Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hiking Through Water (Again)

I woke up at Thirteen Mile Camp and could swear I heard growling. A panther, perhaps? I couldn't find what was causing it, but it sounded distinctly sinister.

I ate breakfast and packed up camp quickly--especially when it started to sprinkle.

The first few miles went quickly, and the sprinkle stopped. But the water had just begun. First it was mud, shoe-sucking stuff that it was, and my shoes had badly deteriorated already in Big Cypress. A distinct hole formed on the side of the right shoe, and the entire front of the sole on my left shoe had come loose. I could see my toes wiggle if I viewed them from the right direction--not a good thing.

Rather than just pulling directly up with my foot, I tried walking by bringing up my heal, then sliding the rest of the foot out of the mud, hoping that would help keep the rest of the sole on the shoe rather than allow the suction of the mud to rip it off completely.

At one point, I nearly stepped on a snaked, coiled in the mud directly on the trail. The snake opened it's mouth, impossibly wide, and hissed loudly at me. The snake was brown, and not one I recognized, but given the particularly agressive nature of this snake, I wondered if it was one of those famed water moccasins. Most snakes slither off the trail, afraid of direct contact, but this snake seemed to act like I had reason to be scared of it.

It wasn't a large snake, and I studied it for a couple of minutes from a safe distance (perhaps three or four feet away), and it sat there, coiled up, waiting for a chance to strike. I walked around it, and it opened its mouth and hissed some more as I did so, but it stayed put, not even adjusting it's position to match my movements.

After a mile or so in the mud, it became ankle-deep water, which actually made walking a bit easier since it acted as a lubricant on the mud. It was still tough walking, but slightly easier.

The water got deeper, nearing my knees, and I sloshed through mile after mile of water and mud. Words like grueling, arduous, exhausting, and Bataan Death March went through my head.

When I made it to Oak Hill Camp, I stopped for abot 15 minutes to rest. I didn't dare take off my shoes--I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get them back on if I did, or that the structural integrity of the shoes would disentegrate completely in the process of getting them on or off.

At Oak Hill Camp, I found an abandoned backpack--I had little doubt that it was all that was left of the last victim, er... hiker through Big Cypress.

According to my data book, the deepest section of water was 0.1 miles after Oak Hill Camp, a dark and scary place known only as The Black Lagoon. The creatures that live there can only be guessed at.

Rather than wear my fanny pack around the waist like I normally do, I adjusted it like a sash, over one shoulder and under the other arm, to get it higher. It had my wallet, camera, PocketMail device, and other items that really shouldn't get wet, and if I ended up to my waist in water, I needed the fanny pack to ride higher.

When the break was done, I felt a bit nervous. How much deeper could the water get? To help psych myself into going, I stood up and yelled as loudly as I could, "Let's DO IT!!!"

I tromped past the abandoned pack and entered into The Black Lagoon.

The trail was completely covered with water--no visible ground could be seen in any direction, and the only clue to the correct direction to hike was following the orange blazes. How you navigated the water from one blaze to the next was up to you, and the water didn't come past my knees, somewhat of a relief.

While the water was no deeper than other places along the trail, it was a sustained deep area. The other places seemed to drop down then come back up within a few feet, but the water stayed up to my knees several minutes before the water level dropped.

I survived The Black Lagoon.

The trail continued for miles, often underwater, always through mud, sloshing exhaustedly from one orange blaze to the next.

At times, where the trail became thick mud, I would walked parallel to the trail, darting between cypress trees that would scratch against my legs and arms. The legs weren't a problem since I wore pants, but more than once did the branches scrach my arms deep enough to draw blood.

It was slow going, but avoided some of the exhausting mud. Grasses and weeds caught between my shoe and its sole, tickling my feet, and I'd have to stop occasionally to pull them out.

I passed more abandoned gear, presumably from the same guy who left the backpack at Oak Hill Camp. First it was a sleeping bag--a terribly large and heavy one better suited to a living room than the great outdoors.

Then later, I passed a plastic garbage bag with more backpacking debris.

I wished I could carry some of it out, but I had my own pack to worry about.

I stopped briefly at a small hammock--a Native American word meaning land over water if the displays at the Oasis Visitor Center are to be believed. I understood the term oasis a lot better as well--a small patch of land above the water that saturates the rest of the area. A place where palm trees florished, and hikers could stop to rest or take off their shoes.

I hadn't planned to stop and rest again until I reached Ivy Camp, but the water and mud wore me out. A collapsed in a pile on a small hammock, exhausted. "Please, let the madness end soon."

I got up again, and whispered to myself--far too exhausted to yell motovational speaches to myself now--"Let's finish this."

I plodded along, passing another abandoned backpack. "Another victim," I thought. "Rest in peace."

I felt a hard bump in my shoe, and discovered a plastic piece on the bottom had come loose and was falling out. I put it in my pocket, now with nothing more than the thinnest strand of rubber and the insole keeping me from being barefoot.

Another 15 minutes, I gratefully stumbled into Ivy Camp, apparently infamous for the abundance of poison ivy that grows there.

I throw out my ground sheet and collapsed in exhaustion. This would be my lunch break. I no longer had enough water left to cook a proper meal, so I ate the rest of the snacks in my pack instead which consisted of gorp and strawberry leather.

I napped a bit, which felt wonderful, then propped myself up and finished reading Up Shit Creek, with some seriously disturbing stories involving groovers. For those of you who don't know what a groover is, it's basicly a backcountry toilet that those on river trips use.

Most rivers require that you pack *everything* out that you bring in, including number 2. Sometimes, however, things go terribly, terribly wrong.

to be continued..........


Anonymous said...

What "things go terribly, terribly wrong"? What Ryan, what?
Tell us!!
the suspense...

Holly said...

And to think all I had to deal with today was a troll and a donkey out on a walkabout !
Stay safe Ryan and don't leave us hanging like this !

Anonymous said...

God, that sounded rough!! Hope you got in some good rest before the next jaunt!


Anonymous said...

We shall never again hear the exclamatory phrase "GROOVY" without thinking of our GT.

Grumpy Grinch

Stacy Christian said...

So far we've heard about sucking mud, lots of knee deep water, shoes falling apart, mosquitoes, smoke and fire, rain, cuts from tree branches, heat, miles of boring highway, alligators, more rain....
And you haven't even been gone three weeks yet!
Remind me again, why exactly are you doing this?

Stacy~who really does love the updates, but has given up any notions of ever through hiking anything.

Anonymous said...

Oh my heck.

I hate snakes.

A lot.

Anonymous said...

ok, i thought this was a hike not for me.......with the gators. but when you add walking in water that you can't see the bottom in an area that has who knows what in it.....give me cold michigan winters any time........when summer comes i don't need to worry what is in the water........other than what dow dumps in and i don't go in those waters.

the AT and bears sound much more pleasant..........

stay safe.......get some sturdy hiking boots, write soon.


Anonymous said...

The first thing that came to mind was...doesn't Ryan know the wonders of Duck Tape??? Great for holding a ripped sole together...at least temporarily!
Stay Safe...We love following your hike!
The Vs

Anonymous said...

What, no camo duct tape to fix those shoes with? I'm shocked!
Anyway, the kids and I have been really enjoying your updates and you've become one of their geography projects, lol!
Be safe, Ryan, and know that people you've never even met are praying for your safe return home.
Florida Sunsets
BTW, did the snake have white inside its mouth?

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight. You woke up early in the morning, famished from not eating and you heard growling. Hmmmm. I wonder what it could be?