Date- March 5, 2019
Location- side of trail
Elevation- 52 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 13 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 826.3 miles
Weather/Temp- Rain, overcast, clear, 50s
Injuries- scratches, cuts, scrapes, bruises
Pain level- moderate
Wildlife encounters- zero
Days without shower- 3
Days without laundry- 5
Hunger/craving- chocolate milk
CatFox Status- wants to walk
Today didn’t seem real. It felt like a nightmare wrapped in dream packaged in a vacation gone wrong. None of us anticipated any of the obstacles we encountered today. I don’t know if I’m annoyed at how few miles we got, or proud that I kept my cool all day.
When I went to bed last night there was a 10% chance of rain. Normally I wouldn’t have paid attention to those odds, but this is Florida. I strung up my rain fly, but didn’t stake it down. Instead I just draped it over my hammock as a precaution.
At 2am it started raining and didn’t stop for over 6 hours. In the beginning, it fell straight down with no wind. But before long, the wind picked up and I was forced to get out of the nest in 38 degree cold rain in the middle of the night and stake it down. If that sounds like a miserable pain in the ass of a thing to do… that’s because it is. Nothing I haven’t done before, multiple times. I took my licks for my lost gamble and crawled back in the hammock to warm up all over again.
The nearly freezing rain lasted until after 8am, and you better believe we didn’t budge until it was done. By 9:15am we were hiking in cold, wet, overcast conditions.
I don’t feel bad saying the trail was absolute shit today. It was like the trail that man forgot. Completely overgrown and mostly unmarked for the first 7 miles or so. Three times we ended up on a wrong path due to there being no blaze in sight on subtle junction – forcing us to backtrack or cut across brush.
At the 7 mile mark of the day we hit Monkey Creek. Due to all the rain of the past few days, the small creek had swelled to around 50 yards wide and waist deep at the deepest. This was the longest, deepest crossing on the trail up to this point – and it was anxiety inducing, since the creek flowed out from a swamp. Still, we made it across in one piece, although sopping wet.
We took an hour and a half on the far side to eat and dry off all our gear from the night’s rain. Had we known what lie ahead, we wouldn’t have taken that long. Probably not even half as long.
A short distance after our lunch break, the trail wound its way into super dense forest. It wasn’t only dense, but also seemed to have exploded. I don’t know how much of the debris was from the storm the other day, or just accumulation over time, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of trees and large branches downed everywhere. But that’s not all… everything was under shin to waist deep water, mud, leaf litter, & pine straw.
Forget Big Cypress at the beginning of the trail. It was the mud and the heat wave that made it so difficult. This… THIS was on a whole new level. This was absurd, ridiculous, laughable! This stretch of trail boggled the mind that any human being would think it was a good idea to send other human beings through this mess.
I don’t even know where to begin. The pictures and videos can’t even do it justice because I didn’t dare take any during the worst of the mess where every step was an uncertainty between twisting an ankle or disappearing beneath the surface. The only silver lining was the unreal volume of trees and massive vegetation. You literally could not fall without being able to catch something, or without something catching you.
For over 4 miles, the trail was reduced to an underwater primordial swamp forest. We couldn’t even average one mile per hour through the mess.
The water was bad, but only 25% of the battle. The water itself would only look maybe 6 inches deep over the leaf litter at times, but every step sent you sinking up to your thighs or further in leaves in mud, suctioning you down. There were multitudes of submerged roots, logs, branches, and lord knows what else down there. Every single step was a gamble as well as a surprise. One second you would be hauling yourself through knee deep water and BAM… you’d hit a hole and sink up to your hip socket on one leg – branches and leaves clawing at your entire limb.
Never have I had so much mud caked into a shoe before. It mashed in so thoroughly and tightly that my feet would go numb from the pressure and I’d have to take them off and rinse them out. I’ve never experienced that before.
Balancing Katana on my shoulders while negotiating the tangled hell of forest and water was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ll still stand by my original claim that our first 4 day jaunt through Big Cypress was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was the heat that pushed that experience over the edge. In this case, temperature was not a factor. So from a purely physically challenging aspect, with temperatures being no factor… this was the hardest trail I’ve ever seen. Schweppes and Critter wholeheartedly share the same sentiment.
I truly don’t even know how to feel. This is certainly “type 2” fun – or the kind of fun that’s only fun to look back on after it’s over. This most definitely was not any fun while it was happening – it was mainly pain, anxiety, and frustration. Had it been a 70 or 80 degree day, and not 50 degrees… I have a hard time imagining slogging through all that without getting snake bit. Alas, we didn’t see a single one (due to cold temperatures).
There’s no doubt this section was made worse by the recent rain and violent storm. I would have loved to have seen it in normal conditions. Surely not easy, but also nowhere near as bad as it was today.
My legs are covered in scrapes, cuts, and bruises from all the underwater obstacles I tripped or smashed into.
By the time we’d gotten through the worst of the swamp forest, it was already early evening. Although the main swamp was behind us, we were still in shin to knee deep water and mud on the conventional forest trail.
If we hadn’t earned our Florida Trail wings before, we certainly did today. We couldn’t risk getting caught in more water and unable to navigate in the dark, so we stopped at the first stretch of dry ground we could find at 6:30pm. We’d only managed a whopping 13 miles for all our troubles today – and that’s with only an hour and a half break all day.
I’m a little worried because I only packed out enough food for two and a half days. This is the end of the second day and we still have almost 50 miles to go. I skipped dinner tonight so that I could stretch another day or so out of what I have left. We NEED a big day tomorrow, or I’m going to be in trouble. It looks like more swamp and bog ahead, but there’s no real telling how bad it is. After all the rain, I’m assuming the worst.
I can honestly say I’m feeling a little anxiety over tomorrow. If we don’t do better than 20 miles… I’ll really be up shit creek.