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[ft-l] Freezin' in the Everglades

After my cold wet weekend in Myakka and the Kissimmee River earlier this
month, I knew it would be a cold day in hell when I did another long
backpacking trip.

And there it was. South Bay RV Park, Friday night. 32*, with a wind chill off
the lake pushing that thermometer down, down, down. Paul Guyon, Bob Coveney,
Kathy Wolf (along with her daughter Sheri, our shuttle gal) and I had our
gear ready, packs ready, minds ready to tackle one of the few sections of the
FT that only thru-hikers ever do -- Map 40, Seminole, aka Section 2. But with
Paul and I working on sections, it seemed to be the best dry place for a
3-day backpacking trip in South Florida.

Emerging to the morning chill, we discovered Kathy handing out hot cocoa from
Dunkin Donuts. "I don't have the gear for this, guys..." and we concurred,
looking at her tent and sleeping bag. So Kathy became our shuttle support,
and we trundled on down to the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, our
morning fueled by breakfast at Robbie's and spotting a bobcat leaping into a
stand of sugar cane. Road construction in the reservation almost stymied our
attempt to find the trailhead, but by dodging through the work area, we found
the bridge that marked our start at the L-3 canal. Shivering, we were off.
And moving. Fast.

Bart Smith had told me this was an unexpectedly beautiful section of trail.
Where the Rottenberger WMA touches the dike, the original Everglades
surrounded us. Roseate spoonbills picked through the shallows. Reddish egrets
stood on shore. Glossy ibises winged overhead. Vast marshes stretched to the
horizon. Yellow-crowned night herons stood guard over their nests. But it was
over far too soon. The wonder of the real Everglades, the land the Seminoles
once knew, yielded to a landscape best indexed as "Everglades, former." The
drained lands. Sliced and diced by a grid of canals large and small into
cattle ranches and sugar cane fields.

Our first day, we pushed 15.1 miles. Unexpectedly. Paul and I set our
personal records for backpacking on that day. We broke them the next day with
a 17.2 mile hike, nearly to the point of exhaustion. The better to sleep.
What else to do on a cold, cold night? We enjoyed the sunsets, and cooking
along the dike. But as soon as the sun dropped out of the sky, the
temperatures plummeted; we retreated to our sleeping bags. It was too cold to
read. We had ice on our tents every night.

We found it took a mix of the various data sources (maps and books) to find
our way.  The GPS helped, too. Blazes misled in a couple of places, but we
took care to choose the right path, and were thankful for the blazes we
found. Watching the cane fields burn in the distance, we also took care to
camp along the empty fields rather than ones that might be set afire at
sunrise. The water from the canals looked awful, and probably contained a
thousand nasty chemicals that my insides are still roiling at, even after
boiling and treating. But that's the nature of this part of Florida, where
nature exists only in tiny pockets, and agriculture is king.

It was a cold trip, but a good one. Glad for the camaraderie, glad for the
shuttle, glad for the cocoa that awaited us at John Stretch Park, and another
big breakfast at Robbie's to cap off the weekend. And this morning? Forget
the cold. My feet were raring to go again!

Cheers, Sandy