Swamp Walker:  state rifle champion, equestrian, cave exploration team leader and Trailwarrior.

  •   BOLD
  •   TAKE ACTION
  •   CRUSH GOALS

I started corresponding with Swamp Walker a few years ago.  She is a participant in the Florida Forest Service Trailwalker program.  The program rewards participants who hike 10 trails in 5 different state forests at each of three levels.  She is no ordinary participant, not at all.  This woman plans her hikes and deliberately hikes them.  What do I mean, deliberately?  She chose each trail for a reason and hiked them not to get from point A to point B, but to truly experience what each one had to offer.  She had some she liked, and the ones she didn’t, she made suggestions.  Swamp Walker would call me at the office and ask for trail recommendations, better trailhead location directions, and be honest about the good, bad and ugly that she experienced.  When she finished the Trailwalker, Trailblazer and Trailmaster levels she admitted that she understood from this accomplishment the true meaning behind the Florida State Forest slogan:  Space, Solitude and Self-Reliance.  This program didn’t whoop her, heck no – she wanted more challenges from it.  She didn’t want it to be over.

Boldly, she emailed the Florida State Forester and proposed ideas for future levels and challenges in the program.  She vocalized her request for his consideration.  She was not afraid to take action.  The result?  The State Forester guided the development of the Trailwarrior level of the program.  It rewards hikers for completing milestones at 250, 500, 750 and 1,000 miles hiked in Florida’s State Forests.  Swamp Walker just changed a statewide program that hundreds of people participate in each year.  She just got challenged to four new goals, as well as every other hiker out there that wants to make it theirs too.

BAM – she crushed that first goal with pure enthusiasm!  A few months ago, I had the honor of finally meeting this woman as she was recognized for earning the first Trailwarrior milestone level – 250 miles hiked in Florida State Forests.  She is one of only six to accomplish this.  Swamp Walker wrote a journal of her comments for me on every trail she had hiked to reach that goal.  It was obvious that these trails and forests meant more to her than just a place to hike.

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Swamp Walker stepped up to start volunteering at Florida’s State Forests.  Talk about making a difference, she has committed herself and spare time to making things better for other hikers and for the environment.  She said that leaving the forest sweaty and dirty after a day of volunteering, makes her feel satisfied and happy and like she has accomplished something that others can benefit from.  What makes Swamp Walker such an avid outdoors woman?  “My Dad,” she simply explained.  Her parents were role models for volunteering, but her dad is the one that took her outside hiking, riding horses and shooting.  Shooting as a child?  Obviously he saw her potential the first time she fired his pistol under his watchful eye, hitting the tin can with every shot, and asked him if she could do it again.  She went on at the age of ten (yes 10) to be the Virginia State Rifle Champion in “prone, kneeling and sitting position” shooting; she came in second in the “standing” competition.  She obviously was not your average outdoors girl either.  She developed a drive and enthusiasm for excellence, knowledge, adventure and making her mark that later led her to enjoy fishing, scuba diving, sky diving, hunting deer and fowl, horseback riding both western and English, snowshoeing, treasure hunting, caving and she got herself into pilot school.

Her caving experiences were not spelunking.  No, she was taking a special college course in cave exploration techniques and Roger Brucker was her professor and a leader in the exploration of Mammoth Cave.  Swamp Walker started by logistically supporting the missions, then she went on to become an exploration team leader.  She encourages women to read “The Longest Cave” by Roger Brucker and learn about how women cave explorers worked side by side with the men in Mammoth Cave and led exploration teams and expeditions too.

I realized mid interview that this woman was way more inspirational than I first thought.  I was starting to wonder how I could ever write a condensed version of this woman’s lifetime of amazing outdoor experiences.  She has hiked a lot in New Mexico, Vermont, Tennessee, Kentucky, New Hampshire and detailed her love for Alaska.  She said if you ever want to experience an area where people are not pretentious and just love the outdoors – go to Alaska!

She discussed her outdoor hiking experiences including finding panther prints in her tracks where she had just hiked and then on a separate occasion a fresh moose patty near where she had just been so preoccupied with panning for gold in Alaska that she never noticed a moose.  She said these two experiences led her to be more conscious of her surroundings.  After years of hiking, Swamp Walker said that her hat and her trekking poles are her two most prized pieces of gear when hiking.  Although modest and scared of sounding trite, she said if she could give women advice for getting outdoors and hiking that she felt it was just this simple:

  1. Take the first step – get out the door.
  2. Walk a park trail.  See if you like the outdoor experience.
  3. Get a friend and go for a longer walk.

Swamp Walker said if you really enjoy the outdoors than research it in magazines, articles, the web and from outfitters.  Join a local group if you wish, just remember that there is no right way or wrong way to get started.  Just go and do it.

Candice Leek 8.jpg

When I inquired if she had more goals for her outdoor experiences, no surprise, she did!  At age 50 …55 … 60 … 60 something (no she isn’t telling what the something is), she has these goals:

  • Hike 1,000 miles in the Trailwarrior level.  Including visiting every one of the 37 state forests.
  • Visit and hike Yellow Stone, Yosemite, Death Valley and Devil’s Tower National Parks.
  • Continue volunteering in Florida State Forests to enjoy the “space, solitude and self-reliance” and to “give back” to nature.

I could have talked with Swamp Walker all day.  I decided instead that we just need to hike together!

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