Today was a trip.
I went out to Paynes Prairie to do some geocaching and to bike along the trails. The trail through the prairie is a sort of ridge, with marshy land on either side, home to scores of alligators. Alligators that like to jump out of the water if you bike to near to them, and scare the pants off of unsuspecting bikers.
I took the new camera out to play around, got some okay shots of bald eagles, alligators, snakes, a million other birds, and found a couple caches. After a four mile pedal into the prairie, I turned around and started the trek back to the ranger station.
Clouds were gathering on the horizon. Since the prairie is so flat, you can see the storm clouds unrolling over the land as they come down. My first priority became getting the camera equipment home without a soaking, since my chosen method of rolling the lenses in t-shirts and shoving them in my backpack was, while working, not waterproof.
So I was going along the trail at a good speed when I rounded a corner and almost ran into the side of an American Bison.
It took my brain a minute to figure out what was happening. I knew there were Bison on the prairie, but you usually only see them as tiny brown dots Way Over There. And suddenly, I was in the middle of a herd of almost twenty.
I put my head down and walked the bike back. I didn’t want them to get any crazy ideas that I was challenging their right to congregate in the middle of the path. Which they were. As I looked at the mass of brown furry hide, I realized there was no way to get around them. Either side of the trail was home to alligator infested waters, and if I tried to walk through the herd, I’d probably be trampled to death.
But bison don’t move very fast, and they seemed quite happy where they were, butting heads, trying to mount each other, pooping, and sleeping on the trail.
So I sat there.
For over an hour.
Granted, I took a lot of pictures during that hour, but after awhile it started to get cold. And rainy. And dark. I’d been out on the prairie for about five hours at that point, and didn’t want to sleep out there. The only other sign of human life I’d seen was a helicopter flying by high up in the sky. The clouds on the horizon had become clouds on every horizon, and some started to lightning and thunder.
Since the trail was not a loop, I could not go the other way. So just as I decided to try my luck with the wild animals, a ranger truck pulled up behind me to save me from myself. The ranger tried to beep them out of the trail, but the bison wouldn’t move, and only got excited and pooped in the general direction of the truck. “When they get agitated, they start to lighten their load” he explains. So Mr. Ranger put my bike in the truck bed and drove me through the swamp.
While he was trying to nose the bison out of the way, he casually mentioned that they sometimes charge the truck, and it would have been a Very Bad Idea to try and walk past them. I mentioned how stupid I was to have gone out there without a cell phone, and no way to call for help, and he asked “then how did you tell the ranger station you were there?”
Apparently, it wasn’t just an act of providence that sent the ranger truck driving by as I attempted my reason defying foray into the maws of death. I figured that the helicopter flying by must have seen me stuck behind the buffalo, and radioed the ranger station to send help. There’s no other explanation I could puzzle out. So I guess providence sent the helicopter. More likely, it was Shands though.
After the ranger deposited me safely on the other side of the herd, the skies opened up, and I biked like crazy to the trail head. The last two miles were a blur, but at the end, I looked up, and saw a herd of white-tailed deer beside me, racing me to the trees, trying to outrun the storm.
Somewhere in my brain I knew that white-tailed deer must have white tails, but even as common as they are in Florida, I’d never seen them before. But when they run, their tails stick up a good 10 inches into the air, waving like a little white flag. An amazing escort off of the prairie.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of this, since priority was on getting the camera into the car, and out of the thunderstorm. Back at the park, I hoisted my bike over the fence, threw it on the bike rack, and made it out just before they locked the gates.
So, Paynes Prairie is my new favorite state park. The ranger said that some people come out there all the time, looking for bison, and never even see one. So I got my $3 worth.
Still, kayaking there would be a bit dangerous.