Things haven’t entirely gone according to plan, but then I expected to have to rework things as I travel this year.
After packing everything and dropping off my car I got to the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve around 11:30am on Saturday. The visitor center was actually open but with limited services – they could sell you a postcard but no issuing of backcountry permits and the register was missing from the Florida Trail mailbox.
I headed off on the trail around noon, planning to go around 6 miles. As I’d been warned the trail was dry, except for a puddle about 4 miles in. I pulled some water out of the puddle to filter at camp (once through cheesecloth to remove the chunks, then again through my Sawyer filter). The trail was easy walking and well-marked and I ended up going a little further than planned. Not too buggy, and heard lots of owls.
Second day out the first potential water I would reach was about 6 miles away, in a cypress dome just off trail. The first few miles of walking were easy enough, but as the trail passed through some fire zones the blazes became more infrequent and the path less distinct. Had to stop several times to try to figure out which way to go. The Florida Trail app was a lifesaver in that regard – shows you where you are in relation to the trail, so you can tell how far off-route you are.
The surface water had retreated far into the cypress dome. If you dig into the mud a bit you’ll find water. Not clean water, but water nonetheless. I didn’t start off digging – I started off walking, then sank knee-deep into the mud. Mud that was demanding my shoe as tribute. So I had to dig myself out (repeatedly), but at least once I extracted myself I was able get some water at last.
After I gingerly made my way back to solid ground I took some time to regroup. If I was to continue forward I was going to need to pull more water from the cypress dome. I also knew that my next water opportunity the next morning would be similar, and that the knee-deep shoe-eating mud I’d just encountered would also be present on the trail itself for a few miles.
So taking that into consideration, plus the heat (mid-80s) and my general poor shape I decided the best thing for me to do was to make my way back to the visitor center, then skip ahead to just north if the swamp. I backtracked around three miles to the last official campsite to set up camp for the night. Along the way I met a few other hikers debating continuing on as well (they all decided to go forward) and I met someone on a swamp buggy who kindly gave me a bottle of Gatorade (and who said that a python had been killed nearby and I should be careful getting water).
That brings us to today – I had 9.5 miles to go to the visitor center and only one liter of water. Should have pulled more from the dome. A couple I shared the campsite with (and who was cutting their New Year’s trip short) gave me some of their excess water, putting me at 2.5 liters. That was marginally enough to get me back to the road. I did pull some additional water from that mud puddle I’d encountered on the first day – the puddle had shrunk a bit, and I was watched by two vultures as I got the water.
Back at the visitor center I filled my water bottles and sat in the shade and drank and drank. Eventually I recovered enough to get an uber back to Naples.
I think I’ll remain in town for two nights – giving my blisters a chance to heal – before heading back to the trail north of the swamp to try this again.
Though dry the swamp itself was beautiful – lots of interesting trees and plants, blue skies during day – piles of stars at night. I didn’t see any snakes but did see a deer and a lizard and heard lots of owls. Oh, and I saw a hiker carrying a blind shiba inu on top of his backpack through the swamp, so that’s something.
WordPress isn’t letting me load pictures today – I’ll try again tomorrow.