Swamp Trek: Day One

7/10 of a mile. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Walk goal-line to goal-line on a football field 12 times, then head back and stop on the 32 yard line. Or walk three east-west blocks in New York City and pop into the Starbuck’s just past the corner. That’s it. Ain’t far at all. I mean, the average American — and we all know what terrific shape we’re all in — can mosey a mile in around 20 minutes. So 7/10 of a mile? Piece of cake. A walk in the park.

Unless you’re not doing it in the park, of course. Unless you’re doing it on the verges of Hell Hole Swamp, without flashlights in the pitch of a moonless night too dark to see much beyond your arm, through a wild of overgrown brush and crush.

I came. I didn’t see. I stumbled.

And thus began my initiation into the means and ways of swamp trekking, a military-inspired — some might say half-crazed — notion of spending your spare time. As I suspected, the idea was simple enough. You stand at some point on the globe. You have a map. You know (hopefully) where the hell you are on that map. You point to another spot on that same map and draw a line between the point you’re at and the point you want to reach. Using a compass, you turn to face the direction you need to go, and you start walking.

So simple. Just a short hike. 7/10 of a mile. That way.

The five of us who started off on this particular adventure (don’t worry; I put that in the past tense not because we lost anyone, but because two other souls joined us for the second day) did just this. And just to make it interesting, because, you know, one wants a challenge, we started just after dark. And because even that is not daring enough, we were dissuaded by the Colonel — Col. James Rembert, Professor Emeritus of the English Department, retired member of the Special Forces (on paper if not in mind), and our brave leader for the expedition — from using flashlights. “Black dark is good,” he said, “your friend.”

Stumble. Crunch. Thwack. $*&@.

The vegetation we entered was a veritable wall. We knew it by the way it blocked out the stars, though we could not see it. In retrospect, I imagine this was for the best. Had we been able to see what we were walking into, we’d never have gone forward.

At times we entered little pockets of open space among the scraping trees and the biting scrub and the clinging bramble and thorny vines, but “open” might mean only that the vegetation had receded just out of your arm’s reach.

For a good quarter-mile we hit a low patch of ground that was so dense with shoulder-high brush that it felt like you were stepping through snow. And invisible in its depths, interlaced between the ground and your knees, was a mad tangle of thin fallen trees and grappling lines.

Add it up, and it took us just over 3 hours to cover that 7/10 of a mile.

Scrape. Thud. Crack. !@#%.

We made it, though, and I’m pleased to say that I didn’t just survive my first bout of swamp trekking. I enjoyed it.

We bedded down right where we were supposed to, thanks to the fine navigating of the Colonel, and after a good bit of jawing around our tiredness we rolled out our bags and settled in. No tents. Just bags and ground cloths. Roughing it, inasmuch as one roughs it nowadays.

It was a chilly night, but bearable, and I slept hard beneath the stars and an eventual moon.

Tomorrow: Day Two, with pictures!

4 Comments

  1. By darn, you do seem to have had a good time.
    Most appealingly expressed.–JAWR

  2. Thanks, Colonel! Glad you didn’t mind my company.

  3. Catherine Michael Chandler

    You aren’t that crazy! (Or maybe I’m just as crazy…) 😉

    I’m heading out into the Florida Everglades for a trek next month with my adventure group. All the joys of the swamp plus alligators and pythons. If you are ever down in the Tampa area you should hook up with us – it is right up your alley. We just came back from Costa Rica, hiking the Andes in Peru and skiing in Colorado (my first time in CO and man did I love it!). After the Everglades swamp trek we are heading out to the wilds of Colombia in August. There is also a hike up Mt Hood planned. I would so have loved to read a commentary by you about those trips! We go as a group so there are always “interesting” things happening. You don’t have to live in the area, you can sign up and join in anytime.

    On the swamp trekking I did have a boring technical question: What shoes would you or Col Rembert recommend? I’m in Florida so it will be horridly hot and humid, I was thinking of wearing my LA Sportiva quick dries with SealSkinz watertight knee high socks… I figure the shoes will have time to dry out overnight and if not my feet will be dry from the socks anyways…. your thoughts?

  4. Wow… getting back to an old post here, Catherine!

    Sure sounds like you’ve got a great adventure group. Keep up the fun!

    As for your query: I think it depends greatly on the conditions of both the terrain and your own body. For instance, years of basketball sprains and strains mean that ankle support is pretty much a necessity for me. So I almost always run with mid-high boots, which I also found useful for pounding the brambles. After that, it’s mostly a matter of comfort and weight.

    I confess I’m a bit leery of quick dries, but I guess I’m old fashioned in that regard. I suspect I’d rather be damp with solid protection.

    Oh, and I’d really look toward getting some Insect Shield equipment (socks? shirt?) if you can. I didn’t have it on the hike described here, but I guarantee I’ll have it on the next one!

    Regardless, I wish you and your fellow travelers well. Have fun. Enjoy life. And be safe.

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