I left the next day happy about my wonderful food supply, but very unhappy with the weather forecast that predicted three days of rain. The first day was not too bad at all: Just a sprinkle in the morning, when I was still in Linda's car and then sunshine for the rest of the day. But it was supposed to rain more that night so I tried to find a good campsite. Unfortunately, I was still in St. Mark Wildlife Refuge, which is basically a swamp and you are only allowed to camp in designated camp sites. I choose a good "high" spot, secured the tent and expected a short downpour that night. It started to rain about midnight - and did not stop for 12 hours... I got up at 6.30 am and had breakfast when it was bucketing harder and harder. My good campsite was completely waterlogged and I felt like back in rainy season in Japan. At 8.30 am my tent collapsed. The ground had become so waterlogged, that a tent stake had come loose. I had no choice but to get out and fix it. Within one minute I was soaking wet and when I got back into the tent everything inside got wet in the process. At 8.40 the tent collapsed again, because the same tent stake had come loose. I realised that I could not stay much longer. I fixed the tent, packed and left during the next rain break.
What had been trail the day before was now one big huge lake. Everything was flooded and it took me forever to hike 1,5 miles to the next road. It was still bucketing down and I (who hates roadwalks) choose to walk on the road instead on trail. I was even planning to stay the night in a motel. This deluge was just too bad - and then it stopped. I decided to hike (or better wade) on and even found a dry campsite that night.
Next day I was to hike across Bradwell Bay - 5 miles that were nominated to be one of the 10 toughest hikes in the US by Backpacker Magazine. At the local chapter meeting in Tallahassee I had been told that Bradwell Bay was quite hikeable right now, but that was before the big deluge. I decided to give it a try and hike along the Sopchoppy River up to Monkey Creek, which is the start of the Bradwell Bay area. The final decision was easy: I could not even hike along the Sopchoppy River as it was badly flooded. I gave up on Bradwell Bay and detoured around on forest roads...
I thought that by now I would know everything about wading through swamps, but the Florida Trail is always good for a surprise. So what is swamp wading advanced level?
When you hike on a forest road and it is totally inundated with chocolate colored water so you cannot see how deep it is. And when you get in it it gets waist high and has a strong current because one swamp empties itself into another swamp and you are right in the middle of it. How does that sound? I fell into a forest road..
But the very worst had still to come: In the Apalachicola National Forest you either hike through burnt pine forest (not nice, but relatively easy hiking) or you have to cross swampy areas which means bushwacking through thigh deep water. All this is bad enough doing for three days in a row, but one afternoon I came to a spot where the trail disappeared into water again - and there was an alligator lying there sunning itself. It disappeared into the water when I approached and I could see it swimming around the swamp THAT I HAD TO WADE THROUGH!!!! So what do I do now? Alligators are usually shy, but you are not supposed to swim in water with them. What about wading through water with alligators?
I tried to bushwhack around it but there was just more overgrown swamp and the last thing you want to do is get lost in a swamp. I decided to be brave and give it a try: I waded in making a lot of noise - and then realised that the water got almost waist deep and I could see nothing that was swimming around in it. I ran back to dry ground and thought some more. In the end I gave it a second try: Yelling and splashing a ran across waist deep water on tip toes - and made it! I am still in one piece and nothing is missing. Now don't tell me that the Florida Trail is boring... it is full of variety because now I am facing a two day roadwalk!