(This is an unfinished work)

"I have labored hard and staked my all on this undertaking, for I love that renown which is the noblest recompense of man."
                                               Hernando Cortez

 On January 18th 2013 I finally reach a small lake hidden deep in the mangrove swamps of Florida. In the grand scheme of things it is an insignificant event; but for me it was the culmination of three years of planning and dreaming, one failed attempt and a whole lot of soul searching.
  It's not always easy being me. I'm sociable enough and like being with people but I can also be a bit dark and brooding at times. I often prefer my own company and seek to be alone. I can be headstrong. If given the choice between asking for help or doing it the hard way I usually pick the latter. I'm often my own worst enemy.

So whether by my own stubborn hand or circumstances put forth by the universe, my life has often been a difficult one. Now, as the autumnal equinox of my life passes, I've grown to appreciate and even be grateful for the trials I have endured. It has forged my character. It has made me who I am. At the same time I seek a better way forward and vow to be kind to both others and myself. 

But this is now and that was then. Let me take you back a few years and relate to you the story of how I became obsessed with reaching the Inaccessible Lake.

 I talk of hardship but in truth I'm a fortunate man. I met a beautiful women who truly loved me. We lived a simple life,poor but happy,not needing much of anything except each other. She was patient and I eventually asked her to marry me. She said yes. Soon we had a baby girl and then a baby boy and I would come to realize why I was put on this earth. To be the Dad to these two amazing children. Who could ask for more?

  It is the fate of man that he seldom appreciates the blessings while in the midst of them and like most "married with kids" she and I got caught up in the struggle.The jobs, the bills, the housework, the diapers etc.  Looking back it all seems so silly that we would worry and argue and heartache over such things.

  Around the time of our marriage Maria had noticed some minor joint pain.She attributed it to her work as a cashier. We were concerned but not overly and, being young and foolish, we delayed seeing a doctor. Maria would soon be diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. In a matter of just a few years, while our children were still toddlers, it would completely rob her of her mobility. Her hips, knees, shoulders and elbows all were effected. She would lose the ability to walk and eventually spend most of her time confined to bed. She would require the most intimate of care.

   We carried on. It helped that we had two bright happy and bubbly children to offset the hardship. Maria bravely faced her illness. She was a wonderful mother and really the center of everything. We all revolved around her. But things weighed heavy on me. A cloud descended over my heart. I came to see my life as and endless succession of inglorious menial tasks The pressure of caring for her and struggling to make ends meet often seemed overwhelming. It was no single event but a creeping awareness of just how all consuming the illness had become. How it ruled our lives. Ruled my life. It was the point around which every decision was made. It took many years but eventually any hope I had for happiness seemed lost. All was dark, and like a rat searching for a way out of a cage I desperately sought a way to gain even a single moments sense of freedom.



" Those who are not willing to fight will be tried by court-martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy"
                                                                              General Patton

 Deliverance came in the form of an obstinate teenager. 

 Unbeknownst to me children grow up. As my kids entered their mid teens a ray of hope shone through the pale fog of depression and despair. Having been raised amidst their mothers disability, and miraculously having inherited only the good parts of their fathers makeup, the two were empathetic and caring, capable and responsible and more than up to the task of handling things over a long weekend. I discussed things with Maria. She knew my desperation and agreed. Truth be told, a break from Dad was something everyone could use.

 So it was that I took my first real steps into the Florida wilderness. I had chosen my jumping off point wisely; but I never imagined that just a short distance along the coast and around a point, hidden behind the mangrove trees, a whole knew world would reveal itself. It was a place I'd never been before but it could not have felt more like home. The ocean breeze mixed with the aroma of decaying mangrove. With each breath the mind numbing oppression of civilization was eased. The weight of responsibility was lifted. Life and beauty abounded.


 Over the next two years or so I would continue to make regular forays into the back country. I began to learn the ways of the wild  coast and the mangrove swamp. I learned how it was abundant with birds.How the rise and fall of tides could leave you stranded on the shallow banks of sea grass or work to your advantage.. How the high tide of a full moon coupled with a storm could wash over the narrow coastal ridge, inundating your campsite. i learned how the life congregates  around the fresh water dumping into the Bay. I noticed a small band of vultures would follow me and check in on me regularly. I learned that the drift wood made bad fire wood, produceing a foul stench and that it was better to use the dead and fallen black mangrove  well back from the surf. I was reminded that mosquitoes can drive a person to near madness, That a frozen bottle of water can give you a cool drink 3 days later. That there are places no one goes. I learned about the sandfleas.  i learned the difference between crocodiles and alligators. I saw hints to the past hidden in the forest These things and many more became apart of me. I came to understand how wildly different it was from the northern country of my childhood and yet in ways shared a comforting similarity. I witnessed fantastic sunsets.

 At home,between trips,I would plan and make preparations. Repair my canoes and gather supplies. I spent hours searching over charts, old and new, and Google satellite images. It was  my "thing" Some people knit, some watch ESPN, I like maps.
 At some point, I don't remember when, my attention was drawn to a small body of water set somewhat apart from the others. I had ventured twice into an area only a mile or so from the lake and I knew how isolated it was. On one map I had seen the lake was labeled "inaccessible" and this peeked my interest.
  Being a history fan, I had read many accounts of peoples experience in the Florida wilderness.There are many wonderful old texts from military reports, to accounts of early dredging attempts, scientific inquires, Spanish conquistador relations. etc. It was possible for me to find information on the most obscure out of the way spots. all that information was just fodder for my dreams and caused me to devise many many plans for future excursions, some of which I've done and some yet to materialize. But information on the lake was mysteriously lacking. All my searching yielded nothing, not even the mention of its name. 
 So that was the seed. The path forward through the jungle was an uncertain one but it seemed to me if someone was tenacious enough and willing to portage through the swamp they should be able to gain entry.


                                                                          ( As yet unwritten)
 Maria was diagnosed with cancer. The reasons why are unclear.  We entered a new phase in our life and our  relationship together. Everything became more dear. We had two scary episodes at home followed by hospital stays. When she had regained some strength we began a year an half long treatment program, The prognosis was never good; but treatment did provide her with relief. A busy schedule of doctor visits, radiation and chemo got Maria out of the house regularly for the first time in years. She enjoyed going for long drives through the night time city. On night we made the long run to Key West, arriving at 3:00 am, only to get a cup of coffee and drive home. The radio seemed to always play her favorite song.
  Marias' Arthritis made helping her get about something of a project. She was very delicate and moving her the wrong way was painful for her. Years of experience and a small bit off upper body strength  had made me an essential part of the process. Surprisingly doctors offices and medical facilities are not always so "user friendly" for  severely disabled people.

 I was good for both Maria and I to meet so many nice people. She had lived in relative isolation for a long time and it was comforting to finally have others recognize what she, and I, had endured.  The doctors and nurses appreciated my role.

   The treatments were successful in the short term. She was out of pain and in someways stronger than she had been for quite sometime. 
                                                          (to be written)

     I broke camp at dawn. As I paddled along the coast the sun rose behind me, soon framed between the horizon and the clouds. Light flooded the bay. A squawking blue heron took to flight. The long coast was lined with mangrove and buttonwood trees. Stately dead trees and tangles of drift wood stood out against the green background. Occasional open patches of narrow beach would reveal a low field of glowing green salt-wart behind the narrow beach ridge. Scattered throughout this coastal prairie where more ancient grey trees skeletons. Posing like statues.

 I was going to need a long day to get where I was going.  The current of the rising tide help to move me along. An hours paddling put me at the mouth of a wide dredged canal that headed inland. This is something of a cross roads. It's not a busy place but if I were going to bump into the errant fisherman this would be the place. Still early, no one else was about and I headed north up the canal. A short while on and the main canal turns left an heads for a large shallow lake just inland from the coast but i kept on straight and headed for a small dam that interrupts the canal. Not many people venture beyond this dam. It's closed to motor traffic and most paddlers by pass it for more well traveled  routes. I myself stumbled upon it by serendipity. Beyond the dam the coast is left behind and a world of closed in mangrove and shallow lakes is revealed. It's an expansive buffer zone between the "River of Grass" and Florida Bay. It has a unique biology all it's own. It's dominated by the three mangroves and buttonwood trees. It's the home of crocodiles. It's abundant with birds. At times it's intense with mosquitoes. 

   Here I found a refuge for my soul.

  I portaged my gear across the small dam and its floating dock, launched the canoe stowed by belongings then pushed of down the far side canal. It continues for a mile or so and is thick with crocodiles. I paddled slowly hoping for a good photo opportunity. It wasn't long before I spied a large crocodile  sunny on the high bank, motionless. Most crocs are wary and immediately take to the water, on several occasions though I've come across single ones sunning themselves which remain motionless. I suspect they are pregnant females.
 The morning light streamed through the trees, scattering shadows over the massive blue grey crocodile. The canal bank , formed long ago from dredged material, was four feet high and right at eye level with me as I sat in the canoe. It made for a spectacular image. I clicked off 30 images from a variety of angles then pushed off. I had places to go. Another quarter mile and a low mud bank appeared on the right. Nine large adult crocodiles were laying about. They noticed me as I noticed them and eight raised themselves high on their legs and ran for the water. One remained motionless. What Luck. I knelt low in the canoe and furiously took pictures , the angle changing as I drifted in closer. I stood to change the photo angle just as I drifted in among the crocs who had left mud bank. The water beneath me erupted and the boat rocked precariously. I quickly sat down. Enough of that! I grabbed my paddle and moved on.

  The end of the dredged canal is marked with two small mangrove tree islands. when coming from the other way they block the view  and make finding the canal, and the way out, difficult. When entering the back country they serve as a curtain, hiding the large sprawling shallow lake. I slid through two islands and drifted out into an open bay. The wind and sunlight struck my face. 

  This is a fantastic place. It been referred to by a few labels but its name remains uncertain. Still it is and I come here often. It presents itself as a large sprawling lake dotted with innumerable island of all shapes and sizes. It's shallow averaging just a few feet and subject to the tides. It's shore line is ill defined and can fad away into a morass of tangled mangrove or a field of green salt wart. . The islands are often draped in Spanish moss. The water is typically a tea brown but, depending on sediment and sunlight, can range between black and a cafe con leche white. Drift wood scatters the landscape.There is no elevation change so the tree line is the tree line. Navigation can be a little tricky and you must rely on subtle landmarks to find your way.

 With map and compass I set about crossing this marsh and swamp land. Across open bays and weaving through narrow channels I carefully made my way north west towards a long arm of open water that penetrated further north By mid day I had reached its end and ran my canoe up into a small patch of bright green saltwart.  

  This was the point where things got down to business. Going forward was a half mile of thick mangrove forest and a series of small shallow ponds. The line between land and pond was an uncertain one. With the tide up everything was a bit mucky.
  I unloaded Big Red and hauled it up further on shore and then tied it off to a tree. I had been here before. The previous year I had made a first attempt at reaching the lake. It had been unsuccessful. I had run out of time. But it had been a critical step in the process. I had learned how to find my way in and out of the swamp by diligently marking my trail and learned that It would take more time than I had a originally allowed. Now a year later i was better prepared.

I quickly organized my gear. It would take several portages to get where I was going and each portage involved 4 trips back and forth. I had my work cut out for me.  I organized my gear, packing away any loose items. I then fished two rolls of orange flagging tape out of my backpack. I would use this to mark the trail. Any sign of last years trail was obliterated.I had been diligent about gathering up my flagging tape in an effort to leave no trace. Mother Nature had taken care of any other evidence.
  Before setting out I took my five gallon jug of water and placed it in the notch of a good size black mangrove tree, tying it off securely. I had three other gallons of bottled water, enough to last me the 24 hours I might be away, and there was no need to haul the extra weight with me. I  then carefully marked the landing area with two long streamers of tape, visible from the lake. If something went awry this might be the only clue to others of my whereabouts. Donning the pack and carrying my two five gallon buckets of gear I made for the forest and it soon closed in behind me. Once in the interior the small scrub trees gave way to a stand of mature black mangroves, their arching branches forming a cathedral. Light filtered in from above and shadow danced through the forest.
  I took a moment to get my bearing. I found northeast on my compass and kneeling low I scanned the distance for the light of open sky above water. I soon spied the smallest of ponds, barely a mud hole twenty feet across. It was the same one from last year and I made for it. I knew I was on the right track. I was diligent to mark my path every ten yards or so. I wanted to keep three streamers visible at anyone time. I reached the mud hole and and skirted its edge. I then took another read of the compass and again searched the distance for a sign of the larger pond I knew was there. Aha! One hundred yards off. I headed that way. 

   It wasn't the exact point from the previous year but I was confident it was the same pond. Amazingly thick red mangrove lined the pond and formed a barrier I would have to struggle through. I set my gear down and headed back for more. Next up was the big duffle bag containing my tent, sleeping bag, rain gear etc. and the small cooler with cold water and perishables. Twenty minutes later I was dragging the big read canoe through. Normally I portage the canoe by carrying it on my shoulders but the thick tangle of branches and the soft muck made this impossible. Fortunately there is little in the way of sharp rocks here and not much risk of damaging the boat. One more trip for the cameras and a few odds and ends and I was soon shoving the canoe through the red mangroves and into the water. It was awkward loading the gear but everything was soon in the boat and I squirmed myself through the branches also.
This pond was the first of two "large" ponds along my route. Between them lay a series of tiny mud holes, thick jungle and narrow channels. I liked this pond. It's picturesque, quiet, and you are overcome with a sense of isolation while here. On my first venture  the sun had been setting when I arrived and I was forced to spend the night in the canoe.  With no dry ground I had little option. This turned out to be a great idea. With the canoe tied off to opposite shores I drifted lazily in the open pond all night. Quite comfortable and with an amazing display of stars.

 Now though, It was still early afternoon and I had places to  go. I weaved my way north through the skinny pond dotted with tree islands. At its north end I poked my head into the mangrove and searched for a way forward. Last year I had portaged through this boggy stretch but this time I noticed the water was higher and searching to my left I found a small channel of water cutting through the woods. It wasn't enough to paddle through but by slogging along in the muck I was able to walk the canoe through, saving myself the trouble of portaging.

 I broke through to the second large pond. This was the furthest point i had reached on the 2012 trip.It's a good sized pond and i had at first thought it was the lake itself, but 5 minutes of circumnavigation proved to me it was far too small. This year I made straight for the northeast corner. This was new territory. It was time to put up or shut up.

 I paused to consult my satellite image and get a compass bearing. The image only hinted of a channel winding off in the general direction I needed to go and then fading into nothing 100 yards from the lake.  I did my best to determine my exact position and made for the wall of mangrove where I thought this channel might be. Grey mud banks on the shallow ponds floor suggested I was on the right track and, sure enough, As soon as i poked the canoe into among the trees a small channel presented itself and soon I was crossing another small mud hole. The tide was falling by this time and beyond the mud hole  I was forced to laboriously drag  the canoe forward through a narrow twisting  channel of mud and water. It seemed to be heading generally to northeast.  i broke through to an open area. It was certainly a small pond at high tide but it was mostly slick muck . It was here , during my struggle that I stumbled upon a new technique for moving forward.  Purely by serendipity I found that if I laid face down on the bow plate of the canoe with my feet in the mud I could force my way forward, much like a  lineman practicing on a football sled. The weight on the bow forced the stern up enough to ride higher and break the suction of the mud. I'm sure it looked awkward but it was effective, and exhausting. The far end of this mud area presented something of a fork in my trail. I first went right continuing to diligently mark my way. The route seemed to turn back south and looked difficult. I decided to abandon this route and returned to the fork. I neglected to gather up the flagging tape on this "wrong path". That would prove to be a dangerous mistake on the following day.

The sage chooses the left path and so it was I pushed on. Into the mangrove I struggled dragging and pushing the big red canoe. It was getting late in the day. I knew i must be close.the channel opened into another small pond with shallow tea brown water. I was a bit discouraged. I was tired and uncertain of how to proceed. I had to make a decision. At 100 feet across and fifty yards in length the pond gave enough room to tie off the canoe on opposite shores a fair distance from the mangrove trees. This might spare me the worst of the mosquitoes.The sun was filtering through he trees as I set about securing the canoe. I then set about organizing my gear and clearing space to lay down. The canoe was caked with mud inside and out and I used my wet shirts to clean things up a bit. I also took a minute to clean myself up and put on some dry clothes. I popped the top off a well deserved ice cold Guinness and relaxed as I cooked up some macaroni and cheese.
The sun set and the sky above me lite up in pink , then soon faded into blue, then dark. Unseen to me, owls took up quarters for the night. One near one far. They spoke back and forth through out the night. I rolled out my foam pad on the canoe floor, grabbed the bug net and wool blanket and settled in. It was a relatively cool January night in Florida. A few pesky mosquitoes harassed me but I took refuge under the blanket and slept well through out the night. The canoe lazily drifted back and forth. 

  Sunrise was late arriving in among the trees and it was an hour past when I awoke. I made an espresso and took my time, First I mulled over my maps and took a glance at the compass determining my best way forward. I then made a breakfast of oatmeal and orange slices. I carefully packed things away and prepared for travel then untied the canoe from each shore and headed off. there really wasn't much option. the only possible way was to proceed to the far end of this little pond and again forced my way through the trees. Resolute with the new day I paddled the short distance and rounded a corner prepared to do battle with the mangrove. To my surprise, as soon as I rounded the corner the lake appeared before my eyes bright, beautiful and wide open. I had been in the lake all night without knowing it, tucked away in a small corner. 

With the bright morning sun shining I paddle out into deeper water. My heart smiled and a sense of accomplishment took hold of me.  I paused in the open to take it all in and enjoy the moment.  The small lake was really unremarkable. This was no summit of Everest, or Victoria Falls. The shore of the lake was lined with the ubiquitous mangrove, like any other body of water in this country. The water shared the same tea brown color, though being a bit deeper it had a certain rich tone about it. I  casually began to skirt the shore and get the lay of the area. I stumbled upon a narrow entrance to a small bay and scooted inside. I spied a small mud bank with 1/2 dozen young crocodiles sunning  themselves. They quickly noticed me. It must have been something completely beyond their experience to see this strange vision gliding atop the water. They bolted into the water but unlike the big adults ,which would usually slip beneath the surface, these teenagers darted lightning quick back and forth around the canoe. I could see them clearly as they shot past, aggressively curious about this new thing in their world. I fumbled for the camera but it was to late.  The water settled and the band of youthful crocs  disappeared. I paused for awhile here to have a smoke and hoped that perhaps the crocodiles might surface near by. They never did. 
  I search through my maps and satellite photos for my main image of of the lake. It was an image I had looked at 100,000 times over the past three years. I wanted to compare it to what was actually before me to get my bearing. I was aghast when I realized I had left the image at home. Unbelievable. Only I would have done such a thing. The outline of the lake on my navigation chart showed little detail and was of no use. Relying on my memory and consulting my compass I did my best to reconcile what I saw with the image in my head. I was unsuccessful. The general outline seemed accurate and there was no other body of water in the area as substantial but not having a chart to pinpoint my location was frustrating.

 I continued to explore the lake. The eastern end was a confusing tangle of  mangroves and tiny bays. This fit with my general mental image but again it was frustrating to not have something to refer to.

  After two pleasant hours looking about. I decide it was time to extricate myself. It would be a long days struggle to get out and , already late in the morning, It was time to get going. I had some concerns. I had marked my trail well but it was so easy to loose sight of things in the mangrove.

 I headed back to the point where I entered the lake, marked with two oange streamers. Like passing through a door way I was immediately back in among the thick mangrove.I located the next few streamers and began the hard muddy job of working my way through. Sometimes paddling, sometimes pushing, sometimes dragging and occasionally having to unload and portage.I was soon wet and covered in mud. 

 The trail bent off to the left and I followed, diligently gathering all my trail markers as i went. I wanted to "leave no trace". as best I could. Soon ..the trail came to an end. There were no markers before me, just a tangle of trees  with a small shallow muddy open area beyond. Was this the way out?  Where are my trail markers. Things were not right. here




 To those who would seek to find the lake. Fair warning. You have been led astray. This story has been laced with erroneous information. What's east may be west, sunrise may be sunset. What is written as a mile may indeed be a league. If you follow the letter of the text you shall never find what you are looking for. Far better that you seek your own challenge.
 For many my short journey would seem arduous if not impossible. For others it would seem like no challenge at all. At the end of the day it was not the destination but the journey itself that was important.

 For anyone foolish and intrepid enough to persist I wish you all the best. I fear that the reward will not merit the effort. Remain ever vigilant, for danger is hidden in the swamp, and it is a lonely place to die. What remains of you will never be found.
 As conciliation, and that you might know of your success, I offer you this key. In a small tucked away cove of the lake, as the tide falls, a small mud bank lays exposed on which you may find a group of young crocodiles. Opposite this bank and in the open water of the cove,quite apart from everything else, you will find a scraggly mangrove tree. May you find what you are searching for.