Apr 30 2011

Mudding in a Drought?

So, this weekend we decided to give “mudding” a second try.  Except for a few small showers, we haven’t had any rain here in Miami for a couple of months now.  Combine this, with the South Florida Sun, and there is no mud, just moist dirt.  So the question is, “did we go mudding?”. Well, that’s all is perspective I think.  Mudding fanatics take their jacked up 4×4’s and push them to the limit until they get stuck, flooded or break something.  There is no mudding this time of year in Miami, it’s bone dry out there.  Anyone with a truck that can handle some serious mud, may as well be on the pavement.  But for some of us, this means we can take our regular trucks into the woods and see how they handle on soft dirt.

We get stuck, we improvise, we get out, and in the end, feel proud of what we accomplished.  2 2-wheel drive trucks with good tires, and 2 4×4 trucks with city tires, make for a good time.

Jan 20 2011

Cape Sable Expedition

Cape Sable is the one of the last remaining natural beaches in the United States.  While my heart is set on final frontiers like Alaska, my pocket will settle for the final frontiers and no-mans lands in my state.  Not only one of the last remaining beaches, but Cape Sable is considered to be the southernmost part of the United States landmass.  The Florida Keys are connected by man-made bridges, so “it don’t count”.  Anyways, being that I admire all things tradition and “the hard way”.  I decided to leave the boat at home, and see it like the Calusa indians did, by Canoe.

Two adventurers, one REALLY old canoe, one beach awating.  This trip was cooked up and supposed to occur in 2009.  At the time, I had my sailing canoe conversion in full effect, and could wait to send it off.  Some of the oth

er guys were getting kayaks, etc.  And as adventure plans usually go, everyone is excited, but not everyone follows through.  The drawing was made, everyone had their edge.  Mine was, my old canoe, loaded up with gear, with a PolyTarp sail.  Another was taking his boat (cheater), and another was taking his kayak with a downwind sail…

So that’s as far as that trip went.  It was rescheduled for 2010, and by the time December came around, 3 people canceled, and then there were two.  As usual, I was juggling things, so after laying two pallets of grass, and preparing my front yard and driveways for permit inspections the day before, I packed at the last minute, slept 3 hours, and was off.

At this point we used my sailing canoe, without any sailing gear, since my leeboard thwart snapped in the shallows about a month before.  But equipped with a couple of Kayak paddles, we loaded that sucker up with cans, water, jerky (what else do you ned in life right?!), live shrimp, etc.  and were on our way out of Flamingo, Everglades National Park. Day 1.

Day 1 Begin
We checked in with the ranger, loaded up, got an encouraging comment from a local fisherman “both of you, and all that stuff in that canoe? brave men, I’ll tell ya”. And we were gone.  The ranger mentioned it might not be a good idea to cross through the inside of the island, because of the tide, but we were pioneers, so we decided to play it by ear.

Mud Flats
Low and behold, we got stuck in the mud flats.  It took both of our efforts to push at the same time, to move 1 foot at a time.  Tide was gettin lower, so unless we were going to camp in the mud, we needed to get outta there.  An hour and a half later, exhausted, and paddles creaking from the force, we made it out.  Aimed for the first Cape (which we thought was Cape Sable) and went for it.  After we got around the first bend, we realized that this 3 hour paddle after the flats wore us down, was only a halfway point.  So we took a 15 min. break.  Give or take 20 minutes to heat up some soup :).

After that, we set off for the real Cape Sable (East Cape).  Following an ohur long attempt at moving, against wind and tide, it felt like we were going nowhere, and the flats really wore us down, and <cue some more excuses>, so we decided to pull back in for camp.

First Camp
First camp was nice, but windy, I had to make stakes out of nearby wood and hammer them deep into the soft sand to keep the tent from flying away.  We caught some small catfish and a redfish, and ate it for dinner with some soup.  I took the guts and put them into some crawfish traps I had which I opened up to make crab traps and left them for the night.  In the morning, the tide went down about a block away from us.  The traps were washed up on land and had crabs, and the shrimp were in a mud puddle but miraculously still alive.  We heaved the canoe through the mud/quicksand, and were off again.  We had a nasty cold front come in that weekend.  It was great for rowing, but bad for sleeping.  Especially since all of my clothes and my sleeping bag, and change of clothers (sweats) were all moist.

Destination Cape

We left at daybreak and arrived at East Cape in about 3 hours.  We had the rest of the day to relax, make fire, fish, and best of all, DRY CLOTHES. It was indeed a breathtaking view.  The beach was covered in shells. Corals of all kinds of colors would wash up on shore, some still in their soft, jelly-like state.  Inland was very thick, and an extra day would have been necessary to explore it.  As with most situations when I spend a lot of time away from civilization, boredom sets in, and self-entertainment is necessary.  Thus was the purpose of the pelican feather.  Which I forgot I had on and almost made it to the marina with it on.  It happens.

Final Camp
At night, the full moon made the beach visible with little or no light.  Little black critters moved in the distance, which turned out to be racoons scoping the area.  At about 1 in the morning, we were awakened to a racoon reaching in the shrimp bucket and enjoying the rest of my live shrimp.  The fishing wasn’t all that good from the shore, but I’m sure a little East into calmer water would’ve been good.  Then again at aroun 3:30AM, the same coon was trying to get inside the tent (where all the food was).  He was shood away finally settled down.  We made a big fire the last night to celebrate and get warm, because come morning, we were shooting for all the way home.

East Cape campsite

Rowing Home
Setting off about 5:30AM, I would divide the trip back into three segments.  Getting past the canal took what seened like forever to pass.  Then we hugged the shoreline and made it to the halfway point.  The successful method was picking points in the shore and setting goals and rewards.  “When we get to swan log, well eat an apple”.  “When we get around the halfway bend, I will brin out the jery, etc.”  I believe it was that, that mentally got us through an entire day of rowing.   For lunch, one person rowed while the other had a 20 min. lunch break.  We ran aground 15 minutes away from the channel with the marina in site.  But the tide was going up this time.  So not pushing through, or getting off and pulling like last time.  This time we relaxed, I carefully heated a soup on my little Coleman stove, and before we knew it we were floating again.

Ariving at the marina, we got a few remarks from tourists about the canoe, but other than that, it was a regular day in the park after that.  The trip was over, It felt like a huge accompishment, and I feel proud to have see such a pristeen beach, unsculpted by man.

Jan 17 2011

Florida Trail Map

This map was handed to me by a helicopter pilot that was a member of the park ranger service for the Everglades.  Until then, I had not found a map, as detailed, for North side of the Florida Trail pertaining to Big Cypress.  He told me it was handed down to him, so I took some pictures of it and handed it back.  I photo-shopped them together and this is the product.  Please leave a comment if this map helps you or if you know where I can find some more of it.

Detailed Map of the Florida Trail Coordinates

Florida Trail Map

Jan 17 2011

Florida Trail Hike

One day a group of us decided to hike miles 9-27 of the Florida Trail.  At the time, we couldn’t find a detailed map concentrating on that point of the trail.   After spending years hunting loop unit with my father since I was a little kid, this seemed like a good idea.  I knew the terrain as far as snakes and ‘gators, but what none of us knew, was that an estimated 10 miles on Google maps turned out to be a weaving 16 mile hike….During a bone-dry season…through dry, bare, mucky, cypress land, and shadeless pine land.  It was beautiful, and this is our story.

Day 1
We started in from the Tamiami Trail Entrance and went North.  Covered maybe two miles before it started to get dark, and decided to relax, and set camp.  If anything was to go wrong or someone forgot something, this was the place to find out.  First camp night went fine, not too many mosquitoes.

Day 2
Up at daybreak, some cereal and processed milk for me, and we were on our way.  This was probably the best day of the hike.  The scenery was beautiful, lots of greens. At this point, overall morale was still positive up until the end of
the day.

Day 2 (con’t)
Eventually, the sun began to beat down hard enough, and the walking became tiring enough that some people began to consider turning back.  This was around the 5th mile down, at the 13 mile camp.  Remember, we thought it was a 10 mile hike.  So there was no point in turning back, not ONLY for pride, but for common sense.  About two miles down trail, walking through Slash Pinelands, we needed another break.  The sun was beaming strong, after all, it was April.  Some slept, some entertained themselves, some basked like if it was Miami Beach.  We were in the middle of it now, it was hot, water was being consumed, and we still had a lot more miles to cover if we were going to do this in 2 nights.

Day 2 (con’t)
A few miles later, we decided the sun was too much, and since we had a moon, we were going to hike at night.  The only thing to worry about was snakes.  I figured if we walked one behind the other, we would be OK.  I was used to getting on and off tree stands in the dark and walking blocks in Loop unit.  And we were making so much of a ruckus tripping on stumps, and coral holes, and palmettos, that I figured any snake hanging around would get the heck out of the way.  So I walked in front, with a flash light pointing forward.  And realised something, you can’t see the orange blazes of the trail at night, let alone the trail itself! LOL.  We covered a mile that night.  I don’t know how, I was on autopilot, but we did.  I followed what made sense to be a walked trail and it worked.  But after a mile, it all looked the same, so to not get really turned around in there, we set base camp.  At this point everyone realised that we were not going to make it out on schedule.  And to make matters worse, water began to run short for some.

Short on water, not getting out in time, and not looking forward to a long hike, the majority rule in the group was to call for help.  So a phone call was made, and help was going to be sent.  Speaking for myself, I didn’t want to be lifted out of there for reasons of pride and pocket, so I called dispatch and told them we were NOT in an emergency state, and that if it came to it, we would go and get help.

I guess they ignored me (or wanted to make sure I wasn’t a psycho) so they sent a chopper to look around.  In the middle of the night, we heard it fly over and land nearby.  They brought us some MRE’s and some water.  Morale was back up, were were ready to take one more day and finish the trail.

Day 3
The day started strong.  Just cover the distance and finish was the motto.We said goodbye to the pine lands and made are way through the cypress mud.  By 12:00, the sun was beating us from the top, and the normally cypress wetland, was sticky mud.  At that point we were taking 15 minute breaks every hour.  One of the members couldn’t go any further, and a few miles later, we stopped to set up camp.  He was feeling sick, and majority rule was to call for help.  So we waited.

First, a chopper came by and dropped off a  gallon jug of water. An hour later, it came back around, but couldn’t land in the cypress.  So they dropped off a couple of rangers who cut a clearing for it to land by us.  They took our weakened member and came for us in the morning.

Day 4
We woke up strong and waiter for the helicopter in the morning after breakfast They came, and asked we we were ready to go.  I said, “yea, ready to walk out of here”.  After a few nasty looks from the rest of the party, the ranger felt it was more important for us to do what’s needed then what we wanted.  And “getting back to work” was a want.  So we took a few pictures, they flew off, and we were on our way again.

Less than a mile down, lush, green, vegetation and water appeared.  A little further down, we took our last break, enjoyed a snack, the scenery, and continued down the trail.

In the end it was an accomplishment, and though as a group we were unprepared for the walk, it was worth while, and I’d recommend it.  In the winter : ).

Aug 28 2009

First Florida Alligator Hunt

The history
I used to look forward to riding in my Dad’s pickup to Jet’s Florida Outdoors on Bird Rd in Miami, and pick up our quota hunt applications,  wile window shopping the store, and seeing the old timers exchange hunting stories.  I remember believing them as a kid and asking my dad, “why don’t we hunt where they hunt?” These guys were seeing deer left and right, while we were wallowing through the swamps of Loop Unit (that’s the area between Loop Rd. and Tamiami Trail), getting lucky to jump a deer, if that.  I didn’t realize until I got older, and started telling similar stories, that hunters and fisherman together, are mostly full of shit. 

So since I was good with computers, as soon as Florida Fish and Game started going online with their quota hunt system, I had the daunting task of getting the licenses, quota hunt permits, rules, etc. every. hunting. season.  This is still my job : (.

The permit
This year, I decided, “why not apply for a gator hunt?”.  Shoot, I see them all the time off of Tamiami Trail, we’re bound to get one.  So a few months later, when Florida Fish and Game sent me the “check your permit status” email, I had two gator tags waiting for payment.  The $250 beans I thought was kind of steep, but compared to what the non-residents pay, that’s nothin’.  So, without an airboat, I went home from work, and told my Old Man, “I’m going on a gator hunt, I don’t know on what, but I’m gonna do it, are you in?” 

Are you in?!?

He says, “OK, I guess we can take the canoe”.  We joked about it at first, until we realized there was no cheaper option.  And as time passed, it baked in our mind, that, we could actually do it.  The natives had done it this way in the past, why should we do it any different?  So I proceeded to read and explain to him “the manual”. Which in summary is this:
1) Find the alligator at night
2) Harpoon him with a special harpoon that will stay lodged under his skin, attached to a rope, so that you may tire him out.
3) Once he’s tired and you bring him in, get a noose around him to secure him.
4) Shoot him in the head with a bangstick.
Obviously, there a little more to it than that, but if you’re interested, read the manual here.

Yes, this canoe:
Broken Rib on CanoeLoosened Canoe Nose

The inventions
And we began to invent.  There’s the triple hook:
Home-made treble hook for alligator

The EMT harpoon:

DIY Harpoon

The canoe stabilizers, which were original made for sailing, but that’s an entirely different blog post:
DIY PVC Canoe Stabilizers

During this period, my cousing began to ask what we were up to, and was consequencially onboard.  He would sit on the floor, in the middle, of my XXX year old canoe, that was in “minimum condition for alligator hunting”.  Before he knew it, his truck was commissioned and we were off to scout.
Who needs a trailerAfter realizing how hard it was to load and unload the heavy canoe, we decided we needed a trailer.  So my Jet-Ski had to donate it…
Trailer DonationTrailer  used

We decided to scout once, about a month before the season, and saw gators all over the place.  It was exciting, as I love those creatures.  And without getting too much into the politics,
I’d just like to say that this was all their land until we humans came along and have pushed them to the small area left of Everglades and man-made canals.  We hunters pay a lot of money that goes into the conservation of the species, and are allowed to take a limited number that has been determined by scientists is the right number, to keep the population stable, and out of the city.  That’s all I have to say about that.

Now, back to the story, scouting day. We didn’t actually get in the water, there was no need during scouting season.  And then the rain came, and went.  And there was so much water, that the gators had places to go, so come hunting season, we didn’t see crap.  Little babies here and there, but nothing worth wasting a stamp on.  So we came back, and tried again, rowing down the canals, and again, and again.  And it wasn’t until the last day of the hunting season, that we lucked out, kind-of.

The hunt
It was a misty night, and the moon was partially out, so you could almost see clearly without the flashlights.  As soon as I parked the truck, I could see to eyes in the water, but with all the canoe comotion, they dissappeared.  The thing with hunting gators at night, is , you see these red eyes glaring back at you right over the water, but you don’t know how big the alligator is, until you get close enough.  And usually, if they realize you’re going towards them, they go under, and disappear.  The canal was extremely deep, so there was no shining down and spotting them.
So we finally get a good look at the same gator hiding in some lilly pads, on the sawgrass edge.  I got up, threw the harpoon, and missed completey.   I had practiced at home against a log, but it was different with a piece of rope at the end standing on a shaky canoe.
But the gator, just startled, came back up, so we went after it again, and it dissappeared.  This cat and mouse game continued for about 30 mins very slowly, until we where lined up right behind it. 
I whispered to my dad, “row very quietly and slowly”.  We got so close, that I could see his tail almost touching the canoe. My flashlight, hit his back and I could see how bid this alligator was.  It was about a 10 footer, with a back about 2.5 feet or so.  My eyes opened up huge.   I look back and tell my cousing, “broder tu vez el tamaño de ese animal” (translation: brother, do you see the size of that beast).  Before I finished he was already telling me, “tirale! tirale!  (translation: throw! throw!).  I licked my lips, threw as hard as I could towards his back, and with the same momentum dropped down into the shaky canoe.  It sounded like I had speared an Oak Tree, a deep resonating sound.  Everything was happening so fast!   Instantly, as soon as he got hit, he whacked his tail and went under, leaving a splash, wake, and a rocking canoe.   Not a second after, when I hit the seat, the rope started taking off.  So I grabbed it.  I was going to pull a little and give a little.  Pull a little and give a little?  I don’t know what the heck I was thinking!  As soon as I grabbed the rope, just enough to slow it down, it lodged itself against the edge of the canoe, and the front of the canoe went left.  I tried to go right, but found myself, straight up again, so I had to bail before I ended up under the canoe.  Nothing worse than a canoe and alligatore sandwich.  In my fathers words, “I was in the back, I saw the whole thing, You guys were going down and to the left, so I leaned right, and was catapulted in the air”.  Soon as we all surfaced, the first thing my dad says, “so did you let go of the rope?! where’s the rope?!?”.  That’s one of those character-building moments I guess, we’ll call it that for now.

In the water
On the way down, my foot kicked something, but being that it was completely dark, I coudn’t see.  I figured I had kicked my cousin or something, but he was nowhere to be found.  So I didn’t ask, until later, when I found out, nobody got kicked, and that was probably the gator, who was just as scared as we were.  My cousing was long gone, making a hell of a splash, when I said, “hay que salvar la canoa!” (“we need to save the canoe”.  To which he responded, “olvidate de eso!, nader coño” (forget the canoe and swim!! SWIM!).  By that time adrenaline was in full dose, and I was cracking up.  The canoe, which only had one bouyant side, since the other side’s foam had deteriorated, sunk.  vertically.  I tried standing on the tip to see if I could spot the gator, and it just sank more.  So the canal was at least 20 ft deep.  In the end, we all made it shore, and the gator popped up again.  We were wet, missing an antique Penn Rod, and a whole mess of other stuff I can’t remember.  But the bangstick was salvaged.  So we went after him again, just in case the rope was still attached.  He stayed pretty clear of us, but we could see his back was empty.  So he probably shook it loose.

Soaking wet, and gatorless, on the last day of the season, inexperience persevered.  And while I had two years to get a Jonj boat, I refuse.  I don’t mind gator hunting from an Airboat, or a Jon boat, but first, the task needs to be accomplished via canoe.  Come this June/July, I hope to get that chance again.  This time, I’ll attach the rope to a buoy, and hopefully, there won’t be any other painful mistakes unaccounted for.  Until then, see you later,  Alligator!

Alligator Hunt Ready