July 29, 2014
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Mr. Adventure: The Porsche, the Pythons and Me

With machete and seven-iron at the ready, I set off to save Florida from the malicious serpents.

Illustration by Gary Hovland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you were lucky enough to see Samuel L. Jackson’s cinematic masterpiece Snakes on a Plane, you know that there were a lot of (expletive) snakes on that (expletive) plane. And, at least according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are a lot of (expletive) snakes in (expletive) Florida.

It seems that a surprisingly large number of Floridians thought that owning a pet snake was a good  idea—right up until the moment they threw it into the canal at the end of their street. Now the state says that there could be as many as 150,000 invasive species of python (Burmese, Northern African, reticulated, anacondas, boas, ball, etc.) living in our backyard, killing and eating things that rightfully should be killed and eaten by native-born—that is to say American— snakes. The situation is so dire that sightings of raccoons, opossums, rabbits and other animals in the Everglades are down as much as 99 percent in the areas where pythons are known to reside. (It makes you wonder just how inefficient the American snakes have been all this time.)

And so, in the state’s infinite wisdom (and instead of just reintroducing more opossums and rabbits), it encouraged normal people to go out into the vast and kid-friendly Everglades with guns and knives to “humanely dispatch” pythons for cash and prizes. Pythons, in case you are unaware, can grow to more than 20 feet in length and have been known to eat adult deer and alligators whole.

And while the thought of sending inexperienced tax-paying citizens into 1.5 million acres of wetness teeming with alligators and various poisonous native snakes might seem ludicrous to people not working in government, the state hedged its bet by charging an entrance fee of $25 per python hunter and forcing them to sign the following waiver.

     *“By registering for this event, I hereby, for myself and my heirs and anyone acting on my behalf, release, waive, discharge, covenant not to sue, and agree to hold the State of Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the facility their employees, personnel, volunteers, agents, representatives, successors and assigns, harmless from any and all claims, demands and actions of any and every kind I have, may have or may hereafter accrue, either directly or indirectly arising out of or relating in any respect to my participation in connection with this event.”

     That’s beautiful.

     Of course, even with such a waiver, there’s no way state officials would allow ill-prepared thrill seekers to go in, guns a-blazin’, without some sort of training in snake handling or wildlife survival, right? Wrong. The required 36-page “training module” went from a section on “Spotting snakes” to “OK, now that you’ve caught your snake” without any pages in between. Editorially, that could have been fleshed out a little bit better.

     Even so, Mr. Adventure was powerless to resist the 2013 Python Challenge. All I needed to do was pay the $25 (done), choose an ensemble (pith helmet, anyone?) and figure out how to “humanely dispatch” a python (ever been run over by an all-season radial?). The biggest challenge seemed to be where to find a valet in the Everglades. But it turns out that hit-and-run is frowned upon at the state level, so I needed to reconsider just how to cause the demise of a molorus bivittatus.

     A baseball bat and some piano wire appealed to the New Yorker in me, but I ended up choosing a machete and a seven-iron—both capable of wicked slices.

     By the way, for those of you looking to Saks Fifth Avenue for all of your machete needs, I have bad news … It turns out that the tools of killing are hard to find at Waterside Shops, and so I had to go ahead and borrow a machete from my gardener. With that said, I packed a lunch and headed east along the Tamiami Trail with the top down and a little Debbie Gibson on the radio. I was going to make America safe again for the opossum.

     My plan was to look for desolate roads that would lead to forgotten trails filled with pits of the slithering interlopers. But then I lost cell service about 500 feet east of Naples Motorcoach Resort and thought, “This is madness.”

     Still, I had already packed the lunch and the seven-iron, so in the spirit of adventure I continued forth. But to where? Drive too far and I’ll witness the filming of Deliverance. Not far enough and the bartender at LaPlaya won’t take me seriously. These are the things going through my head as I missed the turn for the road I was looking for and wandered all the way into Miami-Dade County. If you’ve not been, you really should consider it. The drive along the Tamiami Trail is absolutely stunning from behind the wheel of a Porsche. (It probably looks good from a Hyundai, too. But I wouldn’t know.)

     After passing two signs that read “State Prisoners Working,” I turned onto a road with no discernible signage, as much an homage to Robert Frost as a wild disregard for my personal safety.

     It made all the difference. Two miles in, the road turned to dirt and became a single lane that ran for another 20 miles. Luckily there were numerous areas to stop off, making it convenient to pull over and test the area for python infestation.

     If you’ve never been, it seems you have two options in the Everglades: wet or dry. I started, as most people do, dry—stalking my prey in the hot sun, making my way through the chest-high weeds and brush, a tool of death in each hand, slowly creeping my way toward bushes that looked very similar to those shown in the official guide. And there it was. It looked to be between five and seven feet long and about two inches thick. It was a beaut.

     As I pulled back the lower branches with my beautifully crafted, custom-gripped TaylorMade Rocket- Bladez seven-iron, it occurred to me I have forgotten to bring a bag to put it in. It was just going to have to lie on the front seat of the car. And that’s exactly where it would have gone had it not turned out to be a palm frond that had seen better days. From afar, a group of egrets mocked me.

     That exact scenario played out close to two dozen times that day. It would have been three dozen had I not chosen to try the wetter side of things and moved my search to what can only be described as an alligator Starbucks. There were dozens of the beasts: swimming, sunning themselves, eyeing my sunburned flesh. There were babies just two feet long resting amongst the reeds. Adolescents in the four-to-six-foot range. And there were full-sized adults (nine-plus feet) capable of assisting in any crime of passion.

     Most disconcerting was how nonchalant they were about my presence—much as I am when beef tenderloin gets delivered to my table. I checked the guidebook for advice and found none. That’s when the waiver really hit home. Well played, Florida. Well played. I promised God that if he got me out of that situation, I’d be a better person. And so here I am. And the state of Florida still has a lot of (expletive) snakes in it.

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