Battling Fatigue - and the Elements - With the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition
OSCEOLA COUNTY - You'd think that wading through some of the most impenetrable swamps in Florida and traveling a thousand miles from the Everglades to Georgia would be tough enough. But sometimes the worst thing members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition have to deal with is the weather.
It's the night before the expedition has travel 17 miles, hiking and then kayaking across Lake Kissimmee. But a front that spawned tornadoes in the Midwest is expected to arrive by the morning.
"A 30-mile-an-hour wind would be pretty nasty, but we could still do it," says expedition member Carlton Ward Jr.
"What you'll have to do is point into the wind to the edge of this then come down south with the wind," replies member Mallory Lykes Dimmitt.
The group is staying up late in the hunting lodge at the Adams Ranch in Osceola County. They're busy fingering their I-Phones, looking at satellite maps and keeping an eye on the forecast.
"There's a marsh line along the eastern boundary where we could route south into the Kissimmee River and stay pretty protected," Ward continues. "Well, either way, we need to get in our boats somewhere around here and figure that out."
The group is greeted at daybreak with a driving rainstorm.
It's 7 a.m. the next morning. Expedition member Joe Guthrie is frying bacon and eggs - a rare hot meal.
"I'm ready to get this stuff cooked and get out of here," he says.
We pack our gear and head out for a nine-mile walk straight into blustery headwinds. And that's before kayaking several more miles to reach Brahma Island, in the middle of Lake Kissimmee.
I'm standing at a cow gate on the Adams Ranch. It's just off Lake Marian, which is a couple of miles east of Lake Kissimmee. It's the middle of Florida's ranch country, and they picked a really blustery day to do this. A cold front just came through - the clouds are black and swirling and the breeze - which you can probably hear - is whipping through the trees. We walked a couple of miles from the cabin they stayed at overnight on the Adams Ranch, and I don't know how they do it. These guys are walking the entire length of Florida, and my feet are hurting after two miles. So that just shows you the stamina that's needed to make this entire journey.
At this point, my feet hurt. And I'm not getting any good sound because the wind sounds like a battering ram against my microphone. So I tell Carlton Ward I'm turning back.
Back in the kitchen at the hunting lodge, I talk with Mike Adams. He's the third-generation president of Adams Ranch, 54,000 acres and 9,000 cows spread throughout central Florida.
"We just have a bit of everything," he says, "from deer to a really abundant supply of eagles, ospreys, you know, bobcats, coyotes, hogs."
For this wildlife corridor mission to work, ranch owners like Adams will need to be involved. Conservation easements allow ranchers to keep working the land by paying them not to allow any further development. Expedition members say there's no better stewards of the land than the people who make their living from it. Adams agrees.
"From our business, in the cattle business, we feel we're a good fit with the wildlife," says Adams. "It's something that we were raised with and have a great respect for. And we feel like this is an important project to see go forward, because essentially, all our coastlines on either side have been built out, and those corridors are gone. And they will not return."
Adams admires what the expedition is trying to do - battling fatigue, alligators - and the elements. He says they've opened the eyes of a lot of people - like his.