Dianne & Karen seek adventure and decide to hike the Everglades.
Thank you, Leger~ for featuring this story in the action/adventure newsletter, dated August 24, 2011.
HIKING THE EVERGLADES TRAIL
“Hey Karen! How about hiking ... the everglades?” Dianne asked, as she scanned the brochure for more information.
It was raining in Morristown, Tennessee and the girls were busy planning their summer trip. Karen was engrossed in a brochure that advertised sandy beaches and a theme park nearby with cute little cabins to stay in. She looked up and sighed.
“Oh yes, let's see, a region full of alligators, insects, swamps and poisonous vegetation of all kinds.” Karen’s long red finger nail tapped the caption on the brochure. “This seems way too dangerous for me. I want our vacation to be fun and carefree until we start college.”
“Well, we’re free as a bird for the summer, so we might as well go all out on our last vacation before all the studying begins,” Dianne tossed another leaflet aside that didn't appeal to her. Signing up for their college courses a week ago, Dianne decided on a science major while Karen's love of art made her decide on art and design major.
"We better make up our minds soon,” Dianne said, “I want to have at least a two week vacation before we settle down into some serious studying.”
“Okay, okay, I give up, Florida Everglades it is,” Karen tossed her sandy beaches' brochure across the table at Dianne.
The next morning Karen heaved her bags into the back seat of Dianne's Mustang, put her camera and art supplies case next to her luggage and slid into the front seat next to her best friend. They were off, leaving Tennessee behind. As they drove, they discussed their agenda, making sure they both agreed on what they’d be doing when they got to Florida.
Thirty miles later, Dianne slammed on her brakes and backed her car up to a sign. “Hey, the sign says Snake Road! It supposed to be a short cut, wanna take it?”
"Sure. This is what I love about you, making decisions on the spot," Karen said, laughing. " Listen ... This brochure says Snake Road is a twenty-six mile stretch that has thirty-four curves.”
Dianne turned onto the road and continued driving. As she drove, Karen read signs out loud, “Beware of crocodiles crossing the road. Well, that’s scary, and it would just be our luck to see one."
As they drove the many curves, passing swampland's that gave off a rich, strong earthy scent. Dianne inhaled deeply and let it out. “You know, it smells like mom's compost.”
"You're right, it does, and I always thought the swampland's would smell nasty. This isn’t bad at all!" Karen said, looking over her shoulder at a heron taking flight.
Suddenly, without warning, Dianne pushed on the brakes jolting Karen out of her reverie. Her eyes opened wide when she saw why Dianne stopped so abruptly. She watched as a alligator opened its jaws wide as the car skidded too close for comfort. It gave off a loud, warning hiss.
“Will it charge at us?” Karen cried out, then looked around at the vast surrounding swampland and imagined all the many other gators that were out there.
“We're sure not sticking around to find out.” Dianne said. She backed up, and then pushed down on the gas pedal to get some distance from the big creature.
“Look at all these ranches and farmland! How do they deal with these alligators and still keep their animals safe?" Karen wondered aloud, amazed how all these inhabitants could live side by side without conflict.
“I suppose they get used to each other," Dianne said as she turned into a gas station. “Better gas up and get some food.”
“I’ll get the food,” Karen jumped out of the car and entered the store. She grabbed everything that caught her interest and brought the items up to counter. The man rung them up and bagged them. Dianne walked up at that moment to pay the for the gas.
“Did you get enough food for all 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 sat down on a bench located in front of a sweet, smelling garden.
“Another thirty miles or so, we'll be hiking the Everglades trails,” Dianne said. She had the map spread over the hood of her car as she calculated the miles.
Karen smiled as she threw her empty bag in the trash can. She walked through a small gate to smell the flowers. "Mmmmmm, this smells heavenly! I love Magnolia blossoms!
Diane tossed her empty bag in the trash and slid in behind the wheel of her car. “We'd better get going, don’t want to hike those trails in the dark."
Karen walked to the passenger side and got in. “Florida has been known for their large snakes, right? I hope we don’t see too many of them.”
“They’ll be there, of course, but I’m almost sure we won’t see any,” Dianne started the car. Smiling at Karen, she added, “They’re shy.”
“Yeah right!” Karen said, punching Dianne on her arm.
They traveled the rest of the way down Snake Road and stopped at a stop sign to wait for the traffic to ease up, then turned left onto Alligator Alley." Dianne read the sign. "I like the name of the road.
“Well, it clues us in on what to expect when taking this route," Karen smiled.
They drove in silence, enjoying the beautiful scenery. As they passed by the salt marshes, Karen watched as the morning sunlight reflected off the water, showing off reflections of the trees. The darker green of the cedar trees contrasted with the larger numbers of the lighter green pines. "STOP!"
Dianne slammed on her brakes, parked alongside the road and put on her earphones to listen to music. She was used to Karen's obsession with a great scenic view, and expected it. Karen got out her camera to take some pictures of the scene unfolding in front of her. She was mesmerized by the different shades of greens, browns, and maroons and began snapping picture after picture, trying to capture this beautiful scene. She would later paint this scene on canvas.
Satisfied, Karen tapped Diane on the shoulder, "We can go now."
Starting the car once more, Dianne eased back onto the road and continued on until they arrived at their destination. She turned in at the Cypress Gardens parking site and pulled into an available space. Shutting off the car, she turned to Karen, grinning.“We’re here! Let's get our hiking shoes on and start exploring.” She got out and began looking through her bags for her hiking gear.
“Oh my gosh! This looks so different from the hiking trails back home in our mountains,” Karen stood beside the car and began turning completely around, checking out the area.
Diane put her hiking shoes on, tied her long, auburn hair into a topknot and put a knapsack on her shoulder. "Of course, that’s why we’re here. We don’t want to see the same thing over and over all the time. Different is good, let's go." She started walking toward the trails that were clearly marked.
Karen rolled her eyes, but she put on her hiking shoes. She tamed down her wind-blown blond hair and put it up in a pony tail. Grabbing her backpack, she ran to catch up to Dianne.
When she saw Dianne stepping around a large brown snake, Karen shivered, glad to see the offensive snake slither away. “Why aren’t you afraid of snakes?"
“I checked its markings and found it wasn’t poisonous,” Dianne said.
They began following the marked trail and about four miles into their hike, the trail disappeared under water. "I guess with all the rains Florida’s been having lately, the lower trails become flooded. Don’t splash too much, you'll alert the gators," Dianne teased.
“Oh great,” Karen lifted her feet high with every step, making Dianne laugh.
Soon they were on higher ground again and both of them began enjoying the beautiful scenic trail. Concentrating on the danger surrounding them, Dianne guided Karen through the lower areas where sometimes the water got knee deep. She turned right to follow the yellow strips tied to trees and the path immediately became wider and safer. They crossed a long bridge where they could admire the lily pads. They continued on until the path narrowed again, disappearing entirely into knee-high deep water.
Puzzled, Dianne turned to Karen, “Why is it getting deeper? It must be lower here than anywhere else we've hiked., let's turn back," They hiked back until they found the path marked with yellow strips. I must have missed this, sorry."
They hiked another two miles when the trail disappeared into waist deep swampy water. "Wow! They must have had more rain than I thought." She stood still, trying to figure out where she went wrong when a splashing sound made them both turn to look. A gator sounded its deep-throated growl and lunged towards them.
Karen screamed, passed Dianne and took off running.
"Hang on there!" Dianne said. Reaching the end of the trail, they stopped to rest by some pine trees and dense stands of saw palmetto bushes.
“I never was so scared in all my life! Do you think we lost him?” Karen wondered.
"Yes, but I’ve lost all sense of direction when we ran pell-mell away from that gator. Your guess is as good as mine."
As Dianne pondered on which way to go, a yellow python slithered down the tree that Karen was standing next to. She screamed for Karen to look up which she did. Once again they were running from the danger that seemed to surround them. Out of breath and scared, they finally came to a stop by a cypress stand.
“A python! He didn't seem one bit shy to me,” Karen shivered, trying to catch her breath. “Now I’m thinking what else are we going to see." She looked around, expecting to see a cottonmouth, a coral snake or a lion that was out to get her for coming into their territory.
“The ecosystems here takes care of all species in these everglades, meaning they have enough food to eat. We should be safe." Dianne said, trying hard to sound confident as she calmed Karen’s fears.
“I'm so 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 herself and not wanting to admit how scared she was, she plopped down beside Karen.
Taking off her backpack, Karen groaned, “I’m too tired to eat.” She took a long drink of water and using the tree as a backrest, she closed her eyes.
Dianne made herself comfortable as well. After a few minutes, she said, “Good night, Karen.”
“Good night,” 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. Awakened by a noise, she opened her eyes and noticed a dense fog had fallen, completely obscuring everything around her. After that, she became alert to every little noise and couldn’t get back to sleep.
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 there were stands of Cypress trees everywhere, something they were too tired to notice 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 up her knapsack and began walking. Karen slung her backpack over her shoulders and followed.
They hiked past a forest of dwarf Cyprus trees and many tangled thickets of saw palmetto. Karen sighed, “We're lost and nobody knows we’re out here. We should have told someone.”
“You’re right, we should have. Look, there's some open prairies up ahead. Look at all the many different kinds of wildflowers!" Dianne said, in awe of the beauty before her.
"They're pretty. Hey, I heard a car... Didn't you hear a car?... That definitely sounded like a car!" Karen exclaimed, hopping up and down. She began to trace the sound to where it came from and came to a thicket of ferns. Peeking through the large fronds, she yelled. “I found the road!"
Dianne peeked through the ferns and grinned at Karen, "You found Loop Road, so let's squeeze on through and thumb a ride."
Reaching the road, Karen turned full circle, “Which way is your car?”
Dianne stood on the road, looking both ways and pointed, “This way.”
Karen limped alongside Dianne who didn’t fare much better, “I don’t think I can walk much further.”
"Look! A car's coming!” Dianne stood in the middle of the road and began waving her arms.
As the car slowed up, a woman rolled down her window and asked, "Need a ride?"
Dianne and Karen walked over to the driver’s side. “Could you take us to the Big Cypress 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 did. We got lost hiking, and couldn’t find our way back,” Dianne said. “No matter which way I chose, it always turned out to be 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 about their adventure in the Everglades. Liz was impressed with how well they coped with all the dangers and told them so. Dianne and Karen looked at each other and laughed.
"I don't know if I should mention this, but I feel I should," Liz said. "Did you hear about the numerous cats and dogs that go missing after people leave them behind?"
Shaking her head no, Dianne volunteered her knowledge. "I know about pet Burmese pythons being released into the Everglades."
Liz nodded, "Can you imagine the ecological danger this puts the Everglades in?"
"I'm sorry, Liz, but what's stuck in my memory is how scared those poor cats and dogs were when left behind," Karen said
Arriving at the Cypress Preserve parking lot, Liz parked her car next to Dianne’s Mustang. As Karen and Dianne got out, they groaned. Every bone in their body ached. “Thank you for the ride, Liz,” Karen said. She waved good-bye and limped over to the car..
Dianne thanked Liz for her help and the ecology lesson. "I'm going to look more into it and see what I can do to educate people on it." She walked over to her car and waited for Liz to back her car up.
Before Liz sped away, she called out, "You girls take care now, keep in touch."
Waving their farewell, Dianne started the car. “Let’s go to the first motel we see and take a long, hot shower."
“A hot bath sounds wonderful and I need to catch up on some sleep, too, without worrying about any creepy crawlers, alligators or snakes,” Karen sighed, happy their ordeal was over.