I don’t know how long I was riding on the smooth, dirt road before it curved West and I had to jump back over to the peevish side of the border. However, true to its nature, once I started the journey again from the wildlife management side, the trail went into DEEP water. Like all the rest of the water, this water was red when shallow, and black when more than a few inches deep. It was stagnant and only refreshingly cool 10 inches below the surface. The top 10 inches were like a hot tub. The water was almost to my waist…so “good for me the water is cool” but “bad for me, I’m pushing my bike through a small pond.”
It crossed my mind more than once that these kinds of floods must give gators fun avenues to explore parts of Florida they’ve never seen. Anyway, I wasn’t too upset about the deluge as the path was beginning to veer East which meant I was more than two thirds of the way there according to the lying map.
The last leg of the trip was by far the hardest. I was about an hour from making the decision to take the path over the road and about the same amount of time since I stopped sweating. The trail deviated away from the border and then woulc back to the border giving me less and less confidence in my ‘almost there’ belief.
The desert-like environment would be a normal forest if the sand was dirt and trapped all the saturation. If the sand was dirt, I might have enjoyed tons of shade instead of Florida’s 1 o’clock sun was killing me.
While the trail was away from the border, the trail blazes dissected tall grass with a few random patches of black water. The visual repeated itself every quarter mile. I’d see 5 to 6 blazes scatter across a huge opening with grass and palm leaves on either side of the trail. The trail blazes would duck behind what looked like a patch of thick trees. However, when I reached the trees, there was never any shade and the only feeling of accomplishment was that I now faced another huge opening that looked exactly like the last one.
By now I was very weak and riding really slow; the sand in my shoes began to grade my feet with every stroke; and my muscles were beginning to cramp. I would alternate riding and walking because different muscles were cramping. I wanted to stop and rest, but I knew the sun and dehydration would ruin any rest.
It got to the point where I could not go any further without water. I fought off the urge several times to gulp up the black water, but I couldn’t fight it any longer. I tried to think of a way I could filter it through a bunch of sand, but I just settled for filtering it through my shirt. I tried to find the coolest little patch of water along the trail with the fewest floaties and swimmies. There was no question in my mind, I would either risk the diarrhea or spend the rest of the day hoping someone would find me.
I dug very deep that day. I stopped several times for water, but I tried to keep moving. My eyes began playing tricks on my turning a fern into a park ranger in the corner of my eye and my mind began acting very bizarre. I remember thinking how normal it would be to come across a deer standing on its hind legs, and how I would have tried to drink its blood.
I did appreciate the stories Ben told me of Marine training and I am quite sure they went through trials much worse, but the concept of soldiering on motivated me. It was a mental struggle to stay confident in my sense of direction and remain hopeful that finding the car was the only place my trail could end.
After a few false alarms, I did finally see a man-made structure, that turned out to be the bathrooms near my car. There was a fence I had to jump, where I just left my bike and ran straight to my car. I guzzled as much as I could of my hot water (hopefully that thing about plastic bottles leaking carcinogens when the get hot isn’t true). As I was getting my bike and pulling out of there, I saw the guy I had met who suggested I take the road and not the trail. He had finished his walk and made it back to his car before me.
With a quick stop at a gas station to get some Gatorade and Power Bar, I was on my way home. I was out of commission the rest of the day. I lost over 3 pounds of water weight, which I just now realized did not include the 32 oz Gatorade I just finished. With just 2 or 3 ticks on me, I considered myself pretty lucky. Especially since there was no revenge of the black water I drank.