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[ft-l] Swamp slog at Collier-Seminole

It felt like quicksand.

First I lost one knee, then the other, vanishing into the primordial ooze. =
pitched forward across the inch or two of water floating atop the mud, buoy=
only by my extended arm with the measuring wheel. "Oh no=E2=80=A6" I yelled=
 to Chuck
as I leaned to the right, trying to drag at least one leg free of the sucki=
mud. "Help!" I rolled into the mud, got my left leg out, and stuck it in th=
flowing water of the slough. Repeated the same with the right leg AFTER
getting it entirely coated in viscous swamp muck. Broke free, and waded out
into the slough.

"I'm sorry, Roger." I turned to see him avoid the same fate as he stepped o=
into the water. "Looks like I'm going to be the one to ruin your car."

Good thing Chuck and Roger are planning to bridge that fifty foot section o=
slough. Lesson learned: the measuring wheel floats on mud. I don't.

The Collier-Seminole Hiking Trail ranks up there with Bradwell Bay and Big
Cypress as a truly challenging slog through some of the wildest and roughes=
terrain Florida has to offer. Maintained by the Alligator Amblers chapter,
this 6.6-mile loop (complete with a backpacker's campsite of sorts=E2=80=A6=
okay, a
dry clearing in the middle of the mosquito-infested woods) traverses a mosa=
of wet and dry habitats north of US 41 on the far western edge of the overa=
Big Cypress ecosystem. Okay, mostly wet. In fact, so wet that I turned down
my first opportunity to slog it back in September, when I was warned that t=
water might be chest-deep. Wading is one thing, but I don't swim trails.

Fortunately, not much rain had fallen on Naples lately, so Chuck Wilson,
Roger, and I met the day after I emerged from a week of hiking in the
Everglades (more on that later) with Beth Kelso. A freak cold front had set
in, so when we reached the trailhead it was 57 F, almost unbelievable for
this part of the world. As a result, the usual mosquito problems (bring you=
headnet. Always.) were nil. That first step into a cypress swamp,
though-sheesh! Talk about cold.

It's impossible to not get your feet wet on this trail. But budding
adventurers would do best to follow the well-blazed route in a
counter-clockwise fashion, saving the worst of the water for last. Stretche=
of cypress swamp yield to patches of wet prairie and cabbage palm flatwoods=
but every ten minutes or so, you find yourself kicking through puddles agai=
A couple of ditch points along a forest road let you cry "Uncle!" and give =
in the first couple of miles, but if you do, you miss the most beautiful
parts of the trail. Beyond the backpacker's campsite, you wade through a
chain of haunting cypress forests, thickly overgrown with bromeliads of all
stripes. Tropical hammocks thick with wild coffee and marlberry line the
trail en route to the sloughs. And beyond that mean little mucky slough is =
remnant of a regal royal palm hammock, with the palms towering up to one
hundred feet overhead. Even in the dry prairies, glades lobelia and other
terrestrial orchids liven up the landscape.

Oh, and did I mention the benches? Seemingly incongruous on such a wilderne=
route, these SCA-supplied beauties give you a chance to pull off your boots
and pour out the water-especially after that quicksand muck slough. I could
see the bench from my prone position in the mud, and I could feel it laughi=
at me.

If you want a real hiking challenge, head for Collier-Seminole State Park.
Check in at the ranger station to register (they will come look for you if
you don't re-emerge the same day) and to pick up a trail map. This trail is=
true gem in the FTA loop trail system, best appreciated by those for a yen
for adventure.

Thanks to Chuck and Roger for coming out with me that day. It was hike #49 =
my "50 Hikes in South Florida," and I was happy to be able to complete it
while still in the "kind of wet" season.

Cheers, Sandy