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Four paddlers, four days, 100 miles of remote Everglades’ wilderness

Photos Sean Murphy

Everglades National Park is a vast and deserted waterway, stretching over 734-square miles of Southern Florida. A tapestry of mangroves, small islands, rivers and deltas create a maze of exploration opportunities. But the abundant—and sometimes dangerous—wildlife can make for a downright challenging traverse via standup board.

Late last fall, Corey Cooper, Sean Murphy, Clint Brown and Ethan Luppert hatched what the casual observer might kindly call a spur-of-the-moment plan to paddle 100 miles of the Everglades Wilderness Waterway in seven days through river, swamp and open ocean. But unexpected cold weather kicked their schedule into overdrive, as they pushed through in a soul-crushing four. Despite the lack of preparation, the paddlers endured a test of mental—and physical—stability to become perhaps the first group to tackle the water trail. This is the story of their self-inflicted suffering.

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“I got a call from Sean Murphy, a photographer friend, in early July of last year. He’s like, ‘Dude, let’s go do the Everglades, self-support, no food.’ I’m thinking, ‘I don’t have time for that.’ To go get stranded in the middle of the Everglades? He convinced me. Peer pressure is real.” —Corey Cooper

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“We went shopping that morning. I had some boardshorts, some Under Armor gear, seven gallons of water and that’s about it. We drove south, slept in the van, drove into the Everglades and started paddling. We had a plan, which was pretty much abandoned the moment we hit the water.” —CC

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“We were staying on old floating docks and empty beaches, amazing spots. But that first night, a cold front came through. It got down to 38 degrees. Sean and I didn’t bring sleeping bags. We almost died. We couldn’t start a fire, we were on a dock and had to move around and stay warm. The next morning I was like, ‘We got to get through this fast.’” —CC

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“We stayed a night out on the Gulf on this island called Mormon Key. The place hadn’t seen humans in forever. We ate what we could catch and cooked a bunch of Redfish. Ethan had brought rice so we rationed it out to four days. There’s raccoons and rats and all sorts of animals all over the place.” —CC

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“My favorite part was the paddle in the Gulf, which was way off the route. The wind and current made it a lot more difficult and burned up a lot of our energy. We weren’t expecting that and got into some wave action. Plus, we saw a lot of sharks, which was good incentive not to fall in.” –Clint Brown

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“We were traipsing around, not worried about snakes. When we were done we heard how many poisonous snakes there were out there. The cold might have been a blessing. If we would have gotten bit, we were six to 12 hours from getting out of there.”—Ethan Luppert

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“That last 35-mile day it was downwind for the first 12 miles in the Gulf. We hit Shark River (Slough), up into the Everglades and the tide was flowing out full, so we had to paddle against current entire way. We were beat, no food, no energy. We had some little goo packs. Sean loved them then crashed immediately. He’d never paddled before, and we were on a long, torturous paddle. There are giant sharks, gators everywhere. And we couldn’t stop.” —CC

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“We were so far away from civilization that it really made me realize how fragile and dependent we were on every little piece of gear. If you broke your paddle you’d be in trouble. We didn’t use anything that started with a motor for four days. It’s all the stuff you take for granted.” —EL

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“We got up early to start paddling, and there were sharks all over the place, coming out of the water trying to get shit. These weren’t little babies, but huge Bull sharks, Tiger sharks, Black Tips, fins all over the place. Plus, the water is silty grey. You can’t see your paddle blades, it’s that dark.”—CC

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“So the final two hours, our LED lights had been on for hours and are burning out. I’m hearing stuff splash in the dark. My anxiety level has never been higher. We’re scared of crocodiles more than sharks now and I finally make it to the end, paddling as hard as I can and I see this car on the boat ramp with its lights on. It’s 40 miles from the closest city. I get closer and they start yelling, ‘There’s a giant crocodile trying to get us on the boat ramp.’ I’d just paddled four days with no food, I’m tripping out. So I paddle over to this finger dock down from the boat launch, get off the board and a 14-foot crocodile is lying on the boat ramp. I would have run up on it if those people hadn’t been there.” —CC

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This feature originally ran in the 2015 Gear Guide

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