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.

Peak Summer

We spent the 4th down on the far south side.  A grad school friend, who lives in Chicago with his wife is from here. Their families are from here- south side white families that are fascinating to me.  In the middle of the 20th century, there were large neighborhoods of whites who lived on the south side, near factories and industry.  They lived in places like East Side and Mount Greenwood, with Irish, German, and Polish and other Eastern European immigrants.  Knowing a little about these neighborhoods reminds me of how fast Chicago has changed.

I like going because I get to make some delicious dessert and take it… without the guilt of eating an entire tray of it.  This year, I went back to Smores Bars, which I took a couple of years ago.  I had one when I first got there and then had to claim a second (it was that good). I mean…

smorebar

It was nice to see my friend, his wife and this large group of friends who I am starting to get to know through Fantasy Football.  I tried, weakly, to talk shit to the guy who is periennally a front runner for our trophy, but honestly, it felt wrong.  The first year I was in the league, I had some major good look, but every season since then, my team has been a dumpster fire.

In any case, my friend’s crew are all really into fireworks, so there was a pretty big fireworks display, which involved timers and

such.  The weather started out pretty garbage.  But then came around.

brucelyrics

I got to snap some pics with my phone- which I used as a background for my ubiquitious IG post… fireworks pic+Springsteen Lyrics=Basic Bitch JBR in the house.  I did switch it up scotch this year by going with the Independence Day lyrics (instead of the Sandy lyrics).

Honestly, I am glad I am a grown up now, because if I was a kid, everyone I know would get me a basic bitch barbie every year for Christmas.  And I would desserve it.

In other news, we are getting travel plans in place for our trip to the UP in August. In a stroke of crazy luck, the Federal Government has moved some camping sites at National Parks into an online reservation management system.  Which is incredible.  Because there is a very specific place I wanted to stay in the UP.  Basically, it is a place that my mom described to me.  And based on 7 months of googling and deciphering clues, I think I have it figured out.  And the only way to get a campsite was to actually, with my feet, like some type of peasant in 1750 walk to the campsite and reserve it.

Until this summer, when all the camping stuff in the NPS got moved into an online system.  The system when live and 5 minutes later, I had a site reserved, which I am thrilled about.

I am feeling a certain kind of way… which is hard to describe.  It is probably a little bit of overwhelm that I am feeling… there are so many things I want to research and do while we are there… shipwreck glass bottom boat tours, fishing, blueberry picking, camping (obviously), making good noms over a campfire (even more obviously).  I am trying to figure out which lake we can hike to in the morning for fishing and whether that will be too far?  What kind of bait do I need? Like, I want to actually catch A fish this time.  Should I try some of those fancy fly lure things?  I can get some from Amazon.  Interesting.  Are these for fly fishing or can I just tie this to a line and throw in the water.  But maybe I will need worms.  Where can i get worms there?  Probably any store.  Don’t be stupid, JBR. Assuming I catch a fish, will any of the knives I have be long enough to filet it?  Sharp enough?   I want to make smore cones, do I need foil for that?  I understand that there are wild blueberries among the birch forrest… how different are they from commercial U-Pick berries?  I mean, I think I’d recognize them, but maybe I wouldn’t. Can I get a book on edible/poisonous plants in the UP.    Also, do I need some type of grill thing? Like, what is that called?  Like, to set over a fire ring?  It seems like I could take the rack thing from the oven, that would work, right?  Do I even need this, since I have a two burner Coleman stove?  Plus a MSR pocket rocket? Do I have straps for my hammock?  So, when you’re camping, can you just set up your tent and leave it there, or do I need to pack and unpack every time we leave the campsite?  Will anybody bother our shit?  What if I come back from fishing with Nico and there is a bear in the tent, tearing shit up?  What if the bear wants to fight? I mean, he wouldn’t be wearing a gi… but maybe his fur would be long enough to throw him with Osoto Gari?  Right?  No.  That is ridiculous.  You can’t do judo with a bear, JBR.

So… basically my brain has about 30 browser tabs open at this point in time.

I have been thinking, “This is too much information to track and filter and engage with. Could I just have a book that tells me what to do?”  So, I think we’ve reached peak information age.

Dave is going to have to do at least some work while we are there… so we’re renting a hotel room for him to work in during the day.  The UP is definitely not covered with cell service, so I didn’t want to risk him not being able to work.  Also, Lake Superior is like in the 50s even in the summer… so I wasn’t really gung-ho on that being my method of shower.  We are taking a water purifier though, so it will be fun to sort of camp, rustically, but with backups not far away.  Because I am going to need him to recharge my battery packs, since I have over 3,000 stories saved in my pocket app and I plan to read them all.

Camping

I had originally planned to take Nico camping in August as part of his birthday celebration.  But then Gran’s Michigan travel plans changed so we spun the camping trip to October, which was actually better, since I *really* wanted to go in October.

One of the gym owners and his girlfriend (Dan and Kay) have started an adventure business, where they take people on various kinds of adventures and help them get introduced in a relatively safe environment to things like camping, rock climbing, hiking, etc.

I didn’t have appropriate gear for myself.  I managed to get Nico a sleeping bag before we went, but ended up borrowing one whose owner said that she thought would not be warm enough.  I was taking my woobie (poncho liner that I stole from JJ) and thought I could layer on enough layers to not be cold.  That was false.  I froze my butt off on the first night- and didn’t get much sleep.

Kay let me borrow an extra sleeping bag for the second night and it worked like a charm (in that I fell into the sleep of the dead).  It also wasn’t as cold, so that helped.

We got to do some hiking and climbing on Saturday.  Turns out, that Nico is a wiz at rock climbing.

So much so, I think I am going to try to find some places to do rock climbing around here.

I didn’t do any climbing, but mostly because I didn’t like the angle my feet would have had to work with my ankles on the rock.  Also, I don’t like 10 people watching me do things.  Anything.  So… I just spectated and cheered for Nico, who was a champ.  The climb involved a decent hike- with not trivial elevation.  It was a good reminder that weightlifting shape is not the same as running from zombies in the woods up a hill shape.
It was a touch early for fall colors- it had been relatively warm when we got there.  But it was gorgeous.  Cool- so the bugs were not an issue.  It was really cool.
We tried our hand at fishing on Sunday- which was a beat down.  Someone (whose name rhymes with Rico) cranked the reel on his fishing rod to tightly, so it caused the rod to get jacked up.  And when I tried to fix it, I busted the whole damn thing.  Since we were casting from the shore, we didn’t get any bites.  The day we fished was over cast and grey.  Not like below.
Despite using big juicy night crawlers, there were no bites.  It makes me nervous that I caught my Dad’s fishing gene.  Which is unfortunate, since I used to fish like I belonged in the Hansen clan (that runs the Northwestern on The Deadliest Catch).  The good news is that there is a group that does fishing lessons here in the Chicago area.  Am thinking I might get a chance to go out there and do that.  I tried learning from a book.  I literally bought a book to learn how to fish.  I might as well be reading chinese: “When the rainbows go after the spinning charlies, make sure you hit them with the reds and the crawlers before the jimmies get in there.” WHAT?  What is happening?
The trip was really fun- I learned how to start a fire and cook over an open fire (although, there were a couple of these there– turns out Mama really wants one!) Also, as if I needed any more things to be snobbish about, camping gear.  So far, the list stands at (in no order)
  1. yarn
  2. beer
  3. stationery+pens
  4. athletic gear
  5. quilting fabric
  6. planners
  7. camping gear

 

Where will it end?