2: Safaris, Levees, and Mosquitoes

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After a peaceful night, we wake up excited and ready to go. Today we will get our first resupply box at Billie Swamp Safari. We pass through a gate that indicates we are entering the Seminole reservation. We walk along a road for a few miles before we start seeing signs of civilization. As we walk past the first house, we have our first close encounter with “wildlife”; a pit bull comes charging out to the road and follows us closely. Trekking poles at the ready, the dog eventually loses interest and retreats back to its home.

Our next close encounter comes soon enough on the road ahead. A group of buzzards is collected around something in the levee. Buzzards scatter as we approach. Upon investigation, we find the remains of what used to be a large alligator. Someone had killed a gator; removed its head, tail, and foot, and then dumped its body in the levee. It’s sad, but it was still pretty interesting to see the gator body up close.

Billie Swamp Safari

Making a turn off the main road, we head towards the Billie Swamp Safari. This is a tourist attraction featuring airboat rides, a zoo, and most importantly, food. There is a building labeled employees only that looks like a good place to find our resupply package. A woman meets us at the porch, and we ask about our package. Another woman appears and begins making phone calls and hunting for our package. She reports that they don’t have it. This is a problem. We check our tracking number and verify it was delivered. After another ten-minute search, we find the gift shop has located our package. What a load off!

We are hungry, so we gather our box and head to the restaurant. Indian tacos and iced tea do the trick. We walk through the small zoo and inspect the wildlife. Mainly, we are interested in the cougar. The Florida panther was sleeping, but we still got a good look at it. Filling our water bottles and sorting our supplies, we head back to the road to continue down the trail.

Seminole museum

Our next stop is the Seminole museum. It is right on the trail. It’s hot and sunny, and air conditioning sounds too good to pass up. We are greeted by a woman at the entrance, she lets us keep our packs at the front while we tour the museum. The museum has a nature walk and many displays on the Seminole. We sit in a dark, cool theatre and watch a film. It was a nice stop. The history of the Seminole was pretty interesting.

Chickee Charlie

A short walk farther down the road, we come to the Big Cypress Campground. Checking in at the campground office, we find out there is another Florida Trail thru-hiker we will be sharing our site with. This campground is really nice. We are set up with a site that has a Chickee, lights, power outlets, and water. The bathrooms were clean, and the showers hot. As we walk up to our Chickee, we see a hammock hanging under it, and a hiker sitting in it.

He introduces himself as Charlie, and he is hiking the Florida Trail. Charlie is the first thru-hiker we have met. This is his first thru-hiking experience, and the trail has been tough on him. Tough hiking and bad water sources have taken their toll on Charlie. Charlie has been here for almost two days recovering. He is very kind and bestows gifts of food and soap upon us. We set up our tent, eat our dinner, take a shower, and head to bed.

Levee walks and more company

All three of us head out early. As we are getting ready, we see another hiker heading out before us. We don’t get a chance to talk to him. Today we will be walking on levees for most of the day. As we leave town, we outpace Charlie and lose sight of him. The day is heating up fast. On the levee, there is very little shade. We are covering ourselves with sunscreen and hiding under our wide-brimmed desert hats.

Hiking on the levee, we get to see lots of birds, unfamiliar birds. A pair of Sand Hill Cranes stand close to the trail and call to each other as we pass. The cranes have a really cool call. We linger for a while and observe before moving on.

As the hike goes on, we approach a large pump house at an intersection. There are gators in the water and some workers at the pump house. Most importantly, we find a water cache here. Trail angels have been maintaining a steady cache for hikers. The cache is great! It keeps us from having to drink levee water, which has a lot of contamination in it and having to get close to the water that has large gators lurking about.

Will

We break for a snack and water. As we break, we see Charlie and another hiker approach. This was the hiker we saw at the campground this morning. He introduces himself as Will. Full of water and food, we set off down the levee. Will is no rookie to hiking. He is traveling light and tells us of all the hiking he has done all over the world. It’s very fun to listen to all the stories. Charlie decides to break in the shade of a pump house, as the rest of us push on through the hot exposed levee walk.

We get some cold drinks from one of the passing work trucks in the afternoon. As the sun goes down, we decide to stop and pitch a tent near a sugar cane field. Will pushes on. We are soon descended upon by hundreds of mosquitoes. There are so many that once in our tent, we can see them everywhere outside our net, buzzing.

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