jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

Category: Eastern Continental Trail (page 1 of 2)

Stats from my Eastern Continental Trail thru hike

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Mile 0

This was my first thru hike.

  • Where I started: Cap Gaspe, Quebec
  • Where I ended: Key West, Florida
  • States crossed: 16 American, 2 Canadian
  • Start date: July 1st, 2016
  • Finish date: Jan 21st, 2017
  • Total miles: 4,798.6 on trail, ~4,900 total(walking in and out of towns, off trail)
  • Duration: 205 days, or 6 months 20 days
  • Total footsteps: 10 million
  • Zero (milage) days: 27 (Prior to beginning I had only planned 9)
  • Most zero days in a row: 5 right after finishing the Florida Trail
  • Average daily miles excluding zeros: 27mpd
  • Average daily miles including zeros: 23.4mpd
  • International Appalchian Trail average daily miles: 19mpd
  • Appalachian Trail average daily miles: 24mpd
  • Florida Trail average daily miles: 39mpd
  • Most miles in a single day: 53mi
  • Starting weight: 170lbs
  • Finishing weight: 169lbs
  • Daily caloric intake: ~5,000-6,000 calories
  • Favorite trail food: White chocolate macadamia Luna Bar
  • Average time I would wake up: 6am
  • Average time I would go to bed: 9pm
  • Snakes: Much fewer than you’d expect
  • Bears: 7 fuzzy cute things
  • Moose: 7 mostly friendly mega fauna
  • Favorite animal sightings: Ground hogs, seals, whales, star fish, moose, and porcupine!
  • Number of socks destroyed: ~12 pairs
  • Number of shoes destroyed: 5 pairs Alta Lone Peak 2.5s
  • Blisters: 0
  • Longest food carry: 7 days in Quebec
  • How many mail drops: 29
  • How many town resupplys: Too many to remember
  • Total amount of times I had to get in a car: Only 6 times
  • Longest I spent hiking with anyone else:  2 days
  • Starting base pack weight: 5.7lbs
  • Ending base pack weight: 5.9lbs
  • Favorite piece of gear: Pa’lante Packs Cuben Simple
  • Second favorite piece of gear: Montbell Thermawrap Jacket
  • Third favorite piece of gear: My cheap Casio watch
  • Gear I carried for a long time, but never used: Umbrella
  • Most difficult section: Matane Wildlife Reserve in QC
  • Favorite part of the hike: Gaspesie National Park in Quebec. Actually, all of quebec was awesome.
  • Second favorite part: Maine & the Whites in NH
  • Third favorite part: The Florida Trail! Gulf Islands National Seashore, Eglin East, Bradwell Bay, St. Marks NWR, Aucilla River, Suwannee River, Ocala NF, Big Cypress NP
  • Honorable mentions: Grayson Highlands, Roan Highlands, Mcafee Knobb, Dragons tooth, ATC Headquarters, the Southernmost Point
  • Coolest hostels: Auberge l’Amarre(QC), Shaws Hiker Hostel(ME), The Hiker Hut(ME), Everglades Hostel(FL)
  • Total amount of miles walking roads: ~650mi
  • Total amount of dogs that chased me: 30 thousand
  • Total amount of dried beans I ate for dinner: 20lbs
  • Total amount of fun? I’d do it again
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Mile 4,800

Let the walking continue.

Jupiter

Florida Trail FKT Summary

Beginning December 10th, 2016 at 10:23am I started my self-supported Florida Trail thru hike, and finished January 7th, 2017 at 8:22pm. A record pace of 28d 9h 59m, beating Tatu-Joe’s 2012 hike by more than a full day. It was an honor to hike Joe’s hike, as he is one of those folks I very much look up to in this backpacking world. Seeing through his eyes maybe a little while going after this record has only given me more respect for the man.

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I followed the rules set in place on the Fastest Known Time Proboards to the best of my ability. Stating my intentions in the Florida Trail thread, and contacting Joe Kisner the record holder before me, getting his blessing, as is customary. Posting photos daily from my trip, recording mass amounts of video, and in the beginning before I figured out I couldn’t keep it up due to a strapped for life phone battery, I blogged. Honestly trying to document the trip as best I could. I would expect the next guy to do the same.

Following the guidelines of a self-supported hike:

      means that you don’t carry everything you need from the start, but you don’t have dedicated, pre-arranged people helping you. This is commonly done a couple different ways: You might put out stashes of supplies for yourself prior to the trip, or you might just use what’s out there, such as stores, begging from other trail users, etc. Long distance backpackers are typically self-supported, since they resupply by mail drop or in stores.

I had all of my supplies sent through the mail ahead of time, and picked up boxes in various towns along the way. My logistical and mail drop schedule can be found at the bottom of this spread sheet. I had invited on my blog for folks to come out and bear witness to what I was doing, to better verify my claims. Many did!! And I took photos with a lot of them, which can be found in my Florida Trail bonus photo album. So many came out to find me, it actually began to slow me down, and become a chore! Opps. I asked that no one bring me anything, but some still wished to offer water or gatorade on the spot without my prior knowing of where I would see them, when, or if. I also helped no one find me, and instead was enigmatic. I figured me giving them directions to my location would be against the rules, and instead constantly told folks I didn’t know where I was, or when I was, which very often was true. Seemingly the entire Florida hiking community was following along, and often I would get 2 or 3 messages every day asking for my location, much to their dismay, I wouldn’t share. Along the way I also signed as many of the trail log books I found.

I walked into and out of all of my resupply points, not using a vehicle a single time. a Precedent set by Scott Williamson on the PCT, and a guideline for those in the future wishing to best this record should follow.

I followed the official Florida Trail route the entire way, and only detoured around the closed section of trail in St. Marks, on the official detour, a roadwalk that added miles going around, instead of through. As I was told it would be dangerous for me to try. As well as south of Moore Haven after being told to get off the levee by authorities, I had to turn around, go back, and follow a longer detoured route on hwy 720.

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I hiked southbound, starting at the northern terminus near Fort Pickens, and Pensacola. Following the Eastern Corridor around Orlando, and the western side of Lake Okeechobee, as per Joe’s standard. Finishing my hike at the official southern terminus of the Florida Trail at the Oasis Visitor center in Big Cypress National Preserve.

I took 540 photos over the course of this hike, but I’m only uploading the majority here. As well as all of those(I know of) that took photos of me somewhere along the way, that I was able to locate after the hike, or that they sent to me. Those can be found here!

I also have a good amount of screenshots I took of my Florida Trail app(gps) illustrating places I camped. Mostly I did this so that later I could figure out my daily splits. If asked, I will upload these too.

I have a ridiculous amount of videos(200!!!), mostly me talking to the camera, usually when dehydrated. I do plan on doing something with these, regarding my hike from Quebec to Key West, but again if asked I will gladly upload them separately for verification purposes. Some of these are rather embarrassing, thus my hesitation to simply throw them into the world publicly.

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My daily miles:

  • Day 1 – Start time 10:23am 34mi
  • Day 2 – 36mi
  • Day 3 – 35mi
  • Day 4 – 31mi
  • Day 5 – 35.5mi
  • Day 6 – 38mi
  • Day 7 – 32mi
  • Day 8 – 30mi
  • Day 9 – 46mi
  • Day 10 – 24mi (Trouble getting across ST. Marks River)
  • Day 11 – 31.5mi
  • Day 12 – 35mi
  • Day 13 – 37.5mi
  • Day 14 – 31mi
  • Day 15 – 31mi
  • Day 16 – 31mi (Halway, realized something was wrong.)
  • Day 17 – 48.5mi
  • Day 18 – 39.5mi
  • Day 19 – 42mi
  • Day 20 – 47mi
  • Day 21 – 41mi
  • Day 22 – 45.5mi
  • Day 23 – 45.5mi
  • Day 24 – 39.5mi
  • Day 25 – 47mi
  • Day 26 – 45.5mi
  • Day 27 – 33.5mi
  • Day 28 – 50.5
  • Day 29 – 41.3mi Finish at 8:22pm

On day 3 unbeknownst to me at first I got sick. The sickness lasted a few days, and made walking my goal of 35-45 miles a day very difficult. Also instilling some bad habits of taking too many breaks, which lasted until the halfway point of the Florida Trail in which I realized I was a couple days off schedule. From there, I began walking until 10pm every. Single. Day. It was extremely monotonous at time, and tiring. My legs could carry me but my mind would drift to nothingness, and minutes would go on forever. Unfortunately due to the sheer amount of night hiking I was doing in the second half, I visually missed a lot of the beauty the Florida Trail had to offer. The first half I was only walking at night 2-3 hours, and wasn’t so bad. Though deep inside I knew it wasn’t enough. By Lake Butler, I kicked it into high gear, I knew what I had to do, and this is when you could say I struck a groove. 50 miles a day wasn’t uncommon in the second half of this hike, and I was routinely walking more than 40 a day. Some nights were cold, and I would toss and turn all night. This was often followed by days so hot, I would walk shirtless, and find myself drinking from some terrible water sources just to keep myself hydrated. Despite these things. I loved it all. I complained here and there to my mom over the phone, but it was just to get it out of my system, and move on.

The day I crossed the St. Marks river was my lowest mileage day. I arrived in town later than I should, a result of me not paying enough attention to my guide. By my arrival a cold front had come in and no one was around to shuttle me across, nor could I swim with a cold and wet fate waiting for me on the other side. I hung out at the restaurant just next to the water, and stared lustfully out the windows, hoping someone would go by. I asked the bar patrons, the waitress, and eventually I found someone with a dingy that felt bad for me. Just 25 miles that day.

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My lack of attention to the guide almost screwed me again after River Ranch, entering the Kissimmee Preserve. My mail drop didn’t show up at the ranch on time, and I cursed the skies. Sat around pouting while charging my phone, deciding what type of candy I could get at the general store to hold me over for the next 3 days. Little did I know in 10 or so miles I would need to be at a lock on the river during a certain time, to be let through a gate. I was given the phone number of the employees by a nice man, called them up, and asked if I could be buzzed through around 9pm. They obliged, and I ran those 10 miles to get there on time.

The next night, walking in the dark past the small town of Basinger I was greeted by a massive wild boar. I yelled at him, in that second realized that he might run at me, and felt fortunate when he went the other direction. Later I wondered if he would visit me in the night. Although I didn’t see a single snake(I assume I’m too obnoxious) during my entire 1,100 mile thru hike of the Florida Trail, this pig wasn’t my only questionable encounter with wildlife. In Ocala National Forest I saw 2 bears. A mom and her cub, still choosing to sleep with my food. In the Kissimmee area, there were areas under water, and I would question if I was walking into gator territory. Could they be below the liquid, and I’m just not seeing them? My fears relieved when I saw a 5ft alligator leave the banks, and join the water with me. At least now I didn’t have to wonder. Up near Apalachicola one morning while convincing myself to get up and start moving, I heard something. Out of the blue 10 feet from me on the trail I was sleeping next to a panther ran by me. Stunned as ever, I wasn’t sure what to think. Fortunate to have spotted one, as there are less than 300 in the state. And I guess if you’re the squeamish type, I’m fortunate it wanted nothing to do with me. A photo would have been nice but I’ve never seen something run so fast. Ultimately on this hike I saw a ridiculous amount of birds of all different varieties, and it seemed whenever I would look up to the trees above, there was an owl looking over me.

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Frequently I dealt with dehydration, which is nothing new. A wiser man might carry more water. Me, I only ever filled up with 1 liter, sometimes only a half. Then finding myself 10-20 miles from another good source. I started the hike with a water filter, but man for whatever reason I just hate the chore. I just want to dip and sip. So for a while, my first 2 weeks, I would seek out quality sources, as to not force myself into getting a virus. The last 2 weeks however I drank anything and everything, including muddy water from roads, or water near cow fields. I’m not sure if I’m immune to the sickness, or just lucky, but I recall remarking to my mom over the phone, how wonderful it is to only have 2 weeks left. I could now drink everything! Disgusting? Naw, I don’t care. Giardia takes 2 weeks to hit you, and that was the only thing I was worried about. Some days were worse than others, and likely I should have just carried more. Sometimes I would find jugs of water others had stashed for hikers, and I was always very grateful for that. The best kind of trail magic. Fresh water. Its crazy what most take for granted in the world.

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In both Apalachicola, and Ocala I found ticks on me. Known for lyme disease. Something much worse than some water born illness. Lyme can lead to brain damage if not treated. Walking at night through Ocala National Forest, I stopped to find water quick. While I was preparing my dinner, a healthy serving of beans, the same thing I had eating every night for the last 6 months, I flashed my light towards my legs. Briefly I noticed lots of little spots. Thinking it was just dirt, or cuts from the thorns and things I had been scrapping myself against. Upon further inspection it was ticks, and a whole lot of them. Flashbacks ensuing to photos of a friend from a month prior. She had been through here, and got bit really bad, later testing positive on multiple tests for the disease. Knowing I couldn’t stop to find a clinic before this hike was over I weeped, and worried. Not mentioning it to my mom for a few days, I decided it didn’t matter. If the symptoms show, then I can be certain, but there’s no reason beating myself up over it.

Hunters all throughout the state were out in spades. The forests were littered with them. All of which with trucks that looked the same, hunting dogs, guns, and bright orange. Online I was constantly being attacked for not having any orange on me. I know, it was a problem. The hunters took note too, and often told me I needed some. I’d ask if they were going to shoot me, and they always replied with “no.” Then what for? Drunken hunters shooting anything that moves? Aren’t they supposed to spot something with a separate scope, confirm what it is, then get their rifle to fire? Rules don’t apply to them. Accidents among hunters are frequent, sometimes they’re not accidents, sometimes that guy is diddling that other guys…. anyway. I would hope a 6’2″ upright, mammal, wearing a green t-shirt and ball cap, looks nothing like anything they’re shooting. I took my chances. For no reason I guess.

I got lucky this year. The trail was dry. I’ve seen photos of water up to peoples necks, and stories of sloshing that never ends. It wasn’t until I was near the Kissimmee River, at Three Lakes WMA did I get my feet wet. Then within maybe the next 40 or so miles had a few more spots, but aside from that, I was fortunate. Big Cypress National Preserve was the next area I had to do some slogging. The last area. My hike was ending that day, and my plans were to push through what I expected to be 30 miles of soul sucking mud, and water up to my knees. I worried about snakes, and gators. Determined to finish I pushed through. Early in the morning I ran into a northbound thru hiker saying I wouldnt be able to average more than 1mph through there. He was wrong! With enough grit, and stupidity, I smashed through at 3 miles per hour only falling once. Only 12 of the 30 miles were wet. The rest was just mud, with occasional slabs of limestone to trip on. As darkness fell I ran into more thru hikers, I paused, tired. I had only slept 3 hours the night before, in an attempt to go all night, instead while taking a break I fell asleep where I sat along side a road. These hikers were friendly, and encouraged me to go on. With 10 miles left in my record attempt I ran. I ran as fast as I could careful not to break an ankle. Hungry as ever I munched on some candy, briefly, just a mile away from the finish, choking. Stopping in the middle of the night, in the mud, about to finish the hardest and most fun month of my life, and there I was bent over, choking on a Sour Patch Kid. The finish was sweet, when I knew I was close I opened up and ran at what I assume was a 5 minute mile. I’ve never run so fast. I could hear a cow bell ringing, people were there waiting for me to arrive. Word travels fast apparently. I smacked the southern terminus with my hand at 8:22pm on January 7th. 28 and a half days after I started. Friends greeted me immediately. It felt good to stop moving. Shoes still filled with mud, winded, but happy. Someone special was there, a trail legend. Billy Goat, a man with over 48,000 miles under his feet waiting to greet me by sure chance.

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I had many favorites from this hike. From my photos you could guess which areas I liked the most. Or at least which areas I actually had battery power. The Gulf Islands national Seashore was amazing, and I would love to go back, and spend more time there, maybe do more than just walk right through, like camp! The beaches were fantastic, the sand impossibly white, and the sunset that night was my favorite from this entire year, aside from maybe one in Quebec. Eglin Airforce Base was also interesting, with rolling hills and large ravines, however it’s split in the center with a long roadwalk. No matter, the eastern portion was wonderful. Beautiful fresh water, and picturesque bridges. I watched fighter jets fly above me. Econifa Creek up next, although a short 18 or so miles it’s very much so quality over quantity here. I happen to know the section leader who maintains this area, and although I didn’t see him, I now understand why he continuously says this is the best section on the FT. Most of my favorite sections on this trail are due to the large rivers they follow, this was no exception. I was fortunate enough to go through St. Marks in a cloud of mist, wide open expanses might make for a sunny day to be a nightmare, yet the way I saw it was awe inspiring. Shore birds trotting around everywhere, fog engulfing the land, and even sightings of wild boar crossing small rivers. Shortly there after I was walking along the Aucilla River, it would dissapear beneath the limestone, and appear again in random places just to go back under. The flowing water cut deep into the land, creating these beautiful deep banks along the sides, with crazy rock formations. All around me was littered with sinkholes as well. I cut my day short, opposed to hiking all night, just so I could wake up and see the rest of this area before I began a long road walk. On that roadwalk, in the middle of nowhere lies a soad machine on the side of a dirt road. The machine of fable, I had heard of it, but didn’t know where it might be. Sadly, I had no money on me, and although I wanted to shake the thing I kept moving. The Suwannee River to follow might be my top pick of the FNST, although it’s clearly hard for me to choose. ~60 miles or so of following this ancient river. Shelters made for river rats a third of the way in have showers and electrical outlets. The river below was more dry than I thought possible, in some places not flowing at all. A testament to this year, and how few times I had to get my feet wet. I arrived in the town of White Springs on Christmas eve, unfortunate timing to pick up a box from the Post Office, but an employee had clued me in that he’d be there early in the morning for just 2 hours. Happy holidays indeed. I would have had to buy 4 days food from a gas station otherwise. The Madison shelter at the end of this section too is a fine place, built by the land owner Randy Madison, known as the love shack… was used to sleep in while his home was being constructed, now an oasis for hikers, thanks to Randy and his family. Osceola National Forest is a lot of pine trees, but I went through on Christmas, and managed to steal 5 sodas from some car campers at a campsite. I’ve never walked so fast. That was my gift for the holidays. Meeting one of my hiking heros, Stumpknocker, was followed a couple days later with meeting one of his friends. Neither knew the other was out there, but PAFarmboy was happy to hear Stump was once again hiking the FT. I dont remember the name, other than It came before Rice Creek. Both areas were exceptional. One of which had a trail register where everyone was reporting bigfoot sightings. The Florida Trail has but 8 wooden shelters made for hikers and this 20 or so mile stretch is home to 2 of them. Both fantastic, leaving me wishing I could stop and stay a while. After the second came a 150m boardwalk, and into the night I went. Ocala National Forest, touted as the most beautiful hiking destination in Florida. I may not 100% agree with that, but it was extremely nice! Rolling hills, reminded me of walking through Alabama, and sightings of bear, taking me back to the Appalachian Trail. Home to the famous 88 store where I picked up a package, tempted to get shitty at their bar, I moved on. The trail register their is particularly legendary, looking through it I saw many names I recognized going back 8 or more years. Friends near Lake Mary, on the outskirts of Orlando trying to hunt me down, I walked the Cross Seminole Greenway. Although asphalt for 20+ miles I actually really enjoyed this area. Lots of friendly people out running and biking, eventually leading me to the town of Oviedo, one of my favorite trail towns. I stuffed my face full of sides at some restaurant, the streets littered with roosters, later after dark leaving on a boardwalk running into some youngsters smoking pot. “Who are you?” they asked, and I replied, “Just some nobody hiker.” The night got cold, down into the thirties. Must have been a holiday, as I could hear parties in the distance. New years even came, and so did a 30 mile roadwalk. A friend, after spending 2 days searching for me greeted me alongside the road with his lovely daughter. I was happy to see them. Had he mentioned it was his birthday the next day I would have been even happier he had taken the time. Into the night I watched fire work displays over cow fields. There’s few places to camp along the Deseret Ranches, so I slept along side the road between a bush, up against barbed wire. Happy new year. Desperate heat, and eventually the shade of forest, the love of bridges in the woods, and more beautiful trail. Entering Forever Florida it was hot, and little water to be found. I became the attraction of a swamp buggy full of tourists, “and here we see a hiker!” I had my shirt off, scrambling to put it back on. Should have known, I’m not the only one out here, should have asked for water. Getting lost in the night, maybe the trail has changed. Three Lakes WMA before sleep. Mosquitoes for the first time, in a long time. The Kissimmee River is near. Lake Okeechobee is near. Missing a box at River Ranch, buying peanut butter, candy, peanuts, and chips for 3 days sucks. What sucks more is running into a northbound thru hiker who thought it was funny to give me a whole slough of misinformation, after I offered to tell the front desk ladies that he can have my mail the next day. Boo him. Running 10 miles, and finally reaching that big river after convincing the employees to let me across after dark. Blazing heat in the Kissimmee Preserve but water to cool my feet off, and a nice tan to boot, eventually reaching the shade of oak hammocks, and trail I’ve walked before. Night time run ins with boar, questioning if I should sleep on their territory, then an armadillo all night fooling me into thinking raccoons were coming for my food. The gateway to the big lake I know and love, coming across construction on the dike, running pass the workers before they could say anything. A restaurant I was looking forward to closed, and talk of a friend possibly coming out to see me in the night. I don’t blame him for not showing, although this is the closest to home, that my path takes me, it’s still not very close at all. Crossing more closed section of trail, but wanting to stay true to the official route, I went anyway. Eventually after Moore Haven I was kicked out, and forced to walk 720, the official detour around the construction. Then back to walking more closed sections, after stuffing my face in Clewiston on Chinese food. Never a good idea, but I can never help myself. My friend Wayne surprising me, as I branch off from the lake, and begin the canals towards the Seminole Reservation, and Big Cypress. We chit chat, and eventually I’m off on my way. Just two more days left. Long canals, and horrible agriculture that has ruined the everglades. Cops stop me, and luckily don’t really care, they were just getting a lot of phone calls from the locals about a guy walking through the reservation at night. Apparently impossible, at this point to pull an all nighter I accidentally sleep 3 hours. Later the next day, my last day I’m happy I did. After only seeing a few other thru hikes(many day, and section) on this final day I run into what seemed like 40. Seems like an awesome class! Almost do I want to turn around, and walk with some of them.

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I’m sorry that I missed so much while walking at night, but I guess that means I’ll just have to do this trail again. Whether it’s to try my hand at a faster pace, or in a much slower fashion. I certainly didn’t have a conventional experience of the Florida Trail, but it is mine, and I very much so enjoyed it.

I started this hike carrying multiple extra phone batteries, which lasted me a while of not having to waste time in towns, sadly I didn’t take advantage of this as much as I should have. By halfway when I needed to make more miles, it was a constant battle to both get a long day in, and somehow find an electrical outlet to charge my phone for 10-20 minutes. Podcast, music, and daily phone calls to my mom in a  lot of ways kept me sane. Not to mention all of the folks following this hike so closely, and commenting. I might not respond often, but I read all of them, and seriously appreciate all the encouragement.

A huge thank you goes to my friend Coy, who hosted me at his home in Pensacola before I began my record attempt, let me prepare my things, rest after walking across Alabama, and was all around an amazing dude. Seriously Coy, I can’t thank you enough, and I hope one day I can pay it back. He shuttled me to the trailhead after some seriously cold temps had rolled through the past few nights, and I began walking.

Links:

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28d 9h 59m

Dungeon After Dungeon, Dragon After Dragon

Halfway to somewhere, halfway to nowhere. I’m not sure. 2,400 miles into the Eastern Continental Trail. Halfway between Quebec, and Key West. Halfway between where I started, and where I’m going.

A very long walk as it turns out! Maybe not quite long enough because I can’t help but to fantasize almost constantly about where I’m going. The next minute, the next hour, day, and naturally… fantasize about next year. What is to come? I can plan, prepare, dream, and it’s all good fun.

Life is short. So it goes. I think I’ll do whatever I want with it. Enjoy it, and live it in ways I can be happy and proud with. My traveling, hiking, my journey this year started with a one way plane ticket to Quebec, in Canada. I’ve never been before. I hadn’t known that “their primary language is French.” Means, “their primary language is French.”

I slept in an airport. I walked 30 miles of roads day one, just to get to the trail so I could walk 30 miles day 2. I sprained my ankle while jumping on a rock, trying to get a self timer photo of myself. But you know all of these things if you’ve kept up with my piss poor journaling. What have we missed? Quite a bit apparently. I haven’t updated my website since I was in New Hampshire. Oops!

The hiking has continued. The ever so strange Appalachian Trail has been what I’ve chipped away at since you last heard from me. A 2,200 mile foot path from Maine to Georgia. That’s a long way, right? Well, it is, but in the case of the all encompassing Eastern Continental Trail it’s just a piece of the greater puzzle.

Leaving New Hampshire was a big deal for me. A major milestone in this long and lonesome journey. The trail north of there was rough, uninviting, and…. seriously beautiful. Continuing south things got easier, and for that I was happy. Leaving the White Mountains of NH and entering Vermont I was able to focus more on style. The tread no longer trying to kill me, as before every step was paused by rocks, or roots. Things that were slippery, and generally a jungle gym made for feet. Careful footing had to be exercised. Now, once I entered Vermont, smooth sailing was the new word. 30 mile days became the norm, and have remained so.

This new found freedom of movement left me with the ability to focus. Focus on every step, on every breath. On every movement. Maybe not hone my walking to a highly refined skill, but edge my way a little closer. Maybe I should have crawled before I walked. Starting in Canada meant all the hardest parts of this trail would be dealt with right off the bat. I survived! I made it! A lesson in perserverance is ever present in this adventure. To keep going. Even though not every day is a winner. Some are some arent. Regardless, I keep on moving, and I find joy in the progress. The forward motion. Happyness in the head space, the peace in being out here, and the freedom to do what I want. Apparently, travel. Travel via foot traffic, at a pace of 3 miles per hour. Living, being, and journeying in these landscapes is exactly where I want to be. Not specifically the east coast, as next year my eyes are laid more westernly. But more specifically journeying, pushing the limits of my physical self, and seeking the depths of my mental.

At this point in my walk I’ve seen 7 bear, 7 moose, 2 seals, whales, a porcupine, a skunk, a few groundhogs, and somehow I can still recall what I was doing or where each one was. I chased a groundhog through the woods for 30 minutes one day. Losing myself, and almost losing the trail. He’d turn around and look back to me periodically like, “What the hell man.” I’m sorry groundhog friend.

The bears, despite every tourist ever asking, have all been totally non threatening, and yes at this point I have gotten in between a mother and it’s children. They just totally want nothing to do with us humans. I don’t blame them. Hunters, as I’ve been told, bait them with Dunkin Donuts and trail mix. Wait for them to start eating, then shoot them. Clever. Fortunately the bears I’ve seen have all been healthy. Babies climbing trees, mama’s and papa’s out hiking the trail, scaring the uninitiated, you know… happy healthy bear things? I came across one that I mistook for a hiker. I followed this bear down the trail, and attempted to catch up and say hello. Until I coughed, and it turned around, revealing itself to not be the short hiker with a large black backpack as I had thought. Just a bear, and a man with poor eyesight chasing it down, trying to wish it a good morning.

I’ve met countless people, some awesome, some less interesting. The town folk have pretty much all been wonderful to me. In Vermont I stayed with a cult. Their kool-aid was indeed quite good, but I was sure to leave bright and early the next day. Some stayed for weeks, some never leave. They danced for me, and blessed my hike.

I’ve met plenty of trail maintenance crews as well. I am always certain to give them my thanks! Volunteering for the Florida Trail Association back home I feel has given me an insight to all the efforts it takes to keep these trails up and running. It’s some serious work, and dedicated time! I recommend everyone to get out and do some trail maintenance or to support the trail systems. Without these people, and organizations we as hikers would have nothing to hike!

I’ve still yet to find someone to hike with, but I don’t mind too much. I do get lonely at times, and miss friends, and other hikers I’ve passed along the way. But I’m not sure I’d be comfortable putting someone else through what I enjoy! Id happily slow down or do things differently but im realizing that might be a future endevour. I may be too deep into this trip.

Camping alone, hiking alone. It’s peaceful. I have so much time to think. My future, what I wish to do when I get home. Skills I want to learn, books I want to read. How I can improve my life. I’m constantly making notes. Glad I have all of this time to ponder these things. The walking helps, it occupies part of my brain while the rest of me roams. And I’m glad that if I wish to walk hours into the night, or wake up before sunrise to spend my entire day walking without breaks, it’s all on me. The human body is an amazing thing, and here I am with the opprotunity to see what I can make it do. Alone I’m able to put myself through hell sometimes. But you know what, it’s only hard the first time. Then I learn, and improve!

Each night I camp away from others. I swear I’m not anti social! Really. I don’t know the deal, but mostly I don’t wish to bother others with my weird schedule. Rolling in after dark, russling around before daybreak. It’s something that evolved from backpacking back home, and has been solidified in the great north Canadian trails that were oh so devoid of people. Back home though, very few of my friends ever wanted to hike with me. I couldn’t imagine why….. so now out here I’m just most comfortable doing my own thing. When I want to charge forward, I charge forward. When I want to relax, I relax. My mistakes are my own. However, I have found someone recently who’s on my page. Really, he’s quite a few steps beyond me, and next year we’ve got something special planned. When it’s right, it’s right, ya know? Hiking is such a strange thing. There’s a million ways you can do it. None are right, none are wrong. But to find someone else who is into that same style you are is rare, maybe not, but to a strange hiker like me… so for now I continue solo! Fast, light, and free. I press forward.

At this point I’m really comfortable with my trip. In the beginning I almost didn’t want to mention to folks what I was up to. 800 miles in with 4,000 to go? I think the response is obvious. Day one, litterally standing at the northern terminus in Quebec, about to take my first steps, some guy immediately told me I would never make it. Actually many have told me that. Well before I left, and even well into my hike I would still get that reaction. Some guy I met on the Appalachian Trail was saying that walking further than 2,000 miles and not feeling like shit was impossible. I think it was a reflection of himself where his diet, a heavy pack, and likely an unwillingness to imagine anything larger than that is severely holding hime back! He was 2,000 miles into his Appalachian Trail thru hike, and about to finish. Aching, feeling like shit, and unhappy. I am in the exact opposite position! Feeling stronger than ever. More ready than ever to take on what’s ahead, and you’ll have to trust me, the best has yet to come.

I still have another 2,400 miles to go! I’m only half way done with *this* hike! The last 400 miles of the AT, the Benton Mackaye Trail, Pinhoti Trail, and of course the much anticipated Florida Trail! What an exciting lineup! My mind and body stronger than ever, and continuing to learn and grow as I head forth into these new worlds. It’s exciting. I’m probably most looking forward to Florida. What a dream this hike has been, and I still have 3 more months to go.

So what else? Lots else, but most will have to remain for my memories only. Dancing in the moonlight. Running for miles when my pack is void of food weight. Being given free apples from some orchard people when I took a wrong turn on a road… and a half gallon of fresh cider! Chasing down more New Zealanders, because people from NZ are awesome. Meeting a friend in Massachusetts who took me in for a night, let me play with his dog, and fed me delicious, and very spicy vegan food. Being constantly inspired by those around me, by those doing things differently than me, by those going bigger than me. Falling in love, finding peace. Losing my flashlight, my tent stakes, getting soaked to the bone in a storm, and having to sleep through it, only to be picked up by a beautiful stanger the next day, and taken to a walmart to replace what I had lost. I also completely stopped filtering my water months ago. I’ve eaten the same exact bean dinner every single night of this trip.

I’ve had good days, and I’ve had bad days.

I’ve run into actual homeless people, and felt real weird about my life choices(only briefly.) I’ve hiked 40 miles a day for 3 days straight. Walked 30 miles day after day as though it’s just a normal thing. Ive been rained on for a week straight. No matter what, I keep it rolling!

One step at a time, I’ll get there when I get there.

State to state until I crash into my fate.

Massachusetts was beautiful, and gradual. I loved walking there, surrounded by the history of this country. I paid a bus driver to give me a tour of the local towns. I crossed some highways, and showed the drivers my ass until I got a sufficient amount of honks.

I left Mass and entered Connecticut. Everyone was mean and seemed to want to rob me of my monies. Sorry, maybe my experience was strange? The trail was beautiful, rocky, and short. Only 52 miles and I was gone.

New York, I crossed the Hudson River on a large bridge. Never having been to the state before this was a wonderful experience, and place to walk. The trail took me directly through a zoo, and over a mountain which had litterally thousands of man made steps. I enjoyed New York greatly. I met a hiker who took a liking to me, he tried to give me a book which I detested. As we know my pack weighs less than 6lbs and I don’t ever wish to add anything to it! I still try and get rid of things constantly. A book? Please no. I took it anyway, after he assured me it was in his top 5 books that he’s ever read. The next day I found some other hiker who would take it. Sorry. I just want to walk, eat, and sleep!

New Jersey was quite boring, and quite easy! Just 73 miles or so, and I was in and out quick. On my last day there I ran into a group of birders who were watching hawks, and collecting data about the migration happening. I was aiming for a big day so stopping to talk wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do but they were so darn friendly! My mom loves birds so I felt a kinship with these people. They took a moment, and showed me a very large residential rattle snake, and gave me some apples. Followed by a short lesson on the birds they had been watching so I could report back to my mom! On their website, they mentioned me as something interesting they saw that day.

Pennsylvania has a lot of hype around it. Known as one of the least enjoyed states in the Appalachian Trail. 230 miles of the trail pass through there, and I met many who cowered in fear just at the thought of the rocky terrain. I didn’t think it was so bad! I did all of my biggest days in PA, and although it was very rocky, it was also extremely flat! There were some really awesome rock scrambles thrown in there too. Nonetheless I’m always happy to cross a new border.

A 45 mile day into Maryland, walking until well after dark. I made my miles, and I found a soft spot to sleep near the trail. The guide read, “residential area.” What that meant I wasn’t sure until the next morning, waking up, and realizing I was sleeping in someone’s yard no more than 30 feet from their house.

A dream come true. Maryland was short. West Virginia is even shorter, with only 4 miles passing through it. Those 4 miles are home to the Appalachian Trails main office. The dream is in the form of a photo. Every hiker that passes through gets a Polaroid taken of them there, you’re cataloged, and added to a book from whatever year you were there. I flipped through books, and photos from previous years. Searching for friends. This may seem insignificant, but I’ve wanted that photo for years. Taken right out front of the office. They gave me soda, veggies, and I walked on. I crossed the Shenandoah River, John Denver ringing in my ears, bring on Virginia!

Virginia holds 550 miles of the trail, and it takes most more than a month to finish. I think it took me less than 3 weeks. The terrain is made for comfortable walking. The mountains are gradual, and although after being at low elevation for a long time, now head back up into the 4 and 5 thousand feet ranges. Pointless ups and downs when you could just remain on a ridge during a section of trail known as the roller coaster. Pointless indeed. The Shenandoah mountains, where I crossed back and forth across skyline drive, a road, seemingly hundreds of times. Wilderness! Holiday weekend, and I ran into thousands of people. Weekends are no long as enjoyable as they once were! I prefer the solitude. The Shenandoah’s didn’t have many views. I actually walked the road for a few miles, and the road had more overlooks than the trail! Bummer. Regardless! Virginia has been awesome, and home to some of the best views I’ve seen since New Hampshire and Maine.

I passed a few iconic spots, and took a few cliche and iconic photos. The trail has been welcoming, and a joy to walk. I’ve met a bunch of wild ponies, made friends with them, took selfies with them, and generally have been having a wonderful time! The people here are great too.

I’m now on the edge of Tennessee and Virginia, with only two weeks left on the Appalachian Trail. Soon to begin a much more interesting part of this hike! The AT is somewhat easy due to it being around for so long, and having so much support. All I have is a guide, no maps, nothing. I just kinda walk and it winds me around. Up and down. The Benton Mackaye, and Pinhoti Trail won’t be so straight forward!

Somewhere in there fall started to happen, and the leaves began to change. Seemingly forever I was given hints of oranges and yellows, followed by a sea of green waving in the wind. When did fall actually hit? I’m not sure. I’m walking south so quick that it’s almost like I’m escaping it. Sometimes I come across wonderful sections of trail, where it’s like the trees are on fire. Some areas, the leaves have turned, and fallen, leaving the tree in a state of gangly death. And the trail I walk on covered over with crunchy brown leaves, making it hard to see the rocks beneath. It’s beautiful out here. Photos don’t do it justice.

2,400 miles behind me, 2,400 miles in front of me. Dungeon after dungeon, dragon after dragon. I press on.

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Hiker nerd


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Cairns in vermont


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Looking down on Massachusetts from the cobbles


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A lonesome fire


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The Hudson River!


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Bear Mountain in New York


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NY / NJ border


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Fun rocks in PA


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My 9x5 poncho tarp. I only set it up when it's going to rain.


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Halfway point if the Appalachian Trail


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Hello Maryland! Back in the dirty south.


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The dream polaroid


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1 of a small handful of views in the Shenandoah's


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The Guillotine gracefully held above hikers heads as we pass under


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One of my many new best friends


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Virginia has been sweet


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Just 4,000 miles to go!

When I left you last I was preparing to finally leave the province of Quebec. Limping. Although the last 200k had been through the valley and physically very easy with mostly rolling hills, beautiful views of the French Canadian country, I was forced to take it slow. Which I guess isn’t the worst of fates? I found myself searching for a cheap hotel to rest my tired bones and soul. Staying in the quiet town of Matapédia was my best option before entering the next frontier of New Brunswick. So I did. 3 days of ice, elevation, lots of food, and soaking my ankle and feet in the river. A bit dissapointed in the results I was seeing but the stagnation, my wallet, and pull of southern lands meant it was time to move on. I got a long way to go till Florida!!

My last night in town I was graced by the company of a young couple who just finished touring the gaspesie via bicycle. A trip of 1,600km along an extremely scenic highway that circumnavigates the peninsula. A classic Quebec vacation I have been told, that when you visit this is what you do. Most by car but you may remember I’ve now met close to 10 folks who were walking that highway. Seems like a lot of pavement…. then again when I say walking they more than likely hitch rides frequently. Anyhow, this french Canadian bike touring couple and I met in the local B&B (the BEST meal in town,) and they invited me over for drinks! I had greeted the young fellow with bonjour and later he told me he had actually thought i was french! I guess i was getting better. Another couple was there as well, and after not long rain began to pour. Spirits not dampened, and alcohol flowing, they sung french pub songs to me for hours. Through the rain and thunder their voices towered over. The campground was silent, and then there we were. I’m sure the entire town was listening.

An early start the next morning, happy to be on the move again, even if it’s not going to be very far! Still travel slow, burdened by the end of my injury. Crossing the border of the two provinces was awesome still. Over 400 miles in Quebec and now it was on to new things. The sign was in both in french and english, as I am now entering a new world where I can hopefully speak freely again. Met some folks I surely won’t forget in the north, and saw places so far removed, places most will never see. And really, I hiked with some seals man. Thru hiking a long trail and walking along side seals. Not to mention the snow, the rocky mountain tops above treeline, everything. Quebec was good. Looking back it’s without a doubt the gem of the International Appalachian Trail, and will be remembered as one of the best parts of this hike I’m sure.

Crossing the Restigouche river at the border, a little taste of what’s to come. No more trail signage, and really no sign of trail. So the highway I walked. 7 miles into the town of Tide Head, and I’m greeted by a friendly old man sweeping dust from his driveway. We get to talking and he clues me in to a multi use trail just down the road that’ll take me a very long way to the next town. Sounds like what I’m lookin’ for! A side note, dude is in his 70s and still manages to ride his bicycle 2,000k a year. Even more impressive considering how far north I am, and how little time you really have that isn’t blistering cold for activities such as this. So cold that this giant river I’ve been walking along completely freezes over and locals go out and do donuts around the ice on their snow mobiles in the winter.

About to leave town and head down that lonesome track once again i soak my feet one last time. Although this time is different. Lifting them out and moving again i feel way better. Like all my rest and healing finally caught up. I truly believe soaking or icing is the secret to injuries of similar nature. Still with aches in my ankle but no longer full of pain. To add to my joy the trail I’ve now started on directly follows a pretty river with many campsites abound. I dream of stopping and making a fire, but for those that know me, i truly hate stopping before sunset at least. This pleasent land unfortunatly didn’t last, although nearing pain free walking again my path which was exceptional is now an old railroad bed, and has no where to set up my tarp. A soggy bog to both sides of me, and directly off the trail where my guide tells me to camp is nothing but gravel. Because you know, old railroad. So sleeping on gravel it is, unable to pitch my shelter in the rocks I cowboy camp, and pray it doesn’t rain. Wishing I just stopped at the river earlier instead of walking into the night, but that’s my game. Stopping before darkness feels wrong.

I woke up to rain. Naturally. And made my way down the path less followed. Again the river pops up and i follow it for the entire day, over bridge after bridge, past swimming hole after swimming hole. What a ride this would have been back when this was a rail road. A path cut through the mountains, often it’s just me inbetween giant walls of rock peaking out to walk along the waters further. All day is like this and my pain is now almost completely gone. I truly attribute it to the daily soaking. My roll starting to pick up again after going so slow for so long. The forward motion and the feeling of progress is extremely enjoyable. Today I actually get in some good miles. Back into the land of twenties with higher numbers on the horizon.

After being alongside a flowing stream for so long to my surprise it ends abruptly. The guide for New Brunswick is nothing like what’s available for northern Maine, or what I was using in Quebec. Just a sheet of paper that gives next to no info, and an extremely crude map I printed so I had a better idea of where towns were. Despite this I’ve fallen into the routine of carrying next to no water for any given stretch. Easier on my body considering how heavy water is. Although now not having any to drink for miles and miles it’s not so easy anymore. My best options become beaver ponds with the very occasional river flowing outwards from a beaver pond. Stagnant with taste of giant rodents. I purify it but question all the times in the past I havent. In Quebec I only filtered my water twice the entire time I was there. That was fresh, clean, beautiful, and tasted wonderfully consistently. Then again it takes about two weeks for a stomach bug to kick in so who’s to say I just haven’t felt it yet?

Rolling into the town of Saint – Quentin my plans are to grab food for the next 6 days at the grocery and roll out to camp. Already having traveled 18 miles to get here I notice something different. My once quiet trail is now full of ATVs passing me. Too many to count. Easily 30 or more pass, I wave, and smile. No one stops, but I doubt they see walkers often, if ever. Getting into the outskirts of town a man is riding the streets on his dirt bike doing wheelies, and the power lines are embellished with little colorful flags. I don’t know where the store is, and being this is the biggest little city I’ve been to in a long while I make a quick phone call to my mom for some extra directions. The grocery stores parking lot looks empty, maybe everyone’s too busy riding around on their all terrain vehicles. Nope. It’s closed. At 4 o’clock? Nope its 5, New Brunswick is on some new time zone and I’m behind on figuring this out. Way behind, almost halfway through the entire province. But 5 seems a little early for a large store? It is. However… today is New Brunswick day. They closed 10 minutes ago. 6 days of food from a gas station it is. Happily they happen to fig bars and other things I like. Leaving town I follow the NB trail, what I’ve been on this entire time. Its a multi use trails system that goes through the entire province. After an hours walking something irks me, I haven’t once seen a sticker for the IAT, which isn’t so out of the ordinary for NB but still strange, and really gives me the feeling I’m going the opposite direction from where I should be traveling. All hopes dashed of getting some real milage in today, the sun has set, and now I’m an hour outside of town on the wrong trail, confirmed again by the MVP that is my mom. My guide didn’t mention that I would no longer be on the same path. Apparently I was supposed to take to the highway. Whoops. Laying down in the bushes of someone’s property just deep enough in there so at first glance I may not be noticed I curse the night and set up to retrace my steps in the morning. A lame deer plagues my camp to the point i consider just getting up and walking all night. I move a mile away as a compromise. Now in someone else’s bushes.

Maybe judging from my map I could have guessed but this next section was mostly a roadwalk. 80 miles of roadwalk. Funny thing is I go right through Mont Carlton Provincial Park. On the road. Not some back road, but a highway. 80 miles in a little over two days. Sleeping in places I definitely shouldn’t be. However leaving the park to continue my pavement pounding I’m stopped by a game warden. If he was American what he said to me would have sounded more like “What the hell you doin’ out here boy?” But he’s not, he’s French! Thus far more polite. Very nice guy! The days are so hot now that it’s August he offers me his ice tea from lunch and I very happily accept. This drink was pretty crucial, because again I found myself in a spot without water for close to 10 miles. Middle of the day, walking a highway, in direct sunlight. His name is Richard and it was very nice to meet him and speak for a little while. Certainly a highlight of my time in New Brunswick, aside from all the beautiful rivers that are here and there.

At this time I was approaching a man’s home who’s a big supporter of the trail and as it happens is a legendary canoe builder. From picking the tree he’s going to carve to the finished product, everything about his boats are hand made. Miller Canoes if you want to check it out. I was dreaming of stopping at his house, as he is known to let hikers sleep on his lawn, charge my phone, learn about his craft, and get some water. Approaching his home I was bummed to find he wasn’t home. The rest of the day I curse my timing, hoping he would see me walking the road and stop to say hello. No dice. I slept in someone’s yard hidden between two trees, feet propped up on one, head against another. Not the best fit, but again I walked my 30 so I didn’t care. Not many options if you don’t want to pay to camp at an RV park. Which I refuse to do.

Finally the roads are over, word is after the town of Plaster Rock I pick the ATV path up again, and follow the Tobique river all the way to the US-CA border. The town is small and beautiful. Cute in everyway and full of everything a hiker could want. I don’t stay but stop for more groceries and fresh fruit to eat down by the water. A big storm brewing in the direction I’m going. Lightning crashing in the distance, I hustle to gather my things and hit the trail instead. Despite the storms ominous direction of travel, somehow I don’t get hit by a single drop of water. Feet in the river I eat my pineapple, blueberries, and raspberries… sit back and relax. Back on the trail and off the roads tonight, I can make some bonus miles. I walk until 10, again sleeping in someone’s yard. This time though, an old man sees me laying in the bushes the next morning. Damn this other timezone. Waking up at 5 am in my mind was actually 6. The guy said nothing, walked on, and life is good.

Today I will cross back into the US. It’s been a long time coming but finally I’ve made it home. In Canada I was only able to truly wash my clothes outside of a stream once due to no laundromats, rarely could I keep my phone charged as there just were never any electrical outlets to be found, Internet could only be had if I could find wifi, my phone calls back home costed money, and most everyone spoke french! For the vagrant that I am these little things meant something, as we know all i pretty much got is walking and what the weather is doing. Creature comforts become a big deal at times. As does speaking the same language as the locals… The US is gunna be great! No longer will it matter if I smell, this is America, we all smell! Walmart here I come, you have the cheap foods I want, the electricity I need, and the demegraphic of people I fit in with. Canada has been awesome, but I haven’t been on a real single track trail since Quebec and it’s time I get off the old railroad beds. The last 4 days have been 30s, I’m no longer in pain, and I’m ready to hit some mountains again. I’m ready to show this body crafted on the IAT, to the hikers of the AT.

Crossing the border was interesting, and I was somewhat unclear of how that would go, other than follow my guide step by step, leading me nowhere, and calling my mom again for real direction. You may have thought it would be some obscure trail I’d have to be escorted across into the new land but no, I did it the same way the cars do. In fact I got off trail and stood in line with all those cars. I waited for the light to turn green, and I walked up to customs with passport in hand. “Ya’ll dont get folks on foot often now do ya?” They dont. A few questions to determine what I was doing, and I was on my way. Surprisingly no drug dogs, no pat downs, no making me unpack all my things. Here I am, a guy with a backpack walking across the border. I guess Canada was just as ready to get rid of me as I was to leave. 25 miles into my day I had been so excited for this moment it was still early. I called border patrol to let them know until 8pm I would be walking the line. They understood what I was doing and wished me luck with the mosquitoes. Little do they know I’m from florida. Mosquitoes know better than to fuck with me.

Between Canada and the US there’s a 20 yard swath of land where they’ve cut down all the trees and erected little stone monuments every kilometer. As we know, the US celebrates itself quite well. Even in this remote and untraveled area. It was truly an experience to have the opprotunity to walk that line between nations. Rolling hills and beautiful views of farm land. Canadians on my left wondering what the hell I’m doing, Americans on my right… also wondering what the hell I’m doing. Streams I forded that crossed the imaginary line between the countries, and some swamp land as well. For the most part easy walkin’. Even after already going so far earlier in the day I was fresh. 40 miles in total I walked, and now back on home soil. I think it was the happyness that propelled me so far. Dained but smiling, physically feeling on the top of my game.

In Quebec, frogs and toads were everywhere. At a time I counted them every day but I would always lose track. I hear that’s a sign of a healthy environment. In New Brunswick it was slugs. Every morning slugs would congregate and pray to this new deity that had been resting on their land. They would slime up all my gear and generally were annoying enough to actually drive me insane while plucking them off my things each morning. Now in maine, both were gone. It’s now mice, squirrels, and chipmunks. Or generally just small varmints scurrying around making noise in my direction as i approach. I liked the frogs of Quebec best. They don’t try to steal my food like the mice do.

Now in Maine I’m greeted by towns almost daily, and being I’m walking more than a marathon during daylight hours sometimes multiple restaurants between waking up and falling asleep. Aiming for 30s I try not to stop at everyone of them, but looking back I missed one or two that really might have been worthwhile.

Everyone has been super cool in Maine. I don’t think most know what I’m doing, but a few figured out I’m not exactly homeless. Only mostly homeless. Walking an ATV path along rivers again a couple passes, I smile and wave. The same couple later passes again, slows down, and stops. I suppose I don’t look dangerous because before i know it theyve invited me over for snacks and drinks at their home! Which just so happens to be a mere 200 yards off the path I’m following. From their house I get the greatest gift of all aside from their hospitality. My first view ever of where I’m going. Mt Katahdin. Days away and there it is. The end of the International Appalachian Trail, and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Magnificent, and lit like a candle she sat on the horizon. Almost far enough to be out of sight. This older couple was so very kind, and the gentleman even told me stories back from the 80s of climbing those mountains. Likely way beyond the difficulty of today. Trail? More like taking a baring off of rocks and seeing how it goes. Things are so well traveled and documented these days all you have to do is commit sometimes. Takes the risk out of it in ways.

After that couples home I went to the nearest lean-to to sleep in. My first of Maine, and my first in a while as there were none in New Brunswick. To my surprise, anger, and bewilderment it was beyond trashed. The firepit was overflowing with garbage, plastic all over the geound, cans around the corners and backside, and the every wall vandalized with names of those I imagine were too lazy to pack out their own garbage. I could go on for days about how much this bothers me but I’ll only say a little. These are our public spaces, our wilderness, and trails to explore. If we don’t use them, they will be taken away. If we decide to trash them, they deserve to be taken away. Please for the love of the outdoors. Don’t leave your trash, leave nothing. Pretend as though you were never even there. I fell asleep hoping the animals local weren’t so accustomed to the food strewn across the ground that I would get a visitor in the night.

After this section I was once again greeted by roads. About another 80 miles of them. Making swift work, as I do, but still less pleasent than walking through the forest. Graffiti under a bridge mostly what you imagine is going through a 13 year old child’s head, this time actually said something of interest. “What will you be remembered for?” A thought that echoed.

After miles, actually days, of pavement I pass a few small vacation camps and enter the woods again. Away from cell service now, phone dying, and dangerously close to Baxter State Park. In the last town I picked up new shoes as my others had developed a massive hole so I’m ready. Ready to finish the IAT, and start the next leg of this journey. The Appalachian Trail. Where hikers flow more freely than the rivers, and I will no longer have to walk roads again for the next 2,200 miles. At least. The trail is now on a cross country ski track and it’s pretty sweet. Rivers to cross, and soft ground to plod along. I come across a sign advertising a shelter just off trail, decide to stop by and at least sign the trail register for other future IAT hikers to see. I was once here. No one saw me, but I was here.

Surprisingly this was not your typical hiker lean to. It’s already kind enough of the locals, or the trail organizations to build these homes away from the rain for us, but this was not normal. This was truly a cabin. On a lake. A door, windows, bunks, food coffee and tea inside. Magazines, and more amenities than I as someone who hasn’t showed in a week deserves. Sadly though, I’ve only walked 5 miles today, from my bed in the leaves. Guess I should have gone the extra distance yesterday. Isn’t that always the case. I move on.

A sign directing me off trail for hot meals only 1/4th mile away catches my attention. Across a beautiful bridge and onto a property along the river with beautiful wooden cabins littering the grounds. A man looks at me, as I yell a greeting with a smile. Sure enough he is the manager here! Apparently, although this is what I consider prime season to be in maine, when it’s not under snow, this is his off season. The place is empty and he is just here taking care of things. Apparently in the last 4 years I’m only the 5th hiker to ever come off that trail to visit. My friend Sycamore being the one prior to me!! Sometimes I feel like I’m walking in his foot steps……. This time, last year. The guy is mega friendly, and unlocks the dining room so I can come in, talk, and relax. The place is furnished to the max, and simply beautiful. It’s really a wonder why no one would be here. Trails behind the place, a river just feet away… seems like the perfect summer spot. He says people prefer lakes? And naturally so far away no cell service is a small downside. However those other places I’ve passed have no where near the class of this location. He sends me off with some peanut butter crackers, and as many sodas as I could carry. 4 was the magic number. Definitely happy I stopped by, even if they aren’t exactly doing anything special in the off season. During winter however the place is supposedly bumping! Currently he’s baiting bear with… trail mix (no wonder bears like hikers!) And dunkin donuts. Who knew that’s what the bears crave. In the winter thousands upon thousands of miles worth of snow mobile trails bring people from all over looking to spend big bucks. Broke hikers aren’t exactly a concern, however he was extremely nice to me, and from the sounds of it he’s been very good to every one else who’s stumbled across that bridge!

Wasting far to much time at the cabin, and the snowmobile camp, looking at the prospect of night hiking a few extra miles to meet my mark. I’ve been walking 30 miles or more ever day since Saint – Quentin, about a weeks worth of that if not more, not exactly feeling like breaking that chain. Tomorrow however is a very big day, and likely extra important i walk the bonus. Tomorrow I officially finish the International extention to the Appalachian Trail, and continue my way south along the mountain chain, and begin a new trail! Climbing my last mountain of this area, Deasy, there’s a side trail to a fire tower I pass in my haste as the sun sets, and lower down the way a creepy decrepit home crushed by time, that once was the fire wardens shelter. Making good time, almost at a slow jog, unfortunately a large river to be forded in the valley slows me down, and forces me to call it early. Meaning I’ll be losing sleep to begin my long walk to the top the next day. The hardest climb of this entire 4,800 mile route across the country. Mt Katahdin, at 5,200 feet or something it’s size is deceptive. It’s truly a rediculous climb. Boulders that dwarf men, and hours upon hours of arduous upwards (hardly forwards) motion.

4am. It’s time. 15.7 miles away I get up and go. Mouse ate my snack that I accidentally left out but it’s ok. Maybe he was hungry. 5 miles in I’m pressing forward with everything in hopes I can pull off a not so typical 30. Why? Because I have no reservation to stay in Baxter, I have no permit, I’m coming in on some unknown and very random trail, and plan to pass through the entire park in one fell swoop. My last IAT trail marker is a wooden sign, and it brings a massive smile to my face. This is the official end to the International Appalachian Trail. I did it. Quebec, a sprained ankle, New Brunswick, and northern Maine. What a ride it’s been thus far. Still yet, just the beginning. I’m only getting started. This may be the official end to the trail, but you’d be a fool to stand 10 miles from this magnificent mountaim, and not climb it, so I think everyone besides the state park agrees the top of that is truly the end. Entering the park on a trail that’s massively over grown, short shorts doing me no justice, legs getting torn up. Powering on I see a moose! My first moose in QC scared the hell outa me. She was with a child and wasn’t budging. This is now the 7th, and I barely slow down. The moose sees the steam rising from my feet, the fire in my eyes, and it runs away from me as though I’m holding a rifle. Today there are no breaks. Today is a big day. I connect the Katahdin Lake Trail, to some parking lot, walk a short road to another parking lot, and begin my real ascent up the Helon Taylor Trail… which leads to the Knife Edge of the mountain. The rain has already started to fall, and I see my first hiker, he just finished the Appalachian Trail, what I’m about to begin. I ask how it is up there. A blank stare. “Windy.” I have no back up. It’s up and over.

A family I pass slowly making their way up, in another two hours I’ll see why they’re not going to make it to the top. Rock climbing, boulder scrambling, and crazy weather is no hike for a child and two parents. Me? Up and over. After hours of climbing I’m now in the clouds, the wind is blowing strong, and I’ve reached the knife edge. Aptly named due to the sharpness of the ridge that you scramble across. I sit down at the top, question what I’m doing for a few minutes. The clouds clear for a mere second and I see someone else on one of the multiple ridges ahead, quickly again shrouded by nothingness. Looks safe enough. I slide down a clif into a little pocket of rocks, carefully, and slowly making my way to the base of the first miniature peak. Climbing up the next, and the next. The knife edge is just a mile but what an experience. Wind doing you no favors, visibility at an all time low, and hand over hand physical action. You’re litterally on the edge, looking down 5,000 feet. Walking, crawling, edging, and sliding across rocks jutting in all angles. This is the coolest thing I’ve done since I was in Gaspesie National Park in Quebec. Truly reminding me a lot like those trails. It’s maddening in the best way. The scrambling, and rock hopping truly awesome. If only more of the trail was like this. I pass a girl, who maybe I should have asked if she’d like to hike the last bit with me. She was almost there but in the clouds it’s near impossible to tell beyond pure feel. This wasn’t quite the place to pass someone, but I wasn’t exactly planning on stopping for a breather. Reaching the end, I never did see her up there. I think she must have turned around. That was cool. That was the most fun I’ve had this entire trip. One mile of pure adrenaline. The top of a mountain, walking some ridge way beyond trees. Just you, careful footing, and rocks. Pick your own poison, how best do you wish to get across these rocks. That’s what I loved. Not so much a trail, but more a route of your own choosing. What looks safest to you? What’s most doable. I hear the white mountains in New Hampshire are pretty cool. I can only hope they’re half as cool as that.

Reaching Baxter Peak I could hear people well beyond the point in which I could see them. And there it was. That wooden sign so many know so well. The northern terminus to the Appalachian Trail. What folks walk 2,200 miles to get to. Me? 755 miles on trail, but 800 in the books since I started due to my added road walking into and out of towns. If you remember, this trip is about a lot of things. One thing being human powered travel. No hitch hiking. A constant stream of footsteps from Quebec to Key West. This sign is surrounded by people, some on day hikes to the top, some who just finished the long walk from Georgia, and me. Some strange guy with a Canadian flag who came outa nowhere. Wide eyes, and bothered by the crowed. I just want a quick photo. I still have 15 miles to go today, and it took 4 hours just to get up here. It’ll take another 4 to get down the other side. “Hey kid, my battery is dead, and you got one shot. This better be good.”

Down I go. Briefly cell service enough to call my mom, let her know I’m good to go, and then my phone dies. The next 115 miles I have not a single photo. You’ll just have to trust me but the lava fields and dragons flying above truly made for an interesting few days.

31 miles and Mt Katahdin in one day. Finishing after dark camping just outside of park boundaries. I planned just 3 days for Maines 100 mile wilderness. In total between the next town I would be in, Monson, and my last town, Patten, it’s about 185 miles of food I had to carry. Or in my delusional mind 6 days. Well I’m in monson now, and it took 7. In the 100m wilderness I was greeted by rain for 3 days, and although in my opinion, besides the infinite number of rocks, roots, and general trickery I thought it was pretty darn easy. My last day I met a guy who just hiked the trail from Georgia to here, and he was just starting what I just finished. Destination Katahdin. He made some remark congratulating me on completing this section, and I mentioned back. I thought it was really easy. The look on his face said, I’m going to come over there and hit you. Although what he actually said was, “There hasn’t been a single part of this trail that I thought was easy.”

So now on to the fun stuff. Southern Maine, and New Hampshire should be the hardest parts of the AT. Excited to begin, excited to slow down. Although this is more of a… I think I have to slow down, rather than… I’m just chillaxin. I don’t think I’ll be doing much of that. Likely really difficult days ahead.

I went from not seeing a single hiker in 400 miles, to passing close to 50 a day. It’s really strange, and actually slows me down considerably. Although it’s nice, they’re all up to date on the weather ahead, water sources coming up, and general trail info otherwise I would be surprised by. Sometimes surprised in a good way… sometimes bad. Still, the amount of hikers out here is amazing.

The International Appalachian Trail is now thru, and I’m onto new things in this long and lonesome walk. One thing I must mention. The AT has been around for maybe 80… 100 years. The International AT, has only been aground for 20 at most. They need our help, as a trail community. As hikers, as locals. Our support really goes a long way. A membership to the International Appalachian Trail is fairly cheap, I’d say 15 dollars and it would mean a lot to me, and to the trail organization I’m sure, if more folks signed up. The trail has SO much potential, and SO much beautiful land it passes through. But they need help. The trail is still new. If you’re local to northern Maine, New Brunswick, or Quebec, I really encourage you to reach out to them.

In other news, I’m still moving fast, I’m moving strong, and I’m going to keep on trucking. It blows my mind that I’ll be in New Hampshire soon, and shortly I’ll be reaching 1,000 miles into this trip. It’s been wonderful.

Jupiter
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Day 5 – It’s not supposed to be easy

Starting from camp, wondering where the two hikers ahead of me stayed, starting to question if there are even hikers ahead of me, or if I was told a farce. The trails tread tells a story, and it does seem to reflect that others have been here recently. The ground in places is desheveled in ways that doesn’t appear to be from animal activity. Some of the plants that extend up into the trail, are crooked, and crushed. My brain clearly wants to believe.

Leaving the trail for the beach, oh yeah! The coast! This trail takes you across the beach 4 times in total, if your timing is good, or if you’re lucky. So far I’ve been lucky, because the tides dictate your passing. High tide could mean swimming. Me being lucky means I didn’t ask.

Beach walking here is a lot of fun, and equally as technical due to the rocks and the strange footing to get across them. Really, I think the beaches have been my favorite walking of this trip so far. This beach was different from the last too. This beach had bigger rocks, the sea was calm, and there was no wind. On the last one the wind was so strong, all the flies eating the seaweed were being whisped away and pelting me in the face. To the point in which I actually put my glasses on as a shield.

I skip across the rocks, careful to avoid those that are wet, and likely slippery. Making my way, and enjoying my day. Everything looking as though I’m off to a good start. Walking closer to the waters edge to get a photo with my self timer, and I notice something in the water. Trash bobbing around? No, it’s seals! Maybe 30 yards off shore checking me out.

I walk on, and the seals follow for a while. Watching me, as I watch them. After a few miles of this, and enjoying the little ponds of water stuck on shore I approach another small village. In the cove it appears to be low tide, as there are two boats that look as though maybe they should have been anchored further out… totally bottomed out, and probably suffering damage.

With nothing in the village to do I move on, and the trail takes me up away from the coast on a logging road. Miles and miles up into the mountains, until I get to dart off into the woods again.

Here on the IAT it’s not uncommon to see very few trail blazes marking the path. At times I only see one every 15 minutes, or sometimes they’re everywhere. It’s hit or miss, and typically if I don’t see one, I don’t worry. 15 minutes goes by and I’m reassured by the white and blue sticker I’m still going in the right direction. Then another 15, 20, 25… climbing higher and higher. Eventually getting so far up, only to find the trail I was following impassible, and the last blaze I saw was a forgotten relic of the old route.

Back the way I came, up to the fork in the path I had missed, only to have forgotten which way I had originally come. Bah. No real signs, and frustrated already I make a choice. The wrong choice. Overall wasting over an hour, and a lot of brain power.

Finally making it down to the valley below, and to a refuge. The trail register is old, the shelter although full of cool furniture and strange paintings… is void of life, and so I move on. Just 11 more miles to go in what will be a 22 mile day. Tomorrow I get to resupply on food in Grande Vallée and am already thinking about a zero milage day.

Leaving the shelter, the trail is overgrown and wild. It winds down to a small river in which I’m asked to follow, and cross once or twice. Into the woods I’m confronted by a wall of vegetation. Somewhere in there I think is where I need to go. It’s now lightly raining, and all the plants scraping at my clothes are acting to soak them through, and chill me to the bone.

My last big climb of the day, and at this point I’m certain I’ll be staying an extra night in the next town. All the way up my movement is slowed by years worth of plant growth. Finally at the top I’m greeted by a wind farm, and my trail has now become a sea of ferns up to my nipples that I’m now wading through, hoping not to trip.

Tired, frustrated, wet, and ready to go to bed, the wind farm manages to cheer me up, and the trail provides. Easier tread to walk on, a road. As if it knew I was having a hard time and needed something.

Lasting just long enough to get me back up to strength for the last few kilometers into camp. Naturally, walking along a log placed over a muddy area I manage to roll my ankle.

Only 22 miles but it sure felt longer. Only 10 more until I’m in town tomorrow, and it’s all on the beach. I couldn’t be more thankful.

The trail here is very new, as I’ve been reminded. Without decades of foot travel to let it maintain itself. The beauty of the IAT outweighs the momentary lapse in support. In time, this trail will easily be an amazing extension to the Appalachian Trail of the south, as if it already isnt.

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Day 1 – Cap Gaspé

Woke up, ate an entire bag of granola, and checked my watch. It’s 3am, and light as day outside. I personally didn’t witness it, but as far as I can tell, sunrises here in the summer are much different from Florida.

For that matter, sunset here isn’t until 8:30. In other words I have about 17 hours of daylight. It’s unfortunate I’m so lazy so early on in this trip, or else I could be making some distance.

I stayed at a hostel last night. A combination of 23 miles of road walking, and no where *legal* to camp. Apparently I made the right choice, this is a place one of my personal hero’s has stayed twice before! Nimblewill Nomad, the man who gave this long and lonesome route from Quebec to the Keys a name, the Eastern Continental Trail. The man who popularized it through his book 10 Million Steps. He was here, however many years ago.

So I move on with the breeze. Just ~11 more miles of road until I can start this thing.

At the entrance of Forillon National Park I see a great long line of cars, and then a second line with nobody in it! Must be for me, a walker! Sure enough, lady there ready to grant me admission. Money in hand, and wouldn’t you know it? Today is Canada Day! I get the thumbs up, a free park pass, and waved through. It couldn’t be a more perfect day. Not a single cloud in the sky, the Gulf of St Lawrence to my right, the Canadian Appalachians to my left, and here I am in the middle standing atop rocky cliffs over the water. Ducks here, ducks there. They know it. Today’s a damn good day to be in Canada.

Being a national holiday at a beautiful park, you can imagine, I am but one of many tourists lurching about. I say hello, they say bonjour. It’s almost tiresome after a while, but really I should have known better, and learned some french.

Eventually I find an SIA/IAT marker, deciding to skip the crowed I dip off that way. Getting a taste for what this trail is like, after all this is my new home for the next month until I reach Maine. I’m greeted with beautiful single track, many small wildflowers, and an almost constant view of the water. I am not dissapointed. One extremely steep uphill, and I know that’s just a tease at my future.

It’s now 2pm and I have the final climb in sight, one very long gravel road, going straight up, leading to the red and white lighthouse that marks the beginning of my hike. Excited, I press forward faster. A moment I’ve dreamt about, and planned for a long time.

From the top you can look in almost any direction and your view is of an endless horizon. I’m not sure of the elevation, but from up here its very surreal. This is where the Appalachian Mountains disappear into the sea. Starting in Alabama, ending here. There are two plaques, one commemorating the Appalachian Trail, the other is for its international extention, what I am now on. This is the ending location of many fantastic journeys, and I can see why. I can’t imagine a better place to start my own. A lighthouse on a clif, with an endless view of the ocean.

Since I won’t be here again anytime soon, I take a few photos, and then I go around to every other person to see which one of them takes the best one. It’s got to be perfect! None of them will do. I snap one more with my self timer, and it’s everything I ever wanted.

The wind is blowing very strong, I am losing daylight hours, and am beginning to get cold. So I leave. Every step forward now, is a step I don’t have to take back. Every step forward is progress to the bigger picture. No matter how slow. Only 4,800 miles to go.

On my way down, I meet two very lovely ladies near the water. As if my day wasnt already wonderful, they speak english! (And german, and french!) It’s very refreshing to talk to them!! Even just for a brief moment. I curse myself, but I move on. I need water.

Stopped at a river ahead, gathering myself. Yesterday I did 23 miles or so with a little less than a liter of water. Why, I don’t know. Today I wasn’t trying to repeat that. While I check my maps, up the trail comes my two new friends! They stop to chat, and I get up off the floor to join them. We walk together for maybe 6km, and I very much so enjoyed their company. Two Germans working as nannies in Canada, now traveling, and seeing the world. They’re doing life right. If only they too were hiking the whole IAT! I think I would be beside myself. Sadly, eventually I had to go in a different direction.

Their names are Elena, and Anna. Maybe our paths will cross again. Small world you know.

Now left to myself. Now left to the mountains. No more roads, finally I am on the trail. Very technical walking, extremely steep climbs, and as far as I know, this is just a taste of what is to come. The path is everything I dreamed of. Thick woods surround me, the sound of the ocean water crashing ashore down below me, and a well maintained trail ahead of me!

Elena had mentioned earlier she had seen a moose and it’s two babies around here, so I was somewhat on edge. Then comes a group of 4 day hikers frazled, telling me about a bear in the direction I am headed. “That’s fine.”

These animals don’t want to deal with us, as much as we don’t want to deal with them. I figure talking to myself allowed would suffice, as close encounters with a bear or a moose on day 1 isn’t exactly something I’m looking forward to. Instead of talking, I put on some good ol Bob Marley…. That’ll scare away the animals I think. Unless of course they enjoy his music as much as I.

The trail goes up and down mountains, no word of a switchback anywhere. Over small bridges and mountain streams. Through dense forest, and eventually I’ve listened to all the tracks on Bob Marley’s best of…….. only 2.5km from camp.

The sun is setting and im unsure how long I’ve got. Certainly not wishing to spend time night hiking so early on in my trip I power forward. Coming up to a welcoming sign that says there is a view 1km from here. I quickly learn that the only reason they have a sign, is because that distance is straight up the side of a mountain. The sign is just letting you know, it’s not all for nothing. At the very top, on both sides of the trail they’ve built small wooden platforms with benches. The sky is a deep purple, and on one side you have the Atlantic, on the other side the Gulf of St Lawrence. A nice way to end my day.

After a steep desent, I finally see what I’ve been waiting for. A shelter.

Turns out I walked 25 miles today. Time to stetch, hang my food, and go to bed. Today was a good day.

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ECT: Not-So Private Emails

 

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Something different…

A short conversation between Sycamore and myself. Aside from being an all around badass and triple crown hiker, just last year he completed the Eastern Continental Trail, which I’m about to embark on! So lately he’s been helping me with logistical questions regarding the trail, and in general hyping me up for the journey ahead.

I figure since most of my posts are extremely long and drawn out I’d share this as it kinda sums up what I’m up to right now, in the most informal way possible.

I fly to Canada in a month, so I’m reaching my final days here in Florida. Soon I’ll be very far north, making my way back home, slowly.

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How’s your planning???

It is getting close!!!  What do you have left to do??

Did you ever notice that if you go to the French page for the SIA/IAT and hit the translate button, you get a ton more information than compared to the English page….  Thought that was weird…

Got all of your food done?  Who is managing it on the home end?  So bad ass!!

What shoes are you using?

Is your pack a zpack or a mountain laurel?

Hope you are well!!!

Syc

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Hey John! I am well and at work! 46 more days to go before I hit trail. I fly out june 29th, have my passport and everything. I’ve decided next week I’ll put in my two weeks here… cus I’m super burnt out!! Can’t continue on… death….

What do I still have left to do is a damn good question. I grapple with it everyday. I made a list and anytime I think of anything, no matter how stupid… I put on the list! The most important… call and get a reservation for gaspesie park or whatnot, and of course the dreaded passporte! But I’ll probably do that tomorrow. I’m sure they’ll walk me through it, but am I just telling them where I plan to camp for the 400 miles in quebec? My aim is 20 miles per day but we’ll see how I’m feeling, and truly how rough the terrain is, as from what I’ve heard, read, and seen…. it’s gnarly!

I guess I also have to decide if I wish to send a box to the discovery center or if I could manage some sort of resupply there. I’d prefer not hitching a ride, and I think that’s really the best place before entering the next section without some sort of ridiculous carry that I don’t want to do. I would have liked to avoid shipping to canada due to the extremely high cost, so it goes.

All of my food is done, and boxed, bagged, what have you. Still wish to add some extra goodies to each box so I can snack while I unpack! My mom will be the box manager, I’ve made it pretty easy for her, with everything labled, and an inventory list of extras I may want. She knows the routine.

I’m using the Altra Lone Peak 2.5s. They’re awesome!! I’ve been using Altra shoes exclusively for the past two years of hiking, and I’m super stoked on em still.

My pack is Mountain Laurel Designs, Burn, the smallest model. Just what I need and nothing more! Pretty great company. Still out there innovating for us hardcore folks who want to go lighter.

What else should I be doing??

Training.
Looking for a pocket french translation guide.
Getting permits for big cypress, eglin, and great smokey mountains ready.

I’m pretty much done, but feel like I’m missing small things.

Nice to hear from ya!

Jup

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Yo yo yo!

Passport-make a quick spreadsheet and just put down 20 mile days (approx) and figure a town/camp/refuge.  I added dates and that was about all that my itinerary was to get my permit.

I definitely think you will be surprised and will do 20’s off the bat.  Maybe not and no need to rush, but….

Speaking of that, did you ever look up what the speed record for the ECT is?  I think you may be set to beat the fastest time.

Send a box to Discovery Center.  If you really don’t want to, it is an easy hitch up to a town on the coast, but too far to walk (like you wanted to).  Or you could pack a box at Gaspe and send it to the Discovery Center.  That would save a ton in shipping.  Yeah, load up there because it’ll be a ways to get through Matane.

Quit that job, Stretch those muscles, and get the party started!!!

Syc

 

(Check out Sycamore’s ECT thru hike on youtube here: Part 1 / Part 2, and his trail journal)

 

Eastern Continental Trail: Food & Resupply

This is a glimpse into what it looks like to be a truly obsessive planner.

To think about this, and nothing else for a very long time.

You’ve seen my gear, you’ve seen my maps and guides, some of my training, and now you see the final bits of logistics for this trip. Soon I’ll be on trail and forget about most of this… which is the point. To go through all of this now so that later on I can relax, and focus on hiking.

In 60 days I start walking south from Quebec on the Eastern Continental Trail.

Food

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Most of the food that I’ll be sending myself for 6 months worth of backpacking. Still missing a lot of extra goodies.

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The local Taco Bell may not be so pleased after you take this many hot sauce packets in one visit. (Added to my dinners.)

Things to note:

  • Gu Energy Gels – My electrolyte replacer, and a caffeine boost.
  • Powdered Greens – Help fight the war on not getting the nutrients I need.
  • Clif Builder Bars – A dessert of sorts, full of protein to help recover, and build muscle as I sleep.
  • Protein Powder – Not my only option for breakfast as I may still send powdered coconut milk with cereal/granola, but it is an extremely fast and efficient way to get some additional calories in the morning.
  • Endangered Species Dark Chocolate – A lovely daily treat.
  • Dehydrated Refried Beans – The dinner of champions, I mean… thru hikers on a budget. I’ll add taco bell hot sauce, as I’ve taken hundreds of them, some avocado when I can, and tortilla chips or fritos to make a nice dinner.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Not the other kinds! This kind. Add it to my dinners for an extra boost in calories, and flavor.

When in the market to buy a couple thousand dollars worth of food for a few months worth of hiking I had a couple rules to adhere to. I wanted food that was cheap, fast, and at least somewhat nutritional.

Much like many hikers I’m not made of money. I’ve worked long and hard at a job I don’t exactly feel so attached to, as anyone who knows me could tell you, and I’ve put this on myself so that I can now proceed to do what I love. So naturally considering my financial situation, and not wanting to spend any more time working than I have to, when searching for food my aim has been to look for the best deals imaginable. Pretty much all the food I purchased with the exception of a few items I really wanted, I was able to get for a very low price. Either due to the quantity I was purchasing or simply through shopping around. I had considered reaching out for sponsorship but in the end that’s not really my style, and just as well it seems as though I don’t need to sell my soul to do this. Even if it would have just been small handouts!

Another way I’m saving money on this hike is by doing it faster than most would. My goal is 6 months, and if you so like you could easily calculate what type of daily mileage I’ll be doing to reach that(about a marathon a day for 6 months.) I suppose I like the challenge, or maybe I just like walking a whole lot. Whatever it may be there’s a lot that goes into a high mileage day. In general less breaks, a streamlined process of doing things, an efficient manner of walking, a very light pack, and in regards to the topic at hand… eating on the go. So when I say I wanted food that was fast, what I really mean is that I was looking for food that I could eat while I am walking. Or in other words, a whole ton of snacks vs meals. As you probably quickly noticed a lot of my food choices are in bar form. Something I can easily grab every hour or two while I move, and continue without much of a pause.

Food that has worked best for me in the past is represented above, with the addition of a few new items I’m trying out for this hike. Keeping in mind the other two stipulations(cheap and fast,) buying 300 bars of Snickers wouldn’t adhere to my third rule of purchase. I wanted foods that are at least least somewhat healthy, and naturally vegan too. Candy doesn’t cut it, and I really try to cut out as much of that sugary mess as I can. Although I can and will do MUCH better in the future. The high burst in energy followed by the swift crash isn’t something I need to be consuming while walking 12- 14 hours in a day. Although I’m not a total slave to this mindset, as I do have over 100 bars of chocolate ready to be shipped and eaten. Something to keep me happy and motivated, but certainly not a large portion of my diet. Not pictured is also a whole lot of fruit I’m dehydrating for this trip, I hope to have a nice sized bag for every box. Another wonderful treat I wouldn’t be so happy without. To offset any nutrients I’m not getting from my foods I’ve taken a page(or two) out of Scott Williamson’s book and will be adding powdered greens to my daily diet in hopes that it will help with recovery, growth, and my overall health along the way.

So before the inevitable comment comes saying I’ll get so tired of all this food… so what! Variety would be nice, but variety also means more money, more of a headache in finding the products, and getting enough calories per day from the selection I’ve chosen. My main goal is simply getting the calories I need to go the distance. To me, calories directly relate to how far I’ll be able to travel, or how long I’ll have energy. A nice meal is great, but simply living, and eating is greater. Next year on the PCT my food choices will certainly be different, as will every year after that, I’m sure. I look forward to learning more about the subject of nutrition, as I think it’s such an important topic that most hikers seem to overlook.  As I learn I’ll continue to tweak. For now, like a cat, eating the same thing day after day I’ll still be satisfied so long as I’m fed.

Per day I’ve planned to eat about 4,500 calories, which will actually somewhat put me in a deficit. Hikers doing similar things as me burn close to 6,000 – 6,500 calories a day, which to most people would be a dream! To me it means I gotta haul around some big heavy bag to munch out of. Food is really heavy! Much heavier in comparison to everything else I’ll be carrying for this trip. My food weighs about 2.5lbs for every day, so for a 5 day carry in between towns, which is common for me, would weigh 12.5lbs. That’s almost double the weight of everything else I’m carrying!! Being I won’t be getting all the calories I’ll be needing solely from my mail drops I plan on pigging out at restaurants in towns, and buying extras in grocery stores. Extras like peanut butter, nuts, chips, avocados, and naturally… as many fresh fruits as possible. I see a lot of thru hikers that lose an absurd amount of weight while on trail. I feel this is mostly because they aren’t filling that empty void that is the thru hiker stomach with enough food. Obviously, they think they are! But I’m skeptical. Of course weight loss is inevitable, but beyond 25lbs for an already skinny guy would be quite a bit too much, so these bonus foods will be very welcomed.

Ressupply

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21 different packets of guides and maps being shipped to different towns down the east coast…. and a cat, helping me sort my papers.

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There once was a time my mom had a living room.

Planning a mega trip like this has come with its fair share of ups and downs. Many nights slaving over spreadsheets, guide books, trip reports, and maps. Ready to poke my eyeballs out, and call it a loss.

The guides are what I started with, a good amount of time went into finding all of them. Then naturally their adjacent maps, and finding what was most up to date. As for a trail like the Pinhoti in Alabama there are 3 or 4 different ones you will find, and could use. Say I was only hiking that trail, this would be easy. That’d be it! Find the guides, the maps, plan my trip, and call it a day. That’s the mindset I have had to adopt, one step at a time. One trail at a time. Doesn’t matter where I start, so long as I start.

The ECT is a route connecting a bunch of trails, which has added an extra factor of fun. 4 individual back to back thru hikes, with smaller lesser known trails or routes in between. In total it’s more like 7 long hikes. Or rather 7 individual trails I’ll be walking to form this journey across the country. So I’ve more or less simply planned a thru hike of each! To be connected by foot when I get to the end of one, all the way to the Keys.

In the photo above you see some of the fruits of my labor. All of my guides and maps sectioned out to be placed in individual boxes sent to myself with my food at places along the trail in which I’ll need them. It’s been tireless, but it’s done. All my maps and guides are split into 21 sections for the 4,800 mile ECT. Sorry to the guide book makers, as you may have guessed from the photo I tore your book to pieces! It’s okay, they’re much lighter now.

Before a trip I like to have anything I can get done prior to departure totally finished and polished to help streamline the process while I’m out there. Anything so that once I get out there I can strictly focus on the hike. That’s part of why I’m sending myself so many boxes. I can get in town and immediately have all the food I need, toilet paper, soap, maps, guides, extra gear, everything. No wasted time. No headache. All the headache is spent prior to the hike in regards to any logistics. I don’t need to be worrying about things I could have done prior to leaving. This also helps speed up the process, and in turn speed up my hike.

Pretty much everyone ever will say you don’t need to use mail drops for the Appalachian Trail. Same with the Florida Trail for that matter. Well, I don’t care! Their hike is not mine, and maybe they’re missing what makes drops a good thing for those who are looking to go a little bit faster, eat a little bit healthier, and spend a little less money. Probably 90% of my food on trail will be coming from the good old US Postal Service. As will my permits, maps, extra gear, and guides.

I want to be on trail as much as possible, and not be spending a lot of time in town, as typically time in town means more money spent, and more obviously less time hiking. I don’t want to stay longer than it takes me to get a meal or two, and pick up my package.

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Quebec to the Keys, and where I’ll be getting food along the way.

My itinerary is extremely flexible, as there are many towns in between those mentioned above, but what you see is for the most part my plan, subject to change while I’m on the move.

Something I want to do for this trip is not hitch any rides, but instead walk from the trail to all my resupplies. Not because I’m worried about those that might be picking me up in the middle of nowhere, but simply as a personal thing that I find interesting. So in that respect you’ll notice (“Mi Off”, means how many miles off trail I have to go,) all the towns I’ve chosen are as close to the trail as humanly possible. Kind of in the same mindset that I don’t want to spend much time in towns, I especially don’t want to spend much time going to and from. I used a bit of Matt Kirks resupply list from his former speed record to formulate mine for the Appalachian Trail, and had some help from John Z too. From there I used those same ideas for all the other sections of trail. Long hauls in between towns, about 140miles, and only stopping at towns that are on trail. I’ve aimed to cut out as many unnecessary stops as possible, as well.

“Days” indicates how much food I’m sending myself for any given section. It’s more of a guideline, and as you’ll notice it’s set at a fast pace. Thus giving me flexibility. I’ll send myself the food I’ll need for that distance, and buy extra in town if I don’t believe I can make those miles with just what came out of my box. I can also have post offices redirect a box elsewhere, or simply I can go into a different town closer to me. This number of days also let’s me know at just a glance how much food I sent myself essentially. 1 day, being so many snacks, 1 breakfast, and one dinner.

I hadn’t always wanted to do so many mail drops but a year ago I went vegan, and that kind of planted the seed of sending my own food. Food I know I enjoy, food I know has worked for me in the past. On most long distance trails, being vegan and not sending yourself food like I am isn’t that big of an issue. There are plenty of grocery stores and towns along the way. So why am I doing this? I’d like to avoid a gas station resupply if possible but it also stems back to a lot of what I’ve already mentioned, I’m planning a fastpack, and boxes do indeed make the process faster.

Something else you may notice is that I’m trying to avoid sending directly to post offices if I can. They have weird hours and aren’t open on Sundays, so I’ve looked into as many hostels, outfitters, and even visitor centers that will hold a box for me, to avoid the dreaded “I’m here but you’re not open,” feeling. The hours of a hostel are way nicer to live around than a government building, considering I don’t know when I’ll get to any of these places, and I’ll be wanting to make my miles.

All of this planning is in an effort to avoid little tasks, or in a lot of cases regarding this hike, big tasks. All those chores are already done!

Extra Gear

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I’ll likely need more, but in the past I’ve gotten about 800 miles out of Altra Lone Peaks.

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Soap! Dr. Bronners of course, repackaged in small bottles. Wash your hands, the water isn’t going to make you sick, but dirty hiker hands will.

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Extra gear of mostly a random nature. Some things on the other hand are very important.

Things to note:

  • Platypus 1 liter bags – I have 2 extra. This is a long hike… Although the Appalachian Trail may have water sources everywhere, the Pinhoti Trail and beyond is a different story, so I may have these sent to me for the section between GA and FL.
  • 10×9 tarp – Much larger than the one I’m bringing, if I find the one I’m using is too small I’ll swap it out for this. Unlikely, but nice to have the option. Have I mentioned already my primary shelter for this trip is a poncho tarp?
  • Plastic screw top containers – This is what I use for rehydrating my food. They come in packs of three, and it may be nice to get a new one here or there over the course of the 6 month trip.
  • 6oz water bottles – I’ll fill these with olive oil before I go, and ship them inside a ziploc with my boxes.
  • Pack liners – A pack liner keeps the inside of your pack and its contents dry. However I use the thin ones(of course,) and they do fail after so many miles of use.
  • Socks – There’s nothing like a fresh pair of socks. More specifically, I love me some purple toe socks! One day I’ll be hardcore enough to use thin nylon dress socks. Today is not that day.
  • Ground sheets – Much like the thin pack liners, these groundsheets(which I sleep on) do fail. I have 4 of them here.
  • Aquamira – My water purification of choice. Don’t know exactly how long these 7 will last me, but they are cheap on amazon.
  • Headlamp – I use a small handheld flashlight, so this headlamp is extra. I love to night hike! Especially early morning for hours while it’s still dark. If my smaller flashlight isn’t enough, I’ll have this sent to me.
  • Batteries – Both for my necklace LED light, and my handheld flashlight. This is just about enough for the whole trip. Maybe more than I’ll need at times, but I’ll save the extras, and dispose of the dead.
  • Headphones – I’m not taking any with me from the start, but I may want them in the future, only time will tell!

I have a lot of extra stuff guys! The majority of this I’ll need. In efforts to save small amounts of weight(why carry the whole bottle if you can split it up into 18,) or money here and there, I’ll be sending myself a lot of replacement supplies along the way. Constantly running out of this or that, and simultaneously getting more.

Most of these items will be dived up into my boxes sent at times when I know I’ll need it. Knowing when items like a food bag, pack liner, shoes, etc will fail has come with experience. When certain items inevitably need to be replaced their sibling will be sent to me along the trail. Ideally just before the time when I actually need them! The rest will sit in a bin at resupply central in case I need any of it, I’ll just ask! My resupply manager will handle any potential changes as I won’t be leaving any of the boxes sealed when I leave. So although I’ll have everything prepared for what I think will happen, it’s always subject to change.

At the back end of this big logistical effort is my my mom, my resupply manager. Without her this trip wouldn’t go so smoothly. She will be sending me these packages, and making any changes to them from home before they are sent out to me on the trail. A big thanks for taking on this task, as it’s pretty much been pushed on her! Thanks mom!

So I guess the question now on peoples minds is why must I have every detail figured out? It’s just who I am in any aspect of my life. I believe my obsessive nature to be something that makes me different. Maybe not in the way most can be obsessive, but how I apply it to what I love.

This entire trip could be done without the majority of my preparations. Obviously it would be a very different experience, but to me, this is fun. This keeps me on track, it keeps me focused, and gives me something to look forward to every day. Not only that I have this magnificent trip ahead, but also… I get to think about this every damn day, no matter where I am, or what I’m doing. It has been a joy. Even the brief moments of headache are all forgotten in the end.

I’ve learned so very much, and I’m only just getting started.

– Jupiter

Mail Drops? Mail drops.

 

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Boxes that aren’t yet filled.

MAIL DROPS AREN’T FOR EVERYONE. This we all know, but for me, they’re awesome.

TL;DR I’m vegan, and I don’t want to waste time in town, I want to be on trail. These reasons alone make mail drops worth their weight in gold. JK, because they’re ultimately fairly cheap, considering what I’m sending myself(food I like, and wouldn’t find on trail.)

Since I’m getting almost 100% of my resources through the mail on this coming thru hike I thought I’d address drop boxes and why I like them really quick. As most will tell you that they’re a waste of time, or that they’re unnecessary. They’re not! For some that is true, but not everyone, otherwise why would you see so many of the best hikers in the world using them?

For those unaware, in long distance hiking, like really long distance, 300-8,000 miles in one go, distance hiking… You have to get food some how! How you wonder? Every few days you get off the trail and go into a local town, or sometimes there’s a town directly on the trail, and you pick up food for the next stretch between towns. Some do this every 3 days, some like to stay on trail longer and may wait as long as 6 days(or even longer) without resupplying. Obviously this is done because carrying 4 months of food on your back would be extremely difficult. I welcome you to try!

Most folk will find the nearest shopping center and begin perusing! But there is another way! What if… you had a box with all the extra gear, maps, guides, and food that you need waiting for you right there? That’d be pretty cool! Well actually, that’s reality. That’s precisely what sending and receiving a mail drop is like. But what makes that better than just buying it in a town?

Why am I using the postal service as my means for resupply vs just getting everything in town?

  • I’m saving money! By scoring food through deals at home, or online, I can skip out on similar food, or the same food that’s price is gouged in some small convenience store along the trail. Grocery stores every week have different sales. There’s no guarantee that when you go into town for resupply you’ll find anything you want on said sale. So how about before leaving for your trip, getting some cheap food that you love… and then sending that to yourself for later! This is especially great for meals you can buy bulk for less.
  • They’re faster! By the time I get to the hostel or post office I’ve sent my mail to, grab my box, and get back to the trail(or a restaurant,) you’ve just now stepped foot in the grocery and begun the process of shopping. Only to leave the store and see me exciting the nearest buffet, long after I got my package. There is no contest. A box is a faster resupply. All your food prepared just the way you like it. Portioned out just the way you like it. There is no fuss, no hassle, and chances are your mum probably added some cookies from home in said box. They’re faster, period. For those looking to do really speedy thru hikes, this is definitely a way you can cut down on time spent in town.
  • No more searching for extras! That convenience store you’re about to steal the TP from? They need that, other “customers” need that, and chances are it’s poor quality paper anyway. With a drop box…. you can have that fancy 30 ply shit your girlfriend uses! You know the kind, it smells like lavender. My point is, you need more than food. You may need toothpaste, a new t-shirt, more water purification drops, extra socks, batteries, nail clippers, a razor, etc. Who wants to run around town looking for these extras, whatever they may be? I just want to get them, and go.
  • I don’t want to eat gas station food! This situation may be somewhat uncommon but sending yourself mail drops really allows you to go nuts and buy a ton of super cool foods you’d never ever be able to buy on trail, if you have the money. This is great for those of us who want to eat healthier, or have special dietary needs, and may not salivate as much as the next guy when staring at a honey bun. I can send myself healthier foods, hell, dehydrated foods! The kind where my mom makes it for dinner, and I take all the leftovers, and stick it in the dehydrator! Delicious, and avoids the tough decision between couscous or ramen noodles every night(couscous always.) Mail drops give you the freedom to spend the months before your hike gathering super amazing foods to eat on your hike.
  • They allows me to carry less! That pound of guidebook and maps you’re carrying? I split it up into little pieces that weigh next to nothing. Each section will be sent to when I will need them on the trail! If you’re thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll probably need an ice axe and crampons in the Sierras, so why carry them from the start? Put it in the box being sent to that section! For me, it’s really the maps and guides. 4,800 miles across 7 different trails. Holy maps! Why do I need a guide book for the Florida Keys section of my hike when I’m starting in Canada? I’m also carrying less weight because before leaving on my hike, I can search for and buy foods that have a high caloric density, vs whatever I may find out there.
  • They’re more organized! Do I want to sit outside of a grocery store tearing up boxes and packaging to put into ziplocs, or portioning out what I’ll eat for the next 4 days? I don’t. In my box all of that is done. I have the exact food I need, I have the maps and guides I need, the extra gear I need. Everything. The only thing I need to think about is not how much food I should buy and where I’ll resupply next, it’s where the nearest restaurant is.

So that’s kind of some random basics off the top of my head. If you want to send mail drops on your thru hike… do it! Don’t let some fool on the Appalachian Trail forums tell you it’s stupid. You may regret that decision, but that’s how you learn!

I will say the advantages of the mail system become more apparent the more experience you gain. Do you know how many triple A batteries you’ll go through in 6 days? How about how many socks in 2,000 miles. Knowing stupid stuff like this makes mail more beneficial to you, as you can send what you need, when you need it. Not sooner, not later. It removes the hassle of making these decisions on trail, as boom 800 miles in, I got a new pair of shoes. Didn’t even have to look at Amazon once!

Without a doubt the BIGGEST reason I’m using mail is because of the speed. I want to spend more time on trail, and less time in towns.

I won’t mention cons here, because I don’t care! Like everything in the hiking world, do your own thing. Do what is right for you. Chances are mail drops aren’t right for you! Despite these benefits that work in my favor, they don’t work in everyone’s favor.

There are many trails in which you don’t need to use mail drops, and frankly I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. You’ll probably already know before reading this if that’s something you should be doing. But… Just because they may be unnecessary, doesn’t mean there aren’t many benefits to them. As stated above!

Love em or hate em……

Happy hiking!

– Jupiter

Ode to Tarp Camping

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Gator bait. Wonderful view of the sunrise the next morning, and all night I got to witness the most fantastic meteor shower from the comfort of my tarp and sleeping bag.

Under a tarp I feel free.

No doors, no walls. Sheltered from the rain in just the right ways. No less, and no more. Free to observe my surroundings even in a down pour. Free to reach out and touch the very thing I came out here to experience.

A tarp allows me to pursue the style of backpacking I prefer most. Light, fast, and efficient. Unburdened by weight, by things, free to do as I wish, and I wish to hike. Carrying only what I need, teetering on the edge of highly prepared, and crazy.

For my 4,700 mile ECT thru hike I’ll be using a tarp as my shelter. A rather small one at that, a 5×9 poncho tarp. Not only is this my house for the night, it is also my rain gear. For this hike I’ll be coupling it with a water resistant bivy, which acts as a shell for myself and my quilt while I sleep. Giving me a little added protection from the elements. In total this setup weighs just slightly over 1lb, and also allows me to forgo a rain jacket.

While a poncho tarp still being the reigning champion of ultralight shelters, some of the larger tarps are an absolute palace. A true wonder to hang out under. With twice or three times the space underneath them that any tent could offer for a fraction of the weight and cost, a tarp is hard to push aside as something you’ll never try. For me, it only took once. I haven’t looked back since!

Here I thought I’d showcase my tarp and bivy a little bit, as this will be my home for 6 months. The cuben fiber Pro Poncho Tarp, and the silnylon Superlight Bivy by Mountain Laurel Designs. My tarp is my space ship, and I am the captain on this journey through the galaxy.

The Eastern Continental Trail starts in Canada and travels the entire length of the east coast along the Appalachian mountain range, far down into Florida. I’ll be going through just about everything this side of the continent can throw at me, and I’m very confident in this shelter system to not only be extremely light on my back, but also in it’s ability to keep me dry and happy.

Lean-To

Often used as a really fast and efficient pitch. Although not the greatest protection in a storm as rain can blow under on three sides, and you only have protection from the wind on one side. For those nights where you’re camping in a spot with a beautiful view and only need a little bit of insurance this is what I would use. Or similarly for those nights when a big storm isn’t imminent, and I just want to get in and out.

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Pitched up against some shrubs this actually does extremely well in rain, and also offers a quick exit, with an extremely easy setup/take down.

A-Frame

Great in a storm but you have absolutely no head room. If you pitch it higher for more space you are almost asking for rain to splash and blow underneath defeating the purpose. As much as I’ve used my tarp in this configuration for the value of protection, it’s not always ideal for that home-like atmosphere. Still, I love it, and it has always been my go to in the past. Possibly because it was the first pitch I learned. This is also probably the most standard of all tarp configurations.  By pegging the corners to the ground this becomes extremely useful in nasty storms.

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My sun umbrella used to pitch the back end of this a-frame. Could possibly be used better open to block the head end from any rain.

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View of an A-frame from the top.

Half Pyrimid

Some say this doesn’t give you much space, but I have usually been pretty happy, although I don’t deny that its not as roomy as some other pitches. The half pyramid is great for shedding wind coming from a certain direction, while also providing a bit more coverage than a lean-to on the sides. I’ve used this in some nasty conditions and it worked well for me. I always tried pitching the open side up against a tree or in some bushes to keep rain from splashing inside. This was the second pitch I learned, and boy did I over use this one. Extremely easy to setup.

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Obviously you want the elements to be facing the opposite direction from the opening. Perfect for deflecting wind off the back.

 

 

Flying Diamond

I don’t use this very often but it excels at covering you from high wind on one side. I’ve read of a guy who used this pitch exclusively on a thru hike of the PCT. Possibly because it’s easy to do. It does provide good coverage against rain, and plenty of space to store gear being it’s very flat, but very little head room.

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Not my favorite, but also not to shabby if you’re looking for a bit of protection.

Flat Tarp

Much like a lean-to but far more head space, and room to sit up underneath. Potentially a more preferable pitch under the same circumstances. Although this looks very open it truly provides a lot of coverage. A quick change in guyline length in the front or adding some small ones on the back corners makes this great for light rain. Easy and quick to set up, and allows easy access/egress. A small tarp provides the most coverage when it’s pitched as flat as possible, making this(and variations on this) a good option.

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Tying lines off to trees can make this a very worth while pitch.

I am obviously no master, but have found that these basic pitches, with many variations on them, do me right when I need them most.

Why a Tarp?

I think a better question is… why must I be so difficult!!

I used tents for most of my backpacking life, and no, not yet have I tried hammock camping! A tent was safe, it was easy, it was obvious. I had 4 walls to protect me from the boogieman, and keep any prying eyes away from my candy and chips. I had a floor to separate me from any unwanted ground condition. I had space to live in. I had peace of mind. But you know what they say about comfort zones. They need to be broken. Nothing good ever came from someone who never steps outside.

I decided since using a tarp as my shelter would mean my backpack would weigh pounds less, I should give it a try. Who doesn’t want their pack to be lighter? I knew it would require me to learn how to tie a few knots, at least once! So I did. Got myself a tarp, briefly learned, tied, and forgot said knots. Set myself up for my first trip with an a-frame configuration, and would you believe it? I really enjoyed myself.

Everything a tent had, a tarp could do as well. In a few cases a tarp does it even better. I still had my peace of mind, and with every trip I take my confidence in my tarp grows.

In other words, I was now much happier with my $90 tarp than I was with my $400 tent. A fraction of the weight, for a fraction of the cost, with twice the space.

 

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A silnylon BorahGear 10×9 tarp on the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee. This is more than enough room for 2 people to live happily. I still own this one, I call it my party tarp!

Tips & Tricks

  • Bugs: In Florida, we have a lot of mosquitoes during certain times of the year so I’m often asked about what to do. Here’s a few options. Find a spot to camp that allows for good airflow, and pitch accordingly so a breeze can run under your tarp. The moving air often times helps to literally blow them away. Also, look for campsites away from water, as that is the spawning ground of these vile creatures. In times where that’s not enough, and mosquito are so thick I can’t think, I’ve used a bivy bag. It goes under your tarp and shields you from the hoards, as well as providing other benefits like a guard from splashing rain. Sometimes call a “net tent,” you have the choice of taking it with you, or saving the weight in other seasons by leaving it at home. Some earplugs will help to forget about them, as well as Permethrin and deet to keep them away all together. Should go without saying but in the winter, bugs aren’t an issue. In a lot of states, bugs aren’t an issue at all. In most cases I at least carry a small headnet with a hat to prop it off my face, and my quilt keeps the bugs off the rest of my body.
  • Site selection: Look for bushes and trees that will compliment the way you’d like to pitch your tarp. Tree cover or a nearby shrub can really add to the room you can make yourself underneath, covering areas from blowing rain that otherwise would be wide open. Having a canopy above you also greatly helps reduce condensation issues. For more info on that check this out.
  • Setting up in the rain: Don’t wait until it’s already raining! Do the safe thing and find shelter before the storm hits. If that’s not applicable to you, it’s quick and easy to pitch a tarp and stow your pack beneath it in a storm. With tents I found that I’d always get water inside them, some tents you even have to erect it and then put on the rain fly, leaving your bed open to the elements while you fiddle with the second half of your shelter. When it comes to tarps, once you have it pitched, that area underneath is safe to unroll your dry ground sheet, unload your gear, and relax.
  • Bigger is better: The bigger the tarp, the happier you will be. With a small tarp there isn’t much room for error, where as with a large tarp(say an 8×10 or bigger) you have more than enough space for you and someone else to seek refuge away from the weather.
  • Avoid drainage ditches: Rather, don’t set up in a rut, or depression. A tent offers a “bathtub floor” but in a tarp what’s seperating you from the ground is just a sheet of fabric, not raised walls. This is of no issue, and is not to be worried about, if you aren’t going to set up in a dished site. This often means, avoiding campsites that are used over and over, and looking for a spot less worn.
  • Polycro or Tyvek: I think the rule is, use Tyvek for ground that may have lots of pointy things, like rocks or desert flora, because the material is much more durable. Polycro is far lighter but won’t last as long. So for you inflatable mattress users, Tyvek may be the better option to avoid puncture. I use Polycro and haven’t had an issue on my trips to the AT or FT.
  • Mini carabiners: I got the idea from Pepper of using ‘biners as a way to easily change which tie outs my guylines are on. It does add some weight having 8 really small ones(for you gram geeks) but the ability to quickly change how I want to set up my tarp makes it worth it to me.
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Solo camping with a 6 pack. There was a storm that night, and I live to tell the tale. Happily drinking my beer while the rain fell around me.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that a tarp takes a bit more thought than a tent. Which often has meant it’s more for a hardcore user, but I don’t think a hardcore backpacker has to be the only one to enjoy the benefits. I certainly wasn’t when I first started using one. With just a little bit of research you can get going. Although, for your tarps maiden voyage I would avoid high bug season. Not needing a bug net while sleeping under a tarp is truly magical. The openness to nature is one of my favorite things about tarp camping. Amplified when bugs aren’t around.

Not all tarps are created equal. The different ways you can set up a tarp are seemingly endless, and they even come in many different shapes and sizes. What you have seen here is a flat tarp with a few panel pull outs. It’s been good to me, but then again a shaped tarp(a mid, or something similar) may even be a better option in a lot of situations. If you’re looking for help on deciding what to get, drop me a line. There is no perfect shelter, but this is what I like.

How to Pitch a Tarp – Suluk46

5 Tips for a Successful Tarp Pitch

11 Reasons to Switch to a Tarp

zpackstarp

Tarping on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) with my old Zpacks 7×9 cuben fiber tarp. I figured if I pitched the back end towards the water, the gators would have a much harder time getting to me in the night. Yeah, I really did that. Although more as a joke, not as a real problem. Gators don’t like humans.

 

Remember… practice makes perfect.

Jupiter

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