Written by Grounds Keeper Gretchen “Dirty Bowl” Matt while on hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail.
Katie scheduled to get picked up at the I75 rest area this opening at 10:30am, and it was about 4.5 miles of swamp to get us there. Therefore, when my alarm went off at 5:30am, we had to get up.
It turns out, morning swamp hiking is pretty cool! It was pitch black when we set out, and it was very calm. It was probably a photographer’s dream to be in the setting that we found ourself in. THe sun gradually rose, and everything was foggy, dewy, and little dew covered spider webs illuminated our path. It was also nice to not be in the overbearing FL sun for a minute, which nagged at me for the rest of the day.
When we got to our first segment of dry land (that wasn’t an island) Katie said “I feel like a baby giraffe” and I totally understood what she meant. Our legs had grown accustomed to the almost cross country ski motions that we had been doing for so long. It felt so nice to be able to walk the way my body intended to.
When Katie was picked up at the rest stop, her ride gave me an 8oz block of sharp cheddar, and 2 packets of sour patch kids. A thru-hiker’s dream! I was crouched by a spigot with disgusting socks and shoes littered around me, muttering about cheese, and I thought to myself, “how did this happen already???”
I backwashed my sawyer filter, drank as much clean water as I could, drank a combo of carnation breakfast essential and via (THE BEST) and was ready to zoom on solid land.
It was on the other side of the canal, but close enough for me to gauge it’s size. I could definitely fit inside it. AUGH Dirty’s first trail alligator was a fatty!
Then, after seeing like a million alligators within that mile, I was like… wow ok thats enough of that… But apparently it wasn’t enough. Because chilling across the middle of the dirt road was a 5-6ft alligator! I really couldn’t go around other than to face him head on and hug the road. I gathered up all my courage and baby stepped towards him. He opened his eyes and looked at me. It was about noon, and super hot out. I knew he just wanted to keep sunning himself, but I also wondered if he was like, super charged right now or something. After all, it was super sunny and that’s how alligators work, right??
So I edged closer and I could hear a slight purr coming from him. A growl is probably a more accurate word. He made the slight movement to transfer weight onto his front legs, and I backed up and was like, NOPE. I then decided to call my trusted advisor, Karl Borton, at the Florida Trail Association. Karl made me feel a lot better about the fact that he was a “smaller alligator” and that he probably didn’t want to chase me, but if he did, he would win. And also, don’t run in a zig zag. So while I was on the phone with Karl, I tried to walk past the gator again. He got up, and turned around. Hooray for the FTA being on call for all my needs!
As I continued on today, it got super dang hot. I had to stop a lot to rest and cool down my feet. They are in a very fragile state right now, after having been swampy and now trying to fry them on super solid surfaces.
I had one other irritating encounter with “wildlife” today. While road walking, somewhere around mile 43 by a track of trailer homes I heard dogs barking. 2 pit bulls and a chihuahua came into the road and aggressively barked and growled at me. I YELLED at them. And I used my trekking poles to keep them away. They definitely responded to my yelling and my poles, but they were very angry. A man came out and yelled at them to go away. He told me “It’s a good thing you had your poles.” Uhhhhhhhh all I responded with was by saying “thank-you” and scurrying away. I hate dogs. I love my poles.
I tried to entertain myself on the road walk by picking up various cans, all different brands. There were a lot to choose from! With about 4 miles left to go, the pads of my feet started to feel pissed. Noooooooo deep blisters are totally the worst. I was trying to make it to an RV park to camp, which is really one of the only places to camp securely around here. I made it, but my feet were kind of mad at me. The primitive camp spot was empty, but someone left a bag of ice poured on the ground! I iced my feet and I think that might have saved them!
Tomorrow, before I head out, I am going to take my first shower!
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