We waited for the sun to rise above the trees before we got up the next morning. By that point, the mosquitoes were hunkering down for the day. I made us a breakfast of fried potatoes, eggs, sausage, and cheese and made coffee. Christy had acquired some blisters on her feet from walking 3 miles in her cycling shoes the previous day. They didn’t look too bad though, so we decided to continue on with our backpacking plans.
We broke camp and packed for our backpacking trip. We were finally ready to go by 11am. The trailhead was conveniently located at the back of the campground. That part of it was abandoned by the Park Service years ago, apparently due to a lack of demand for campsites. The old restroom buildings are still standing, but most everything else is overgrown.
We drove to the back of loop C and parked in an old campsite near the trailhead kiosk. I shouldered my pack, which was quite heavy for a one-night trip. We had packed heavier than normal food due to a lack of planning, and we had to carry all of the water we’d need with us. There are no sources of fresh water along the trail or near the campsite.
We hiked through the woods for a few minutes before emerging in the prairie. The prairie is open, as the vegetation is limited mainly to shrubs. It was a pretty morning, with puffy clouds and blue sky. Despite the abundant sunshine, the trail was muddy. Hiking it was quite tedious - it was a bit like walking through wet cement. That made for awkward walking, a slow pace, and, as we would discover later, some sore leg muscles.
It actually got worse before it got better. We were only a ½ mile from the car when we reached a long stretch that was flooded. The water was only calf deep, but it was enough that we risked dunking our boots. The slippery footing didn’t help, either. After a while we tried bushwhacking through the shrubs adjacent to the trail. I’m not sure which was worse. This went on for at least a ¼ mile, and I was beginning to wonder if the rest of the hike would be like this. I suggested that it wasn’t too late to bail out and do something else. I wasn’t sure where we would stay, but thought that we might be able to get a spot in the campground. It hadn’t filled up completely either of the previous nights. We decided to continue on a little farther, to see if the condition of the trail would improve. This was also not one of our better decisions.
As luck would have it, the standing water ended a couple of minutes later. We reached a junction with the Bayshore Trail, which makes a short loop with the Coastal Prairie Trail. In hindsight, we should’ve followed this trail. It is a little longer, but it bypasses the flooded section of trail.
The nasty mud continued, until the trail finally disappeared into the mangrove forest. It was dry for quite a while, but occasional deadfall blocked the path. Also, the mosquitoes were quite lively in the shade. We put on repellant, but apparently I missed a big spot on the back of my left arm. Many of them got me through my shirt on the left side of my back and shoulder, too. They were subtle though, and I didn’t even realize I was being violated until later. I spent the rest of the trip looking like some type of leper.
Parts of the forest were pretty, with lots of Spanish Moss, Prickly Pear Cactus, and occasional wildflowers including Morning Glories and Hibiscus. We eventually emerged into the open prairie again, and the mud resumed. We stopped for lunch here, since we were in the sunshine and away from the bugs. However, there was no place to sit down. Christy sat on her pack while I ate my lunch standing up.
We resumed the hike with another long stretch in the woods. Then we emerged in the prairie once again. This meant another slog through mud the consistency of wet cement. At least the surroundings were interesting. Beyond the mud and the sea of shrubs and sawgrass were skeleton trees and more substantial mangrove forests. The area had the feel of a vast wilderness. In fact, I’ll bet there are areas that hardly anyone ever visits in there. Maybe no one at all? As it was, we only saw a couple of dayhikers at the beginning of the hike and a couple more the following day, near the end. If it hadn’t been for all of the footprints in the mud, I might’ve thought that we were the only people that had ever hiked here. As it was, it was the kind of place where it wouldn’t have been terribly surprising to see a dinosaur emerge from the forest.
We reached a sign pointing left towards Clubhouse Beach. We followed a rougher path down into a saltwater swamp. The trail led directly through it, but beaten paths led around to the right and to the left. I decided to scout.
The trail to the right looked promising, but it was still wet and brushy. Before long I dunked a boot. Getting through it with dry feet wouldn’t be possible. I doubled-back and tried the path to the left. This one was equally wet and more roundabout, as it was leading further away from our goal. The direct approach looked shorter, but the knee deep water and slippery footing were awkward. We risked falling in going that way. So we ended up going around to the right, which was my preference to begin with.
This wasn’t too bad, but the black water was more than calf deep in places, and the shrubs we were stomping through had a tendency to tangle themselves around our legs and feet. We eventually made it around, but that final slog was probably another ¼ mile or so. Our 6.5 mile hike had featured over a ½ mile of wading.
We emerged from the swamp and crested a minor dune. That was our only elevation gain of the hike, and it was only a few feet! From the top we gazed out over Clubhouse Beach. To this point, we’d told ourselves that the tedious hike would be worth it for a 5-star campsite. Unfortunately, Clubhouse Beach doesn’t come close to that level. There was a little bit of sand above the high tide line, but below it was all mud. More mud. Well, at least we had it all to ourselves.
That wasn’t completely true, either. There was a fair bit of boat traffic out in the bay, though it was distant. And when I went searching for a campsite, I discovered another group farther east. They had arrived via canoe. They were a long distance away though, so we had plenty of privacy.
We set up camp near the end of the trail, as that spot featured a level, sandy bench. There was also some impressive driftwood furniture nearby. Once camp was up, we attempted to go swimming. We walked out through the mud barefoot, hoping to find more sand eventually. Instead the muddy bottom just continued. The water was very shallow, too. I was beginning to think that we could walk all the way to Key West, or at least a small island visible in the distance. That may have been Dildo Key, but I’m not certain. And no, I’m not making that up – there really is an island in Florida Bay called Dildo Key.
The water was only a little more than knee deep. We eventually gave up and just sat down on the muddy bottom. I was suffering from some serious chaffing, and the saltwater was painfully soothing. Christy floated while I sat in the mud until the burning subsided. Then we slopped back through the mud to camp.
The rest of the afternoon was pleasant, but that didn’t last long. We were worried about bugs after dark, so we decided to make dinner early. It wasn’t early enough. The no-see-ums came out around 5pm. There were clouds of the flea-sized biters. After a couple of minutes I thought I might actually go insane. They made the mosquitoes seem like a minor nuisance. Christy was in the middle of making us tortilla pizzas, so I tried to build a fire. There was no firewood to speak of though. I dug a hole in the sand and used a fire starter and handfuls of dead grass to create a little flame and a lot of smoke. The smoke was the goal, and it was pretty effective. However, the dead grass burned as fast as I was able to gather it. The more we burned, the farther I had to venture to get more. Our fire wasn’t sustainable, and the bugs showed no sign of relenting. Christy finished cooking, and we retreated to the tent with dinner. We managed to keep all but a few dozen of our tormentors out of the tent when we got in. We hunted most of them down before eating.
After dinner we were treated to a beautiful sunset. I didn’t want to leave the safety of the tent, but it was irresistible. I clothed myself completely and put on repellent, but what we were using didn’t seem to faze the no-see-ums. I took a few photos before retreating once again.
The mosquitoes joined the party a bit later. This wasn’t a problem, until we had to pee. Then we had to make a mad dash through the swarms before racing back to the tent. And then we had to hunt down and kill the bugs that had gotten in the tent while we were going in and out. There were a lot of them, and apparently we didn’t find them all. There were still a couple of mosquitoes inside with us when we woke the next morning.
We had originally planned to get up well after sunrise, to avoid the bugs. Even the weather conspired against us. The sun rose, but quickly disappeared behind a huge bank of clouds. I had left the tent fly off to keep the tent cool, and rain was threatening. We’d also been in the tent for 13 hours, and had to pee again. We conceded defeat and broke camp. I’d brought pancake mix and syrup for breakfast, but that wasn’t happening. We both just wanted to get out of there. Christy threatened to hitch a ride on a passing boat. We ate some random snacks while packing and swatting at the bugs. Then we started our hike with another wade through the swamp.
The return hike was a little better overall. At least we knew what to expect. The rain held off, but the clouds persisted, keeping it a little cooler. We made good time, too, hiking back in under 3 hours. We returned to the campground and used the showers. I smelled awful – much worse than after a week or more of backpacking in the Rockies. It was a special kind of stink created by a combination of sunscreen, bug dope, sweat, and swamp mud. I actually took my boots in the shower with me and spent as much time cleaning them as showering. Everything was somewhat cleaner afterwards, though my hiking clothes may be a lost cause. I’m not sure I’ll ever get that stench out!
We drove to Homestead and stopped at a Mexican place for lunch. Then we picked up some ointment at CVS for my numerous bug bites, and got beer at Publix. Then it was on to downtown Miami for four days of luxury and Phish concerts!
We arrived at the hotel at 3, but check-in wasn’t until 4. Parking is valet only, so we dragged all of our luggage, including our wet and muddy backpacking gear, into the lobby. That must’ve motivated the cleaning staff, because our room was ready a couple of minutes later!
The room was pretty nice. We were on the 7th floor, with a balcony looking out over Biscayne Bay. That evening we had sushi, duck, and seafood at a restaurant a block away. Then we made the 1 mile walk down to the arena. This was actually a pleasant walk, thanks to nice weather and being surrounded by hundreds of other Phish Phans.
Our seats were indeed in the rafters – we were 3 rows from the very top. The sound was still ok up there though, and the view wasn’t bad. It was actually an interesting perspective, since we could actually see what the band was doing on stage.
The concert featured 3 sets, but started a bit slow. Set 1 was a true warm up, but they made up for it with an outstanding set 2. The highlight was “Martian Monster”, which they first performed on Halloween 2 months earlier in Las Vegas. Set 3 started with a near-tragedy. The drummer, Phishman, began to perform one of his classic songs using his vacuum cleaner when it became stuck to his face. It took the entire band and most of the crew to remove it. At midnight the band launched a giant inflatable Phishman above the crowd while dropping thousands of balloons. Photo (
We took it easy the next day, since the concert lasted until 1:30. After sleeping in, we went in search of a restaurant that was still serving breakfast. We ended up at The Daily, which was just a few blocks away. It was a good choice, and we ended up eating breakfast there every morning.
That afternoon I went for a run across the scenic Venetian Causeway, which crosses Biscayne Bay. We spent the rest of the day at the hotel pool, which is on the roof 10 stories up. Dinner that evening was at a Peruvian restaurant, which was my favorite of the trip. The second concert was a bit up and down – both the band and crowd seemed a little tired. It ended strong though, with Phish closing set 2 with “Run Like An Antelope” and a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll”.
On Friday Christy and I went mountain biking. Mountain biking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Miami, but I suppose you can do it almost anywhere. It turns out there is a nice little mountain biking park on Virginia Key, which is in Biscayne Bay south of Miami Beach. This was my first attempt at real mountain biking. I took it easy, sticking with the novice trails. It went pretty well, and at times was fun. Christy ventured onto the intermediate trails a few times, and got a few bumps and bruises for her efforts. Afterwards we lounged on the beach on Virginia Key. We stopped for burgers and beers on the way back to the hotel.
On the way to the show, we ended up talking to some younger Phans. We told them we were from Charlotte, and one guy said, “oh yeah? I’m a freshman at Appalachian State”. I laughed and told him that I was an alumnus. He asked when I’d graduated, and I said “1994”. His response? That’s when he was born. Ouch!
We decided to cut it loose on Friday night. We both had a bit more to drink than we’d had the previous two nights. The band cut it loose, too, with the best show of the run so far. They really got funky, particularly on “Back on the Train”. I danced up and down the stairs for that one, and made some new friends in the seats below us.
After the show we cruised through Shakedown Street – an area designated for vendors located across the street from the arena. We wanted to party a little longer, but it was just too crowded to stay long. We thought about going to one of the many after parties. Each night there were bands playing in clubs until the early morning hours, and Thursday night (Friday morning) there was even a cruise on a yacht in Biscayne Bay. Ultimately though, we remembered that we weren’t born in 1994. If we wanted to enjoy Saturday night’s concert, we needed some sleep!
Originally we planned to return to Everglades National Park on Saturday to bike Shark Valley. Shark Valley is a 15 mile paved loop ride in the heart of the park. It is well known for wildlife, and even has an observation tower. However, we overslept a bit, and didn’t want to spend a substantial part of our last day in the car. Instead I went for another run, before we headed to pool for more sunshine and relaxation.
We were pleasantly surprised by downtown Miami. The city never impressed me on previous trips, mainly for work. Traffic was terrible, and the place was dirty, even by big city standards. Our experience downtown was different. Most people were friendly, and traffic wasn’t a concern since we walked almost everywhere. We were also located in the Arts District, which features a lot of impressive public art.
We had dinner at an Indian restaurant that evening before heading into the show. Saturday night’s show was probably the best of the run, though Friday was nearly as good. Both nights were fantastic. Saturday’s highlight was an extended jam following “Down With Disease” and a funky cover of Robert Palmer’s “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley”. We headed straight back to the hotel afterwards, since we had a long drive home on Sunday. That went pretty well, mostly because we got up early and hit the road at 7:30. The worst part of the drive was probably the smell in our car. You can leave the swamp, but you can’t leave the swamp funk! We got home around 7 that evening, which gave us a chance to unpack and clean up a little before heading off to work on Monday. My next job assignment was in Detroit, which promised to be quite a shock after a week in South Florida!
We will probably take another winter trip to Florida in the future. I might be willing to spend more time in the Everglades, but I won’t be backpacking! We will stick to paddling or cycling. I still haven’t made it to Key West, and Dry Tortugas National Park beckons. Also, we hope to spend more time with Myron and Dorcas next time we are in the area.
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