We are closing out the fourth week of our #Glades2Gulf expedition across Florida, having covered 450 miles of our roughly 1000-mile trek. This first half of the expedition has allowed us to explore and document some astounding ecological riches, but also some places where development has nearly erased linkages in the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The latter half of Week 3 brought us into the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast, to Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and beyond. We rode north on our bikes along mostly empty county roads each morning, listening carefully for logging trucks and people trying to beat the clock to work. Dipping off paved roads we eased our pace and the sunlight flashed through the trees as we passed.
The land here has taken on a wildness that reminds me of John Muir’s descriptions in “A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.”
North of the small fishing resort of Steinhatchee I’m stunned by the glassy surface of Hagen’s Cove, where thousands of shorebirds are strewn across the plain of the Gulf, dunlins and willets and gulls taking crabs from the grass beds. The birds appear as little gray-black smudges in the shimmering distance, mirage-like. Reddish egrets jounce crazily back and forth, hunting. At dusk a pair of eagles wheel into the sky and a flock of a thousand redheads pour across the cove and land as a raft in the shallows in front of me.
We’re concluding Week 4 having reached the 68,000-acre St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, just 25 miles south of the state capitol, Tallahassee.
On an off day we rode into town to meet with state lawmakers as they begin their spring session, taking the opportunity to march the halls of the House and Senate chambers, talking about our journey and our hope that more habitat in wildlife corridors will come under protection in the coming year. It was exhausting, and at the end of the day we fled the rack and clamor of town to head back to our route through the corridor.
We also got in two days of hiking, first down the Aucilla River through an area known as the Aucilla Sinks. Here the river dips through a series of limestone rapids before disappearing underground, emerging and disappearing again several times over miles of its course through North Florida.
The overcast day gave me the opportunity to make a few long-exposure photos of the river, at those times when I could find a place to prop my camera on the ground. It was fortunate that I left my tripod behind that day, or I might never have made it past the first mile, where the water swirled into eddies around the moss-laden trunks of trees and exposed limestone.
The second day of hiking took us to a camp out in the coastal marsh of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. A wet fall and winter meant that we spent the first two miles wading, while a windy last half of the day drove cold rain at our backs.
We nestled our tents into a small grove of palm trees as night fell, the wind howling over the open marsh. I envied an otter I saw rolling in a tide creek, imagining his obliviousness to the feeling of damp cold.
We have made great progress up the coast in these 10 days, but there are many miles yet to go and much to see and explore. Our resolve to see the corridor throughout will keep us going one day at a time.