Jan 9-10: Trey and Jay's Jungle Cruise

The group began the trip towards south Florida in good spirits, after clean showers and multiple loads of laundry. "Bye Tall Timbers!" we called out in unison as we waved to the Lion's Mane and Longleaf Pine. I-10 to I-75 South was often a monotonous drive, full of pines, country clubs, and Florida drivers. Chris kept the group awake with some walkie-talkie banter: placing McDonald's orders, asking questions in Spanish, or sometimes just making static noises to confuse and annoy. Pennsylvania residents were delighted by the familiar sight of Wawa gas stations, but sadly, Cade missed the exit, and the group resigned themselves to stopping at a very French gas station: Café Risqué. After refueling, the travelers broke bread (and Pringle) before hitting the road once more.
As the vans neared Tampa, one of the vans had a run-in with an unfortunate turtle who had wandered too far into the road. Miette led the leading van in three ‘Hail Mary’s before pressing on. Nearing Naples, Snowy Egrets became as frequent as pigeons, and golf courses even more so. One such egret fell prey to a Ford F-150 that had just whipped around both vans, in a somber display of the fragility of the Everglades.
Finally, we arrived at Trail Lakes Campground, the Skunk Ape Headquarters and the gate to the Everglades. The group was greeted by a man in a Ball State t-shirt, reminding them that it is, in fact, a very small world. Despite the mosquitoes, the group made camp, cooked in their groups, and prepared themselves for a full day of paddling to follow.
We started the morning by browsing the tchotchkes at Skunk Ape HQ and visiting the resident reticulated python. We then drove a few minutes down the road to Big Cypress National Preserve to begin our adventure in the Everglades.
We met up with our guides at the put-in: Trey, a friendly dude with an enviable beard, and Jason, a self-proclaimed “beach-rat” who loved mother nature and ex-wife jokes. We paddled the Turner River in double kayaks, which Jason dubbed “polyethylene divorce machines,” but all of our partnerships remained intact by the end of the day.
First, the group explored some of the coolest plant spots upstream in the mangroves, lush with orchids, bromeliads, and air plants. We continued down the river, getting up close and personal with alligators, shorebirds, and crabs. Paddles were broken down to enter the mangrove tunnels, a tight and twisting maze of roots and branches. As the mangroves closed in over our heads, thick branches became more helpful than paddles, and we quickly became practiced at branch-steering. Even the most skilled Tarzan-ers, however, were often vulnerable to kayak-jams.
After a river-side sandwich lunch and a brief encounter with a Sierra Club trip, we continued our paddle into the widening river and across the bay, reaching our pick-up spot in time to watch the sun setting across the water. We drove to our first non-campsite dinner and ate on a beautiful but buggy patio, giving a few of our members an opportunity to try alligator in their tacos. After a grocery run at Publix, rated by Charlie as the best bathrooms on the trip, we returned to Trails Lake for the night, in preparation for our next big adventure.

Posted on January 14, 2022 12:02 AM by crsmithant crsmithant


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