Day 15 miles: 193.5 – 213.7

Today was just the experience on the Florida Trail that I needed. But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk briefly about lastnight. As you know, I hung my hammock up really high so that I could ignore the critter sounds and get a good nights sleep after the previous night of interruptions. All went according to plan and I fell asleep pretty early to the armidillos and racoons doing their nightly tromp through the palm fronds. All was going according to plan that is until about 2am when I was woken up by the sound of breathing noises in the woods. I had to hold my own breath to make sure it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t. Something was in the woods off the trail with big lungs and a heavy breath. I shone my little LED light expecting to see eyes of a panther or bear, but saw nothing, only I could hear the footsteps as they walked softly into silence. In typical fashion I used my trekking pole and slapped the nearest thing around me (the rafters of the shelter) to run off the thing. To my suprise though, a few seconds later I got a response back… Three loud bangs of a log against a tree from where the footsteps walked too. A cold shiver ran down my spine as the woods went earily quiet. Now I’m not saying what I thought it could be, but maybe, just maybe, there is an animal that lives in the swamps of south Florida that has somehow evaded all game cameras, hunters and hikers cameras and has a burial method that has prevented humans from finding their remains. If those things are possible, I know exactly what it was 🙂 That is all.

This morning started out bright and early as I hit the trail around 7:30. I had heard that this section of trail could be very wet and to expect several days of wet feet ahead. Within the first half mile of the day, I came upon starvation slough, and since I was already prepared for trails like in Big Cypress, I walked right in. Mid shin deep water quickly filled my shoes and there I was, like it or not, hiking with wet socks and shoes on for the next 19.5 miles. I walked for about an hour without seeing any sign of deep water and stopped to ring out my socks and dry my feet. Pressing on for the next several hours, I passed through some of the most beautiful trails and prairie lands I’ve ever seen. I saw an abundance of wildlife to include; several deer, snakes, dozens of turkey, countless birds, a pair of bobcats, a panther (probably) and a hog with 6 piglets all making an appearance for me. I gotta tell ya, the scenery in the Kissimmee Prairie is like nothing I’ve seen before. Bob Ross styled perfection couldn’t paint a picture to capture its greatness. “It seems fake, but isn’t” describes it pretty well. The trail itself was nothing like the swamps of Big Cypress either and infact were mostly wide, well marked and dry trail. I did have to pass through some wet sections, but I could step on the clumps of weeds to keep my feet dry. Had I known ahead of time, I would of taken my shoes off and crossed starvation slough in my camp shoes or barefoot to save my feet and drying out time. I did cross the second and last deep water section barefoot at “Cowboy camp”. After wadding through the deep water barefoot, I sat down and drank my cowboy swamp water, had a cowboy hand-rolled cigarette then audibly said “giddy-up” as I threw my pack on to leave, smiling as I was the only person around to see the humour.

After my day of hiking ended I got a campsite at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State park to get a shower, do laundry and charge my battery pack. I got one of the last spots available and it luckily also has two trees close enough together to hang my hammock. As I was filling up my water bottle, my neighbors asked if I was hiking. I told them I was on the Florida Trail and gave them a quick run down of my adventures so far. The lady (Rosey) had just finished reading “AWOL on the trail” and new all the hiker lingo. She asked me if I needed some “trail magic” (a term for unexpected treats) and proved herself a real trail angel by serving up a big bowl of gumbo, fruit cups, a chocolate bar and a piece of cake! Her husband (John) gave me two beers and we all sat around having a great time sharing stories. John is reading a book about a Vietnam Vet who had dedicated his time to bringing back the panther population over the decades to south Florida. It talks a lot about Big Cypress and it’s a book that I will read in the future. Our conversations lasted long enough that I didn’t get a chance to shower, but I did learn that the forcast is 80% for thunderstorms tomorrow, so I will probably take a zero day and get it done then.

Well, today was such a great day on the trail and I took so many pictures, it will be hard to narrow it down to a few:

the vast and open prairie

a nice bridge over swampy waters

A huge old oak tree looking majestic

this where the hogs were, but my phone took too long to power on before they took off

beautiful and shadded section of trail

the miles of wetlands in the Kissimmee prairie

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