Last week, we headed south to visit friends and to start the ball rolling for this year’s Big O Hike. Being the oldest continuous annual hike in Florida, we felt compelled to keep it going. After more than a decade as the “man in charge,” Paul Cummings wanted to retire and turn over the reins to a new leader. He asked Sandy, and she agreed to be the new hike leader. Once again, I’ll be ‘her man Friday’.
After dinner with a few of the Loxahatchee folks and a visit to their chapter meeting, we had a breakfast meeting with our long-time friend Mike “Nomad,” the Big O Wagonmaster. Details and volunteers for the 2013 Big O Hike began to come together.
The next morning we met our friends Scott and Sally at Apoxee Wilderness, part of Grassy Waters Preserve. After hearing about the seven inches of rain they’d had in the last week, and being told the trail might be a little wet, I should have known what to expect. As we left the paved trail and headed off, it wasn’t long before the water was over my boots. At one point, the trail was supposed to be passing between two ponds. At least that’s what they told me. With water to the left, water to the right, and water below me, my definition of a trail is different than theirs!
I’m just used to hiking in dry places, and still not comfortable to having my feet wet. Now let me clear something up. Having your feet get a little wet on a hike is one thing. But down here in South Florida, getting your feet a little wet on a hike means wading up to your ankles. And I’ve seen pictures of people hiking along in waist deep water. Water that deep is just right for my kayak! But these southern hikers take it all in stride. Using terms like “swamp walk,” they just keep on going.
I was reminded of my hike through Big Cypress last January. At times there was water as far as I could see in every direction. But unlike hiking in winter, now the trees were green with lush ferns and bromeliads. Wearing a day pack – and knowing that there would be a hot shower waiting for me at the end of the day – was also comforting.
Where we were walking, Grassy Waters Preserve, is basically a reservoir for Palm Beach County, a small piece of what’s left of the Everglades this far north. Part of our hike is along a dike creating a massive watershed and holding area.
Seeing a deer walking through the shallow water surprised us all. We took turns watching each other. We would take a few steps and stop, then the deer would take a few steps and stop. Finally, it stood its ground as we quietly went by.
From the the dike we took a side trail that would loop us back toward the parking lot. Once we left the dike, it was not long before we were walking through ankle deep water again. Coming to a boardwalk, Scott walked across the board walk, then stepped back into the ankle deep water. I walked beside him in calf deep water as we all had a good laugh. Farther down the path we came to a short boardwalk with a bench on top. It looked like it was just floating there. We took time for another photo op.
As we arrived back on the paved trail, I realized that I had again survived getting my feet wet. And maybe it wasn’t all that bad. For the price of wet feet, I had spent the morning outdoors with good friends.
I guess it’s time to retire the old waterproof boots, and lace up a pair of fast-drying, lightweight boots and hop on in. The water’s fine!