Just a Taste of the Everglades
We’ve been toying around the idea of paddling in the everglades for about a year now. We were too busy with work to go last year, but we finally got 3 days off to go explore. Without much more planning than loading the paddle boards, camping equipment and food, we made plans to meet our fellow paddlers in Chokoloskee and we headed south.
The first night we camped at the Chokoloskee Island Park. We must have had the last campsite in the place, because we just barely squeezed our two cars and tent onto the site. First thing the next morning, we headed over to the Visitor Center in Everglades City to find out what kind of back country permit we could get for just a couple nights. There was nothing within close range available for that night, so we secured a permit for the next night at Pearl Bay Chickee and spent the day meandering down to Flamingo.
We camped at Flamingo and woke up to pouring down rain. The radar was showing that the rain would stop around noon, so we waited it out. Good thing we didn’t pick a chickee any farther than 3.5 miles. Our original idea was to get out there, make camp and paddle some more. Instead, we played cards in the tent until it stopped raining and then headed straight to the chickee for the night.
Upon arrival at the Hells Bay Canoe Trail Launch, we unloaded all our gear and set off into the mangrove tunnels. The tunnels were tight and narrow with lots of turns. As we progressed further, it felt like we were just twisting in circles through the maze of mangroves. Some of the turns were so tight, the 16 foot canoe that was with us almost looked pinned amongst the mangroves, and several times the stern person was left dragging through the spider webs that lined the mangrove branches.
Even though there were many turns, the trail was very well marked with white PVC pipes. A PVC pipe was located at every turn or just about the time you were feeling lost one appeared.
As we rounded every corner we anticipated running into a gator, croc, snake or anything, but the cool temperatures kept the critters at bay, in fact all we saw on our paddle was an osprey. Even the bugs thought it was just too cold… so those stories of swallowing mosquitoes while paddling didn’t hold true for us, at least not until dusk.
After just a few hours of paddling, we spotted our chickee and started unloading. We had reserved just half of the double chickee, but were lucky enough that we were the only ones out that night. The chickee was awesome, it had counters to cook on, a ladder on one side and stairs on the other as well as a handicap sized porta-potty. It was luxurious. Later on, I did read that this was the cadillac of chickees, and the only handicap accessible chickee in the everglades, so i suppose we can’t expect this in the future from the other chickees.
We cooked up our dinner of summer sausage, beans and rice. Minutes after our stoves kicked on, a soft-shell turtle appeared out of nowhere. He circled our chickee for hours while trying to coax us to give him our scraps. He clearly had been fed by others in the past. He was fun to watch and as the sun sank down below the water, the mosquitoes came out of hiding. We quickly retreated into the safety of our tents and hammocks. We slept well as the bugs buzzed about and the water lapped at the chickee posts. There is truly nothing better than sleeping out in the middle of nowhere!
We awoke to some threatening clouds to the west, but decided it was probably just rain. We had a leisurely breakfast of eggs and bagels before packing up and heading back to our vehicles. We slowly made our way back through the mess of mangroves from the day before.
Shortly after loading up our gear, the rain hit and we headed north and back to work. It was a short trip and it felt like we only got a small taste of the everglades. So, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want more. And guess what, we want more! Stay tuned for the upcoming Everglades, top to bottom expedition, which will include a whole bag of cookies!