricket bug
Days without shower- 1
Days without laundry- 1
CarFox Status- Peachy
And thus it began. I left Palm Bay this morning with my little sister Lyndsey to drive the three and a half hours further south to the Big Cypress National Preserve, Oasis Welcome Center – a little ways west of Miami and east of Everglades City.
Being a National Preserve, nobody was working due to the govt shutdown, but that didn’t stop the hordes of snowbirds from crawling all over the gangplanks overlooking a canal full of gators. The timing was perfect, as there were no federal employees who could give me grief about taking my blind, eyeless dog into the gator infested swamps on foot. Yay government shutdowns!
After snapping a picture next to the monument at the southern terminus, the CatFox and I were hiking by 1:30pm – a late start, but I was happy to finally be on trail all the same.
I let Katana hike about a mile and a half on her own today. Sometimes leading, and sometimes following on my heels or slightly further back. She did wonderfully when the trail was smooth and relatively clear – but excess undergrowth, limestone rocks, and small blow downs proved to be quite the challenge for a blind dog. She could navigate them, but it was slow. Under normal circumstances, I would have given her the time to figure it out and build up her confidence even more, but the circumstances were far from normal, especially by Florida standards.
Winter is considered the dry season in Florida, but even then, there is usually a lot of water on trail in the form of swamps, puddles, Cypress domes, and lagoons. This winter in south Florida has been especially dry, and there isn’t any water on the trail for the first 22 miles. That’s even longer than the first dry stretch on the PCT in the SoCal desert!
I only brought 5 liters of water to start off, so we needed to be at the first water source before the end of the second day. That means we need to hike my pace, not blind CatFox pace until we reach the lands of plenty.
As you might imagine, the trail was flat, as well as a mighty 10 feet above sea level. However, what it lacked in elevation diversity, it made up for in 80 degree heat and suffocating, tropical humidity. I was raised in this humidity, and so was Katana, so I say “Bring it on!”
Oh, Florida brought “it.” To compliment the saturated air, we had a plethora of overgrowth, undergrowth, and no shortage of minor blow downs hear and there. The only catch is… about 50% of all Florida plant life has thorns, saw tooth edges, spikes, or otherwise abrasive edges. I was cut from head to toe by the end of the first hour. A few bled, but most were just deep enough to sting when the sweat touched them, but not much else.
The views were reduced to whatever was immediately in front of me, or to whatever I could see through the barren Cypress and skinny pine trees that pepper the landscape. For the most part, everything feels very close on this trail. There’s no vantage points – you’re really just down in “the shit” all the time.
Nothing truly exceptional happened during the 7 mile hike out of Oasis. I didn’t see another soul, and nothing bigger than a lizard or a bird. I suppose I could have taken pictures of the dozens of gators at Oasis, but I’ll be damned if my first gator pic of this trail is of a “Visitor Center gator.” I wanna see the man eaters in a middle of nowhere swamp!
We took it slow and finished up the 7 miles a little after 5pm. It’s nice to feel the heat abating as I hang in my hammock between two large pines amongst a throng of palmettos.
No water on the trail so far, but from what I’ve read online from people ahead of us, we should be hitting a stretch of ankle to knee deep mud and water that will go on for 3 to 4 miles. I’ve never hiked in anything like that for that far. I can’t say I’m excited about it, but I’m curious for the new experience.
The trail so far isn’t what I’d call hard, but I also wouldn’t call it easy. It’s simply different, and I haven’t gone far enough to uncover all of its challenges and punishments. If what we’ve hiked so far had been under a shallow sea of water and mud like it has been in past years… then this would undoubtedly be a living nightmare of a trail. So far… we’re lucky.
I’d really like to make some friends out here to break up the monotony that this hike will surely be. Sadly, I know this is a trail which most people try to finish as quickly as possible. With the added dynamic of carrying Katana while also letting her hike on her own (when practical)… I fear our pace won’t jive with any future hikers we meet. I suspect this will be a lonely eight to ten weeks – but who knows…