Saturday, December 7th, 2019
We enjoyed a brief stretch of palmettos and oak hammocks before entering scrub fields along a dirt road.
There were several honey bee boxes before we were back under the shade of the oak trees. A grassy road with dried up, dead fish scattered along it led us to the lock.
We had to hit the buzzer to alert the lock tender. We didn’t see anyone at first and Frisbee checked the gate to see if it was unlocked. It was, but when we saw a truck traveling our way from the other side of the canal, we waited for her to tell us which way to cross. She was kind enough to give us cold water before wishing us a safe journey.
When we saw the dirt road “trail” was about to turn off into the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, we decided to take a break while we still had a flat area to sit and eat at. There was no certainty what lied ahead of us.
The trail followed the fence line next to tall grasses, and there was evidence of hogs burrowing underneath the fence and creating wallows. The scenery did not change and the sun was beating on us until we sought shelter under the trees at Pine Island Slough Camp. After our break, we continued through the monotonous scenery of the dry prairie until we reached the park office.
A group of college students were pitching tents nearby when we arrived. We set up shop on a bench with an outlet to charge our nearly-dead phones and charger blocks. We ate after taking off our shoes and socks, exposing our filthy feet much to the horror of the college kids who would occasionally walk by us to use the restroom. The friendly lady volunteering talked with us as she cleaned.
“Do you like tacky cupcakes?”
She went inside the building and returned with colorful, and delicious cupcakes. We felt horrible when she turned around to go back inside and realized she locked herself out. She took off on a golf cart and returned with a spare key, and we apologized for the trouble that her kind gesture caused her at our expense.
A lot of time passed before we left that bench. Returning to the trail meant returning to the monotony. Grassy fields as far as the eye could see. Aside form the occasional day hiker returning to the campground, we passed giant swamp buggies loaded up with people touring the grounds. They looked down at us and warned us of an eight-foot gator ahead of us. They looked perplexed when Frisbee joked, “Awesome! I’m gonna wrestle it!”
When we managed to pass a small assemblage of trees, I stepped aside to pee. Much to my horror, I did so right in front of a wildlife camera.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
I pointed Frisbee’s gaze to the wildlife cam strapped to the tree. “Fuck my life.”
“Well, give it a wave!”
I eventually did, after I pulled my shorts back up of course, albeit an awkward one. This conjured up memories of my classmates mooning the wildlife cam when I was studying abroad in the Peruvian rainforest. We all got a laugh when a picture of a row of butts appeared on the projector screen. Unfortunate for me, this occasion wasn’t voluntary.
After my moment of disgrace, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset as we made out way to Cowboy Crossing. There wasn’t much to this primitive campsite, but there was company. We creeped in with our headlamps on, introduced ourselves as asked the two guys sitting in front of the campfire if they would mind if we joined them.
“Not at all!”
Their names were Daniel and Brian, and they were both military vets who were out on a camping trip to clear their heads. Brian was a former Florida Trail hiker who went by the trail name “Patches,” and they told us that they were just coming down from an acid trip. They too, met the swamp buggy people who apparently spooked them as they were on their spiritual voyage. The guy driving the buggy told them that no one camps there, and apparently subtly accused them of littering. He pointed to the bottles of Jim Beam laying by the water pump, and asked them, “Who left those there?” Unknown to the driver, they were plastic bottles filled with water that were laying there to be used to prime the pump. Daniel and Brian had to educate the guy on how things work out here.
The guys had some funny stories, like a run in with a horse on their way there. One of them was having a wonderful time petting the horse while the other said that the horse’s eyes turned red and he wanted nothing to do with it. I questioned if there was a horse there to begin with, but would find out the next day that there indeed were horses to be witnessed, and pet.
Funny stories about their acid trip weren’t the only ones share over the campfire. They told us that they met through their wives who were best friends in grade school. One of the guys got divorced, and the wives (former and current) don’t speak to each other anymore, but funny enough, Daniel and Brian still do and have become good friends! They both told us that they have a hard time dealing with PTSD after their time in the Marines, and how hiking and camping trips help them quiet the noise. I can relate. I’ve long suffered from crippling depression and anxiety, and have found nature therapy to be one of the only ways to escape from my mental prison. A safety meeting followed, as well as many stories of travel and hiking over the fire. They had a long drive back home to Orlando, so they snuck out in the middle of the night to return to their car.
27.0 miles (43.5 km)
Jump Ahead to Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 18
Jump Back to Return to the Florida Trail: Chapter 16
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