Date- January 3, 2019
Location- Oasis Campground on Seminole Reservation
Elevation- 20 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 17.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 47.9 miles
Weather/Temp- upper 80s, overcast, light scattered rain
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- flyin high
Wildlife encounters- Turkey buzzards, Alligators, Snowy egrets, ospreys, hawks
Days without shower- 5
Days without laundry- 5
Hunger/craving- More Indian Tacos!
CatFox Status- Trooper!!
Today wasn’t the most exciting hiking, but was by far my favorite day yet. Last night I stayed at the rest stop until about 8pm before even thinking about camping arrangements. I walked about 100 yards towards the trees, then looked back at the perfectly good pavilions at the massive rest stop and thought to myself… “I bet they don’t pay anyone enough to care about somebody hanging a hammock under one of those pavilions…” So I went back and hung my hammock between the massive wooden posts holding up the roof.
Gi-Jo says the best place to hide is in plain sight. If I look like I’m supposed to be somewhere, chances are people will think I’m supposed to be there. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone could ask me to leave and then I’d leave. Worst case scenario I’d get arrested or stabbed by some interstate serial killer. I liked my all around odds.
Aside from one man talking loudly on a cell phone right next to me around 11pm, and the odd, super loud semi- truck pulling in… it was a peaceful night. When I awoke at 7 am, one of the rest stop employees was watering the plants next to my pavilion. Just as I suspected… he was paid to worry about plants, not hammocks.
We started walking around 8 am and left Alligator alley behind us. We walked along a slough full of gators for 5 miles, but I never got any good pictures. Their slides were everywhere, and whenever we got close enough for a picture, they would submerge themselves. Had it been later in the day, they might have been on the trail sunning themselves. That would have been a treat.
At 5 miles I met my first fellow thru hiker. A 55 year old Triple Crowner named Steve. He had done the AT in 1999, the PCT in 2000, and the CDT in 2006 and 2013. He was a former farmer of 18 years from Pennsylvania and had got a wild hair to hike the Florida Trail this year after 6 years off from long distance hiking. He was actually more of a long distance paddler than hiker, and had done numerous paddling trips thru famous bodies of water.
Steve and I took a snack break together, and he immediately fell in love with Katana. His exact words were… “Wow, she’s really endearing.”
We hiked together the rest of the day in a haze of nonstop conversation. It really helped to break up the monotony of the flat ground and brutal heat.
Eight miles into the day, we crossed onto the Seminole Indian Reservation. We walked a few miles on a gravel road before stopping under the shade of a palm tree near a bridge spanning a brown slough of water.
There was a group of about a dozen natives around the bridge doing some fishing, and we greeted them as we walked by, before sitting under the palm.
After several minutes, one of the men and two of his (I assume) daughters approached us holding 10 ft long gigs. If you don’t know what a gig is, it basically looks like a barbed trident on the end of a long wooden or aluminum pole. I’ve done a lot of flounder and stingray gigging back home, so I was familiar.
“What are ya giggin’?” I asked as they approached. “Gar fish,” said the man. “That’s awesome!” I replied. “I’d rather be doing that then walking in this heat!”
“Ya’ll are doing the Florida Trail?” He asked. “Yes sir!”
We then proceeded to talk about the trail conditions between there and Alligator Alley as he expressed interest in hiking down there with his kids. It was only about an 11.5 mile hike from the bridge.
The man introduced himself as Billy Walker, the chief legend keeper and Alligator wrestler of the reservation. We introduced ourselves as Kyle and Steve.
We talked to Billy for a bit, and learned he was half Seminole and half Irish English. His great, great grandfather had been an Indian fighter – which was ironic given his very close roots to the Seminole people.
Billy shared a plethora of information and history about the Seminole. How they were actually a mesh of two smaller tribes, one being the Osceola, and the other escapes me right now. But his tribe is the older one from this area. The other was transplanted long ago. He shared more information than I could hope to retain in such a short time, and I hope what I’ve relayed is accurate enough.
As a fellow fisherman and outdoorsman, I couldn’t help but notice Billy was hunting gar without sunglasses. A good pair of polarized sunglasses are a priceless tool to the serious angler. It cuts the glare off the water and keeps the sun’s reflection from baking your eyes out of your skull.
“Billy, how you seeing those gar without polarized glasses?” I joked. “Yeah, they would probably help!” He joked back. “I want you to have mine,” I said as I held them out to him. “Are you sure?” He said suprisedly. “Yes, I haven’t worn them on this hike anyways. I’ll just end up breaking them.” He took them and thanked me. I thanked him for stopping to talk with us and share his culture.
Billy went back to the bridge with his kids, and I went and sat back under the palm with Steve. We’d been making good time, and it was blistering hot, so we were in no hurry.
20 minutes later, Billy came back over and offered me an “Alligator Button” he’d made himself. “It’s our people’s way to give something for something,” he said as he handed it to me. “It’s used,” he joked.
The Alligator button was a dried and calcified armored spike from the back of an Alligator. It had been threaded with sinew or leather, along with some tribal beads and attached to a key ring. The spike had what looked to be dried blood on it, giving it the “used” look that Billy had joked about.
This was by far one of the coolest interactions and gifts I’ve had on the long trails, and I told him I would hang it on every pack I hiked with from now on. We shook hands, and he gave me his info to look him up. He wanted us to come back after our hike and guide his family and a group of kids through Alligator Alley and Big Cypress. It was incredibly thoughtful of him to ask, and I considered it an honor.
Steve and I continued on and eventually ended up in an eco-tourism spot called “Billie Swamp Safari.” I’d asked Billy earlier if he was “Billie,” and he said it was named after a relative of his, but that he was on the brochures for Alligator Wrestling.
Although it was a half mile side walk, we decided to check it out anyways due to the purported cafe that resides there. It did not disappoint! I ordered Indian Tacos and a platter full of gator bites! I almost couldn’t eat it all. The Alligator was especially delicious, but the Indian Tacos stole the show.
They’re not really Tacos per say, but more of a unique taco salad. It starts with cubes of fried bread at the base. Then pile on chile with beans and ground beef. Then add cheese, onions, diced tomatoes, a little bit of shredded lettuce and a whole lot of sour cream and salsa – mix it all together…. and BAM! You have a mountain of Indian Taco goodness. The texture of the fried bread soaking up the chile was what made it. I’ve never seen that before, and it reminded me of a poor man’s fondue. I will replicate this one day…
After gorging ourselves, we hiked another 4 miles through the reservation to end up at a designated camping area near an RV park. There is no stealth camping allowed on the reservation, so you have to pay to play. There’s bathrooms and pavilions, so I’m not complaining!
Katana blew me away once again, hiking around 3 out of the 17 miles total. I can’t wait for this weather to cool off so she can really cut loose. I think Steve was even more impressed than I was at how easily she led or followed us down the wide paths and roads.
The trail itself was eazy peezy and mundane. Clear and smooth through slender pine, cypress, and palms when it wasn’t paved roads through reservation neighborhoods. About 13 miles was through forest, and the rest was through what you might call rural residential.
We found a small softshell turtle on the road, and Steve had never seen one before. They have long necks and snapping mouths, so I instructed Steve on how to pick them up so he could release it into the nearby canal. Hilarity ensued as I filmed the capture and release… sort of.
I looked Billy up once we settled in at camp, and come to find out, he used to be a character on the NatGeo show, “Swamp Men.” He never mentioned anything about that when we’d talked, and I’d assumed “Alligator Wrestler” actually meant “Alligator Hunter.” Well I’ll be damned if he wasn’t a true blue, sure as shit Alligator Wrestler. I wished I’d have gotten a picture with him, but I’ve included a few I found when I looked him up on facebook and then Google.
I’m feeling really good. It’s hot, but Katana is going strong, and the heat is going to break soon. I may have a surprise for you all in a couple days. We’ll see…