This is the day I have been most concerned about. Will 'Robinson Calusa' be up to the task, will it fit, will it be too long, too wide, will the water trail be clear enough? I could imagine being stuck somewhere deep in this place and nature creeping in! I awake to unimaginable hoards of no-see-um's, midges, flying teeth, whatever you want to call them...the little buggers bite with a vengeance! No amount of 100% DEET will deter these tiny bloodsuckers, so out with the headnet hat. The hat is 100% effective but destroys my vision, it is a cruel but necessary tradeoff.
Small creatures that go bump in the night. Lightning Bugs or Fire Flys, whichever you prefer, put on a great show around the chickee at dark. It is incredible how fast some of these little fellows are. I could watch them for hours zipping around from one side of the river to the other, and the glow in the mangroves was mystical. These "Water Boatmen" were found in my tent cover hanging upside down to dry out, don't think they bite. They are roughly 1/4" long and had to fly pretty far and high considering their size to reach the tent cover. You may also notice a few midges amongst them.
Here we go...packed and breakfast finished - yes, bacon, eggs, and fried midges...off to see the wizard, or vultures, of The Nightmare. This head net may look pretty goofy but if you were here at this moment I'd bet you would be wearing one too!
The Nightmare as indicated on the marine chart warns "The Nightmare is passable only during high tide. Use alternate route during low tide." The tide is now about midway and on it's way up so it should put me through as near perfect time as possible. I met the "Keepers of The Nightmare" back in Flamingo and they indicated it should be passable. The banks along this area seem to be a mixture of silt and clay with a hard limestone base under. It takes many strokes for the goo to come off of the paddle if pressed into the bottom. This sure looks like Alligator country but I have seen none, only the big Croc's back in Flamingo feeding on tourists. I have the outrigger out at this point knowing that it will need to be pulled in at any time at the sides close in.
Just past Wilderness marker "16" heading North is where the walls close in.
A couple of Ibis stand by as if to say, are you crazy buddy, heading in there with that outrigger sailing thingy.
OK, the Ama is pulled in flush against the side and the mast was never setup, we enter the canopy here.
Here it is looking pretty good...nice scenic jungle like atmosphere...hang, our Weedon Island canoe trails back home are tighter then this. Only real difference here is that I have not see a person or any sign of one for two days now and I'm smack in the thick of the real Everglades Backcountry Wilderness...alone!
Just waiting on a big Alligator or Crocodile to whisk into the water below the canoe and scare the bejesus out of me. I am totally alone and being as silent as possible pretending to be a Calusa Indian passing in a dugout canoe 200 years back in time. Like the movie "The Land that Time Forgot" I feel their spirit canoing through here, the sounds of the wild, an awesome experience! An otter startled by my presence scurries back up to it's mangrove home.
Obstacles become more numerous, I'm thinking about time now. There are many more miles of this difficult section of the Wilderness Waterway to cover, I don't want to get trapped in it tonight. I make one 90 degree turn then another, another, another. Each develops just beyond the next in the opposite direction, what a quagmire. It is sort of like a very tight canoe slalom course - if you have ever tried to turn an 18.5' canoe, modified to 21.5', 90 degrees or more, every minute, for hours on end - well, you get the idea. It does take some effort!
The leeboard and rudder helped immensely, I could usually build up a little speed before entering most turns then put the nose right where it needed to be. Unfortunately there was not always adequate time which forced a reverse and reentry. All along a tide is moving through in one direction or another. You might think a tide moving with you would be helpful but is really is just the opposite. With a following tide it forced the stern around or put the nose in the wrong spot too early. In addition my mind was working overtime figuring which path would get me through and which stuck. Backing a long canoe against a current in a tight spot is not so easy. On the other hand a gentle head current allows more freedom of movement and time to analyze the upcoming obstacles more accurately.
Vines hang from trees in eerie configurations and that means Spiders...get used to it...spiders and no telling what other insects were crawling all over the place most of the way through the waterworld thicket. With the head net, gloves, and every other bit of skin covered, I just kept at it. I began to wounder if I would ever get to the other side. I would not plot the course at the time from the GPS for fear of knowing how much more was ahead. Don't get me wrong, I am on a spiritual high and really loving this, but a fear of some impassable fallen tree lurked strongly. Should I need to turn back would not only mean defeat but just as much time to get out as in and the tide is now falling.
The outrigger is snugly against the side of the hull but even so it still catches on tree limbs both over and underwater. A few times 'Robinson Calusa' was brought to a sudden halt when a limb flipped up from the bottom at an inopportune moment..
Whew! That was a trip!!! I survived...the sky has opened once again...I live to tell the tale!
Looking back at a lost world.
No, can it be...more of The Nightmare ahead? The sky once again vanishes through the trees.
Looks like scene two of The Nightmare is now showing. The second half always leads up to the finale. This is the leaning and pulling part two, little room for paddling here, it is one fallen tree after the next.
It is really taking some time to figure a path through, almost every 20 feet is another fallen tree and the only way through always seems to be on the opposite side of what little waterway there is available.
This is pretty typical of the fallen trees. Notice the previously cut branches on the left - thank you Nightmare caretakers, most appreciated. Without these cut limbs the passage would be near impossible in a heavily loaded canoe such as 'Robinson Calusa'. I don't think I could drag "RC" over some of these trees and with no place to set the contents for portage I just don't know...
There are many strange and unusual tree formations in The Nightmare. Some trees fall over and continue growing on their sides. There are quite a few like this found through The Nightmare. This is another one of those sharp right then immediate left turns, made countless times passing through this exotic landscape. I'm still worried about a fresh tree down that could stop me in my tracks. As the day ticks on the chances of backtracking grow slim, I can only imagine trying to negotiate this place in the dark. Swamp Angle did just that in an early start to catch the tide right. Click here for the Everglade Diary "Swamp Angle"
Finally, another opening, I'm hoping this is the end of my Nightmare. I check the GPS and sure enough Broad River should be a short distance away in clear water. I swing the outrigger back out to it's normal position, the additional stability is very comforting.
I soon hit Broad River, hang a right, and a short distance up is my destination, the Broad River Campsite. I'm really tired from a day of mystery and this is a welcome site. No one here so it looks as though I will have the entire place to myself. There is one table and the remnants of another, rusted out... Swamp Angle had warned about the tide here so I prepared with long spring lines - tide was around 6'. The inclined ramp is great for loading and unloading your canoe/kayak, I also took a little sponge bath and changed into some of my Everglades finest.
Spent a little time cleaning out the debris and critters in RC. It was a mess from a days worth of water brush work.
This is my Broad River Campsite setup. There were three nice tent spots but more could be fit in if necessary. I pulled out the portable VHF for the somewhat local forecast as usual each evening, I had to listen twice... A cold front was expected to push all the way through overnight and the temp could drop into the 40's along with strong Northeasterly winds...whew, not good news on the wind direction as that was where I was heading tomorrow. The temp drop sounded great for driving the bugs in the ground for a change.
As the sun set I fried up some bacon and eggs and ate on the dock. This was the final light of the day...beautiful. It felt great to have accomplished one of my main goals, completing The Nightmare passage, I kicked back for a leisurely evening. I had some fear of raccoons invading this land site so everything containing food was lashed down well with Kevlar line. I'm happy to report none showed, thank you very much!
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