Day 1 The Journey Begins

No surprises today, which is an excellent way to begin a two month long journey. It’s an excellent start so far.

Fuelling up

The hotel was busy this morning, but I noticed a huge pile of mail at the front desk, so I felt relieved and decided to go grab some breakfast nearby. I had spotted a French bakery nearby on maps and so I headed out. The bakery was only two blocks away but I started out in the wrong direction at first, so it took a while to get there.

Upon arrival, I knew I had made the right choice. There were two counters full of pastries and sandwiches. I had eggs Benedict and fried potatoes that came with it. It was the first potatoes I have had in nearly two years and worth every carb.

which pastry to pack out for tomorrow?

After a refill of Americano, I hit the counters to grab a sandwich and a pastry to pack out. The Cuban sandwich I ate for lunch, but the pistachio pastry I am saving for tomorrow.

Back at the hotel, I was able to pick up all of my packages and head to the room to pack up. Now the excitement is building.

You pack differently for travelling by transit versus hiking, but I got everything set for hiking even though I knew I had at least two Uber trips coming. This is a decision I would later regret.

I need to go buy an isobutane cylinder before I can head out, so I call for an Uber since the mall area is six miles away. I love walking in cities, but not that much.

I headed for Dick’s Sporting goods first, even though I know they probably do not have any. As expected, they didn’t.

But across the highway is a Bass Pro Shops that does have them. It is less than a quarter mile away, but the highway is the Turnpike and you can’t just go straight across. I have to walk up nearly a mile to cross, then back another mile. Time to get hoofing.

I was able to get what I needed right away, so now I am finally set to take off Leaving Miami. I did not try to prearrange a ride to the trailhead with a local Miami trail angel because I was unsure of my schedule.

I saw on Facebook that at least two other hikers we’re also starting today, but much later in the day. Uber is not so bad.

In just five minutes, I had an Uber driver pull up and I am finally off. Time for a one hour drive to the middle of the Everglades.

The driver was from Nicaragua and his English was good, but a few times we had trouble understanding each other. My Spanish is horrible, and we were too far from Miami to ask Siri or Google to translate. We both did the best we could.

He had never been to the Oasis Visitor Center, so I think he was excited when we got there. We took pictures, then a quick bathroom break and he was off.

Time to Begin

The moment to begin had finally come. I filled my water bottles and took more pictures and took some videos. I wanted to over-capture the moment at the start of this hike.

Gilligan is happy to be at the southern terminus of the Florida Trail

Other big hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail, I only took a few pictures at the beginning and end and always regretted that I did not take more. I took plenty this time.

The trail starts out as crushed shells but quickly turns to grass as it heads along the air strip. Now I am finally truly hiking. I am elated.

The Peaceful Everglades

Within minutes, I left the crowds at the visitor center behind. I saw fewer than six people on the trail past the visitor center to where I camped. I am not sure why, but I think I was expecting more.

That’s one reason why I like to do these hikes. Each time I hike, it is my own unique experience and not someone else’s internet post or book. This trip is mine, and mine alone. The time of year, day of the week, weather, and time of day all make a hike a unique thing from anyone else’s.

The Everglades are Wet

I don’t think I was a half mile into the hike before it turned to wading through water time. I could see beaten paths around the water, but there is no point in trying to avoid it. It is better to embrace it right up front, as this is what the hiking will be like for the next few days.

Wading through the Everglades

By the second or third mile, it was full blown knee to thigh deep water among the cypress and it was beautiful. When the water was only a few inches deep, it was often warm. But when it was flowing, or more than six inches deep, it was quite cool and very refreshing.

The only thing that made the hiking difficult was the hidden limestone under the mud. The limestone dissolves and erodes uniformly as the density of the rocks vary. This means it is easy to step into a foot deep hole, so the going is slow.

Solution holes suck when they are under water and covered with mud

But one discovery I did make that seemed to reduce the effort was to keep my toes up and pretend I was skiing. Just not having water push down on the tops of your feet makes up for the effort of pulling your toes up. It feels like cross country skiing. You just glide through the water. As long as the rocks are not bad, the wading does not slow you down much.

I did not see any wildlife today other than a few birds and little fish in the water. But one thing there is an abundance of is bromeliads. They are in every cypress tree and some of them are huge.

Another discovery today is that pine trees prefer dry land and cypress trees love water. Sounds obvious, I know. But it makes a difference when you can look at the trees a half mile ahead and know what the next section of trail is going to be like. It helps to figure out when you will even be able to stop and take your pack off. There is nowhere to set a pack down in the water.

Seven Mile Camp

As the name indicates, seven Mile Camp is right near mile 7 from the southern terminus. It is on a large pine island and has a picnic table.

The trail near Seven Mile camp

Picnic tables are one thing I take for granted when hiking in the east. The Appalachian Trail has hundreds of them, and they are frequently found at official campsites on the Florida Trail. But the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail has just a dozen or so that I can recall.

Besides cooking, picnic tables are also a great place to wash your feet. I waded out Into a Cypress dome to get water to wash my feet with. Back at the picnic table, I used probably a full liter of water just to wash my feet, socks, and shoes. They will still be wet in the morning, but they will no longer be filled with sand.

I knew the mosquitoes were going to be bad on this section of the trip so I decided to set the tent up immediately so that I would have a place to hide from them. There are a few small clearings at the campsite so I selected one off to the side.

The next chore was to start cooking dinner. The sun was nearly down and the mosquitoes were out in full force. Since I had eaten a nice sandwich for a late lunch, I decided just to make a burrito for dinner and not cook a full meal. The mosquitoes were biting me even before I finished cooking.

Remember earlier that I said I regretted configuring my pack for hiking before taking my Uber trips? This is the part of the story where the regret begins.

I always carry two flashlights when hiking. It is too easy for one to malfunction or run out of power. So I always carry a second small one as a backup.

This is when I discovered that my primary light, which hangs from my pack strap, was now missing. I am guessing that an Uber driver has a really good flashlight now.

This is the first time I have ever lost one, but I guess this counts as a malfunction. I will have to figure out when and where to get a replacement.

Emotion of the Day

Relief is probably the first word that comes to mind. This section of Florida is new to me and no matter how many times you read about it, you have to experience it to really figure out what it’s like.

Everyone makes a big deal about the wading through water, having to deal with the solution holes, and not to mention the threat of alligators or other swamp monsters. The mud is supposed to suck the shoes right off your feet.

But I actually enjoyed wading through the cool water. The solution holes did not gobble me up, although one of them did make me slip and fall to my knee in the water. I have not been eaten by an alligator and I still have both of my shoes. So I guess I am relieved that none of these bad things actually happened.

But it’s also relief that the trip has finally started. Flying to Miami and getting my supplies this morning was not really hiking, even though it is a necessary part of the trip. But now I am actually hiking and that is why I am out here. Even if only 7 miles today, there will be more tomorrow and many more in the days, weeks, and months to come.

I guess I am also relieved that I can’t hike after dark with only one light. I like to find a campsite before dark when the terrain is difficult. And swamps definitely count as difficult. So I guess I am relieved that I will not be tempted to try and hike in the dark until I get a second light.

But I am not relieved that I no longer have my favorite light. That part makes me sad. But now there is anticipation to getting a new one.

1 Comment

  1. I thought in January and February it wouldn’t be so wet, but now I know. Mosquitoes… Florida Mosquitoes I have yet to find a really good solution. My head net helps but the rest of the body gets eaten up. I look forward to reading this journey and the pictures that go with it.

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