Sunday, August 06, 2006

Getting eaten in gator country

Well, we are here in Orlando Florida for a youth basketball tournament. I did a couple of arm and humid morning road runs doing circles around the vacation villas complex where we are staying (yuck). Having dropped my wife at the airport early this morning, I decide that a long day would give me an oportunity to find some sort of trail in this land of amuzement parks and vacation rentals. I looked one up on the internet and intended to run at Disney Wilderness Preserve. No, it isn't part of Disney, it is named after them because they had to pay for the wetland replacement due to the land taken up by their park. It is managed by the Nature Conservancy.

Well, I basically missed the turnoff due to the fact that the area around this conservancy is growing like crazy with new housing and retail development. I guess only big, well-known, companies have to replace their wetlands not housing developers and local governments ;-). Anyway, after driving for another 15-20 minutes I saw a sign with the universal symbol for hikers on it (imagine my excitement). Pulling into the pull-off and reading the map it showed a trail that went out for about 5.5 miles. I guess a good 11 miles would be OK even though I was planning on more like 14. I could always go out again after returning to the car after the first out-and-back.

The trail is basically an overgrown 4x4 trail near Lake Marion used by hunters. However, the sign said it was also for hiking and I met two other runners coming off just as I pulled up. They said that the trail was pretty good, but gets kinda thick. They hadn't gone all the way to the end so I would have to see for myself. The runners were southerners so I figured they knew more about when hunting season was than I did (is that prejudice?). Anyway, I figured there would be signs up if it was hunting season so I felt fairly safe heading out in this lush, jungle-like environ.

It was very different than anyplace else I had run. The trail was completely flat, but the thick grasses that grew thicker the deeper I went made it feel more like a typical trail run pace. There are lots of great noises from flying bugs, beetles, birds and other animals. The plant life is so dense and lush that I felt again like I was running in pre-historic times. However, this was as far from the desert climate (where I last felt that way) as one can get. It does share the heat, but the humidity is quite stiffling.

Running along, I was enjoying the scenary thinking that it was nice (like in the desert) to be running a fairly remote trail without thinking about mountain lions or other predetors. Then, I saw it. A simple little sign on the side of the trail. It said, "Alligator area, do not harrass or feed". I thought to myself, "what am I going to feed them, my foot?" Then I thought there should be a sign facing away from the trail saying "Human area, do not harass or EAT!" Well, just as I was thinking these thoughts, I ran by a little mucky swampy pond and heard a very lowed "KERPLUNK!!" Needless to say, this startled me quite a bit. I realized that Alligators don't chase people, but I still picked up my pace. About a mile later I was forced to stop and get my heart in check. The pace was not something I could keep up in the growing heat and humidity. If I thought my little Big Basin run would prepare me for Florida humidity then I am an idiot. This stuff is serious! I ended up having to take my shirt off because the wicking fabric was less than useless. It did much better over my head and flopping about my shoulders.

I put the thought of alligators behind me and just tried to enjoy the trail. It really was beautiful and I wished I'd brought the camera along. The dense parts look something like this.

Well, going along all was good and alligators were out of my thoughts when I heard another loud "KERSPLASH!" This time I stopped and looked. I couldn't see anything, but something had definitely just dove under the water. I assured myself that the chance of a full grown man being eaten by an alligator along a trail was small. However, I was out of my element and really knew nothing about these beasts. I shortly came to the dead-end of the trail. Here there was another nice little swamp-pool so I stood and looked to see if anything was moving underneath the surface. Just then, a sound came from the bushes and I started. Then I laughed as I saw the absolute cutest little black pig I have ever seen in my life.

It was about the size of one of our black cats and about the same color. I watched it for a bit before continuing on. I now felt no fear of alligators. With these tasty little pork morsels roaming around, no alligator could possibly be tempted by me. On the way back I saw more wildlife included many birds, a racoon and a deer.

Guessing this is what gets hunted, I made a point to scare it off the trail. No point in it getting in the habit of being in such an easily accessible area only to be shot. Hmmm...venison, pork, so many options for these gators. I can't imagine that human meat could even be tempting. I arrived back where I heard the first splash and decided to see if I could find the beast. Looking closely, I guess he (once again) saw me first. I caught a glimpse of him as he jumped off a low tree branch into the water....wait...tree branch? That bugger was only about a foot and a half long!!! These gators on this trail would have difficulty with those hogs let along a full sized human being. Silly Californian!

The rest of the run went fairly well, though the heat and humidity got the best of me. I ended up feeling like I did at the end of my Lake Meade run where I couldn't cool down even though I was drinking. I had to stop a few times and find shade and also got a nasty side cramp. My shorts were as wet as if I had jumped in a pool and my shirt that I alternated between carrying and wearing on my head must have weighed five pounds with all the moisture it was holding on to. Finally, I realized that there was a real danger of being eaten out here. With my shirt off in this humid jungle I was a veritable feast for the Florida bugs.


matt said...

beautiful photos, steve...i didn't think there was anyplace that interesting or challenging to run in florida. i stand corrected. would you want to run an ultra there, though?

angie's pink fuzzy said...

gorgeous photos. scary post! i'd hate to run in gator territory!!!

miki said...

There was something posted on coolrunnings not too long ago about 3 women (completely separate incidents) being eaten by gators in Florida. One was trail running....

Eudemus said...

The photos are actually from the park web site as I didn't have my camera with me that day. I don't think there were any big gators in this particular location (if there were I don't want to know about it). I'm glad I didn't know about those runners being eaten before I went there...I probably would have turned right back around at the sign :-).

Eudemus said...

Well, I found the following link about alligator attacks. No, I don't know why it is in the Seattle Times which seems about as far away from Florida as one can get in the lower 48.