Saturday, January 7, 2012

SECTION1 / BIG CYPRESS


AFTER the late morning start and, contemplating if maybe I passed the southern terminus or not, it suddenly appeared on the side of Loop road. The Terminus was not much, and in fact it was just a kiosk. There was no Grand trailhead or parking lot, no people and not even a register. But what was there was a trail, completely summered with water.
Without a pause from walking along loop road, I just plunged into the calf deep water and began trecking. About as fast as I entered, I exited right back to the road to take my shell pants off and reassess my gear. Sort of chuckling to myself for my eagerness to enter the swamp, and at 12:35 pm, I began the Florida National Scenic Trail.


Trecking in about 1-2 ft. of water for about 100 yards I came up to the register, that after thinking about it, was in a good place, so that people in cars would not know of it existence. I signed my name and moved on quickly. I did however notice there was not anyone signed in before me.
For the 1st 3 miles or so things were quite similar. I seemed to be going uphill, but the water was getting deeper. There were some sharp limestone rocks under my feet and sometimes there were deep holes in between the rocks. I was passing mile markers, and calculating my time and distance, with great satisfaction of two miles per hour. I crossed a wide open grassy area, and saw my first water moccasin. It was so colorful, I at first thought it to be a python. After closer examination, I realized, that this was no snake to play with and moved on.
I then came upon a small island of refuge, and was at quite surprised at many different plants and trees. Making my way across the island I came to the first camp, and what a unique place for sure. It was called Frog Hammock Camp, and was still pretty wet, but if you had to, you could lay some plastic down for a good night sleep. The camp had a hand cranking water pump, that I drew water from, and a sign that posted its name. Upon the sign there was a red lensed lantern that sort of added a feel of creepy to the air. I took a few photos of the area, and quickly moved on.



Soon after leaving Frog Hammock Camp, I was back to tromping through the swamp. I also was in much deeper water. Now up to my knees and thigh, and in a heavy wooded area, I came to where there was a creek crossing. Now image that, a creek in a swamp. I guess the only way to explain that is when the swamp is dry, there is a creek. So here I was in now hip deep of water and the trail winded through a heavy wooded area, that a few times I had a problem finding blazes on the trees. But eventually this gave way and I immersed back upon the prairie, and tromped my way to Oasis Visitor center on Highway 41. This had been 7 miles trail, completely submerged in water with the exception of Frog Hammock Camp.



Making my way over to the Oasis Visitor center. I quickly filled my water bottles at there hose and sprayed myself off, It was getting late, so I signed the register, and began getting as much dry ground as possible under my feet and trecked on into the evening. In the register I noticed someone had signed in saying they were on there way to Canada, but they were a week ahead of me. This was great news, Maybe I might have a day nor two of company farther up the trail.
After passing an airstrip, I expected the swamp to begin again. My plan was to camp here, but to my surprise, I was in a pine forest, with only a few wet crossings here and there. I put on a fast pace, and ate up several miles of good trail. I ran into a spot in a recent burn though that I lost the blazes though. I ran around in circles, looked over my maps and found myself on a swamp buggy track, and according to the map is crossed the trail. I took an educated guess and went north on the track and soon found myself back on the trail. Feeling good next to an orange blaze and confident I was on the trail, I made camp.
Camp was a bit different this night. Everything was wet. I put down my plastic sheeting, my bug tent, and put my tarp over it all. My bag was damp from the night before, and I regretting not drying it out during the day. I crawled into my shelter though, ate well, and was asleep before the black of night.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I was awoken by something rummaging through the brush a few feet from me. I shined my headlamp at it, and saw the hind end of a large hog running off in the distance. I then layer there awake, listening to constant noise. There were frogs, and crickets, that seemed to sing along with each other, along with several types of birds, and periodically the sound of something getting killed.

video

The next morning I put my wet things in my pack and began trecking along a pine forest path. It wasn't long that I was right back in knee deep swamp. I found several signs of bear along the way that was a bit of a surprised. It was hard to believe a bear would actually live in such a wet place. I lost the orange blazes a couple of times, once taking over an hour to figure out where the trail was. There were several water moccasins as well, one being 4 inches thick, and 5 foot long.
Sometime around noon, I began the last 11 miles of swamp walking to the visitor center at I-75. The water in some areas were now getting near waste deep. Not knowing what to expect up ahead, the deep water began to get sketchy. The trail would sometimes get difficult to follow, and the terrain would all look the same. Near the two small islands of dry land, the water would get deeper, and the trail would go through some dense thickets.

Leaving the last island of refuge was pretty risky. It was getting late and I needed to do the last 4 miles in two hours, or I would be in the dark. It was not long before I was once again searching for the trail, and then pissed at myself when I figured it out. The trail soon came out on to some swamp buggy roads. You would think this would be easier, but instead the tracks from the buggies, were deep in some places.
Soaked up to my waste, I finally exited the swamp, and was following a dirt road to the highway. My shoes collected the mud from the road, and I found my way up to I-75.
Now dark, I made my way over to the Visitor Center, I must have been a site, cause the armed guard called the highway patrol.
I explained to her what I had done, what I was doing and where I was going. She obviously did not believe me, cause while in the bathroom, rinsing my socks, a highway patrol came in with a asshole attitude, and told me to shove my shit in my bag and follow him outside. I told him to have some respect, and after I was done showing him what I was doing, he would be embarrassed for the way he was treating me. An hour later, I walked away quite shocked that they had no clue of the trail, and sorta pissed that they held me up from my business. But then again, I educated them in long distant hiking and the Florida Trail.
Now just wanting to find camp, with a bag flu of junk food I now possessed, from the vending machines at the visitor center, I headed north, back to the trail.
It is always a good feeling, when you are reunited with the orange blazes. It was getting late, and I was on trail, and all I wanted was to camp. The trail was now on a nice dirt road, so I just kept going. I came across 4 baby raccoons, that I actually walked up to and touched. I was following a swamp, that my headlamp kept locating gators. The dirt road went for a long time, which was a relief, cause I was not in the swamp. The noises at night, along with a 3/4 moon, was quite the unique setting for a night hike.
The fact that my light was weak, added to the mystique. The trees were thick and tall, surrounded by small palms and brush, and everything except the road was under water. I read on my map that there was a series of caps coming up, so I just kept walking into the night. I reached the 1st camp, and there was swamp buggies and a travel trailer, so I kept on going. I found another spot, next to a supposed runway for aircraft, which was strange cause the grass was to tall to land on. I put my bedroll down in tire tracks and ate a belly full of chips and candy bars. I was soaked with in minutes from the dew, but was warm enough not to let it bother me.