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.