A Day in Bradwell Bay
Bradwell Bay's swamp deep in accumulated layers of humus, the waterlogged rotting remains of leaves, mosses, and grass often blankets the entire plain in water ranging from knee-deep to chest-deep. We're lucky. Even with the rain a couple days ago, there are dry patches between the mudholes; that is to say, little islands of slightly harder muck accumulated around tree roots. Cypress knees jut out of the dark water. Sweetbay magnolia towers overhead.
It's an obstacle course. Winter blowdowns force us into deeper water. We clamber up and over and through tangles of brittle branches and thorny vines. Bloody gashes appear on bare skin.
And then there's the muck.
The sucking muck.
The muck that oozes into tennis shoes. Linda is in front of me, making funny noises."Ewwww. Goooo." Squish. Squish. Squish. I'm glad I wore my high-topped, double-tongued Vasque boots.
The muck that grabs so tightly at heavy boots that you have to cantilever yourself against a tree and reclaim your foot with a resounding "thwock!"
The muck that coats the swamp floor so deeply that only a foot of my fully extended Lekis peeps out above the waterline as I probe ahead for footing.
The muck that sucks so hard on my hiking poles that they become disjointed; I see the inner workings, the springs, for the first time. I require help to push my poles back together again before they are ruined. I probe less deeply after learning that lesson.
Water seems to gravitate to the trail corridor. Or did some diabolical trail builder blaze the trail right into the deepest sloughs?
"Keep right! Keep right!" Ann yells back.
Big splash. Another hiker down in a hole. Looks like Tom this time. "Watch out! There's a big hole on the left!" he yells.
I'm glad I'm second to last in line.
The hiking poles are a necessity the first time I've found them of any use in Florida. Some of these blackwater troughs have pits deep enough to swallow you whole. Especially the Pond. Here, it's water in every direction. Trail? What trail? Look for the bright orange rope. Follow it closely.
"Left side." Someone yells from far ahead; I can't make out who, through the dense brush. "Switch to the right in the middle . . ."
"Aaaaaaaahhhh!" Splash. Repeat twenty times.
I'm one of the lucky third of the group who's managed to keep dry from mid-thigh up, despite the frequent splashes of my comrades. Even with poles, it's easy to slip in the unseen muck and lose your footing. Or wrench your foot under a hidden root, break an ankle. Or step on a slimy log. Or plunge into a deep hole. It's not a place to visit alone.
I'm so glad I'm not carrying 35 pounds of gear on my back.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication