Lately, I’ve grown rather tired of having to convey the hushed statement, “Yeah… I’ve never been to Florida before.” I recently moved to Baton Rouge, and now had no excuse to continue this lifelong streak, so my brother and I decided to take a four-day road trip to the panhandle in May, old school style.
No smartphones, no google maps, no social media. Just us, the open road, some CDs from the library (that we had to dust off), and a few books to keep us company.
The first destination? A glassy lake in Blackwater State Forest. To two sweat-drenched dudes forced to sit in a wheeled box of metal careening down the highway for hours, this was not a far cry from an oasis in the desert (the desert being the heat of the southern summer). The unpaved roads took us into the heart of a lush forest, but lack of elevation made navigation rather difficult, and it took quite a while to find our spot (several locals showed us the way).
After we parked our car at a pristine “primitive” campground furnished with a metal fire pit and two picnic tables, we quickly ran down to the lake and soaked our feet.
“What about a quick swim to the other side?” I asked Ben.
We popped our goggles on and began the 300m swim to the other side of the lake. Soon the shoreline behind us began to obscure, mimicking the weed-covered lakebed that receded into the murky depths out of sight.
I couldn’t help but wonder, what was down there? After all, we weren’t in Colorado anymore. I had heard stories of gators attacking people who encroached upon their territories, such as the infamous “Florida Man” who claimed he saw the inside of one’s mouth while fighting to stay alive (check out the story here).
I quickly steeled my nerves and continued to put one arm in front of the next for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, texture once again graced the bottom of the lake and I knew we were close to the other side.
Ben and I stood up once we saw the depth was no more than waist height and looked around. Locals at the far side of the lake must have been either in awe or simply laughing at two goggled, scared non-Floridians standing near the reeds, like some bewildered aliens on foreign soil.
As our eyes adjusted we noticed several black blotches contrasting the glistening water in the middle of the lake. They vanished several seconds later, only to pop up nearer than before. Thoughts ran through my mind of getting bit by a passing water moccasin (a deadly snake endemic to the south), losing a finger to a snapping turtle, or getting pulled under by the Florida version of the Loch Ness monster. To this day I have no idea what those creatures were.
We now had two options.
- Swim back and risk the above.
- Wade through the reeds and if we survive suffer through the long trek back around the lake to our campground half naked with no shoes.
We sighed, cried, high-fived, and chose option #1.
An eternity later and I was never so excited to see that olive green lake bed materialize from the depths. We clambered up onto the shore and swore never to swim in a swamp again.
I’m sure many of you have had encounters with the unknown before. It’s always a learning experience, isn’t it?
Exciting, thrilling adventures await you if you step into the waters of adventure, but be prepared for what may lie beneath its shimmering surface.