Midmorning of the third day, we passed a badly overgrown campsite with a broken pitcher pump. That allowed us to confirm our location at 13-Mile camp, which the guidebook placed at 12 miles from I-75. We now knew where we were and how far we had to go to reach our destination.
At first, the going was good. An old woods road offered several miles of easy walking on dry terrain (at least by the standards of the last few days). But soon enough, we started having to search for the blazes that indicated our route. And then the trail again plunged underwater.
Water ranged from thigh-deep to waist-deep. Invisible and underfoot, there were submerged logs that blocked our progress and forced us to detour around them. We assumed that this was the infamous"black lagoon" that the maintainers had warned us about. The blazing on the cypress trees would be fine for long distances and then suddenly and totally disappear. We finally worked out a system to locate the next blaze. One of us would remain at the last blaze and one of us would walk ahead in the direction we had been traveling. The other two would fan behind to the right and left of the lead hiker. Eventually someone would locate a blaze.
Evening found us in a long, deep stretch of swamp with lots of submerged logs. Just as we were pondering having to travel in the dark in waist-deep water, we spotted a small rise with a clump of oak trees. We had learned by now that you had to know where to look for patches of dry land. Hammocks of cypress trees were useless, because their roots do a poor job of absorbing water. Clusters of pine were better, but oak was the best. We crashed through the thick vegetation, went up a two-foot rise and found dry ground. We managed to get our tents up in the dense understory, and started cooking our dinner just as darkness set in.
Our final day was a relatively short one, starting with more of the same, as we continued our slow slog through the remainder of the "Black Lagoon." Finally, we reached slightly higher ground and entered long stretches of prairie, dominated by saw grass and cabbage palm. The route here was more regularly blazed and our final four miles were on a logging road that was only partly submerged.
Early afternoon found us at the I-75 rest stop where we used the outside spigot to wash away four days of mud and sand from our clothing and ourselves. Despite the difficulties of the Big Cypress Preserve, the feeling of isolation and the company of good companions had made it a most rewarding adventure.
And in the months to come, I'll be back for more.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication