Date- January, 1, 2019
Location- Island in a sea of mud
Elevation- 10 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 26.8 miles
Weather/Temp- Partly cloudy/86 degrees
Injuries- scratches over whole body
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- Giant cricket bug, white egrets
Days without shower- 3
Days without laundry- 3
Hunger/craving- Cold water
CatFox Status- Enjoying the ride still
What. The. Hell.
Today was the hardest day of hiking in my entire life, bar none. There have been worse days when I was sick, injured, dehydrated, caught in terrible weather, etc. But from the standpoint of being perfectly healthy, able, and with sunny skies… this was the toughest hiking I’ve ever encountered. Ten hours of hiking today got me only 6 miles. It’s the most work I’ve ever put in for such a small gain.
I was awoken around 2 a.m. by raindrops on my face, but it wasn’t rain. A dense fog had rolled in and saturated all of the trees to the point of them dripping almost as consistently as rainfall. I hopped out and quickly draped my rain fly over the hammock without staking it down and went back to sleep. There were no other surprises.
We began hiking at 8:15, and after half a mile of dewy trail, the mud began to show itself. It was dense at first, proving only a minor inconvenience, but the moisture only increased as we moved farther along, allowing the mud to begin sucking my feet under.
For two miles we slogged in the mud and it was exhausting and monotonous, but not terribly unpleasant. It was an… interesting change of pace, as slow as that pace might have been. Carrying Katana made it twice as difficult as it should have been, since her and her supplies weighed about as much as I would have been carrying without her.
By 9 a.m., it was already in the 80s and miserably hot. There was no breeze down in the cypress and it felt as if my pores were suffocating. Do you know what suffocating pores sound like? They sound like water in your inner ear because sweat is pouring into there too and clogging them.
I had to stop at any solid patch I could find to throw down my foam Pads to lie on. It was too overgrown to use the umbrella without tearing it while hiking, but I could open it up when we sat down. I would let us cool off and drink for about 15 mins before resuming the slog to get another three tenths to half a mile before stopping again.
It was 11 a.m. when we reached what I can only call an island oasis in the sea of mud. Covered with palm trees and sawgrass, we stopped to have lunch in the shade for about an hour.
Pressing on, the trail soon turned to shin to knee deep water amongst the Cypress domes. The water was more than welcome. It didn’t afford us anywhere to sit for a break, but the going was much faster. The water kept the mud fluid enough that it wouldn’t suck you in as often, unless you hit an exceptionally deep patch.
On and on the trail continued to be a mixture of water, muddy water, and just plain mud. I found the least enjoyable to be the mud, and then the muddy water, in that order.
The muddy water still suctioned you in, and every so often you’d plunge deep enough and catch the edge of a Cypress root or a chunk of limestone that wrenched your foot ankle one way or the other. I had several painful rolls, but nothing that lasted.
Now the mud, THE MUD was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, and as luck would have it, the trail was probably 80% mud. With the exact consistency of axel grease, it made every step feel like 5 steps. It sucked you down, pushed, pulled, and slid you this way and that. My feet felt like weighted suction cups, and my shoes must have weighed 4 to 5 pounds each. The mud would cake on all sides, and really build up under the tongue of my shoes. It was utterly exhausting in the heat, and there was no way around it, and no way to go faster.
It got to the point where I could only move under cloud shadow. It was far too hot in direct sunlight, and it felt as if the air cooled 10 to 15 degrees every time a cloud blocked out the sun. This stop and go was arduous, but I was determined not to do anything stupid like push through the worst of the misery.
It didn’t start to cool off until 4pm, and the angle of the sun became more easily blotted by the clouds. I had originally planned to knock out the last ten miles to I-75 today, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I picked out a dry spot on the map about 2 miles ahead, and promised myself we would get there before dark. We made it at 6pm, with 15 mins of usable daylight left. I wandered off towards the center of the adjacent cypress dome in search of cleaner water right off the bat. There was no way I’d be going in there after dark.
Cypress domes are the last bastions of water during the dry season (sometimes). The grove of Cypress trees will grow in a circular dome shape. The trees growing taller as you work your way towards the center of the grove where the water gets deeper. This pattern of trees growing taller within the depression of slowly deepening water forms an almost perfect dome of trees.
If you’re looking for water, look to the Cypress domes. If there’s none at the center… then dig till you find some.
Being the last bastions of water during the dry season, you can count on the domes being a haven for wildlife – gators, birds, bears, snakes, etc. If you’re going to wander into one, you best keep your eyes peeled.
I didn’t see another person, and I saw virtually no wildlife, or no major wildlife for that matter. Before starting the trail I had thought that wading through the swamps would be nerve racking… it hasn’t been. I’ve felt no fear in the water, even being alone, and I would describe the experience as peacefully unique. As long as you pay attention, there’s not much out here that will intentionally bother you.
I was worried about bears at night, but after going through all that mud and soft earth, I haven’t seen a single track or sign. I’m sure they’re out there, but if they’re presence isn’t registered in the easily telling terrain, then it’s a safe bet they’re not around, or they’re aren’t many of them. I saw nothing bigger than a raccoon print all day.
The noise around the cypress dome tonight is deafening. The bugs are singing wildly, and there’s a group of birds laughing maniacally (very human like) every half hour. I can hear rodents scampering around the island and climbing in the trees, but I cant see them.
This place is unique, and I’m sure unlike anything that can be found with a blazed footpath through it. I’m not deriving a whole lot of pleasure from the “in the moment” hiking, but I know it’s going to feel amazing when I come out the other side. This trail is testing me in a way I’ve never been tested. I’ve found the key to be a positive outlook, and not to look at it in terms of “how much you have left.” Simply focus on one step at a time, and hurdle the obstacles without pining over how many more lie ahead.
**None of the videos would upload. I’ll try again later.