HIKING THE EVERGLADES TRAIL
“Who’s up for a scary, fun adventure?” Dianne asked her best friend since the first grade.
It was raining in Morristown, Tennessee, two girls were busy studying one brochure in particular while others were tossed aside.
“Let’s see, a region full of alligators, insects, swamps and poisonous vegetation. Wow, I can’t wait.” Karen’s long red finger nail tapped the brochure as she noticed one of the captions.
“Well, we’re eighteen and free as a bird for the summer,” Dianne tossed the brochure aside as Karen made a grab for it. “We need some excitement before college starts, let's hike the Everglade trail.”
Celebrating their nineteenth birthday together and signing up for their college courses, both girls decided a trip was essential before the hard work begins. Dianne decided on a science major and Karen went for an art and design major.
"You better decide soon, tomorrow morning we're taking off,” Dianne reminded Karen, tapping her foot impatiently.
“Okay, okay, I give up, the Florida Everglades it is!” Karen tossed the brochure down.
The next morning they threw their bags into the back seat of Dianne’s Mustang, slid into the front seat and off they went, leaving Tennessee far behind.
“Hey, did you see that sign? I think it said Snake Road, two miles?” Dianne backed her car up to see the sign again.
“Yeah, that’s what it says alright, be careful though,” Karen warned. “Don't wanna get lost or murdered, remember Deliverance!”
“Ms. Melodramatic,” Dianne smiled. “I’m always careful!”
"That's what I love about you, so sure of yourself." Karen said, laughing as the wind whipped her blond hair across her face.
Turning onto Snake Road, Dianne read a sign out loud, “Beware of crocodiles crossing the road. Well, that’ll be interesting.”
“Snake Road, thirty-four curves on a twenty-six mile stretch,” Karen read underneath a brochure picture she found.
As they drove along the winding stretch of road, passed the swamplands, a rich, strong earthy scent met them. Dianne mentioned that it smelled like her mom's compost.
"It does! I always thought swamplands would smell nasty," Karen said.
Suddenly, without warning, Dianne pushed on the brakes jolting Karen out of her reverie. The car skidded right up to a crocodile whose jaws opened wide as they came closer, giving off a warning hiss.
“He won't charge us, will he!” Trembling, Karen looked around at the vast swamplands, wondering how many other big monsters such as this one were out there.
“We're sure not sticking around to find out. Good, he’s leaving,” Dianne gave a sigh of relief. Pushing down on the gas petal, she sped down the road, wanting to put enough miles of road behind her and the croc.
“Look at all the farmland and ranches! How do all these farmers deal with these crocs and still keep their animals safe?" Karen became amazed how these inhabitants could live side by side without conflict.
“I'm thinking the same thing," Dianne said as she turned into a gas station and stopped in front of a pump.
“I’ll get the food,” Karen jumped out of the car and entered the store. She grabbed everything they liked and took the purchases up to counter. The man rung them up, bagging them just as Dianne walked up to pay the man for the gas.
“Did you get enough food for the whole day?” Dianne asked as they walked out of the store.
Karen nodded, her arms full of packages. Putting the bags in the back seat of the car. she tossed a bag of Cheetos to Dianne and grabbed a bag of corn chips for herself. They spotted a park bench and walked over to sit down.
“Another thirty miles or so, we'll be hiking the Everglades trails,” Dianne checked the brochure, munching on a Cheetos.
Karen smiled an acknowledgement and got up to stretch. She spotted a small flower garden and walked over to smell the Hollyhocks.
Diane walked back to the car and slid in behind the wheel. “We'd better get going, don’t want to hike those trails in the dark."
Karen jogged in place a few times then got back in on the passenger side. “What about snakes?”
“They’ll be there but we won’t see them,” Dianne started the car. Smiling, she added, “They’re shy.”
“Yeah, right!” Karen glared at Dianne.
They traveled the rest of the way down Snake Road and stopped at a stop sign. Dianne waited for the traffic to ease up, then made a left turn.
"Alligator Alley," Dianne read the sign. "Maybe we'll see an alligator cross the road."
'Uh huh, good times," Karen laughed.
They drove in silence, enjoying the scenery of the salt marshes as the morning sunlight reflected off the water. The darker green cedar trees showed off their foliage as they distinguished themselves amongst the lighter green pines. The wind blew through the lower grasses, alternating the different shades of green, brown and maroon. This made such a colorful landscape, Karen yelled for Dianne to stop so she could capture this beautiful scene on film. Dianne parked alongside the road. got out her iPod, put on her earphones and began to listen to music while Karen got out to take some pictures.
Finally satisfied with capturing all the angles of the beautiful scene before her, she tapped Diane on the shoulder. Starting the car once more, they continued on and arrived at their destination twenty or so miles later. Turning in at the Cypress Gardens parking site, Dianne pulled into an available space and parked.
Dianne grinned, “We’re here! Let's get our hiking shoes on and explore.”
“This looks really different from the hiking trails back home,” Karen said uncertainly, as she checked out the area.
Diane changed her shoes, tied her auburn hair into a topknot and got out of the car. "You'll be o.k., let's go." She took and swung her backpack over her shoulders and started walking toward the trails.
Karen rolled her eyes as she tugged on her hiking shoes. Reluctantly getting out of the car, she slung her backpack on her shoulders. She pulled her blond hair into a ponytail and followed behind Dianne, grumbling, “This area does look like snake habitat!”
Up ahead she saw Dianne step around a large brown snake.
Karen shivered while the offensive snake slithered away. “Why aren’t you afraid of snakes?"
“This one wasn’t poisonous,” Dianne calmly started walking again.
“Wasn’t poisonous my eye!” Karen mocked, as she trekked behind Dianne. After a half mile of hiking, she called out, “Why is this trail under water?”
"I guess with all the rains Florida's been having lately, the lower trails get flooded. Don’t splash too much though, you'll alert the gators," Dianne teased.
“Oh great, we’re wading with the gators now,” Karen lifted her feet high with every step.
Soon, on higher ground again, they enjoyed hiking along some beautiful scenic trails. Concentrating on being alert to the danger around them, Dianne guided Karen through the lower areas where the water got knee deep. She turned right, following some yellow strips tied to trees. The path immediately became wider for a couple of miles. When it began to narrow again, the path disappeared entirely once more into knee-high deep water.
Puzzled, Dianne turned to Karen, “It's getting deeper the further we go so let's turn back." Sliding past Karen, Dianne sludged along a muddy trail until it once again disappeared into waist deep swampy water.
“Are we lost?” Karen asked, shivering as she saw a black snake swim by.
A splashing sound made them both turn to look. A gator sounded its deep-throated growl and lunged towards them
"I'm out of here!" Karen cried, pushing past Dianne, going as fast as she possibly could in the deep water.
"Hang on there!" Dianne said, holding Karen back by her ponytail. "Wait for me!” They both waded as fast as they could, not wanting to waste time turning around to check where the gator went. When they finally came to a stop by some dense stands of saw palmetto bushes, they chanced a look. The gator wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
“That's scary!” Karen glared at Dianne. "I don't like it here, let’s find a way back."
"I can't! I really lost the trail after all this pell-mell running we just did. Your guess is as good as mine."
Karen rubbed her arms of Goosebumps while monster insects became a nuisance. She slapped at one on her leg while begging Dianne to make up her mind on which way to go.
As Dianne pondered on which way to go, a yellow python slithered down the tree that Karen was standing by. She screamed and once again running pell-mell away from danger until finally coming to a stop by a cypress stand.
“A python of all things to see,” Karen shivered as she looked at the goose bumps again crawling along her arms, trying to catch her breath. “Now I’m thinking spiders, cottonmouths, coral snakes or whatever else is here to get us.”
“The ecosystems here really do takes care of itself, the species that live in this area all have enough food to eat. We should be safe." Dianne said, crossing her fingers behind her
“I'm really tired and exhausted," Karen said, falling down next to a cypress tree.
“Yeah, this place is as good as any to rest," Dianne sighed. Tired and not wanting to admit to being scared too, she plopped down beside Karen.
Taking off her backpack, Karen groaned, “I’m too tired to eat.” She took a long drink of water, using the tree as a backrest. Before long, her eyes closed.
Dianne made herself comfortable as well. After a few minutes, she said, “Good night, Karen.”
“Good night, Dianne.” Karen said and fell into a troubled sleep..
Dianne sat, admiring the stars, as they began appearing in the dusky sky. In awe of their beauty and numbers, she wished Karen was awake to share this sight. After a while, she too fell into a fitful sleep. Awaken by a noise, she opened her eyes and noticed dense fog had fallen, completely obscuring everything around her. After that, she became alert to every little noise.
The next morning, Karen groaned as she tried to get up. Shivering, she stood, “I feel as if I got into a fight and lost.”
“I know what you mean,” Dianne stood, leaning against the tree for balance. She looked around and noticed stands of Cyprus trees everywhere, something she missed last night." Taking out her map, she traced her finger along the area she thought they had covered, "Loop Road has to be around here somewhere.” She acknowledged as she picked her backpack and started walking. Karen followed closely behind.
They hiked through the forest of dwarf Cyprus trees and tangled thickets of saw palmetto, Karen wailed, “We're lost and nobody will ever find us, only our bones.”
“Stop saying that! Look, there's open prairies ahead with many different kinds of wildflowers," Dianne said, pointing.
"They're beautiful! Hey, I heard a car... Didn't you hear a car?... That's definitely a car!" Karen exclaimed, excited at the prospect of safety at last. She traced the sound toward a thicket of ferns and peeked through some large fronds, “I found a road!"
Dianne peeked through the ferns and grinned at Karen, "More precise, you found Loop Road, so let's squeeze on through and thumb a ride."
Reaching the road, Karen turned full circle, “Which way do we go?”
Dianne stood on the road, looking both ways and pointed, “This way.”
Karen limped beside Dianne, “I don’t think I can walk much further.”
"Look! A car's coming,” Dianne cried, standing in the road, waving her arms.
As the car pulled up, a woman rolled down her window and asked, "Need a ride?"
Dianne and Karen walked up to the car, “Could you take us to the Big Cyprus Preserve parking lot.”
“You’re in luck! I’m going that way, get in,” she offered. “You two look like you spent the night here.”
“Yes, we got lost hiking, and couldn’t find our way back,” Dianne said. “No matter which way I chose, it was the wrong way.”
“You aren’t the only ones who gets lost out here,” the woman laughed. “They really should mark those trails better." She told them her name was Liz, while Karen and Dianne introduced themselves. They told her of their adventure in the Everglades. Liz was impressed with how well they looked and told them so. Dianne and Karen looked at each other and laughed.
"We look awful!" Karen and Dianne said in unison as Liz shook her head and laughed at their shocked expressions.
Arriving at the Cypress Preserve parking lot, Liz parked her car next to the Mustang that Dianne pointed out to her..
As Karen and Dianne got out, they groaned. Every bone in their body was aching. “Thank you for the ride,” Karen said, waving good-bye and limped over to the car..
Dianne thanked Liz and waved good-bye as she walked over to her car. Waving back, she called out, "Take care now!"
“Let’s go to the first motel we see and take a long, hot shower,” Dianne slid in behind the wheel.
“I want a hot bath, then sleep without any creepy crawlers, crocs or snakes,” Karen answered, happy their ordeal was over.