The Great Swamp Hike ‘19

So, I attempted a half hike of the Ocean to Lake Trail (aka The Lake to Ocean Trail).  It is part of the Florida trail and goes from Lake Okeechobee to Hobe Sound.  

I originally chose December for such an endeavor because I grew up in South Florida (the swampy part, not the South Beach part).  I largely know the score when it comes to weather down there, which is to say there are three seasons: Wonderful Mild Winter, The Run Up to Hot, Wet Summmer, and Hot Wet Summer.  I thought that hiking it in December would allow me to enjoy the best that South Florida has to offer (Winter), even if the the plan was to hike through some “swampy” parts of the state.

Well, the annoying thing is that the southeast part of the state got more rain than usual in December.  So, when I checked to see what water levels were like at the beginning of the month, I gave myself the green light.  Then it rained a lot. But I didn’t bother checking in with my plan.

The problem with Florida in general in wild spaces is alligators, snakes, and misquitoes, TBH.  I have been told that it is winter and that alligators don’t like to tangle with anyone in the winter… but I never liked that logic.  Its not like alligators are like, “dude, you’re cool…I’m just chillin here.  I know alligator is latin for “murder log” but that refers to an incident that happened ONE TIME!! I am actually really friendly, if you get to know me.”

And it wasn’t even a problem walking through spaces like this:

The ground here just got saturated and hence, hiking through 4-6 inches of water was sometimes necessary.  No big deal.

For me, the problems started happening when most of the trail was under water. The first part of the first day was nice… some road walks and some well-defined trail walks… which I can do all day.  Very nice.

But then I got to one of the more remote sections of the trail.  And frankly, where there were more bodies of water.  Ponds and lakes that had overflowed had me walking through deep water (over knees) in terrain where I couldn’t see the ground in front of me, which increased tripping and falling territory. as well as sprained ankle territory.  I only ate it once, but it wasn’t a great feeling, to constantly have to stay hyper concentrated on the ground under your feet.  I had to focus so much, I couldn’t listen to anything during th is stretch… and half of the goal was to be able to listen to ALL THE BOOKS!!  And ALL THE PODCASTS!!

Also, I *highly* underestimated the misquito situation; which is honestly shameful, because I KNOW.  In any case, I had a few “OFF” wipes, because I was trying to save space and didn’t think I needed a whole ass bottle of bug spray.

Reader: I definitely needed a whole ass bottle of bug spray.

One of the nutty things about this trail, is that it cuts through private and wildlife/water management lands, so there is NO random camping.  So, you’re not supposed to just set up camp anywhere you want.  Because my progress walking through water was so slow, I was honestly afraid I’d be in a position of having to random camp, which is a huge no-no.

So I decided after a day of hiking to get off the trail.  The next section was going to be even wetter, with more water on the trail.  And to me, it wasn’t worth it, I wasn’t having fun, it was NOT relaxing.  So I stopped.

I did get a chance to try out some gear I had never used, which was cool.  I filtered water for the first time, which was kinda fun.  When I got the permit to hike/camp in the first section, the lady who sent it to me was like, bring some rope to tie your water bottle to and throw that into the water… so alligators don’t mistake you for deer and other wildlife drinking at the water’s edge.  And I was like, “yes, I am definitely going to do that.”  

I think I dialed in my sleeping set up.  Back in August when we camped in Pictured Rocks, I set up a hammock, but didn’t sleep in it (slept in a tent).  But, being in the hammock, I was always on the verge of sleep, so I thought I would try that out.  It was not bad at all.  I think I tied the hammock up with a little too much tension the first night, because I could not get comfortable.  Also, it was hot and I had an underquilt rated to 20 degrees under my hammock, thinking *I guess* that I would probably be cold.  I was not.  In fact, I was sweaty trying to sleep with misquitoes biting me (no misquito net for hammock because I am, in fact, an idiot).

But the second night, I hauled ass to make a primative camp site before the rain blew in.  It took several tries with different trees (and how far apart they were), before I finally got it right.  Tarp went up first, then hammock, then I sat my ass under the tarp on the ground (in pineneedles and branches and sticks and stuff) and made some dinner, drink some water, and tried to dry my feet out (futile).  It didn’t start raining till I got in the hammock and honestly, I was snug as a bug in a rug.  The tarp/hammock set up was all kinds of great.  The only thing that was a little annoying, is that the tarp had to be readjusted in middle of the night- restaked and clipped to the ridgeline.  It was great.

In all, it was fun. I liked it and want to keep doing it.  But I think I am going to try to stay on more maintained trails.  I don’t mind gravel paths and dirt roads at all.  In fact, I learned a bit about the Lake Okeechobee Trail, which is a trail that runs along the top of the levee of Lake Okeechobee.  Nice and flat, and an actual trail.  But not a lot of shade.  Seems like my jam.  Just saying.

Ice skating

There is a little ice rink at Wrigleyville where I took Nico and his friend last month.  Nico bombed around the rink, going a million miles an hour.  I was ready to go after two laps around the rink.

This is a familiar pattern.  I think ice skating seems like a good idea.  I go.  I do a few laps before I am ready to be done.  It’s really hard.  Like on your feet.  And ankles.  My ankles are pretty garbage.

But I did manage to get off the wall for a few brief moments.

But serious question: why is it so damn hard?  And why do ice skaters make it look so easy.  Like- I should be landing jumps, that is how easy they make it look.  And I can’t even stake without clinging to the wall for dear life.

I think we can safely say that my ice skating career will remain on hold for a while.

Labor Day Hike Fail

Over Labor Day weekend, we decided to checkout the Skokie Lagoons in Skokie for some fishing and some hiking.  According to my “60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Chicago” book, this place had some decent hiking and lagoons.  If you knew me in real life, you might know that when I was a kid I could fish.  Not like it was my job.  But like, a country girl who knew shit but wasn’t interested in doing more of it.  Every field trip to Pine Island to go fishing (it was the 1980s)? Caught fish.  Fishing in our swimming pond (before we realized it was home to gators)? Caught fish.  

Since moving to Chicago, I have been trying to make being outdoors doing stuff a thing.  It is one of the things I missed about living in the south.  When we coached at Wakulla (to the south of Tallahassee), almost every single one of our soccer girls could have taken us fishing, scalloping, etc.  We  lived across from a wooded greenspace, where a Turkey lived.  When Dave and I started living together, we lived a quarter of a mile from a lake.  How many times did we go kayaking?  Twice, and both times it was a beat down.  The last house we lived in in Tallahassee sat on 1.25 acres of land.  I had a shitty garden that I half-hearted attempted to grow stuff in.  Spoiler alert: I was “too-busy”.  I wanna say to my younger, Tallahassee living self, “Like, bitch, you don’t have to do shit to grow tomatoes.  Just put those bastards in the ground.  They’ll grown year round (practically).”

In any case, I am nervous Nico is going to grow up being one of those kids that’s like, “Hey guys!  Let’s skip going camping this weekend and go see the three Star-Wars movies being re-released in 6D.”  And then, I would have to die of embarrassment.  

So, I have been trying to make fishing a thing.  I don’t know if it’s the bait I am using or the weather or what, but I have been striking out and this Labor Day was no exception.  And the hiking was suspect.  I only got onto a little footpath that went nearish the lagoon we were fishing at.  To be fair, the day was kinda over at that point, and my boys were ready to go.

But the good news is that we made it a little bit of a picnic and I had pecan and peach pie, which, if we are completely honest, ain’t too bad.

Shakedown Kayaks with Dad

I don’t remember when my dad and I started talking about doing a kayak expedition.  We’re both kinda  fans of kayaking and during a holiday visit, we chatted about the trips we wanted to do.  He told me about a series of paddle races that are longer (200-300 miles) and mentioned that he wanted to do the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge.

We talked about it very briefly in 2015 and called each other’s bluffs last year.  We aren’t getting any younger.  I also helped matters along by telling Dad that the paddle expedition is on the Forty by 40 list.  It is officially, put up or shut up time.

boxer_1487994622-048446_assetMy Dad is a lot like me in that once we have decided to do something, we sorta obsess over it.  Dad being Dad and not having a double kayak meant that was the first order of business.  The double being bought, we planned a couple of shakedown paddles for when I was in Florida for the Alumni game.

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I have been away from home about as long as I was there, which is a weird thing to say.  Since I left, an actual manatee park was opened nearish my old stomping grounds.  The morning after the game, we headed out, hoping to see some manatees.  The really cool thing about Florida is that in the winter, the manatees stay close to “warm” water.  In many cases, this is in the rivers near springs and power plants.

The spring we moved to Chicago, Dave and I took Nico to Crystal River with my mom, where we rented a boat and swam with manatees.  They are such chill animals.  Really, “sea cow” is the only way to describe them.  Nico accidentally stood on one, which you’re really not supposed to do.  But he was little and the manatee didn’t seem to mind.   Still, you shouldn’t do stuff like that.  boxer_1487994644-840043_asset The weather was absolutely spot on. It could not have been nicer.  Mild, with lots of sun.  Being in the midwest these last four years means my skin color has reverted to factory settings.  I learned my first beach trip back that the Florida sun don’t play, so I wore the long sleeves.  It wasn’t too bad at all.

We saw lots of manatees.  There were a lot of people on the water that day.  The cool thing about the park is that it is close to motor boats and the people living on the river were pretty much all at work.  It was quiet and peaceful, sunny, and breezy.   We paddled for a couple of hours before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

Dad did a good job picking out the kayak.  We can move it pretty well.  We both decided though that we really don’t want to do the Watertribe Challenge without a sail rig though.  So, that is our next step.

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The next day, we headed out on the river that ran through my old stomping grounds.  The day was overcast and a bit windy, waves crashed over the deck more.  Both my dad and I prefer the sit on top kayaks, but for different reasons.  He likes them because they aren’t as hot as the sit in models, which is fair.  He mostly paddles in South Florida.  He knows a thing or two about how warm it can get there.  I like the sit on top ones because I have doubts about my ability to right a boat that has been tipped over.  Regardless, when we actually do the challenge (next year or the year after), we are going to need to figure out waterproof gear.  Of course, it might not be that big of a deal- we might just do the course, but have my mom drive as a support vehicle.  So we could camp where we camp and just throw that stuff in the back of the truck, and keep water, snacks, and lunch on us.

It’s not a bad plan.