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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Lived to Tell the Tale

~Monday, February 20, 2023~

Day 982

Happy President’s Day everyone. Our country is so fortunate to have had such great and memorable leaders in Lincoln and Washington who both embodied the American Dream, dedicating their lives to some of the greatest challenges ever known. So today, we honor them and their legacy.

Segway into my wardrobe closet. Well folks, it’s time to ditch the winter wardrobe and the fleece sheets for more suitable fabrics that fit the Florida climate. As I switched out the bulky winter items, I realized I’ve definitely accumulated more than what I started with on the trip, finding it challenging to fit all my items in those handy dandy vacuum bags. Time for a little purging.

While taking Sadie for a morning walk in the campground, I ran into a very nice park volunteer, Robin. Per the usual, Sadie always helps engage others in a little conversation and should credit her for the friends we’ve made along the way. So thank you dear Sadie. With our ongoing quest to find kayaking opportunities, I asked Robin about the campground’s offerings. Nada. Not this season. Evidently, it’s handled through a private company who hasn’t been in communication at all so far this season. So there the kayaks sit waiting for eager customers like us. Who knows, maybe they encountered some devastating effects from Hurricane Ian. Apparently, when Hurricane Ian struck full force on the Fort Myers area with sustained 150-mile winds, Naples' misfortune was the storm-surge. Robin told me it couldn’t have been the worst recipe…a king tide and a full-moon. The storm surge came within 20 minutes of the hurricane’s landfall. Our campground was under 3 to 4 feet of water at the time and just reopened in early February. Wow, are we lucky. And so was she. Robin’s home was spared, but friends of hers didn’t make out so lucky with THEIR homes. The cleanup is still ongoing from the September storm. Robin also told me that she would never leave Florida, despite the climate change and increasingly severe weather. However, she can’t wait to get out of Naples. It’s just getting too crowded and too built up. It must be hard to witness all of the changes when you’ve lived here your whole life.

I decided to do a little kayak research after my failed attempts of finding options at the campground. Bingo, I found Paddle Marco in Naples who offer shelling and sandbar experiences or more in a mangrove type of setting. We chose the latter. They offer kayak rentals or kayak tours. Normally, we like to do our own thing, but decided this time to do a guided tour to learn all there is to learn about the wildlife and the swampy terrain. Can’t wait till Friday!

Today’s excursion was a visit to the Crew Bird Rookery Swamp, about a 40-minute drive on the outskirts of Naples. One thing we observed on our way there, was as Robin described… abundance of construction and wide 3-lane highways. At every intersection, there are 3 turn lanes in addition to the 3 straight lanes. It’s crazy. Is it due to the increased population or more for evacuation purposes, or both? As we approached the rookery which is on the outside edge of Naples, we observed the highway narrowing down to 1 lane on each side and the denser vegetation alongside it. This must be the old Naples Robin was talking about. So sad that so much of this is gone.

We had read so much about this swamp trail that officially opened in 2011, and let me tell you, it was absolutely stunning AND scary all at the same time. We decided we’d see more of the 10-mile trail by bike rather than hike. And man, oh man, it is not for the faint of heart in terms of biking it. As we got started, there was a narrow waterway with enough wildlife activity you could have easily watched all day. Alligators frolicking in the water, jumping fish and delightful large bird species flying branch to branch. We began our journey on a 1500-foot boardwalk surrounded by a until we came to ground level on a sandy/grassy path flagged by swamps and dense Big Cypress habitat on either side of us. The path is actually an old tram road that was used for

logging back in the 1950’s. We had no idea that the wide grassy pathway would narrow down to as much as 6 inches with our bike pedals constantly coming in contact with the knee high grass and shrubs. This would be our experience about half-way through the trail. We also had the challenge of dodging and riding over many exposed roots causing you to have a firmer grip on those handlebars. It was quite the bumpy ride. And there was no one on this remote section of trail but us… one to call for help had we needed it. This is where I got pretty nervous, hoping we wouldn’t run into the tail of a resting alligator. I guess I took comfort in knowing they prefer more open sunny patches, but hey, ‘ya never know. Jeff, thankfully led the way as he would be the one to spot anything first. I handled the periphery. The sights, the sounds and the smells were all truly amazing, grateful to rest and take it all in without a bug in site. There were no bugs to be found. But we did spot many a heron or egret either in the tree canopies airing out their wet wings or wading in the water. In some cases, they followed the forest along with us as if we needed help in making our way through. I couldn’t believe how many

alligators we saw, some resting on logs in the water, others right in our path, but thankfully none taking up the entire width of the trail, except near the end. It was the same large alligator we saw when we started the path, but this time, he had his mouth open, facing our direction. I already knew that when an alligator has his mouth open, it’s similar to a dog panting to cool down. But no matter what, it still looked ominous. The question, to wait or proceed past him? Jeff went first, successfully. Had the alligator been facing the other direction, I would have not been so apprehensive. For me, it took about 5 minutes to have enough courage and encouragement to go for it.

I guess my facial expression was priceless which my adorable husband captured on video. Daring and dashing we lived to tell the tale. It really was a thrill ride.

Like idiots, we didn’t bring any water on our 4-hour journey, and were absolutely dying by the end of the ride. So we stopped at the closest Publix store to load up on a few Gatorades for hydration. And we didn’t mind the welcome cool down the store provided.

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