When I decided to kayak 10 miles out to a platform campsite in the middle of a Georgia swamp I figured I'd see some gators. I had no idea I'd see well over a hundred!
127 gators. That's how many alligators I'd seen since I set off from the Suwanee Canal entrance of Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia at 10am on April 14. I know because I kept count.
If you're thinking of hiking up Slickrock Creek Trail in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, I have some advice for you: don't do it.
I'm pretty sure that hike was the most miserable hike of my life. I'm also pretty sure I'm going to have scars from that hike. The trail was completely overgrown with rhododendron and blackberries and briars and my legs looked like they were the loser in a fight with some barbed wire. My arms weren't much better and I think my feet will never forgive me for that day.
I was never this worried before about venturing into the wilderness. I wasn't sure if it was because everyone else's fears of the wilderness were seeping into me, or if it was because my general anxiety about the world was increasing, or if it was just that I was venturing into wilder and more remote places and, honestly, that's scary.
When was the last time I'd backpacked alone? And I mean really and truly alone - no Ryder pup, not even other hikers nearby. I was out there in the wilderness and I felt completely alone. I was acutely aware of every noise in the forest around me and I realized I was never this worried before about venturing into the wilderness. I wasn't sure if it was because everyone else's fears of the wilderness was seeping into me, or if it was because my general anxiety about the world was increasing, or if it was just that I was venturing into wilder and more remote places and, honestly, that's scary. But I had to take this leap of faith. I had to prove to myself that I could be alone in the wilderness and that it would be alright.
The heat and humidity sulked over Kentucky like an unwelcome heavy blanket. In the Red River Gorge it lay so thick that the Kentucky bass could have risen from the water and thrived on the land gulping down swallows of wet air. Horseflies the size of fingers sliced through the haze with their glittering wings and left welts on sticky skin from their careening flights and sharp bites. At the campsite on the edge of Middle Fork Red River I melted. I slipped into the cool creek and watched crawdads dart from under polished stones.
Mammoth Cave National Park campground was busy, but thankfully not crowded. Kids ran around and shouted gleefully on bikes and scooters and adults sat back in camp chairs swigging beer. I curled up in my hammock and fretted over the next day - whether McCrae and I would be accepted on the wild cave tour or if we’d make it through all the obstacles without getting stuck and (for my part) without having a mental freak-out. There was little information online about the Mammoth Cave Wild Cave tour, a major spelunking trip lasting 6 hours and covering 5 miles underground through some truly wild and rugged paths.
I was glad I wasn't relying on my hammock. I wanted to try out a campground at Jordan Lake to scout out locations for sunrise and sunset photography, but it was overcast and there was nowhere to hang a hammock. Instead I lounged at the water's edge of Jordan Lake with McCrae and Ryder, bright orange tent staked in the gravel pad against the lake breeze.