The temperatures are definitely dropping at night and although I am in Florida, it was 37 degrees when I woke up, and raining! It was only supposed to rain between 2am and 4am, but here it was, time to break down camp in the frigid conditions and it was steady rain falling down. I sent a message to Gray Beard and Mickey asking to stay warm and dry in my hammock until it quit raining, which was happily agreed apon. Luckily, i didn’t rain for much longer and we had our camps packed up by 8am.
Today’s miles and tomorrow’s miles are flip-flopped, so we can do the swamp now (the “warm day”) and stay dry tomorrow during the lowest temps. We drove ahead to Saint Marks to start our miles south, which puts us in the swamp this afternoon, and went to shores of the Gulf of Mexico. It was bitter cold at 40 degrees and a stiff breeze blowing across the vast salt marsh, so we only stayed at the lighthouse for a quick picture, then we went to the trail head to get started. Gray Beard and Mickey were bundled up well with hats and gloves and several layers of clothes and even puffy vests. I don’t know how they packed all of that, because all I have is an extra T-shirt and the flannel I found and my bag is stuffed full. Needless to say, I was cold this morning, but the sun eventually came out and it warmed up into the 50’s to take the chill away.
The trail was mostly on levees and swamp roads until after lunch, and it was really just a mental battle to try and ignore the cold and get prepared for the swamp. Nothing to exciting happened except for seeing several alligators sunning themselves right off the trail. They were cool to see, but also an early warning of who’s home we were about to wade through. Along the way, we saw a hiker headed towards us. His name is “Grits” (a 72 year old through hiker) who forewarned us that it’s about 2 miles of ankle to upper calf deep water ahead. We thanked him, and pressed on with our miles. I find it amazing that the Florida Trail has so many hikers from the older generations that are still trudging through the swamps, and either baking in the sun on the hot days or freezing in the cold rainy days all with a smile on their face.
As we finally reached the last few miles for the day, the ground became soft, and forest blended into a swamp. At first I tried to keep my shoes dry and bushwack from dry section to dry section, but eventually it was all water, and it was time to embrace it. The water slowly got deeper from being just deep enough to fill my shoes with cold water, to being at my knees sometimes. I’d say that for a good mile, we were in mid-shin deep swamp and about 1/2 a mile of trudging through ankle deep muck.
It seems dangerous to spend that much time in an alligators home, especially after seeing so many, but I didn’t see one alligator or snake the whole time we were splashing around in there. It was actually a fun experience and a good warm-up for Apalachacola (the swampy-est forest on the Florida Trail) coming up in a few days. I’ve been dreading Apalachacola for a long time, but after today, I think it could be a fun experience. It it warms up, that is.
As we emerged from the swamp, wet and dirty, one of Gray Beards friends was there to pick us up (Linda). She is in Florida to visit family, and is going to hike with us tomorrow. As she saw us coming down the trail, she greeted us with snacks and soda before taking us to pick up the van and set up camp. Her and Gray Beard are sleeping in their vehicles tonight, while Mickey and I are in our respective camps to brave the cold head on. Once again I am happy I found the 20 degree sleeping bag in Big Cypress! 🙂
Tomorrow will be an interesting day as we have to finish the skipped over six miles and knock out a few more on the other side of todays hike. We also have to hail a boat for a ride across the river at the end of the day and we plan on staying at a fish camp on the other side. It should all be a good time 🙂
Saint Marks lighthouse
an alligator checking us out
awe, just a little guy. Gray Beard went in for a closer picture and spooked the momma off the bank right next to him 🙂
the swamp to the left of the trail, right before the trail led us into it
Gray Beard having a good ol’ time in the water
a distant shot of me on the trail
there WAS a foot bridge through this section 🙂
Mickey slogging her way through the swamp.