My hair is being blown straight out by the wind. I unhook the ratchet straps that hold my canoe on my SUV. I starts to swing in the wind. I wasn’t expecting it to be so windy when I planned on canoeing Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail in Everglades National Park in Homestead, Florida. Despite the name, the trail is only 5 miles. It is marked with 116 PVC markers.
The previous day, I checked in with the ranger about the water level on the trail and weather report. Both looked good. Except the weather had changed, and the wind had arrived. It took a lot careful maneuvering for me to get my canoe down safely. It tried to go flying a couple of times, but I finally set it on the launch point and grabbed by gear.
I was planning on being on the trail for about 5 hours. I was bringing a water proof bag with water, my camera, and some snacks. As I prepared to push off, I noticed a 4 foot alligator hanging around the shore line. I smiled, picked up my paddle, pushed off from the shore, and had the open water of Nine Mile Pond in front of me.
I was hoping the wind wouldn’t be as bad after I crossed the pond but it seemed to pick up. I was having issues getting blown off course. I kept feeling like the wind would flip the canoe. I didn’t have a plan for getting the canoe corrected while in the middle of the pond. I was also worried about a couple of the larger gators I had seen on the pond.
The wind forced me to the bank and I worked my way around the pond to the first PVC marker. The markers define the path through the mangroves and other swamp vegetation and are meant to be visible from each other. I paddled from marker to marker until I got to number 12. Number 12 was at the crossroads between several pathways and some open space. I couldn’t see the next white marker even though I got out my hunting binoculars.
I pulled out my trail map and decided that I would head straight from this marker and if in 5 minutes I hadn’t found a marker, I would turn around. At the 5 minute mark, I still hadn’t found a marker. I put my paddle down and got my binoculars for one last sweep. Just out of range, I saw a white pole. It was a marker. I paddle over to the marker and find its marker number 17. I mark down which markers are missing to report to a ranger later.
Now that I am in the mangroves, the wind isn’t as much as an issue. I keep paddling between markers and listen the bird calls. I carefully scan each tree looking for snakes. I am hoping to see a Burmese python. This invasive species is wreaking havoc on the Everglades ecosystem. The main reason I want to see one is so I can report the sighting.
I pass marker 72. I am half-way done with the trail. I stop and took a short snack break and watched a gator relaxing in the sun. The mangroves are thicker in this area and maneuvering the canoe is a little difficult. I sometimes have to use the bank as a pivot point to get around the curves.
I pass marker 115 and exit the mangroves heading back to open water. The wind hasn’t died down but I stay close to the bank. As I approach the launching beach, I notice a log in the middle of the beach. It wasn’t there when I launched. I pull out my binoculars and look close. It’s not a log. I have a problem; it’s a 7-ft alligator. The beach is about 30 ft. long and he is in the middle of it. I have two options, wait for him to leave or bring the canoe ashore and stay as far from him as possible.
The gator pays me no mind when I approach the beach. I bring the canoe ashore and the gator turns his head to watch me. I watch him and we have a staring contest. Finally abandoning the staring contest, I go back to work and get the canoe onshore and walk over to my car. I grab a bottle of water and watch the group of young tourists. I close my eyes as they approach the gator. The gator turns and hisses at them. Not one of them backs up. I start packing my stuff and putting the canoe back on the car. I don’t really want to be around when one of them ignores the warning signs and gets bit. One of the guys ignores the hissing so he can get his picture next to the alligator. I am putting one the ratchet strap on the canoe when the gator turn on the guy. He gets lucky and isn’t bitten. I don’t think the gator was actually trying to bite him.
I put the final touches on my car and get in and drive off. I have had enough adventures in the Everglades for the day. I don’t want to see someone be eaten.