Shark Valley, located in Florida’s Everglades National Park, has a great 15 mile bike loop. Two things make it great. The abundance of wildlife and that it’s flat. Flat terrain is my idea of a perfect place for a bike ride. Wildlife includes turtles, birds, and an abundance of alligators. As you pedal your park rental bike along the path you may need to swerve to avoid alligators lying across the path. I’ve ridden the loop in Shark Valley twice over the span of ten years. Each time I’ve been calmed by the false belief, but a belief all the same, that of course this is safe; I’m in a National Park on a rental bike.

This past week I rented a small backhoe. Renting excavation equipment is similar to renting a bicycle in prime alligator habitat. You hand someone in uniform your credit card, and they hand you a bicycle, or backhoe. In both cases the officialness of the temporary agreement offers assurances that you’ll be returning the bike after your ride, the backhoe once the digging is done. It’s a form of time travel that allows for conveniently ignoring the opportunity for any bedlam that may ensue during the rental time.

I’ve rented excavation equipment before, primarily small backhoes and excavators. What’s immediately apparent is the skill set required to run equipment well. My excavating contractor can pick up a china tea cup or a boulder the size of a VW Bug with beauty and precision. It’s a graceful dance. When I run equipment it’s a dance as well, just more mosh pit than waltz.

The plan for the week’s rental was all about groundwork for a porch. First, strip away the topsoil. Next, dig holes for and place the seventeen concrete pads and piers. Finally, lay down landscape fabric and backfill with gravel. I needed to dig a sewer line trench as well. It’s one thing to know that you’ll be digging through an area used as a stone dump, another to try and do it. A large enough machine can move most anything, but there was only working room for a very small machine. Not only was my regular excavator unavailable, but even their smallest equipment was too big for the site. I had done some exploratory digging by hand in search of a sewer line, and knew that digging the holes by hand wasn’t possible. Mid way through the second hole I knew that digging the holes with a small backhoe wasn’t possible either. Since a larger machine wasn’t an option, I needed a new plan. The site is well drained and stable, being composed almost entirely of rocks dumped there one hundred years ago. The original porch had been built on either concrete pads or rocks placed on grade. I accepted that as my best, and as far as I could see, only option. It took all week but the soils are stripped and piled, pads placed, fabric and gravel down, sewer line dug. Next up is breaking through the foundation to bring in the new sewer line. The foundation is stone with a heavy tapered concrete coat. It’s over two feet thick where I need to enter. I see another tool rental, either a jack or rotary hammer in the near future. I’ll tell you how it goes next week.