jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

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The Desert

The desert? Sort of. The upper end of a thousand miles through arid dry country with little reprieve from the sun, and even less natural water.

I started my hike up the West Coast on May 10th. Heaps, John, and I slept under a bridge the night before near the terminus, near the Mexican border. We knew it was going to be extremely hot the next day so the goal was an early morning start. Unfortunately this type of environment is not just known for the heat of the day, but also the frigid nights. Waking up wasn’t easy, but my excitement to begin had me moving. John was there to shuttle, and see us off. He’s a great friend, and also happens to be an amazing cinematographer. He’d later proceed to follow me the following week filming. I’d cross a road, and he’d be there. I’d hike past a thick bush, he’d be in it. On the toilet, he’s there too. OK, not that last one but you get the idea. I’m nearly impossible to get ahold of so it was amazing he caught me so many times, and it was great to see him.

The water here is scarce. If it weren’t for kind locals there may be sections of trail without a running spring, stream, or lake for upwards of a hundred miles. Liquid is heavy so I try to plan my next stops well. Not well enough because I keep coming up short. The weather has been so strange from hot to cold that I can’t figure out how much I need yet. These things come in time. So naturally I’ve been quite thirsty some days. No water to fill up on for 6 miles and I’m running on empty? Sucks but I thank my Florida hiking experience, pushing what I once knew what was possible, and becoming quite intimate with the feelings of heat stroke and dehydration. At least with this trail there’s tons of people around hiking so worst case isn’t all that bad. Won’t find that in Florida. Due to the unpredictable nature of people, even when the maps say there’s no water for 20 miles chances are someone has left some along the way. A good and bad thing as this is almost encouraging to push what I should or shouldn’t do.

As I proceed I can feel myself getting stronger. My muscles hardly ache climbing. My lungs, though still working very hard, I’ve gotten mostly used to. And my joints all feel good. If it weren’t for a pesky tendon issue in my right foot I’d be in heaven. Though it hurts I know all to well that the light on the other end shines so incredibly bright. I remember spraining my ankle 400 miles into my 5,000 mile Eastern Continental Trail hike. It swelled up to twice the size and turned purple. I think we all know how that eventually went. I recovered, and continued to do what so many told me I couldn’t. Literally a guy at mile 0 sitting near the terminus in Quebec said I’d never make it. Suck it, guy on bench whom I wish I asked for an email address. This reminds me of a sentiment I had then. While others look for reasons to leave, I look for reasons to stay.

The trail has been beautiful. Winding and snaking the hills. Open and clean with views of the all encompassing surrounding mountains and valleys. I move on my own choosing to experience this without hiking or camping partners. It’s just not that kind of trip. Not for me, not now at least. Every morning I’m walking by 6 and stopping around 8. Searching for ridge tops to catch the first and last light of the sun, and sleep among the giants.

Though most have a hard time finding me I try and try every day to call my girlfriend back home. Nobody said being in a relationship while out here would be easy, and I knew that, but I love her. I know that this time here is finite and overall very short in the grande scheme of the cosmos. This first month I’ve collected post cards from towns I’ve visited, wildflowers from the trail, and little trinkets I’ve found along the way to send so she knows I’m thinking of her. Though I love being out here I love being with her too, and very much look forward to a long hike together. Among all the other things I’ve been dreaming about while I walk.

One of the best parts of these hikes is all the head space, the time to think and consider what’s important. I make lists and take notes. I know these thoughts can be fleeting and I want to remember everything.

Into the Sierra I go. Serious mountains.

Goodbye my friend, and thank you for everything

img_20170206_024726.jpgI finished my long walk on January 21st at sunrise. Just 4,800 miles south of where I began. I wish it were longer.

Just 3 miles from that big southernmost buoy, camping in some bushes, next to an airport, along some road, the night prior. I was worried I’d be spotted as the sidewalk and bay just across the street was teeming with human life at sunset. I sat down along the water watching the colors change, and darkness fade in. A group of girls motioned behind my back as if they were going to push me in, laughing as they walked off. I may be young, but I could tell most through the Keys just thought I was homeless. A group of prisoners had approached me to chat just a couple days prior. They didn’t care, and asking if it’s true. Am I homeless? Technically I suppose not. I have a home to go back to. I have a fancy computer phone. I have money, although very little. By most standards I wasn’t. Yet I hesitated to answer. I’ve been asked many times now. I always hesitate. It’s a weird question for me. For the past 7 months I’ve slept anywhere and everywhere. I think it was 400 miles into this trip I first slept in someones yard without their knowing. I had no other choice, besides paying money to camp at an RV park. A big no in my books. Pay to camp? Go away. 200 days later I was ready and willing to camp everywhere, and anywhere. My standards have lowered. Where I begin and end my day doesn’t matter, it’s now been focused on what happens in between.

Stopping only to rest. Building a fire takes energy I often didn’t have. Friends to camp with have been few and far, mostly due to my pace, or the nature of such a long walk. I’ve been on a mission. Experiencing something in my own way. Although I suspect I am 1 of 25 or so to do this specific hike over the last 20 years, I doubt any one of us have gone through the same things. I have my style, my way of doing things, and they have theirs. No right, or wrong. Simply a matter of choice. A matter of money. A matter of time. Comfort, or lack there of. I’m happy with how things have gone. I made it, didn’t I? But is it about walking every mile? Maybe to me. Is it about finishing? Maybe to me. Ultimately it’s about that space in between.

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What happened in between? I hesitate to answer. How can I wrap up 7 months, where every waking moment is spent in a different location than the last? Spent meeting new people, seeing new places, interacting with different animals, problems, dreams, and aspirations. Pushing my limits. Mostly in a mental capacity, as it turns out my body will do just about whatever I tell it to. Maybe not always with grace, but it will press on despite the signals telling it not to. I sprained my ankle while still in Quebec. I thought this was over. I thought I was done. Just 400 miles in, how could I be so stupid? I layed in the middle of the trail, and I cried. Not just in pain, but that I worked so hard to do this, and somehow managed to fuck it up within the first couple weeks. I healed, and I pressed on. So it goes. I think a lot of people look for excuses to go home, or to quit. So long as I am still breathing there is no quit. Go home and do what? Sounds good for a minute, but you know you’d regret it. Or justify it wrongly. It would have destroyed me, eating away. I look for reasons to stay, while others look for reasons to stop. If you want to do something great you have to actually go through with it. Telling friends, coworkers, strangers, it doesn’t mean anything, unless you follow through. So I did. I actually rarely had the feeling of wanting to go home. Sometimes I would get bored walking all day, depending on where I was, but I knew it didn’t matter. I kept myself sane and happy regardless. Looking at birds, watching my footsteps, feeling the tightness in my muslces, learning from podcasts, and occasionally even playing with a yoyo. In such a long trip not every sight can be a vista, but there is beauty in all of it. I’m glad I stayed true to the course. Now I have all of these beautiful memories to look back on, and an accomplishment I’m proud of. A decision to be free, that I’m proud of. You see, it’s a choice. Every second is a choice.

As it turns out there’s a lot of things I love, and a lot of things I love doing. Which really was emphasized as all I could do for the last 7 months was think to myself, and walk.

I dreamt about riding my bike, running, hanging out with friends, painting, drinking water that wasn’t yellow with things floating in it. Okay, that last one’s not true, we all know by now I actually enjoy that nasty shit. Grimy puddle in the road? Sure, I’m thirsty. It’s funny what people take for granted. As it turns out, a lot. Me too! I’m no saint, and that’s for sure. I’d hope this trip has helped me to appreciate those things a bit more. Most importantly I’d think, is time. Ever fleeting, but ever present. I’m happy now at home just doing anything, so long as I’m not doing nothing. Sounds silly maybe, and I’m not sure I can describe it, but I got home, and immediately cleaned out my room further. Living out of a very small backpack for so long has me yearning for more simplicity in my own home life. Do I really need this thing? Chances are no. A question I asked myself repeatedly while honing down the few items in my backpack I needed for this trip to keep me safe, and happy. A good question to continue asking myself.

Even starting out this trip only carrying 6lbs of things, by the end I’ve managed to cut that down further. I carry the same weight, but now less clutter. I like less clutter. Beyond that, my home, my backpack, its contents have allowed me to go further. Colder temperatures, longer days on my feet. Happier. On that note, it’s funny that all of my coldest nights have been in Florida. Down into the 20s on multiple occasions. Take that, Canada! Ok ok, January in Florida or July in Canada. Our winter is still much like their summer. However despite however cold it got, however much it rained, and however many miles I was doing on any particular day I was happy. I’d thank my gear for that. At times happyness came in different forms, and I’d yell into the sky, but I’d always get over it quick, and be on my way. Just 6lbs of things to live for 7 months. I made a short video detailing what I carried here.

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One night, my coldest night, where I slept on top of Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the east at 6,800ft or something. I didn’t particularly want to sleep up there, and I guess it’s a story in itself I might as well tell. I had a choice, I was extremely low on food, but still in a battle with myself to get more miles behind me. I could cut my day short, and attempt to hitch-hike into town. I don’t like hitch-hiking, and I didn’t need to this entire trip, but it was an option. Probably the better option. However, the town was far. Gatlinburg, maybe 14 miles away from the trail, and I would wind up wasting an entire day, trying to get down there, then get back up into the Smokey Mountains. I wasn’t about to waste a day, so I decided to take a chance. As I often did. I ran into some weekenders at sunset, it was already below freezing. November in the Smokies, if you’ve been, you can imagine. I had already gotten 35 or more miles in that day, but this new plan asked of me to go further. They didn’t understand, I assume few who met me understood this need to keep going. I would almost always walk into the night, even away from comradely. I still had life in me, so I would press forward. I wound up maybe 6 miles further down the trail, past my last chance at going into town. Now 40 miles away from my next chance at food, but with nothing more than a thousand calories of food on me, and a handful of taco bell hot sauce packets. I also found myself on top of Clingmans Dome, and it was cold. I have no idea what the temperature was but waking up I was surrounded by ice. I also happened to be getting up at 3am. Why? I knew with so little food, my pace would ultimately deteriorate, and a 40 mile day into town, before the only store closed would be difficult had I not. The air was so cold I could barely sleep anyway. I knew what I signed up for. Finding my way through the dark for hours, descending this mountain, passing other hikers still asleep. I had the novel idea of eating those Taco Bell packets. They must have calories, right? Not enough. Although I must have had 10 of them, swallowing hot sauce on an empty stomach wasn’t going to happen. I still finished off 3 just to try. The rest of my food wasn’t much better. I was at the bottom of the bag, maybe three ziplocs of protein powder, and a couple power bars. Not exactly the best fuel, but it would have to do. Movement was slow, until the grapevine told me that hikers were ahead of me, now after sunrise. Always a boost to my energy levels. Like a race suddenly I found the strength, and this helped me get most of my miles in that day chasing them down. There was also a day hiker, who was planning her own thru hike that I ran into. She grilled me, and was beyond stoked to be running into someone who had already come close to 3,000 miles. I didn’t let her know the current situation I was in. I don’t think most do this to themselves, and didn’t want her to have the idea that this was normal. With just 10 miles to town, I realized I had a slim chance of getting to the store before they closed, and 40 miles total, now turned into a bit more as I saw the store wasn’t exactly where I thought it was. Determined and hungry, I powered uphills, and ran down the other sides. Then I started running the flats too. Not the time to be a bitch. Also not the time to regret a former decision. Just time to do the thing. Every other hiker would have just wasted(if you can call it that) the day in town and not done this, but I had to. It’s times like this I find strength. If everything went perfectly all the time, I don’t think I’d learn much. And with every minor scrape or bruise, some new neural pathway is formed. It’s only hard the first time. My first ever 30 mile day years ago was hell. That second go at it was much better. Each time I learn more of what needs to be done to do what I know I can. I made it to that store, 10 minutes before they closed. I spent 40 dollars there, and sat outside eating for the next 2 hours, before I wandered back into the woods to sleep in the middle of the trail. Like usual. You’re capable of more than you might think.

These next few days were also somewhat defining for me. Suddenly I was shrouded in smoke. Breathing it in, walking in it, and spending the entire day looking through it at a hazy bright red sun, so covered I could stare directly into it. Like sunset, but night never came. There had been talk of wildfires. It’s been a dry year, just earlier hikers had been exposed to trail closures due to a fire. Now it seemed I was dealing with that. I told myself I would just go through, but as I descended into the nantahala valley I could see how close it was. I could see the massive volume of smoke pouring off the mountains I would be heading into. Fortunately down in the valley was a restaurant, and place to charge my phone while I contemplated my fate. A few other hikers mulling about, seemingly just as confused. I searched online for specific info on what sections before me where closed. I strangely found very little info. I decided not to die by fire, at least not that day, and to walk around the closure on roads. This is the defining factor. Remember how I don’t like hitching rides? Taking rides? or using vehicles much at all? I am out here to walk afterall. This isn’t actually a shared trait by many. Most will hitch a ride across the street if the trail doesn’t directly take them there. But I wanted to walk from Quebec to Key West. So I did. I chose the safest option, not knowing exactly what was on fire. I chose to walk 70+ miles of road around the wildfire. After charging my things, I headed off into the night. Quickly stopped by police who were concerned, but I explained my predicament, they understood seemingly, gave me fresh water, and I moved on in darkness. As I walked, the entire cliff side next to me, running all the way into the road was ablaze. Both very sad, and beautiful. I don’t remember how late into the night I walked but close to 20 more miles. I don’t know of anyone else who walked around the closure, I think everyone got a ride. Just a slight detour into towns I otherwise would have never seen. One of the more enjoyable roadwalks of this trip, and trust me, there have been many while crossing this continent.

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One of the nicer roadwalks, the 7 mile bridge down in the Keys. Wide shoulder and everything.

Down in Alabama, I once again dealt with wildfires. Just after finishing a section of the Benton Mackaye Trail (that I greatly enjoyed) connecting me to the Pinhoti Trail, I was met with that familiar smell in the air. Alabama was going through a drought of 70 days, and if I remember there were close to 60 individual wildfires throughout the state. I only know this because I ran into some forest service personnel. An extremely kind couple, the Whaley’s, had come out to give me a little support in the name of food, and friendship. I had the idea I would set a record on the Pinhoti, which didn’t quite pan out, but ultimately taught me lessons I’d later need for when I successfully set a record on the Florida Trail. They were helping me out before I began, which I can’t thank them enough for. However these forest service folks came up on us, and wouldn’t leave until they were escorted out, and preferably me too. I hadn’t come so far for that to happen. I whipped out my map, and asked where exactly the fire was. He showed me, it was just a mile north of us. I lied, and told him how I was taking this trail away from it, and convinced him to let me go that way. I said my goodbyes to Larry and Brenda, and jogged down the road back to the trail junction. I jogged, to get out of sight before the good men could see what I was going to do. I took a hard left, towards the fire. That night I slept at the Pinhoti Trails northern terminus, near some water, just a mile south of a forest fire. Engulfed in smoke. The next day was surreal. The cloud didn’t lift until I was 30 miles away. The trail completely empty, and occasionally I’d cross a road, and an official would get a glimpse of me. I made 53 miles that day, my highest mileage yet. I didn’t stop for a single break until after dark. A good day in my books.

Alabama was an experience in its own that maybe one day I’ll write more about. To say the least, I got the blues! So instead of speeding up to get out of there, I slowed down, and thus tumbled further into a strange state of being. Eventually broken by the infinite happyness of finally reaching Florida. To those of you foolish enough to want to hike the imaginary trail that is the ECT I will let you know that the connections between the Appalachian Trail and Florida are all very easy. The 175 mile roadwalk is completely blazed yellow, and I didn’t have much in the way of navigational problems. Just print the guidebooks, they’re free, and you’ll be good. Camping was ultimately my biggest problem in southern AL, so be careful. Packing up my things one morning at 4am, I was approached by a man pointing his shotgun at me. At 4am. He wasn’t too happy, and you could say I wasn’t either! Apparently the land underneath the bridge I slept under was his. It was a very busy road, so you could understand my confusion. I apologized profusely, and repeatedly. I mentioned how I would be more careful next time, trying to explain what I was doing, saying I would knock on a churches door asking to sleep in their lawn instead. Surely a church would let me do so. He informed me that they too, would shoot me. So by all means, be careful. Later that same day some local at a country store after offering me deodorant, was grilling me on what type of weapons I was carrying for protection during this trip. None! I don’t want to be in a position to make that choice. I want to talk my way out, or look for another way. He didn’t understand, and proceeded to offer me an array of knives. As I turned them down, he proceeds to offer me a handgun. Thanks, but no thanks. After this I was much more careful about where I slept, or you could say I was extremely paranoid. I think most would be too.

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Out of the smoke, and away from locals with guns, somewhere along the Pinhoti Trail.

I spent most of 2016s holidays walking. My birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, New Years. I’d have it no other way. I actually didn’t even realize Halloween had passed, and again I didn’t realized Thanksgiving was approaching until I started to see Christmas lights. One home in the backwoods was rather peculiar. Most back home put out lights to display to those driving by. This particular home however had all of their blow up, plastic, and wooden decorations facing inward toward their home. Their display wasn’t for those passing by, it was for them exclusively! I had a good laugh.

My birthday was somewhat special, I had forgotten to buy anything extra to celebrate, although I should have gotten wine, and camped like a normal human being. Instead I walked all day per usual, however that morning was different. I hiked my last mountain. After close to 3,400 miles I knew eventually this earth had to flatten out…. Sure enough! It did! Flagg Mountain in Alabama was my last real climb of this trail. The southern most 1,000ft peak in the Appalachian Mountain chain. I sat at its base, singing Jay-Zs “Forever Young,” collected myself, and moved on. Much happier to save my breath from then on, and walk rolling hills, that I knew by Florida would be more akin to a race track.

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The summit of Flagg Mountain in Al, the southern most 1,000ft peak in the Appalachian Mountains. I had now walked the entire length, starting in northern Canada.

Thanksgiving was spent in a hotel by happenstance, eating canned vegetables from Walmart, and watching a “Back to the Future” marathon, twice. All three movies. Twice. It was good. I hadn’t showered in about 1,000 miles, and really could use it. The last hotel I stayed at prior had been in Damascus Virginia, at my halfway point. My legs caked with dirt, feet looking like they were those of a dead guy. I don’t particularly like being dirty, and I often wash up in streams, but Alabama was so dry that wasn’t an option, and my funds so low stopping at hotels weren’t either. Fortunately this didn’t cause me problems. Just made town folk wince.

Christmas was then spent walking some ungodly amount of miles on the Florida Trail during a record attempt. Christmas eve was no different, except calling home to say hi to family. They were just like any other day, except magic was in the air, or something. The roads were quite, as everyone was home with family. I walked on. I stole some sodas from car campers at a public campground as my Christmas gift. Just imagine me with 6 sodas under one arm, speeding out of sight. It was a good day.

New Years eve I walked late into the night, and watched fireworks launch into the sky way off in the distance across cow fields. Eventually falling asleep in some bushes alongside a road. Serves me right for starting a 25 mile road at sunset. I often camped in weird places, as we know, and New Years was no different.

I was happy to spend my holidays this way. Ultimately I was doing what I wanted, and I knew what I signed up for.

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One of many sunsets in the Keys. These were nice, but on a trip so long, you get a bit more than just pretty vistas.

The largest single portion of this hike was the Appalachian Trail, at close to 2,200 miles, just under half of the total miles of my trip. The ECT is a route connecting 7 or 8(depending on how you look at it) different trails down the east coast of America. So of the 205 days I spent doing this, 91 of those where walking from Maine to Georgia on the AT. A feat in and of itself. Only 1 in 5 complete that particular walk, and I can’t imagine how few don’t finish what I set out to do. 3 months is a long time to be focused on one goal, let alone 7 months. So finishing the Appalachian Trail was a big deal for me. I had attempted it in 2012, and due to a lack of resolve, and a massively heavy pack, I was unsuccessful. I had unfinished business. I actually didn’t really think of it as much of an accomplishment until the last 10 miles or so, but by then I was almost running. I passed every hiker that day with swift, and quiet footsteps. Stopping not once. With 4 miles left another hiker actually passed me! He was more excited than I was, and likely didn’t know how much further he had to run… I had imagined I would get to the end, immediately pack up, and move on. When I got there, instead I sat down, and for once enjoyed the company of other hikers who had just finished something monumental. Something we had all together, but separately been working towards for months. Climbing mountains every day had been a beautiful existence, and although that is what the trail is comprised of the experience is truly made by the friends around you. A kinship instantly formed, because all at once, everyone you meet is doing the exact same thing as you. So I took a moment and got to know those hikers, who I now don’t remember the names of(haha!) They are good people, and I am happy to have shared the experience with them, and that moment. We all sat together, and joked until nearly sunset. Something I hadn’t done in a long time. They went one way, and I went another. I still had 1,800 miles to go.

I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 91 days, including 14 zero days.

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My Simple pack by Pa’lante at the southern terminus of the AT. The last white blaze pictured.

Now I’m sure you’re curious about those final 200 miles after the Florida Trail. I took off 5 days to rest after my speed record. It felt wrong, it felt discontinuous, but it also felt necessary. Within hours I ran into my former manager, Mike. I was happy to see him, although my cover had now been blown! He’s a big fisherman and I actually thought I might see him around Lake Okeechobee a few days prior. Instead, it was while I was trying to pick up a few groceries. Getting back to the trail I decided not to get my feet wet in a final 8 mile stretch of swamp, and instead walked the road. I questioned, now that I wasn’t trying to go for big miles what would happen? I stopped for many breaks, and even ate at a restaurant before departing from the indian reservation. Somehow still managing 35 miles, and finding myself walking yet again into the night. I guess that’s just how I like to do things. My friend Michael gave me a date to finish this trip on, it was his next day off so he could be there for the end, and take me home. I like him, so I obliged, but it meant I’d have to slow way down. Which turns out is harder than you’d think!

I had heard horror stories of the road I was approaching. That it’s a bad place, and would be a dangerous walk. I found neither of those things to be true. There was a lot of construction, but that just meant I was able to walk through land they were molding, far from the speeding cars. I played with my yo-yo, and made swift time. Eventually breaking off into a neighborhood to walk a multi use greenway around the city of Homestead, along some canals in an agricultural area. The night prior I was stuck in a storm, and naturally was too lazy to set up my shelter, instead just rolling over and accepting the fate of all my things getting soaked. At this point I didn’t even mind sleeping in the rain. So once I made it passed the roadwalks and back onto trail I took some time to dry my things. It was a special day, as we know very few even attempt what I was finishing, yet I had gotten word from a young French Canadian girl who is giving it a go, and I was expecting to see her in the evening. She’s a strong hiker. Not just was she averaging 20 miles a day from the get go, she just stealth camped her entire way through the Keys. A feet not as easy as it sounds. English on top of this, isn’t her first language, and she doesn’t even have a phone! I’m still impressed, as she’s picking up more miles, and laughing off situations that would destroy other hikers. She’ll have no problem finishing this hike, if she wants to. She may not know it yet, but that’s the nature of the beast. We camped together, and she shared some wine in celebration. The crossing of the ECT thru hikers. Class of 2016, and class of 2017. One per year is about right, for the past 20 years.

Tempting to turn around and follow her north, but when has that ever worked for me, I continued south to finish what I started. The canal water on the outskirts of Homestead eventually making me sick to my stomach with agricultural runoff, I cut back into town for some fresh water, and Mexican food. Finding my way to an international hostel in Florida City. I felt like I deserved it! Came all this damn way….. And what a place! The Everglades Hostel was magnificent. An oasis in the middle of a very fast paced city. Massive trees tower over, a natural river fed waterfall and pool, a tree house, hammocks, outdoor shower, and for the most part very kind people. I signed the log book as Jupiter Hikes, where it asked for my home, I wrote “I walked here from Canada.” Probably the nicest hostel I’ve seen this entire trip, and I’ve seen a lot.

I continued on early the next day down a barren stretch of road known as US1. Tall fences line both sides, leaving me nowhere to rest away from the sun. I walked. Cars would slow down to look at me, causing minor traffic jams. A woman pulled over to offer me a ride, and was very surprised when I turned her down. She thanked me, out of confusion. I knew soon I would once again see the ocean. Last two times being 1,200 miles prior in Pensacola, Fl. Then before that, 4,700 miles ago up in Quebec. The miles came quick, and suddenly I was in the Keys. Suddenly realizing camping would actually be a bigger problem here than expected. I had no idea so many people lived down there! What a beautiful place, sullied by all these humans, and their possessions. I curled up in some bushes along the road, next to a business, apparently in a popular speed trap. All night cops were pulling over drivers just next to me. Each time the lights would flash I had that feeling like I was spotted. I didn’t get much sleep. Sometime in the night while spread out, trying to get comfortable, propped against all sorts of trees, my buddy Bob texts me, informing me about all the poisonous plants down here. Awesome.

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My first views of the ocean, in a very long time.

I like to disappear into the bushes in the night. I wonder if anyone ever sees me. One second walking, and then gone. Same goes for the morning, too late for them to fight me. The deed has already been done. So I proudly emerge, and swiftly fall back into step walking away.

This final 100 miles is by all means a roadwalk, with the more than occasional bike path known as the Overseas Heritage Trail, next to the road. The Keys are very linear, and ultimately there’s only one way in, and one way out. So over the course of a few days I got the feeling like people were starting to recognize me. Creeping ever further south. No one ever stopped to ask me though. I’m actually rather disappointed the police weren’t curious enough to find out. Of all people, it’s hard to believe they didn’t take note. Maybe it was as a favor they were doing me. Or maybe, simply, I was just one in the crowed.

There’s a large population of homeless in the Keys due to the mild weather. I didn’t even need a sleeping bag, and to my surprise bugs didn’t bother me either. I had figured no-seeums would rip me to shreds, but it wasn’t until my last night did I start getting bit. When looking for places to sleep, I constantly worried about the bushes I was entering were already inhabited. In the end it turned out not to be a problem. However I did find one guy sleeping in the bushes. A very strange place to be homeless, but I guess if I were to choose anywhere…

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The days went by quick, and I made a point to stop at any restaurant that even remotely interested me. Even taking time to see a movie. Rogue One. It was fantastic. During the Floirda Trail I passed up a movie theater, and really wished I could have stopped. Happy I was given the opportunity once again! The front desk man was nice, and gave me a free drink even.

The water impossibly blue, and I spent my days looking at sail boats, and house boats. I’d approach pelicans hoping they wouldn’t fly off so I could befriend them. I stopped for sunrises, and sunsets. Enjoying the opportunity to take my time. I gazed down off bridges, hoping to catch glimpses of sharks or other big fish. To no avail. However bright red star fish littered the sea floor, and the underwater plant life danced with the tides. An occasional snorkeler, or a jetski would blow by me. I used the bridges as a place to hang out freely away from the suns rays. Only once finding some other homeless guy with the same idea.

I’ve been told many times of how dangerous the 7 mile bridge would be to walk, as you can’t really escape it besides jumping overboard. Fortunately I found the opposite to be true! I thought it was great, the shoulder very wide to walk in, and all the cars very respectful. I’d smile real wide at the cops, in jest, and ultimately it felt much shorter than 7 miles. It’s pretty wild how all of these little islands are connected by this one string of asphalt.

One of the Islands is known for it’s wild deer. The street lined with very tall black fences, to keep them safe from the fast paced human traffic, and hustle of the day to day life. I arrived after dark, looking for a place to rest, and maybe a gas station for some bonus dinner snacks. Approaching the fence I was instantly startled by a very small deer frozen in time just across the looking glass, on the other side of the chain link. Frantically reaching for my phone to take a photo, the battery too low I scrambled for my extra battery to attempt charging it quick. Both me and the cute animal now totally still. It confused, me, charging. By the time I got to where I could turn on the flash it ran away. After finding some delicious trash at a convenience store, I layed down in the bushes near by. Forever aware of the possibility that someone else may already be there. Falling asleep I heard someone approaching me from a dark corner of this spot. Not sure what to do I briefly flashed my light. Hoping it wasn’t human. Me just as startled, it was a key deer a few feet away from me. Frozen. Cute little guys. Fortunately this one didn’t bother me again for the rest of the night. While in New Brunswick thousands of miles prior a deer wouldn’t leave me alone to the point in which I had to get up and walk a mile or two for a new place to rest.

The end came quick. Suddenly I was on Key West. One day early. I dilly dallied. Sitting around, watching fighter jets from a near by Airforce instillation.  Talking to house boat owners. Shouting at cyclists. Typical things. I made my way past mile marker 5, 4, 3, and at mm2 I came across a beautiful view of the bay, just in time for sunset. My final sunset of the trail, and it was fantastic. I hesitated to disappear into the bushes across the street. After darkness fell I ran, and instantly, as always, was gone. Huddled in some tall grass.

The next morning I was greeted by my friend Michael who wanted to walk the last 3 miles with me. With haste in each step we moved. The last miles of a long journey. 4,800 miles from Cap Gaspe, Quebec to Key West, Florida. It was good to see him after so long. I’ve very much missed my friends during my time away. I have very few, but those that are around, are the best I could ask for. Magnificent colors breach the horizon. Sunrise was approaching. Only briefly once stopping to look, it was time I finally finished this thing. Had Mike not been there I likely would have ran. I would have finished a day prior. But I am happy we could talk, and catch up during these final steps. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve spent this entire trip alone. In Canada I only ran into a couple other hikers, who were all going a different direction than me. On the Appalachian Trail I’d meet a lot of folks, but never spend more than a day with anyone. My pace was beginning to quicken. 30 miles in a day was extremely common, and I’d often get in 40 or more. Most aren’t like that. I would catch up to folks who started months before me. Each face was new, and I liked that. I feel I met everyone. Some tried to keep up, but its not all rhymes and good times behind this door. In Alabama I only ran into one other thru hiker, he had heard of me. Unfortunatly we met in the middle of a roadwalk, and after chatting briefly, parted our ways. When I got to Florida, folks were hunting me down like a game of Where’s Waldo. I’d get 2 or 3 messages a day asking for where I was. I never knew, and because I was averaging 40 miles a day at this point, I never had the energy to respond, or figure it out. This may sound lonely, and it was, but at the same time it was a beautiful experience. I would do it again. However I don’t discount how much I’d like a hiking partner either. At times when I did run into a hiker I was often starved for attention, and instantly would dump out every thought I had been having for weeks onto them. I’d do it all again.

Reaching the southern most tip of the United states was normal. It felt normal. Like it was meant to be. I got in front of those taking their photos, and stood with it. The end of a long walk. My mom, and friend Bob were there waiting for me. The sun still not yet fully risen I had a warm back drop, and a warm welcoming.

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People often say to me, describing this hike as, “the trip of a life time.” To be honest, this is just a beginning.

Coming home, I’ve been eating a lot, but I think most importantly I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do next. I long considered settling down and getting a job, but it didn’t feel right. I’ve decided to follow my heart, and continue walking. There is no other option besides following your heart. If you want to do something, go do it.

As a first thru hike, I’m happy with this. I’m happy with what I’ve done. Some may wince at a few of my decisions, and that’s fine. You’d have to be there. Despite the general consensus, I had loads of fun, but maybe my fun is different from yours. If I wanted to be comfortable all the time, I would have stayed home.

I’d really like to take a moment to thank some folks who have really helped me stay on course during this hike. My Mom and Dad for their constant support. My Grandparents for tracking my ever movement, and story. I recieved great joy from the happyness it brought them to watch. My Uncle Rob and his infinite kindness, and constant encouragement even when my ideas are far from conventional. Sandra Friend and John Keatley for being awesome, and all of the Florida hiking community. My friend Wayne, who questions me in all the right ways. Someone has to. All of my friends back home, who would send me nice messages, or not, but just knowing they were there with me in spirit. Even if it was Christian telling me to slow down, I appreciated it. All of those who have followed along on this blog, I promise I’m not done yet, but I thank you for all of your support. I hope to continue doing things that may catch your attention. Thank you all. For everything.

And as always a big thanks to Pa’lantePacks, John and Andy, for believing in me.

From sitting in Maine at a hostel, watching a television show about Key West, and tearing up, I made it. We knew I would.

This all started when I voiced to a friend that I wanted to thru hike the Florida Trail, and he joked about how I should start in Key West. Thanks, Chris. Look what you made me do.

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Here’s to all hearts of that cold, lonesome track, To the life of the wanderlust…free. To all who have gone and have never come back, Here’s a tribute to you and to me.

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

Familiar Faces, Familiar Places

​Day 3 / 35mi / passed Holt to Titi Creek in Eglin East
I experienced last night what’s known as a surprise downpour. A surprise, because it totally didn’t look like it was going to rain. I’ve gotten into this habit of not setting up my shelter. Ever. I should really start looking up the weather more. I often ask folks but not yesterday! This woulda been all cool if I pitched my tarp, but waking up when it’s already been raining with everything wet was bad news. Naturaly, tired, and lazy, I grabbed my tarp, and layer it over myself. It was too late.

Waking up the railroad, and hwy I slept near was shrouded in mist. So deep that cars would disappear in front of my eyes. I made my way down that road. A fairly substantial roadwalk to the next town so I zoned way out to some music, and dreamed of sunlight. Doesn’t help me to look at miles or my watch. I just wanna see what I see and make my way.

Walking that highway posting my last update, and checking messages a lady ahead is pulled off the road and starts to approach me. Naturally I look like some fool totally absorbed in my phone. I swear I don’t have the miliamp hours to be doing that! Her face was mad familiar, and sure enough a couple years ago we both were on a 6 day group hike lead by the FTA together! She had been looking for me as I passed through her area, and she sure found me! See I’m not that hard to find. Walking cross country and stuff but ya know, I’m out here. You’re out here, somewhere. Let’s meet up and chit chat briefly! Nancy was super cool to come find me, and it was really nice to see a familiar face.

Shortly there after I walked into my first town to resupply in. Down the road was some larger grocery stores, yet I chose a gas station. Sitting outside finishing off a soda before I head out, a one armed homeless man sees his kind, and approaches. We get talking, and he reveals that his tent is in the bushes just across the street. Really nice guy, says he spends his days reading his bible, and standing by the road with cardboard scribed with religious scriptures. He also mentioned that he goes to the town meetings. I thought that was really awesome. He speaks up for himself, and other homeless in the area.

I manage to break away, and realize I’ve been here before! Except last time via a car on a very short trip to Alabama with my mom. We had looked for the trail markers then, now I was following them, having come all the way from Canada to be here!

My gear was all wet still so down the road I found a park, just before the trail picks back up into the woods. Filled my water, layed all my junk out to dry, and relaxed for 30 minutes or so. Back in Connecticut I had to sleep in wet everything, and wasn’t exactly looking forward to that again.

Heading back into the woods I scare some day hikers. Bridges over beautiful creeks. One after another. Nothing but incredible trail here in East Eglin. Back on Airforce Base land, though this time it’s more obvious. Extremely loud engines overpower my music, and little headphones. Fighter jets fly over me. One so close it had to be 100 yards or less. Very interesting to watch as I walk!

This section of trail is awesome. More deer moss, creeks, bog logs, bridges, well marked, and maintained. A lake with tables even! My standards are in a weird place after walking roads through Alabama 🙂

Night rolls in, and I continue on. Crossing a major highway, running not to be seen by cars approaching in the distance. The night hiking today is quite enjoyable. The moon in full force, I didn’t need my light for quite a few miles even. Might as well enjoy walking in the dark! I’m going to be doing a lot of it in the next couple weeks.

Slowly But Surely

​Day 2 / 36 MI / Eglin to Holland Rd

I was woken up at 4am by the sounds of something very large russling in the bushes. Naturally, all my days food was sprawled out next to where I slept. A bear? No, I see a headlamp. It’s 3 night hikers. But I’m camped way off trail? Oh yeah, I’m sleeping on Airforce Base land. Actively used for drills, and training. Well they found me. I was definitely seen. I stayed as still as possible, and they left me alone, continuing on into the night. Very lucky! I’ve heard of folks being run off the Airforce base. You see, I was supposed to get a permit, and I didn’t. Don’t be me.

Waking up again at 7, packing up, and moving by 7:30. The west Eglin section is very beautiful. Lots of moss litters the ground, like mint colored sponge balls. A bridge over a perfectly clear creek fills my water for the next so many miles. Followed by a long string of bog logs protecting my shoes and socks from the swampy ground.

A boat, no where near water lays beside the trail. Plants now growing out of it. A lot of folks seem to ditch trash in the woods (pls dont) but who ditches their boat?

Moving forward I cross the very busy hwy 87, and make my way on the otherside. The trail parallels the road for quite a ways, many miles, eventually dumping me back on it. Somewhere in the middle I found a very recently used smoke bomb. Not your phantom fireworks smoke bomb, one of military grade. A memento? Naw I gotta stop picking up stupid shit. Sometimes I collect things I find, then I don’t know what to do with it.

Something cool, near a loop trail in Eglin are very deep ravines. I turned a corner, and it almost looked like I was in the mountains again! Walking along the small cliff, looking across to the other hills in the distance.

Leaving the woods for the road again, at the yellow river bridge there’s a ton of construction going on. A very fall fence, topped with barbed wire blocks my way. What are they keeping out? Me? The reroute is veery unclear, just a couple orange ribbons, that I thought might be from the road work. I skated passed some wetlands, and scaled rocks that took me up to the bridge and around the fence.

Highway walking, turned Into neighborhood walking. Every house looked thee exact same all the way down the line. Kind of disgusting. The roadwalk wasn’t as long as I thought it we would be, and I re entered the woods. By this time I must have not been paying attention to my nutrition because I was fresh out of brain power!! Still, only one thing to do. Keep moving forward.

The trail got a little swampy and wet here, I slowed down, and kept careful to save my feet figuring I wouldn’t run into anymore wetness the rest of the day. Soon I passed the blue blazed trail that leads to the blackwater section, and the Alabama border! Hey! That’s how I got here in the first place, and now I’ve yoyoed this last section. So from here on its all new trail to me! Not just that but I’m told it’s new trail to everybody! Recently the FTA managed to take a very large chunk of walking off the road, and put it in the woods here. This makes me rly happy. It’s progress! I got mad love for the Florida trail, so to see it getting better in time is very cool. What will 5 years from now change?

This new section is extremely beautiful! Crossing many creeks, most of which had logs to walk over on, although I did have to ford one. Overall I really like the chosen route for this new path, but as of now it’s still a bit overgrown! I made it through but not without cutting my legs up. I love my shorts…… but sometimes. I guess I just need to toughen up my legs? Every 2 out of 3 steps was right into some crazy thorny vine. Barbs grabbing my legs, and being ripped off the plant to join me in my journey south. I’d rub my thighs, and feel the little plant matter. Despite this! I still really enjoyed the new section. Far better than any roadwalk, and all in all just needs a wee bit of mowing 🙂

I walked the last 2 miles of that section in the dark. Then it was a dirt backroad. Immediately some guy in a truck fish tails around the corner, then the next, and I’ll assume the one after that too. Looked like fun, glad he didn’t hit me.

Dirt turned to asphalt, I crossed under a highway, and eventually made it to the small city of Holt. Wouldn’t ya know it, a truck whips ahead of me and pulls off the road. I approach and it’s a new friend!! Sean, I had met him just a few days ago on my way from Alabama to Pensacola on the Blackwater section. He was out backpacking that day with his lady friend, and we nerded out over hiking a bit. Super cool to run into him a second time!

I walked maybe another 3 or so miles, and stopped at 8:40pm. I was drained. I definitely needed to eat more today, and I think that, combined with the minor bushwhacking in that last section slowed me down.

I sleep alongside a railroad, just past Holt, near Holland rd. Slowly, but surely finding my groove. I’ve been relaxing too long!!! Blown away I only walked 36 today. Felt like more. Too many hiccups 🙂

Florida Trail FKT Attempt – Day 1!

​Day 1 / 34mi / Fort Pickens to Eglin

Woah woah wait I haven’t updated this blog since I was in virginia… well, I’m now 1,000 miles further down the east coast, and 3,400 total miles into my sobo Eastern Continental Trail thru hike. Frankly, I don’t have the words to describe finishing the Appalachian Trail (91 days w/ 14 zeros,) hiking the Benton Mackaye Trail to the Pinhoti, or my very long roadwalk thru Alabama(175miles) to the FT. I will come back to this. Don’t think I haven’t forgotten!! I just need some time to process, and reflect.

So how what am I up to? Attempting the self supported Florida Trail speed record! For those that know me, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and even planned for it before I left for Canada 5 months ago.

Rules for a self supported record are as such. I cant, and won’t accept any outside help. No magic, and no vehicle support. Im sorry! I know folks who wanted to trail magic me, but how about this! Come see me if you can find me, and we can chit chat, and i can make my way. I wont accept any assistance, but i would really love to see you!! Youre helping just by witnissing that yep, bes out there doing it! Documentation is a big deal, so witnesses are a good thing. In that same vein i will also be back to doing daily reports on my happenings, on this blog. Yay!!

A huge shout out to Joe Kisner who came before me and did a speedy hike of this trail some years ago. Hes been a big inspiration to me, and it is now my honor to hike his hike, and go after hus record. 29 days is what he laid down. Im aiming for three weeks. Only time will tell.

Today I begin to realize the dream. After being hosted by the kindest of trail angels in Pensacola so I could recharge, and evidently wait out a cold front, I started my hike south from the northern terminus at Fort Pickens today at 10:23am EST.

First, Coy, my angel, deserves a medal. He was super awesome, and helped me in every way possible to prepare for this hike.

Second, the Florida Trail is frickin amazing. I’m so happy to be here! Back in my homestate, back with my peoples.

I was dropped off at the fort, took my obligitory photos with the last blaze, and the new termini monument, that was litterally just installed by the FTA. After noting my start time, I began walking.

The trail winded away from the termini on a hard packed sandy trail, through an RV park, and past some historical stone structures. Eventually crossing the main road, and dumping me onto the beach. I didnt see anymore blazes but there was only ome way to go. So I walked the coastlime east. Through the sand, right along the Gulf of Mexico. It couldnt have been a more perfect day. Not too hot, not too cold, just right so that I could wear my puffy jacket.

Making my way through the sand was strenuous but i havent seen the ocean since i started this hike in Quebec, and thus i was happy. Being a floridian, and living near the water all my life i had missed it. Somewhere here I saw what I thought was a beached whale… my eyesight is poor at a distance. I was sad. But then it revealed itself to be a capsized boat! All was good again.

The beach walking ended and the blazes showed up again to take me through a really hoppin’ section of the Pensacola beach. Very developed. A roadwalk of sorts, but with a twist! Porto-johns everywhere! What luck. Typically I gotta hide!

After so many miles of sidewalk the developments stopped, and i enterred the national seashore again. The trail took a hard left, and took me on a ride thru lands of beautiful sand dunes. Up, over, and around them. I loved it!!! The pure white sand with all the beach foliage casting long shadows is magical. If i were taking this slower i certainly would have stopped to camp! The terrain was less shifty here too. Easier walking than the last beach, i assume because of all the plants. I followed pvc pipes with orange blazes painted on them that stuck out of the ground for miles. Witnessing some kids having a sandfight even. Like a snowball fight, but floridian.

This too had to end, the trail once again crossed the main road (theres only one,) and left me on the beach looking for trail markers. Nothing, so i followed the coast towards Navarre. Buildings behind me slipping away, while new ones ahead pop up. Here i alternated between the beach and the road. When i got tired of one, id walk the other! And visa versa. Stopping once to jump in the ocean. It was cold, but i knew id regret not doing it, being i wont have this opprotunity again for another 1,100+ miles.

At sunset i finished the beachwalk and entered the city of Navarre. Trail turned to bike path, day turned to night. I figured id walk till 9pm at least. Hiking this time of year is difficult because the sun sets so early! I barely have 11hrs. So for this record attempt i suspect ill be walking in the dark a lot. Actually i know i will, i plan to! Sunrise is 7am, sunset is 6pm.

In the dark i follow the road, eventually taking me to a bridge that gets me back to the main land. While crossing the bay, a man in his vehicle whipped a u-turn, and stopped. He yelled out asking if i was hiking the FT. I am! How cool, hes a former Appalachian Trail thru hiker, among other things. We talked for a little while, het offered to take me to dinner, and i declined the kind offer. It was great to run into a fellow thru hiker! Most folks just stare like im homeless. Even if i was, chill out, were humans too. After the bridge, and a few more miles of road through the city, and im back in the woods. I sleep tonight at the Eglin Airforce Base permit kiosk. Rather, just passed it.

So today was 34 miles of walking. Im proud of that considering i started close to 10:30. A good warmup. I hope this will be my lowest milage day on the FT.

Having lots of fun so far! Love the FT, and loved the sand dunes!!! Most folks would split this day into two, and camp in those dunes. They’d be wiser than I!

Jup

Review: Pa’lante Packs Simple Backpack

This year I’ve had the great pleasure to carry a new pack!

For my thru hike of the 4,800mi Eastern Continental Trail, I took a chance on a new company, and purchased the Simple by Pa’lante Packs. They weren’t in production yet, but I had been seeing photos of it online. Similar to the pack I had been using for the last few years, but an improved design.

“Hey that thing looks awesome, take my money.” Is to my memory, the message I sent Andy Bentz. He mailed it out to me while I was on trail, and I received it the same day I picked up a very heavy resupply (6 days.) Immediately I was stoked on how comfortable it was, even while carrying 15lbs of food on top of my gear.

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Grabbing a snack from the secret bottom compartment

Andy Bentz and John Zahorian are the two founders of Pa’lante Packs. Some info on Andy’s making history can be seen in this cute video, showing packs he’s made in days past, leading up to what you see now in this final product!

Since receiving it I’ve now carried it for the last 2,800 miles, and this is what I think about it.

Basic Info

  • Volume: 35L or 40L
  • Price: $210 – $250
  • Weight: 13oz
  • Frameless and Hipbeltless
  • Material: X-Pac

Where can you find it? PalantePacks.com

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Size

They come in both a 35 liter, and 40 liter. Very low on internal volume, but in a world where ultralight backpacking is becoming more popular this is a perfect size. The bigger the backpack you buy, the more stuff you tend to fill it with, and then consequently have to haul up that mountain!

For me, with a 6lb base weight the 35L is just right. I’ve carried 6 days food in it without issue, even thinking I had room for more. I would go for this size if you’re looking to seriously nerd out on gear, for most everyone though, I think the bigger size might be wiser. If you’re unsure, definitely go for the larger 40L. You’ll be happy you did when you want to pack out bonus foods from town!

As a frameless, hipbeltless pack it does well. The shoulder straps are large enough with enough thickness to take the heat of heavier carries. I find it’s comfortable up until around 25lbs.

All in all the small size is something I really like in a backpack. It gives me the ability to maneuver freely.
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Durability

Amazingly, after 5 months of use every single day. Sleeping on it. Rubbing it against, and sitting it on rocks. Brushing it against trees and branches accidentally…. there isn’t a single hole, not a single tear, or even any real sign of wear. Even the stitching is holding up, without fraying or coming loose. It’s almost the same as when I first got it.

When it comes to durability most consider ultralight gear flimsy or that it won’t last. In the case of this pack that is clearly not true! I could easily get a second multi thousand mile thru hike out of this pack.

I had remembered seeing pictures John posted online when he first came up with this design. I was skeptical about the bottom pocket, and it’s durability. After 2,800 miles of abusing it without a single hole forming I’m convinced. The east coast is very rocky, Maine and New Hampshire are no cake walk, so to come out unscathed was really impressive, and admittedly surprising.

I give it a big thumbs up for durability! Unlike cuben fiber packs this X-Pac material is gunna last. I expect I’ll get another few thousand miles outa this one, at least.

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Design

  • Waterproofness: The fabric used for the body of the pack is waterproof, but overall water will get in the seams. So I still use an internal liner like a trash compactor bag.
  • Single strap top closure: I love the single strap! It sinches down so nicely, creating an excellent seal. The last pack I had before this used a Y strap, and I greatly prefer the single.
  • Shoulder strap pockets: One of my favorite features of this pack. The stretchy integrated shoulder strap pockets! I like that I have everything I need right at my fingertips. These pockets are perfect for a camera or phone, snacks, guidebook pages or maps, trash. Really handy, and sleek. I highly recommend getting them added to your pack, as they are optional.
  • Secret bottom pocket: Annnd my favorite feature is the bottom pocket. Large enough to fit almost an entire days worth of food. But why do you care? Because every time you’re hungry, you can just reach under and grab a snack! No need to stop. Just keep moving! Alternatively, keep a rain jacket, or wind jacket under there for quick access.
  • Aesthetics: I mean, it’s super cute. Really small. Black. Beautiful. Clean.
  • Side pockets: Good height to grab my water bottles while walking. Stretchy enough to hold two bottles in one pocket. Or as I often do my umbrella, and a water bottle. Or my rehydration jar, and a water bottle. Tight enough so that they  don’t slip out when jostled.
  • Shoulder straps: Comfortable width, shape, and thickness.
  • Draw cord compression: Unsure of what to call it, but it needs to be mentioned. On one side of the pack there’s a small cord that can be pulled tight, to either compress down loose space inside, or firmly secure an item there. Personally I use it most when I have wet socks, or to dry out a wet groundcloth. Sinch the item down, and let it sit outside your pack all day. Or if you’re looking for a place to stow away trekking poles or a trekking umbrella while not in use, this is it!

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Extra Thoughts

John has used this pack for thousands of miles, and I’ve used this pack for almost 3,000 miles. He loves it, I love it. I hate to gush er whatever, but of all the gear I’ve been using this year, this pack is the only thing I wouldn’t swap out if given the chance. Since leaving Canada and receiving this pack, its been wonderful all the way down to Florida.

It’s made for efficiency. Most everything you need during the day is at hand, and I love that. So until these boys come up with something similar but smaller and lighter this will remain my main hiking pack.

The waterproof material, the clever pockets, a pack that won’t deteriorate after a single season…

So if you’re looking for that perfect backpack for your next thru hike, the Simple from Pa’lante has treated me right.

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No need for dreaming

Arriving in the city of Gorham was immediately sobering. No longer am I in tiny podunk Maine towns, here they have a Subway! Among 4 or 5 pizza restaurants, and other garbage, but that’s besides the point! Maine had been difficult. Some tall mountains, steep climbs, and weird footing, but looking up at the White Mountains surrounding this new space was new. These things are massive. Towering well beyond the clouds. Towering well beyond what I immediately felt like climbing.

So I didnt. I checked my guide and chose a hostel most central to all the food in town. As I’ve learned I could mostly care less about shower or laundry, it’s about the food and electricity for me. Can’t say I’m exactly out here to be clean beyond avoiding chafe, and illness associated with being dirty. Typically I wash myself in streams, and my clothing does indeed suffer for some time with the occasional swim to remove salts and things, or shave my face with river water.

This hostel was mostly a dump. Outlets falling out of the walls, sticky floor, not exactly ideal. I’m not too picky but it left me wishing I had flipped that coin a little differently. However there was one thing special about this particular hiker paradise…. one of my hiking hero’s had stayed here during his legendary hike of 1998. Nimblewill Nomad is his name, and that hike being what I’m doing now. 4,800 miles from Quebec to Key West. But north to south instead of the other way around. This is the second time I’ve had this has happened to me now. Day 0 of this trip I stayed in the last hostel Nimble had stayed at after he finished his long and lonesome journey. It’s like I’m following in his footsteps, as well as the very few others to ever do this hike. About 20 folks in 20 years if you’re wondering. This year, I’m the only one still at it.

After a nights rest and a lesson from a local in the methods in which tobacco is farmed I decided since I just finished walking close to 500 miles through Maine, I’ll treat myself to a night somewhere hopefully more enjoyable. My second stay was at a bed & breakfast, but not really. Next door the owner has a barn that’s been converted into a hiker hostel, and this place truly is a paradise. Clean, beautiful, wonderful, and full of awesome hikers to chit chat with! A good decision. Or a dangerous game to get caught up in these towns. Am I out here to hike? I am, but it’s often very refreshing to stop now or then. Even though I’ve been fooling around a lot more than I should, as it turns out I’m still going rather fast. I still feel I’m on track to meet my goal and that’s what counts!

Regardless of my mixed feelings towards staying in towns longer than it takes to charge my phone I’m happy I did this time. A beautiful girl by the name of Weebles was there who’s  heading in the same direction I am, is a vegetarian, and all around super cool person. We talked for a while, and although I was staying another night she was heading out that day. Late though. 6pm. Maybe she was considering staying longer. The company and conversation was much appreciated.

The next day I find myself in the same situation. About ready to declare residence, thunder and rain imminent that night. Another stay in doors would be nice, but no! See ya soon Weebles. 6pm I myself leave. Figuring I can walk the 3 miles out of town back to the trail, and hike in the dark until 10 or 11 at night. I make the trail and the thunder and lightning begins to crash. Blackness paused briefly by the entire forest filling with light, quickly fading again. On and on this went until the rain began to fall. Coming up on some other hikers who were huddled under a wooden shelter away from the weather. They look at me with my tiny umbrella like a dog might in confusion. Head cocked. Questioning where I’m camping in this rain. Wherever I please! Although I didn’t feel like climbing the next mountain in such conditions I have no issue setting up my shelter or sleeping on days like this. Back home this is weather I’d seek out to go backpacking in. All those trips of the past paying off, although I’m still learning so much more out here it’s of a different variety. Rain and thunder just doesn’t bother me. As I’ve always said. No one ever dies by getting struck by lightning….

Slippery rocks, beautiful swimming holes, and finally… the White Mountains. This first climb the next morning came easier than expected. On the way I passed a couple that recognized me (which was funny!) and I took the opprotunity to ask how far ahead my friend was. The girl had a large smile that echoed of withheld information, and what I heard was that if I hustled I might catch up! But also that she was leaving the trail for a week to go explore the east coast then return to these mountains again to continue on. I had hoped she would want to hike with me, but I can at least wish her a farewell.

The miles came quick, and for the first half of the day I was pressing over peaks covered in clouds, buffeted by wind. At the higher elevations here its truly hit or miss. I figure you could time the peaks well to get the view or you can enjoy the experience for what it is. I always choose the latter, and I always have a good time! Descending the mountain I’m greeted by my first hut of this area, a premier and unique feature to these mountains installed to gather revenue, and help more folks experience these places. My first hut of many, a system that stretches through the whites, and the whites only. Buildings filled with bunks, a kitchen, dinning area, and typically very far away from where the typical person could access without some serious effort. Ya know, walking here! They all offer food, coffee, and other things. I had a great experience with them, even though I heard many stories of other hikers having a bad time. I think in their case it’s because they’re maybe more so the party hiker. More so party, less so hiker. The hut employees most definitely do cater more towards those who put in hard days (whatever that means respective to the person.)

These huts and this mountain range was actually a large source of stress for me before I left for my trip. As you may know, I planned and more or less virtually hiked this whole thing before I even started. Months and years of planning and preperations. It’s a big trip man…. a project as some say. Anyhow. I hike my hike, and I like to do each day my way. The huts I heard somewhere that it was mandatory you stayed in them. Which will run you $160 a night, or you could show up at 5 pm and try to convince them to let you work off your impending debt persay. The later being extremely common, but you know me!! 5pm is just to darn early. So I worried. Could I camp anywhere secretly? The weather here is known to be the worst in the entire country. Seriously. Look up Mt Washington wind speeds. 100+ is common, and I think 280mph or so is the world record… set there, right on the trail I was walkin’. You can see why this area might have been a small question mark. As it turns out, not once in the Whites did I do a work for stay in the huts. I camped every night, and it worked out great!! Some might say I missed an experience, but I did actually stop one day and really got to know one of the employees who was planning his own thru hike for next year. I feel I missed nothing!

Looking back I think that first day, over the Wildcat range, looking for Weebles, that was the hardest day I remember. It was 21 miles or something but multiple really steep climbs, and even steeper descents. Hard both on my lungs and joints. In Gorham I remember hikers who had just done this section icing their knees. I can see why, but I’m happy to report that I have no soreness or pain after doing any of that.

But wait, did I ever catch Weebles? I did. I had this image in my head for some reason of her getting to the next road and instantly departing. So with that in mind I moved swiftly up and over rocks. Brushing my teeth on the go, and as I put my scrubber in my pocket there she was. “HI! :D” although hesitent of this weird guy I did get to hike with her. About 2 miles worth. Still much time left in the day I had the option to go on, but as it turned out she wasn’t leaving until the next day. Boston bound, then back to experience the rest of this awesome section of trail. My options weren’t really options at all. Hesitent again, I’m glad she let me camp with her. We talked again, and apparently she had thought I was ahead of her and actually asked that same couple about me as I did her.

The next morning I made my way up into the great unknown. My best day on trail so far. One big climb and I was above treeline walking an exposed ridge almost all day. I thought of her quite a bit that day. What a happy day. The kind of day you just smile from ear to ear about. Remember Mt Washignton? That was this day, the second highest peak on the trail. Wind and harsh weather? I got lucky and it was totally clear and calm. I made 26 easy, happy miles that day, and camped under a “no camping” sign at a waterfall.

Although I didn’t get so lucky with clouds and weather for the rest of my time during the Whites I still had the most amazing time. The walking was fun and enjoyable. Just kind of the stuff I dream about. Open ridge lines with wind in my face, above everything, pressing forward with glee. I actually get to do this every day. It really is a dream for me.

I did however do some questionable things. I climbed Mt Lafayette and walked Franconia Ridge at night for example. A 5,000+ peak and a ridgeline that follows. For those that know this area well that’s a big no no. It’s known to be exceptionally beautiful, and here I got to see it in the dark. It was still a whole lot of fun!! But certainly not something most would do on purpose. I actually had this grand idea of catching that section during sunset, and having this ultimate experience. Not everything goes as planned!! Up in a cloud, in the dark, with my handheld 70 lumen flashlight. All the more reason to come back sometime.

Mt Moosilauke is the final 4,000+ foot Mountain that I’ll have to climb for a very long time. It also marks the end of the White Mountains. I was actually dreading it as I approached. Feeling a bit under the weather the last thing I felt like doing was walking up some massive hill! But ya know I was so happy I did. Getting to the top was such an amazing experience. Up in the clouds as always, I ran as fast as I could across the rocks on the top to the sign marking the summit. Phone as dead as ever I had some other hiker take my photo and send it to me. Big thanks to him!! This peak also marks roughly my 1/4th way point! 1,200 miles down, just 3,600 to go. Sounds silly but to me it sounds so attainable. Just one step at a time, one mile, one day. All in time!! You really can do anything if you set your mind to it. Sometimes it just takes a bit of love.

My next town stop was unplanned but there was a hostel that was only 0.3 miles off trail and a friend VERY graciously offered to pay for my stay there. Due to my sickly condition, one night turned into three. This friend remained firm in that I would pay for none of which. I really can’t thank him enough. I really needed the days off. Snot flowing freely from my nose, a soar throat, and a fuzzy head makes for much less than fun hiking. The hostel turned out to be really great too, aside from just a place to rest. The owner and caretaker, as well as an employee all happen to be extremely experienced hikers. I love hikers!! It was so cool to talk to some people who really have been around and done that. Maybe you wonder what I think about while I spend my day walking. Often my mind wanders to the topic of other trails. So here was my opprotunity to geek out about trails, as well as recover. Thanks again to a good friend back home. I would have passed up that place of refuge had he not offered. Really glad to have stayed, really glad to be back on the trail again with a clear mind.

I actually got to meet a serious trail legend during my stay there as well. The famous Miss Janet! A lady who tirelessly helps hikers all year round on this particular 2,200 mile stretch of trail from Georgia to Maine. I had thought I might have been too late in the season to run into her but as it turns out she’s giving the north bound hikers that final little push before winter hits, then she’ll head back down south to meet up with my crowd. Really I have no idea how she does this year after year. I would certainly lose my mind!!! But I guess you gotta love it. For me the hiking is where my heart lies. For her, it’s helping folks like me achieve these goals.

After Mt Moosilauke the terrain changed drastically. Although I’m still in NH I consider this Vermont already. Like day and night, suddenly the trail is just SO much easier. It’s awesome. I can finally open my stride and walk like I wanna. Maine and New Hampshire were very beautiful and both a great challenge, but I’m ready for more!

If you’re keeping count I only have 14 more states to go, and they’re getting smaller as I go. Aside from Virginia, Alabama, and Florida that is.

As I write I’m planning my attack for Vermont. I begin tomorrow. It’s about 150 miles worth of trail and I’m thinking 5 days at most.

This is life!

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I get up, and I walk

If I’ve remembered correctly I’ve now been in maine for over 450 miles. Well, I’ve actually just finished Maine! What a state. What a big state. The AT itself only goes through 280 or so miles of it but as we know I started walking from lands very far north of there. Very far north of the Canadian border even. What a hell of a ride it’s been so far, and boy is it nice to cross a new border. New Hampshire! I’m here! I’ve made it! Looking at a map of my progress thus far is very surreal. To see that I’ve traveled over 1,200 miles south so far feels good. That line I’ve drawn on a map from Quebec to the Keys represents so much. All of those that have traveled it before me, everything in between, and an unimaginable amount of experiences to be had. I’m not even a fourth of the way into my walk and yet I’ve met so many wonderful people, and seen so many magical things. I’ve come this far, there’s no stopping now. There’s a story before me waiting. From the very start there was no stopping. A sprained ankle wasn’t an excuse to quit, it was an excuse to try harder. Reform my technique, and pay closer attention to myself. To be more consistent, and to not allow myself to let the fire dictate where I land. My body is king, and this journey is long. My pace is fast, but with every day I learn. Including all my planning and preperations, there never was quit in me. There is only a footpath before me, and a fire inside me. Today I walk, and with every step I get closer to that dream of key west. An almost laughable dream. To walk 100 or so miles of roads through the southern most point of Florida. The dream is engraved in my brain. I may not think of it daily, but the thought appears often. I cower almost to the point of crying. One step at a time. I’m on my way.

Since I finished the International Appalachian Trail and started the Appalachian Trail I’ve had people tell me how difficult the terrain in maine is. How this mountain would crush my will. I’ve been both shot down and lifted up when mentioning my goal. I almost question now if I should even bother, so I typically just respond with “I’m going all the way.” Now that I’ve finished this long and lonesome track through Maine I’ve concluded that none of those passes were nearly as hard as I was told. In the end their experience reflects more about them, than the actual trail. I’ve concluded that really only the final 10 or so miles of this state are of any real concern. Boulders that dwarf men, trail resembling something closer to a creek bed, and an endless supply of roots. The walking has been arduous. Like dancing in many more ways than walking. I step around, I step over, I step on top of, and a couple times I’ve even gone under rocks. Rocks of all sizes and shapes. Difficult? Maybe not so much, a slight annoyance? I’d say that’s more so the case. A man with long legs who likes to stretch them I’ve slowed my miles. From 30s and beyond down to 20s. Soon though, my big days will return.

Although still doing more than most per day it’s been very comfortable. It’s all a matter of time. 2 miles per hour? Less? Wake up earlier. Stop walking and set up camp later. My rule is, don’t stop until 7:30. The beginning of sunset. Beyond that and I find myself walking in the dark. As I often do. 7:30 is only the time in which I allow myself to start looking for camp. I have however broken that rule a couple times. Town stops when I’m hungry and tired, the Kennebec River where I needed a ferry man to cross it(two lovely ladies out birding picked me up and took me across!), or that time I met a cool New Zealander going by the trail name “Bad Decisions.” His bad decision that day was deciding to walk with me the next day. 20 miles, multiple passes, and the hardest terrain in Maine. Locals just out for the day told me that my plan before dark was out of question. I walked away, took my new friend with me, and we did it anyway. Live free or die. I’ll only ask for the weather from now on.

That section was the Mahoosuc Arm, and the Mahoosuc Notch. I’ve heard horror storries. Supposedly the Notch is the hardest, or most fun section of the AT. Most fun is indeed true. It was a jungle gym. Everyone I asked that day said it took them 2 hours. About 20 people that was. It only took us 50 minutes with a stop for water and photographs. Jumping from boulders, crawling under them into caves, climbing up and around them. It was awesome. The Arm however we went down. It was a 2,000ft decent purely on a sheer rock face, slick as can be. One slip and you’d be in trouble. Going down still is in my mind the way easier method of doing it. Going up would have been endless. Step up, slide down. I was happy to only be sliding down. Often on my ass.

There’s three seriously memorable moments I’ll have of the AT in Maine and that’s Saddleback mountain, the knife edge trail on Mt Katahdin, and the Mahoosuc Notch. We’ve already looked at the knife edge, a thin ridge of sharp rocks connecting peaks. Saddleback Mountain however is new! It was a recent climb, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy it with a good dude I met out here by the name of 2Taps. The weather was strange, forecast showed rain for the morning, and then clear skies all day. This was not the case. The rain was true but that was followed by extremely high winds. Most hikers hid in the lean-to shelters that litter the trail but 2Taps and I pressed forward. The climb was wet and slippery up rocks, eventually breaking out from treeline. The wind pressed against us as we entered the alpine territory. Beautiful sweeping views of the mountains around us and the lakes below us. I remember some saying about Maine and lakes. Whatever that is, it’s true. They really are everywhere here, and I frequently find myself navigating around them, or sitting on their beaches. This time though I’m fortunate enough to be looking down at them from an exposed ridge. For three miles this lasted. Walking across the rock face on top of the world, with the wind knocking me from side to side frequently pushing me into the grass. We were told it was 74mph and that was still walkable in my opiniom, but at a slant. Feet planted firmly and still being forced aside or simply to walk with a serious lean. It was cold, but wonderful. That mountain I would do over and over. We were the only two out there that day.

The theme is clear. I wake up, and I walk. Every morning I pack all of my things up and I move forward. I aim for 20 or 30 and see where I land. Sometimes in the rain, sometimes the sun, and sometimes up in the clouds, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll still be out there. Getting wet, sweating, breathing, sun beating, low visibility, high visibility. I’m out here day after day. And it’s wonderful.

Since I’m doing 20 or more miles a day I don’t often or ever see folks more than once and that may be a downside but I love the path I’m on and really wouldn’t change anything. I’d like to do more per day if I could but that will come in time, with more experience, and with easier terrain to walk upon. I’ve met a lot of awesome people, and one benefit is that I’m never in the same bubble of folks. I get to see everyone! Maybe by the end, someone will be foolish enough to hike my hike, but that’s not what this is about. Everyone is on their own path, and doing their own thing.

I camp alone almost every night so I only really get to know other hikers in towns. On trail most congregate around the wooden shelters, but I find the land surrounding them uncomfortable and overused, opposed to the soft bed of leaves or pine needles I usually wind up in. Staying inside the wooden huts would be nice in the rain but if I think the ground around them is bad then I would certainly find the wooden flooring worse. Not to mention the mice that have grown accustomed to the trash left behind or the tidbits of food that spill. My little havens alone in the woods off trail just seem more appealing most nights.

Two towns I’ve stayed in recently left a mark. Monson, and Rangely. In Monson I was pleasent surprised to find that Petes Place, a local restaurant caters to vegans with black bean burgers. More interesting the owners have ridden horses from maine to southern texas. They did it for charity and it took over 8 months. Certainly a very unique experience and it was nice to talk to them about it. I stayed the night in the local hostel, The Shaws. Forever will I hold other hostels to a bar the Shaws have set. The owners Poet and Hippy Chick where amazing and former thru hikers. The help was awesome, the beds comfortable, everything there was nice. In a town without more food than a grocery store they also have a full stock of things hikers like. Poet was or is an English teacher, I’d like to say high school AP, and he even recited to us a poem in old english. Basically another language is what he was speaking.
Rangely is the other town that stood out, but it wasn’t the town… I actually didn’t even go into town. I walked 0.3 miles down the road off trail to The Hiker Hut. A hostel that operates off the grid. No electricity, no cell service. It was a restful and relaxing place next to a stream. I showed up very late and felt quite bad about it but they fed me a vegan dinner, vegan breakfast, and I was the only one there. I sat and talked with the two owners for hours. Steve was a professional triathlete back in the mid 90s and might have even raced in the Tour De France once. Like me, he sees hiking as a sport, treating it the same way you would long distance running or anything else similar. Some go for just 5 or 10 miles a day and that’s cool but he could tell that’s not my game. I’m out here to walk, and he had some very good advice for me which I’ll take to heart. Maine and New Hampshire could be injury central for me, and I suppose the gist of what spoke to me was that I should take it easy until I reach Vermont when the trail eases up. Easy for me is 20 so that’s what I’ve been up to, and I’ve been feeling great! So I think it’s working. The Hiker Hut and The Shaws were both wonderful places to stay, and should I ever hike the Appalachian Trail again I will certainly make my rounds to see these great people again. They really give off the vibe like they want to help you achieve your goal, unlike some others that seem far more money hungry. That vibe meant a lot to me.

So now I’m in New Hampshire. It’s been a long time coming, and although I loved Maine I’m really excited for what this new place will bring. Crossing the border the change was very apparent. The trail is marked slightly different. The way it’s routed is different, and the mountains ahead are promised to be some of the most beautiful this path has to offer. We shall see! Im really looking forward to the White Mountains. For now I can only hope I hit them during nice weather. Or else I’ll cry… or not, I’ll probably just keep on walking.

Oh and I’ve decided to keep clean shaven, because every guy out here looks the exact same as every other guy out here.

“If it ain’t fun, make it fun.”

– Jupiter

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Weebles wobble….

Day 14thru26 – The USA Calls

When I left you last, dear reader, I had just finished walking through Gaspesie National Park and entered the Matane Wildlife Reserve. After being warned three times about this new section of trails extreme difficulty I was very skeptical. You’d think by the third time I’d believe it. Well I probably should have.

I keep a small personal journal somedays, just quick notes to later recall greater detail later. Well my first day in Matane, day 14 of this trip goes like this:

Aiming for 48k, it was clear within the first mile, that was going to be difficult. Boarder line rockclimbing. 13 waterfalls. Stupid steep, welcome to Matane. Was warned, didn’t believe. Demoralizing to see the giant mountains ahead I’m about to climb. Of course it’s not the small gradual ones. Straight up, straight down. Mud, feet soaked, prune/raisins all day. Thunder storm climbing mountain tops, and 6 miles of misery. Start of my day 4am, end of my day 9pm. Few breaks. Darkness. Stretch, protein, food. Do it all over tomorrow. Get me out of Matane.

Bleak? Maybe, but that’s backpacking  sometimes. I was mentally crushed while writing that after such a long day. Rolling into camp just before 9pm, hoping no one was already there, because they certainly would already be sleeping. Stepping up a mountain, sliding back down the slippery rocky sloap. Very arduous movement. Going down was no different. Constant without relief, often overgrown with plants, unable to see my own footing. Wet, and muddy. Seemingly better off to sit on my ass and slide down.

I could, as I do, stay positive and mention how remote and beautiful this section was, as that’s very true. Looking forward at the peaks I was about to scale might have been a harsh reality but looking back seeing everything I had just come across was very rewarding. Right in a line, I could see the ripples in the skin of the earth, all of which I just passed in the same day. During this area I also found a very large moose rack. Easily weighing 10lbs. Very surprising the weight of those things. The lakes as well we’re very special, one specifically comes to mind, Lake Matane of course. One hellish descent followed by an equally as hellish climb, but in the middle of the valley a beautiful cabin in which I stayed the night, and an incredible very massive body of water. The sunrise here was surreal, and of course my phone was dead.

A side note… Andrew Skurka is a very well known long distance hiker (and national geographic dirtbag of the year,) if you don’t know him you really should look up “sea to sea route” or “great western loop.” Both trips well over 5,000 miles long taken by foot, and done extremely fast. This excerpt is taken from his website about the Matane Wildlife Preserve….
“The next contact from Andrew came in the form of a message on the answering machine, “I made it through the Matane Reserve and I am still alive.” As parents, this was an alarming message. He called later in the evening and reported that the Cap-Chats and the Matane Reserve was the most challenging terrain he had ever hiked. The trails go straight up and straight down. He slogged through swamps at 1000-meter high peaks. The rivers were swollen from all the rain and he had to ford where bridges had been washed out. His hands and feet are a mess from all the moisture and the shoes are shot. He did question why the trail had to climb every peak in the Cap-Chats.”

Andrews experience although years before mine is clearly very similar. Fortunately Matane is only a 70 mile section. Very beautiful, but when the walking itself ain’t fun, then I just can’t get down. So how to make the walking fun again? Just one more long day. For me, the forward motion is one of the most enjoyable aspects of long distance hiking. The constant feeling of progress, knowing that youre actually doing something. So naturally when my motion is impeded, I want to break free. So I did. 70 miles in 2 and a half days.

Despite the pain and all that, while up on one of those mountains I was looking down at a small lake. Then in that lake I see something. A large object, and then a smaller object. From way above I’m looking down on two moose walking across. A sight I won’t soon forget. Minutes pass and they dissapear into the nearby forest. Questioning, is that where my trail is taking me?

I later ran into another french hiker, who although didn’t know much english, I understood well and clear that she was saying, “Matane is the devil for me.”

I left that area with a gift, the gift of pain in my ankle. Now during this trip I’ve experienced knee pain, ankle pain, all sorts of issues. They all went away eventually. I hoped this would too. 200km later it hasnt, and yes that 200 hurt, and yeah I cried once. But huzzah! I’ve taken a couple days off before I officially enter NB and continue on, letting my body heal, the smart choice to check myself…. although admittedly late. This next stretch is mostly dirt ATV paths (roads) so I would kind of like to not further agrivate, or re injure myself on the hard packed ground, and instead be on my game, ready to enter Maine moving strong.

So what else have we missed? Matane screwed me up mentally, so I kinda fell off the bandwagon with daily blogging. If you have nothing good to say…. so they say….

* I’ve seen a porcupine(first time ever for me!) climbing a tree. I told that fat little guy that I was going to sit there and wait until he came down so I could get a photo. He called my bluff, and after an hour of eating way to many snacks while watching him, and the tree he clung to sway in the breeze… I left. Stubborn they are.

* I’ve been kicked out of a restaurant. I think it’s because I’m American, and probably mostly because I don’t speak french. I had just showered so there’s no other reason I can imagine. They gave me one look and shooed me off. For those that know me, you know I’m pretty friendly, I smile, and all that. It was surprising. However at the next restaurant over the waitress got an extra large tip. I was sure to thank her profusely for dealing with me even though I don’t know the lingo.

* I made friends with a homeless man, as you do. The trail left town and came to a fork, a 5 way fork, with no markings as to which way to go. I see a dirty man with a long beard… my people. We chat a little, and I make my way. An hour later somehow winding right back where I was standing before. The man was still there and we get to talking. As it turns out he lives in these woods. Apparently when he first wandered into the area and found this park he was blown away, and knew instantly that this would be his home. He’s lived there ever since, just outside of the town of Amqui. He actually gave me some directions that led me to where I had missed the trail before, and again I was on my way, but this time on the right path. Homeless people are great, he even offered me a beer which I declined, but it was very nice of him.

* I met three more thru hikers! One of which was a french man with a pack twice the size of his own body. I remarked as a joke after thinking this was the gear of multiple hikers
.. not one, that it’s never to late to start ditching things! As he surveyed all of his stuff that was taking up the entire refuge, he told me everything he has is just too useful. His favorite piece of gear was a pair of mechanics gloves, because “sometimes I’m on my hands and knees hiking this trail!” The other two folks I met I was actually contacted by before I left for my hike, and here they were! Two artists from Montréal who are hiking the 650km of Quebec and doing a photography project as they go. They’re carrying lots of cool camera equipment, and from the sounds and looks of it are getting a lot of really amazing shots. When they’re done I’ll be sure to share any more info I can get about this. The area up here is really incredible so to have a professional such as Sara and her partner Drew come thru and document it will really be something special. Especially considering so few do this trail, they’re work will be totally unique.

* I’ve finished walking through Quebec! The first, and most difficult part of this trip is over. I’m now 650km into the trail, or 700 if you count the 50k I walked from the airport… to the trail. I always said, if I can survive this section, I can do this whole thing, and peoples, there is no quit in my mind. I did survive, but as you now know, I’m recovering in town before starting again for what is supposed to be an easy 250 miles to Maine. After a couple days here I’m feeling a lot better, and I say tomorrow I’m ready to move on.

* Here in the town of Matapédia on my last day I meet some folks, they share beer with me, friendship. They are going out on the river with a guide for burgers and ask me to join them but I decline. I just wish to relax! And… get some sort of big veggie dinner across the street. I was hanging out down by the river soaking my legs in the cold water when they started talking to me. This town is known for its salmon and the Matapédia river which is very large, for my florida folk think the Suwannee River but faster flowing. Then that feeds into the Restigouche! A much larger stream, and it’s kind of this towns name to fame. I figure they get a whole lot of money from tourism because everywhere is plastered about kayaking, canoeing, guided tours, fishing trips, camping, and as it happens less folks know but this is also the trailhead to the beginning of the IAT/SIA which I’ve been hiking. Some colorful folk in this town. Seemingly half speak perfect english, and the other half no english at all. I kind of like it here. Quiet mostly, yet with a train that runs right directly through the center of everything. I love trains, so that actually adds to the fun! So here I am, my guide says free camping, but it’s not, it’s 20 dollars. Not the first time the guide has old information. Sandra! My master guide book friend from home…. again I am reminded of the amazing work you and John do every year to get people information about trails and services.

Anyway, none of the pain I could go through during this trip compares to how much I miss my cat. Seriously Canada has some issues. I’ve only seen two whole cats so far. The USA better have their shit straight, cus I’m going to be there soon, and I need some kitties in my life.

Signing out. Likely I won’t have Internet for a little while. My next 250 or so miles are through New Brunswick and northern Maine. I’ll be getting a new pair of shoes via mail, my 100 mile wilderness food, and rumor has it…. a different backpack. Stay tuned. The Appalachian Trail is quickly approaching.

Oh and…. there is no quitting in thru hiking.

Jupiter
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