I hate not being able to verify things I know that I have seen.
In October of 2004, I had a spinal fusion of the bottom three vertebrae in my lower back. They removed the L5-S1, and L4-L5 disks. I have some metal rods and hardware in there that creates quite an interesting x-ray.
It was a couple of months before I could ride in a car just for the pleasure of getting out of the house. I had to go to the Dr., and to physical therapy, but the ride was painful.
But by around February or March of 2005, I could ride with enough comfort to just simply get out and enjoy the wonderful Florida weather.
Lovely Wife would take us over the closest causeway to what is known around here as "beachside", the barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the mainland of Florida. We would get on A1A and head south.
This became a favorite thing for us, we've always been Sunday drive type people, only we didn't require a Sunday just to get out and drive around.
On one trip, we went all the way to Vero Beach, about thirty miles, or about 48km, south of Palm Bay. There are a surprising amount of dirt roads in the area, new roads, of course, but some are roads that have been there for decades but never paved.
In this area is Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, America's first National Wildlife Refuge.
On this particular day, we kept going on the road that takes you to Pelican Island's parking area, instead of just going back the way we had gotten there, to A1A.
This road is one of the old roads in the area that is still not paved, but it is wild looking, old Florida terrain. Lots of small oak trees and palmettos and scrub.
We continued on this dirt road, even after crossing one of the other paved main roads in the area, just to see how far this road went, and to see what we could see.
On the other side of the main road we had passed, we started coming across new neighborhoods. Huge, expensive properties, but seen from their backsides on our little dirt road.
Also the road went along the water on the Intracoastal Waterway (the Indian River Lagoon) some as well.
In all, very pretty areas, and interesting to see.
In one stretch of this dirt road, that was between newly developed areas, still thick scrub, palms, and palmettos on both sides of the road, we could see a big dog in the road ahead.
Or so we thought.
As we got closer, the thing turned it's head to look at us coming, and loped off at an angle away from us, across the road. It was unmistakably a HUGE cat. It ran just like any house cat in casual mode, only this thing's head would have easily come up to my mid thigh or even my hip. I'm just guessing here, because we only saw him for about 20 seconds, but he was around 3 feet, or 1m tall! I would estimate it at 80 pounds.
Lovely Wife and I talked to one another about what we saw, just to make sure neither of us was insane. I mean, this was an area with a good number of homes and condos close by.
As we passed the spot where he had crossed the road into the far side brush, I didn't have the presence of mind to ask her to stop and let me see if I could see his tracks. But that's probably a foolhardy thing to have done anyway, he might have been just inside the tree line, waiting for a big, slow, juicy morsel like me to stumble around in easy killing distance. My walk fairly shouted "damaged goods!" and I would have been no match for a panther.
Anyway, we kept driving around the area, enjoying the day and talking about the cat, and eventually started heading back home.
But of course we had to go back down that portion of dirt road one more time, but alas, no more panther sightings.
There was however, an older lady walking her little bitty doggy, about 50 yards from where we had seen the panther cross the road.
We stopped and told her what we had seen and offered her a ride, but she didn't seem too perturbed, and declined our offer. Looking back, a strange couple offering you a ride is a lot more scary than any panther story you don't know the truth of, so I don't reckon I blame her.
I never heard of a panther attack after that, so I can only assume she and Fido made it home safely.
Having looked up information on the Florida panther, I would think the one we saw was a female. I was surprised too, to find that they mainly only exist in southwest Florida, a long way from where we are. But I do know what I saw, and photos of them that I have seen are close to the cat I remember from that day.
But I had no camera with which to collect proof of what we saw. Gyah!