Hiker Falls into Chest Deep Alligator Swamp
ECT Day 299
Day 299: 28.5 miles
Last night when I went to bed I told myself I could sleep in this morning as late as I wanted. I’ve done some really big miles the last few days and put myself in a great position timewise. Originally when I was planning out this week I had to walk about a marathon every single day. I would have even had to walk a marathon on the day getting into Okeechobee. Now that I’ve done so many miles the last few days I could get away with doing closer to 20 miles per day if I wanted.
I woke up around 6:30am and let myself lay for as long as I wanted. That actually worked out in my favor because I wound up waking up naturally and in a really good mood. I was all packed up and ready to go by 7:15am. This is an earlier start than I’ve had the last few days even though I didn’t need to start early! That was pretty funny.
The trail this morning was absolutely incredible. I saw some of the biggest trees that I’ve seen all year. These gargantuan beautiful trees had some of the longest limbs I’ve ever seen. They were covered in Spanish moss. It was honestly breathtaking. I swear in the first hour of the day I probably took 100 photos of these incredible trees.
Within the first 15 minutes of the morning I was walking along the trail and heard a big commotion just off to the side of me. Then I watched a bunch of giant scared hogs running away from me, only about 10 feet away. I don’t know what I was picturing when people mentioned hogs in Florida. But these were so much bigger than I would’ve ever imagined. They were monster hogs. I was glad that they were running in the opposite direction.
Not long after that a giant group of jive turkeys ran by. There was probably 10 or so of them. I also saw one more hog after that. This one was so little and cute and all by himself. He was so scared and booked it in the opposite direction of me. Within the first hour of the day I saw hogs, turkey’s, deer, and cows. What a fun and exciting day and it’s only just begun.
The trail with sandy and completely dry. The views were incredible and I was so happy. If you could keep up like this I would be the happiest hiker there ever was. This has to be one of my favorite mornings on trail to date this year.
The trail continued through beautiful oak forest for hours after that. The trail was well maintained and the ground was nice and soft. I was enjoying myself so much. About 8 to 10 miles into the day I passed through a designated campsite. I didn’t need water but I wanted to walk down and take a look at the river. We have been following along this river for a while but this was the best view so far. There were some RVs and an ambulance conversion parked in the campground. I went down to the river and then continued along the trail.
When I was walking towards the trail I passed a man who was also out for a walk. He was the owner of the ambulance conversion. Apparently last year he came down to travel in his vehicle around Florida. He had such a good time that he’s back this year and has made some friends along the way. It was really nice to talk to him briefly before continuing along.
After walking for another couple of miles I went through the same thing lock. The trail followed along dirt roads and then you went through an area that was foot traffic only no vehicle access. I can’t remember the name of this is but look at far out to see you.
Passing through the S65-A lock area which was really cool. There was a gate that allowed hikers to go through any time with no lock on it. You walked right over the lock itself with views of the water on both sides. It was really neat. From there I continued down the road and went past the house of the man who manages the lock. Apparently sometimes he’ll come out and bring hikers water but I didn’t see him when I went through.
I continued down the road for a mile or two until I got to where the trail picked up again. I wasn’t sure what the trail was gonna look like for the next couple of miles so I decided to just sit there on the road to enjoy a break. It had been about four hours since I started hiking. I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good opportunity to take a break. I sat in the road and I eat some cheddar cheese with chorizo sausage and crackers. I was so glad that I got this uncured chorizo sausage stick. It was delicious. I stretched in the road and enjoyed a nice long break. No cars ever passed by either.
After sitting there for a little while I continued along. The trail was pretty rough for the next couple miles after that. It was really lumpy and overgrown. There was a section that was flooded and I couldn’t avoid getting my feet wet. One puddle that I tried to step into was also secretly up past my knee. So I almost fell all the way in when I stepped down. But other than that you just had to barely get your feet wet.
Past there the trail dried out but it was pretty grassy and overgrown for a while. Those next couple of miles just felt tedious walking on the uneven and overgrown trail. After a while the trail turned into more of a manicure dirt road. I stopped off at a campsite to get some water from the piture pump. This time around the pump water tasted totally normal which was awesome. Yesterday I hardly drink any water at all because of all the water from the pumps tasted like pennies.
I pumped some water and filtered it and then I continued along the trail. It was more dirt road action for the rest of the day. The weather was a bit overcast and cloudy. Kind of the perfect hiking weather honestly though. It might rain tomorrow but I’m hoping the rain holds off for the rest of the day at least.
While I walked I read some Far Out comments and realized that I’m finally really in the thick of it in Florida. A lot of the slough areas that I will be passing today have comments about gators being in the water. A slough is basically a lower area where water collects. Along the trail you’ll pass these areas when one road meets another road that is lower than the other. Often crossing from one side of the road to the other involves waiting in ankle to shin deep water. I saw a lot of comments in the next 5 miles about shin deep water and potential gators. This got me super in my head and it took me a little while to get myself straight.
Like always when I come up to these areas that are flooded I do my best to avoid the deepest parts of them. Most of the time you’re able to go around and get your feet wet in a shallow area. Or walk up in the tall grass next to where the water is pooling. It’s also not a promise that there’s going to be a gator in every bit of deep water in Florida. It’s just always a possibility worth considering. Just like seeing any animal out in the wild there’s a chance at all times, but it’s certainly not a promise.
By 2pm it began to cool down significantly. A light breeze picked up which put a chill in the air. I was walking through a wide open prairie type area. The trail was a dirt road through otherwise dense palms and tall grass. Looking out all around me I could imagine there were lots of gators and other animals out in the distance that I couldn’t see. The field of tall grass and palms went on as far as I could see all around me.
At this point in the day I only have about 10 to 12 miles remaining. There is camping sooner but I’d like to make it to this one particular campsite if possible. It looks like I’ll have to get my feet wet a few more times in between here and there. But hopefully once I get a little bit closer to the campsite I’ll be able to keep my feet dry for the rest of the evening.
Over the next hour I wound up getting a lot wetter than I expected. The first couple of marked crossings weren’t too bad. There was one that I was able to avoid getting my feet wet at all. It was basically an area like I described, where two roads met and the lower road was completely flooded. You were able to walk in the grass though to go around the water.
A little ways after that there was an area that was very flooded. The trail looked like a big pond. But it was actually really easy to skirt around along the side where the brush was. My feet got wet but it was never over my ankle. If the water is not up over my ankle I feel pretty comfortable.
After that there was one more where I just had to skirt around on the grass. At this point I was kind of laughing at myself. Earlier today I had read some for our comments and they had gotten me so worked up. I literally said out loud to myself “this trail isn’t going to be having me walking through waist deep dark swamp”. And for a moment I really believed that.
Around 3pm I was right by the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. I knew that my final wet crossing of the day would be just before the park. As I approached I could tell there was a lot of water on the trail. But I figured it would be like the other ones where it would be very easy for me to skirt around the edge.
I began walking around the trail which was quite literally a pond. Thats when I realized this area was not like all the others before. I was walking through on the grass initially but it wasn’t long before I was in shin deep water. I could see very clearly that the deepest section was still well ahead of me as well. It was obvious that the water was going to get much much deeper.
I continued moving forward. At this point I was stressing about what was in the water. I guess that was my first mistake. Usually I’m pretty good at staying cool, calm, and collected in high pressure situations. Today I just didn’t have it in me. I was trying to go as quickly as possible. Within a couple more steps the water was up to my knees and my anxiety was getting higher.
I had both feet planted on the ground and the water was up to my knees at this point. When I took one step forward that one foot went in waist deep. My other foot was only knee deep. Because of this I fell forward right into the water. So many things went through my head at that moment. I’ll be honest my first thought was stress because my phone was now in the water. I keep my phone in the pocket on my fanny pack. I was submerged chest deep at this point so everything was wet.
Immediately after thinking that I had much more significant thoughts like “You’re currently up to your chest in swamp water.” As quickly as I could I tried to get back up to my feet. I didn’t even look all around me but I knew from where I was walking previously that the water that I fell into was unbelievably deep and dark. I couldn’t get a hand down because the water was so deep so I couldn’t get myself up. The longer it took the more it started to freak me out. So the first time that I stood up I fell immediately back down chest deep again.
Obviously that freaked me out even more. So getting up the second time was quite the scramble. It felt like I was rolling around in that deep swamp water for a century.
Finally I got to my feet and I quickly scurried along the edge through the deep water to the other side. The rest of the way it was knee deep at most. I wouldn’t have gone chest deep if I hadn’t fallen. But if I had stepped forward with both feet I would have been above the waist close to stomach deep in the water. That just happened because the ground was clearly lower there.
When I got to the other side and was on dry ground I felt a whirlwind of emotions. For starters I would now soaked chest down and it was 3pm. Some of my backpack was wet, my fanny pack was completely soaked, my shorts were soaked, my sleeves were soaked, and half of my shirt was soaked. One of the first things I did was pull my phone out to check on that.
Having your phone get broken out here would be a nightmare. Luckily this palante fanny pack is definitely made with the water resistant fabric. So while the Fanny pack got a bit saturated, the water didn’t seep all the way through when I went under. Somehow my phone was hardly even wet and still worked fine.
Because my phone was ok and I was ok I could finally begin to think about what just happened. My mind started to consider the fact that I was just swimming around in deep swamp water. I just kept replaying the moment in my mind. Thinking about it honestly made me feel sick. I’ve experienced a lot of things over the last 10 months on trail. But this was hands down the scariest moment to date.
One of my all time biggest fears is swampy water. Especially deep, dark, water. I truly couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that just a few minutes ago I was up to my chest in a swamp. There aren’t a lot of scare me especially in nature. But this experience definitely scared me.
In that moment I would’ve probably reacted a lot better if I wasn’t so freaked out. I should have been walking through the water with a trekking pole. That way I could have felt the ground below me. Then I would’ve have stepped down into super deep water unexpectedly. I am well aware of the fact that sometimes the water drops it to significantly deeper depth stay in the blink of an eye. All in all though it wasn’t a logical moment.
I continued walking after that. I passed the ranger station at the prairie preserve state park. For a second I thought that maybe I should go try to dry out. But I knew I’d be walking for another two or so hours and would probably dry out a little bit. At least that’s what I hoped. Not long after that incident I passed a couple day hikers and then my first northbound thru hiker! Her name was Mighty and she was the cutest thing. We talked for a while and she warned me of this crazy person who’s up ahead of me. She’s actually the second person to mention him to me so I’ve been mentally preparing. There’s a guy a handful of miles ahead who has apparently been seen swearing and yelling to himself or others.
Mighty and I talked about the trail and a couple other things. She still has such a long ways to go and it’s crazy to think that I’m so close to the end of the Florida trail. She even said you’re basically done at this point. Eventually she asked about the water up ahead. I guess Beer Run had mentioned that she’s gonna be getting pretty wet. He didn’t elaborate though on the fact that it was a pretty deep section of water.
I got to tell her my crazy story that had basically just happened. I felt like a relief to tell the story and laugh about it. Rather than just holding it all inside my heart.
She was going to camp before the dark water area anyway. So she can hit it tomorrow in the morning daylight. After I talked to Mighty I kept on walking. I still had almost 2 hours of daylight left which was nice. Plus I was walking through a wide open prairie type area so it would be daylight longer than in the forest.
I never had to get my feet wet again for the rest of the day. That was really good because I really didn’t have any more in the tank. I used up all of my energy on that horrifying situation earlier.
I really didn’t want to have to deal with maneuvering through more water tonight. Just before it got dark I got to the blue blaze to my camp site. It was apparently a drive in campsite which I usually avoid. But the next camping was a few miles away and I was ready to be done.
I walked down the side trail and was surprised to find the campsite completely quiet. There were some picnic tables and benches and a fire pit by a big oak tree. It was a really nice campsite. I’m glad that I stopped when I did because the mosquitoes were coming out. I got my tent up very quickly and then got inside. By this point my clothes had actually almost entirely dried. I was pretty surprised by that because of how cold it is out. But I was feeling pretty lucky.
Before going to bed I ate some sharp cheddar cheese, chorizo, and crackers. The chorizo stick that I got at the River Ranch general store was so good. I can’t believe I’ve been hiking for this long and didn’t know they made uncured chorizo sausage. That’s incredible. After I ate I just laid there and decompressed. Today was an emotional roller coaster. This morning with some of my favorite hiking that I can remember. And then falling into that swamp was the most stressful experience of the year. Hands down that’s the scariest thing that’s happened to me on the Eastern Continental Trail. It’s the funny thing is nothing “really happened”. I don’t believe there were any animals around me. But knowing that something could’ve been in the dark water was what was so scary. But I didn’t see or hear anything specifically.
It’s wild how scary a moment can be even without seeing or hearing anything. I didn’t need to know for a fact that there was an alligator there to be freaked out. The dark swampy water on its own was plenty.
As I laid in my tent I was surprised how much the moment was sitting with me. Every time I thought about it it filled me with anxiety. I could visualize the moment when I was chest deep in the water. It brought me instantly back to the feelings of being there. It played back in my mind like a movie. Eventually I was be able to get comfortable and fall asleep. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of deep swamp between here and Okeechobee. Then after I get to Okeechobee I’ll meet up with Trucker! I won’t be alone in the swamp anymore after that.
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