Ms. Adventure: Beware of Bears, Gators and Wild Boars
When nice little hikes in the woods may not always be so nice.
“I’m outdoorsy in that I like to drink on patios.” It seems like every time there’s a gift-giving occasion, friends give me cute presents printed with the above phrase. As a result, I have a tumbler, a T-shirt, a throw pillow and a wooden plaque to reiterate the notion that I am by no means outdoorsy. I wish I could prove my friends wrong, but it’s true—I do like drinking on patios. And lanais, porches, balconies and verandas. And that’s about as outdoorsy as I get.
Nature isn’t my thing. Especially Florida nature.
Whenever I visit my family in Ohio, I don’t mind walking through parks and such where one might glimpse a pretty blue bird or a fluffy little bunny rabbit. Nature seems so much tamer and friendlier in the Midwest. Even the bugs are cuter—remember ladybugs and fireflies? They’re so much more appealing than enormous flying cockroaches or brown recluse spiders.
For a panicky adventurer like me, the subtropical wilderness around these parts can be downright terrifying and practically prehistoric.
After all, when there are hungry bears wandering through gated communities and 12-foot-long alligators crawling across golf courses, just imagine what you might find if you actually ventured into the “scrub” (that’s Florida speak for “woods”).
Yet, I did exactly that when my friend Anne Reed of the CREW Land & Water Trust (crewtrust.org) took me for a hike through the Cypress Dome Trail off Corkscrew Road in Estero recently.
CREW (Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed) Land & Water Trust works with the South Florida Management District and the Florida Fish & Water Commission to protect and preserve 60,000 acres of land and marsh in Southwest Florida—and the Trust has established 28 miles of hiking trails at three different locations, which are free and open to the public for hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, camping and more. Plus, you can go on educational walks with smart guides like Anne, who will point out and identify different kinds of wildflowers, butterflies, birds and plants.
A few days before we were set to hit the trails, Anne sent me a text recommending that I wear long pants, tall socks, boots, a hat and sunglasses.
The only thing I own on that list are sunglasses.
Seriously, all my long pants are dressy black cocktail pants. And even though the right boots can make a fashion statement, who needs them when you live in a jungle-like climate where the average temperature is 150 degrees? I managed to come up with some lounge pants and closed-toe shoes, and, thankfully, Anne was able to loan me a pair of socks just in case I accidentally stepped in a red ant pile and the vicious little buggers scurried into my shoes.
She also mentioned she would bring plenty of bug spray (and some toilet paper—just in case).
When Anne and I drove out to Corkscrew Road where the trails begin, I swallowed hard when I saw signs that detailed all of the nature we might run into on our adventure: panthers, bears, bobcats, snakes—and worst of all, alligators.
Dear readers, I have lived in Southwest Florida since the tender age of 9, and I have no desire whatsoever to see an alligator in the wild. They are big scary beasts with huge teeth and jaws that snap shut onto their prey. According to my Google search, an alligator can run fast—around 11 miles an hour and up to 25 miles an hour at short bursts—and being the kind of girl who likes to drink on patios, I don’t run at all.
Still, Anne, who’s experienced at these sorts of things, assured me that no one had been eaten by an alligator in the neck of the scrub we were in, and that alligators—along with bears and panthers and such—don’t actually want to eat us. In fact, she said, they don’t like us and are more scared of us than we are of them. Although I totally believed my trusty guide, I was certain that there are exceptions to the rule and that while she was pointing out a red-shouldered hawk flying through the sky, a hungry, insane gator would sprint through the palmettos to lock his jaws onto my leg and drag me into the marsh to share with his family.
So, let’s just say I was a little skittish on our hike.
Still, I can’t think of anywhere I’ve been that was more peaceful. It was late afternoon; the weather was beautiful—not too hot, not too cold. There were no sounds or sights of civilization. I tuned into the chirps of native birds and the rustle of palm fronds in the breeze. I was reminded of the novel A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith about Southwest Florida pioneers in the 18th century and what it must have been like to try to forge this wild land into a home. With her walking stick, Anne pointed out lizards and wild flowers and butterflies. I found myself starting to feel relatively comfortable until she showed me a track in the sand that was clearly that of a wild boar. I’m not sure what would be worse, being eaten by an alligator or gouged by a wild boar. But Anne said that while she’d often seen animal tracks on the trails, it was rare to run into an actual animal.
She started to take me down a new path: “Here’s an area where we might get to see a gator,” she said enthusiastically. But, I resisted. And by resisted, I mean I’m pretty sure I said, “No, please, no. No. Nope. Nopety nope. No.”
I told Anne that I’d love to see a bunny rabbit, though. She laughed and told me that if we saw a bunny rabbit it would probably be running away from something larger. I changed my mind about wanting to see a bunny rabbit.
We did see another hiker—a handsome, friendly young man who seemed clearly in his element wearing a light backpack and enjoying the afternoon. Anne told me the trails are popular with folks of all ages who want to learn more about where they live, or who just want to get away from all the distractions of life—and I can see the appeal.
About a week after our hike, Anne posted a photo on her Facebook page of a fairly large alligator that she ran into in the same area where we had been hiking. I commented something like, “OH MY GOD!” and she responded, “He says hello and wondered where you are.”
Now that I’ve gone on a nature hike with Anne, I think I’m going to make sure she drinks on a patio with me.