That smell, Lynyrd Skynyrd and I, think about different things when we hear that song. Growing up, I used to go surfing with my friends in Sebastian, Florida, just north of the inlet. After getting out of the water, we’d eat some Cuban subs, and use the outdoor shower in front of this place, Long Point Bait and Tackle. The sulfur smell, like deviled eggs is pretty gross, it gets into your nostrils.
I’m reminded of when we dissected sharks in high school, soaked in formaldehyde. A smell like that will stick with you for the rest of your life. That muddy, moldy shoe and clothing smell after coming home from two weeks at camp. When you smell that garbage smell, it is literally coating your skin. It’s easy to recall these smells that are as unpleasant as easily as a heavily used port-a-potty, or worse yet an outhouse.
The most horrid description that comes to mind, doesn’t begin to describe the nasty stench that lets you know there is something out there that shouldn’t be, something bigger than us.
When you are exploring the woods in Florida, you might find out that you are just a guest. You know that stench is not a skunk, it’s not a bear, you feel the hair on your neck stand at end because you are in his house.
Even though my body goes cold and I get goosebumps all over my arms, I have to face this fear head on. Alligators and pythons are not the only danger in the swamps, sure mosquitoes pose dangers of passing along some foreign diseases. Occasionally, brain-eating amoeba will infect someone who has been swimming in warm water, delivering a death sentence to that unfortunate soul. All of these danger do not even begin to account for the tru toll of the damage, it can only be attributed to one thing.
My first time I crossed paths was a cold winter’s night, near Gainesville, Florida. We had planned this family night for weeks. We brought the tent out into the woods, so that the kids could appreciate sleeping under the stars, learning to appreciate nature. It was fun, we cooked some Spam and beans over the fire. We finished the night off with s’mores. No one was really enjoying my guitar strumming, so it was time for a campfire tale.
I tried to bring the mood back up with a little horror story, about a man who lived in a town that used to be right here, in these woods. The city burned down in the eighteen hundreds due to mysterious circumstances, some blame an escaped fugitive for the arson. That same night, it was reported that a man, later found to be a fugitive had run into the campers. He asked the couple, “can I borrow a tent for the night?” After asking the question, the man let out a hearty laugh, terrifying laugh. The man then said, “you go to sleep, I’ll be back.” Once again the man would laugh deeply, before vanishing back into the woods.
I was told to end the story, right when I was going to get to the good part. Everyone went to sleep a little scared, the kids were still at that age where they wanted to sleep with us, due to the fear of the scary man coming back. The story had everyone on edge, it was especially dark on the moonless night.
Pitch black, with the wind howling through the trees could make the mind wander into dark thoughts. The moss, hanging from the oak trees, were shaking. This rustling noise that sounded kind of like the chains of the fugitive as he ran away. The kids were scared.
I was able to fall asleep pretty easily, this trip had been a major stress relief, finally able to take a break from my job in high finance. The fast-paced business can leave you drained, physically and emotionally. I am constantly hitting up friends and family for their business, I hate my job.
I’m not sure how much sleep I got, but I woke up due to a quick yelp, a cry out of immense pain, from some animal that was killed with ease. These kinds of noises are common in the Florida woods.
I figured the sound that I heard was nothing to worry about; however, it was tough to get back to sleep. The owls had begun to hoot with intensity. Birds, squirrels, and whatever all came alive with what sounded to me to be warning signs. It was kind of like how you see animals on TV that are able to sense when storms are coming, something was putting these animals on edge.
You could hear what sounded like rather large branches being snapped with ease as something was approaching at a fast pace. The dry ground had a bunch of leaves across the surface, you could hear the loud footsteps crunching, moving towards us.
Whatever it was, now has made its way to the outskirts of the camp. You could hear the breathing, deep and agitated, like something was in its space. It was starting to become obvious that we were the problem. I heard the cooler hinge creak as it was opened. Ice crushed and scattered. Soon afterwards, a full soda was crushed.
The force to do this to the can must have been beyond that of a human. Rumor has it that bigfoot has been known to have hands much bigger than our own. Whatever had crushed this can, also must have hands at least three times the size of ours, and much stronger.
Everything was being thrashed outside in the camp. The windshield or one of the car windows was smashed, the car alarm started to go off, waking up everyone in the tent. I found the flashlight, the outside of the tent was pulsating in and out with every deep breath that was coming from its nostrils; it was right outside. I was scared as hell, but I unzipped the tent and pointed the light towards whatever it was.
I started to peak out of the tent just catching a glimpse of the large sharp teeth and eyes of a killer. Once it heard the zip it started to take off. I ran after the shadowy figure, whatever it was. One thing is for sure, it was hairy. The beast must have been seven feet tall, but that smell will always remain the dead giveaway that you are among one of the most terrifying creatures you will encounter.
ATVs are great to get you deep into the woods, but to go deep into the swamp, at some point you are going to have to leave your ATV behind. For me, ATV’s are one of the best ways to get into the areas where we are most likely to have another encounter. Obviously, we spend a lot of time on our airboats, hunting alligators, and pythons. But there is no doubt, we’d all give our right arm to be the one to capture the Skunk Ape.
To increase the likelihood of an encounter you need to go a step further. I take canoes deep into the swamps, to the places where the pythons rule. Cottonmouths, Water Moccasins are not an issue. The deep woods where the rattlesnakes play, that’s where you’ll find me covered in mud, to mask my scent.
The mosquitos get bad enough that most people will be scratching, resulting in swollen red sores on their arms. The sweat from the humidity, lack of breeze, and sweltering summer heat can leave a person woozy. Many people die out here every year, but I am starting to question whether it is natural causes, or whether we have a bigger problem with a killer out in the wood than we’d like to believe.
I always take enough supplies to survive a week, if need be, and my canteen to have enough water for the tough trek. I cover myself in mud to mask my smell as much as I can. I get to the location where I have seen some tracks or signs of disturbances in the area, recently I have seen large footprints leading into this area down by the Peace River. Bigfoot sightings are rare, but they are real.
I make sure that the area has a tree stand where I can get a good view of the area where I am expecting the sighting. Sometimes, baiting the encounter with fish or chicken will lead to a successful encounter. All I can do now is wait, sooner or later an encounter will happen. I have some supplies in my backpack, including duct tape, rope, and a tranquilizer. This beast is worth a lot more alive than dead, and money talks.