….”In one of the adventure races in Florida, my team and I entered a National Park in the Everglades. A ranger was guarding the gate and asked us when we entered if we were ok.
It was 2:00am, pitch black dark and cold. He knew about the race but we were still confused about his question. He saw our confused faces and elaborated: “ If something happens to you, there is a high chance we will not get you out on time. This is alligator territory, swampy and very tough to reach by vehicles or helicopter. So you guys are basically on your own.”
A shiver went down my spine. Did he just say alligators?
If I was ever looking for something adventurous, thrilling and crazy, that would be the time.
We entered with our mountain bikes. The mission was to cross the Everglades as we were looking for checkpoints in the middle of it. We trusted our navigator that we would get safe out of here and not getting lost – one of the worst feelings during a race.
We entered the forest. It was dark. Black. As there were no cities or towns nearby there was no light reflection in the sky what you usually find in a more urban region. No, here it was pitch black dark. Without the headlamps you don’t see anything.
The more we rode into the darkness of the National Park, the swampier it got. It was just a matter of time when the depth of the swamps did not allow us to keep riding. And it came sooner than later. We had to get off our bikes.
The water was cold, not freezing but cold enough that you wouldn’t want to spend a long time in there. We were looking for the path that was marked by reflectors on the trees – the only signal that would us not getting lost. On the one hand, I was excited by this adventure. It was something so outside of the normal life sitting in my chair at university doing research that it felt unreal. But at the same time the cold water that made itself through my clothing and shoes was more than real and reminded me that this was very much reality and to be taken serious.
I looked around searching for those reflectors that would lead us the way in the dark forest. The large trees with their shadows made me feel small and insignificant. The scene could have been perfectly taken out by a horror movie.
I was still searching and saw red reflectors in the distance. I was surprised to find them in red as the previous ones were all in white. Plus, now they are hanging quite low.
“Hi Sean, I found the reflectors. They changed their colors to red.”
“Monika, those are no reflectors. Those are the eyes of the alligators.”
“What?” I startled so much that I almost lost my balance.
“Don’t worry, Monika, the water is so cold that they don’t move. Rather look for the white reflectors. We gotta keep going.”
In shock and disbelief I moved my head around to look for the reflectors trying to avoid the red ones in the near distance.
Finally, we found them and took our mountain bikes on our shoulders and waded through the knee-deep water. The ground was slippery full of rocks and roots. After a few steps I lost the balance and fell into the water. I tried to find my balance back getting back up. My teammates turned around. “are you ok? Ok, then let’s keep going. We gotta get out of the water.”
The temperature of the water started to bring our core temperature down and we had to get out of it before it would become a serious issue.
It was a matter of getting out of the park fast.”