Orbital View: 'The Aquatic Appalachian Trail'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A cool but creepy shot above the Florida Everglades, like something out of a gator horror movie (and there are plenty of those):

Tristram Korten wrote a short dispatch from these waterways for the July/August 2011 issue of The Atlantic:

The crocodile lay in the mud, flat-bellied and splay-legged, its black unblinking eyes taking me in. It was at least 10 feet long and had a pale-green crenellated hide, with bumps and ridges. I knelt down on the bank of the canal for a better look.

Crocodiles are opportunists, lying still most of the day until something worth snapping at comes close enough. I wondered: How fast could this reptile clamber up the 30 feet of bank separating us? For just a moment, I wanted to see the world from the perspective of the prey. I was in the right spot; in few other places are the carnivores as big and plentiful as in Everglades National Park.

My friend Steve and I were at the southern end of the park. Our plan was to launch kayaks into Florida Bay, then paddle west along the coastal Everglades, camping on beaches accessible only by water. Our trek was a leg of the relatively new 1,500-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, the state’s effort to establish an aquatic Appalachian Trail, mapping the waterways so that kayakers can always be within a day’s paddle of a campsite.

One reader, Beth, “spent three years paddling amidst Florida gators on the Myakka River, writing about and painting these prehistorics and cataloguing stupid human behavior worthy of the Darwin Awards.” One of her memories:

After one initial trip in a kayak, where the guide in the kayak next to me breathed a sigh of relief after a very close encounter and told me were lucky the gator didn’t try to crawl OVER OUR BOATS, I opted for the higher sides of a canoe. I earned the name Gator Girl, and if you’d like to read more, check out my posts about paddling with gators.

If you’d like to paddle yourself, reader Dave could be your guide:

The Wilderness Waterway is the most remote backcountry in the largest national park in the eastern US! We operate an 8 day fully outfitted and guided tour of this trip, including shuttle transportation. You can find complete details here.

If you don’t have the time or money for that trip, Brad can give you a virtual tour:

(See all Orbital Views here)