Before I tell you about my first days journey, I really need to talk about yesterday. The drive to Big Cypress Oasis visitor center (the southern point of the Florida trail) really shouldn’t have been anything more than a relaxing trip of last minute plans and excitement for the journey, but it turned out to be so much more. It started when my wife took me to the greyhound bus station in Saint Pete. When we pulled up, the building was in disrepair, trash all over the parking lot and I could see inside the building that ceiling tiles were missing, a ladder stood up in the center of the clutter filled waiting area and other construction type paraphernalia strung about the locked up building. There was a guy sitting outside on a bench eating a sandwich and I asked him if the place was for real, he ensured me that it was a functioning business and that they would open right before the bus showed up. My wife and I talked over the shaddyness of the place but decided that I would stay and see if a bus would in fact show up. My wife had to leave for school and I went over and sat down on the “group W bench” to talk with the guy there. I’m horrible with names, but I think his name was John. Fresh out of jail and a story that would make most folks get up and find a new bench to sit at, but he was prior military and we got along pretty well sitting there sharing stories. John was trying to get back home to his girl and was expecting a ticket at the counter from her once the place opened. As luck would have it, there was no ticket waiting for him and since he never asked for money or help from me and because he seemed like a big hearted fella that was on hard times, I bought him a ticket for where he needed to go. On the bus John spent some time helping a homeless man with the locations and in’s and outs of the shelters at their stopping point and it really let me know that his perceived character wasn’t an act. As we parted ways, the last thing he said to me was him reading off his only tattoo to me; “Blind faith” and he gave a wave good bye. I though how much blind faith I will need on this journey, and it was the perfect departure.
When I got off the bus in Naples, I went inside the gas station and bought two hot dogs, two slim Jims and two gallons of water. Then I called for an Uber to Oasis and got busy eating my calories. The price of the Uber was more than I was expecting, but for one; I wasn’t staying at the gas station and for two; I wasn’t going to head home, so I sucked it up and pushed the button. The Uber ride was non eventful other than good conversation, and at the end of the ride he refused my tip money and instead offered me more water, shoelaces, bug spray, all kinds of things he had in his truck because he felt bad for dropping me off at night in the middle of nowhere to fend for myself. I accepted his decline of tip but my bag was already pushing 50 pounds, so I had declined everything else.
My plan was to walk up the trail just a few yards, hang my hammock up and crash out until morning. The problem was that there were no trees easily accessible anywhere near the start of the trail, so I headed back to Oasis. I looked around and decided that the boardwalk over the Alligator pit of death was perfect and hung my hammock there.
That really should be the end of yesterday’s story since it was already 10pm when I finally laid down to sleep, but it’s not. I had only been in the hammock for maybe 10 minutes when a car pulls into the Oasis parking lot. I didn’t think to much about it at first because it was several hundred yards from them in the parking lot and me sleeping over several talking alligators (who I think were trying to figure out how to get me down for a quick snack). Well, out of the car comes an instantly obnoxious guy with his girlfriend or wife. I’m thinking it’s his girlfriend because of his loud attempts to impress her with his imitation gator calls and tuff talk about when he used to hunt em’. He showboated about how tuff he was as they walked the length of the boardwalk all the way until he got to just before the bend that leads to me. As a reminder, I’m hanging from the railings of the wooden handrails of the boardwalk and totally out of sight, so at the last moment before they came around the bend, I flashed my light in there direction and gave my usual greating of “howdy” (only in a slightly deeper and sharper tone). The tuff guy was taken by surprise from the hidden me and quickly said “we here just lookin at gators” so I then said “well, there IS a lot of them” (keeping in my deep sharp tone) which left him to reply with “enough to kill a man” which I think he meant to sound tuff and scary but it came out a little higher pitch then how he was talking earlier, so I stayed silent and listened to them leave hurriedly. What this man knew of me was that I was somewhere out of sight and very near the alligators open and growling mouth, both in the dark and below the light of his flashlight which was probably confusing to him. I can only imagine what he pictured of me in his mind…