jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

Tag: florida hiking

Stats from my Eastern Continental Trail thru hike

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Mile 0

This was my first thru hike.

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

Let the walking continue.

Jupiter

Florida Trail FKT Summary

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

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

Following the guidelines of a self-supported hike:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My daily miles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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28d 9h 59m

Everything You Need to Know About the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail

There’s this beautiful little trail in South Florida known as the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail. Iconic as it runs from Lake Okeechobee, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. From one very large body of water to another of a very different kind. A mostly single track trail winding in and out of wetlands, prairie, and forests in places you might not of known are passable or might not of believed had such beautiful and vast natural areas hidden from the public’s eye.

Before I begin… I am just a guy who loves this trail and is out there a whole lot. My views and opinions do not reflect that of the Loxahatchee chapter or the Florida Trail. They are of my own and I did not consult them while writing this!  Without further ado… I present the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail.

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The OTLHT, map courtesy of the Loxahatchee Chapter.

The trail is 63 miles from end to end, with many places in between for day hikes, and just as many spur trails off of it, offering something for any kind of hiker or runner. The nature of this distance makes it a great challenge for someone who’s trying to get out for a long weekend, or similarly for those who like to take their time and wish to spend a week hiking one of south Florida’s hidden gems. There’s even a group of runners who attempt to do the whole thing in under 18 hours each year, but that’s clearly only for the most masochistic. For the most part this is a great area to get out for a day or a few, away from the hustle and bustle of modern day society.

You have the choice of starting or ending with your feet in the sand at the ocean, something I find to really be a great way to begin or finish your journey. Too many times have I started there at sunrise to walk the trail, and have the momentum of that moment follow me throughout my hike. Similarly I have finished time and time again laying on the beach with a drink, and a swim in the water. Beach patrons either astounded by my smell or impressed with where I just came from. The beach being a termini of this trail is something really special that you won’t find on many hikes.

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Eric and myself about to start walking from the beach. Little did Eric know at this time, hiking with me isn’t fun!

The Loxahatchee chapter of the Florida Trail Association does day hikes out on this trail almost weekly, a few overnight trips a year for anyone interested in getting their toes wet(literally,) and finding out more information about the trail from the same folks who built and maintain it. These can be found on their meetup site, alternatively on their chapter Facebook page you can feel free to ask questions, post pictures, or tell stories from your hike. Some of the most knowledgeable OTLHT stewards can be found there for questioning, along with a large group of folks who love the area, and all trails near by. If you do go out for a hike be sure to go say hello, and post some pictures! They do an unimaginable amount of work every year to make sure that we can get out and enjoy these woods. Without their time, money, and effort we wouldn’t have the 100 miles of trail locally to go enjoy! If you are so kind they are always looking for help, and more members. Every little bit counts, and every little bit goes directly into improving the experience, and enjoyment we all get from a walk in the woods. I highly encourage anyone to become a member of the Florida Trail Association, because without them we wouldn’t be able to get out and do what we love!

The Loxahatchee chapter has a lot of information regarding this trail on their website. Especially for those looking to hike it from end to end, you should really go through and give it a look!

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An FTA led overnight backpacking trip in JDSP.

A while ago I wrote a FAQ of sorts for this trail, but by this point I feel it’s somewhat dated! I’d like to get more information out there for those interested in taking on the trail, as I am very frequently asked questions I hadn’t thought to put on that original posting. Doh! So here’s version number two, with additional info. I recommend before tackling the whole trail you check out both. Most of your questions, and concerns should be addressed. If not you can feel free to comment here, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible! The local FTA chapter is a wealth of information, are very open, and available to answer questions as well.

Oh, and by the way this is a trail designated for foot traffic only 🙂

Difficulty

It may not be hiking in the Himalayan Mountains but don’t be fooled! Folks are often surprised at how hard Florida hiking can be. Just because it’s flat here doesn’t mean you won’t be presented with challenges. In Florida’s case, very unique challenges as likely you won’t find anywhere else what you do here. Due to this I always tell people to er on the safe side while planning.

If water levels are up that may take your pace by surprise, your feet and muscles may not be used to the distance or level ground, and of course being unfamiliar with the trail may lead to slower miles than expected. If you do take longer than expected remember there are restaurants, and a gas station on Indiantown Road to supplement your food supply with! Regardless of pace, you should go to those places anyway.

Things to consider

  • You’ll be walking through water at times, and will want to be wearing shoes that fit very well, are very breathable, have aggressive tread, and are lightweight. I recommend trail runners. Gaiters also really help to keep out sand and muck, look into them. They might save you some pain.
  • The sun is brutal, and there are quite a few places along this trail where a lot of sun exposure is inevitable. I recommend a hiking umbrella, or at least sunscreen, and a wide brim hat of some sort.
  • Wild pigs like to tear up the ground creating areas of unstable footing, be careful not to twist an ankle, and take it slow. Both over the uneven ground, and while walking through water.
  • Your feet are your gods, take very good care of them. Be sure to have a needle to pop blisters, and some blister tape to cover the drained area. Only pop blisters at the end of the day, not while you still have miles to make.
  • Be careful of animals, or in other words stay on top of your game.

Take it easy! There is no rush to speed through this, and if that is your aim I would be sure to have a get away plan, which might require a friend who is local, the FTA, or Uber prepared in advance. I hear from folks who want to go out and do three 21 mile days back to back, only to come back short of finishing! I seriously advise most to take at least 4 days to do it. Or even longer! The campsites are very nice, the trail is very scenic, and there are a lot of great places to stop for breaks. If you’ve never done the whole trail before, spending 5 days out there is a wonderful experience.

By the way, the campsites aren’t set up for a three day hike, you’d wind up doing 19 miles, 25, and 19 again! That 25 mile day is what really gets people!

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The sand dunes of Johnathan Dickinson are always a fun way to bring in the first or last miles of this trail!

Wild Animals

Aren’t much of a concern… But you should still keep your eye’s peeled! If not only just to see them. If it is a dangerous animal, please do not try to get closer for a picture! You saw it, it was there. Do not endanger yourself over something so silly.

The trail takes you through quite a few different natural areas, all with their own unique feel, and ecosystem. I’ve always felt that around every bend the trail has something new to offer or see. Between palm cathedrals in the Loxahatchee Slough, or cypress swamps in JW Corbett, to the vast matrix of pines in Dupuis, or the sand dunes of Johnathan Dickinson. There’s always something new to catch your attention. The same sentiment goes for not only the land you walk through but also the animals and plants you see along the way! I’m not much of a birder as my eye sight is kinda poor, I just assume they’re all bald eagles. I’ve been told and from what I have seen the birds in Florida are truly out of this world. We are a pitstop for many migrational birds, as well as a lot of others you can only find here in Florida. The cute blue Scrub Jays in JDSP, the wading birds that seek refuge in the wetlands, owls, kites, peacocks, hawks, turkey, and yes! Eagles! The wildlife doesn’t stop there as you can also find a very wide variety of snakes, invasive lizards like iguanas or basilisk(more commonly known as the jesus lizard,) and you may even see an alligator or two if you’re lucky. In most areas of the trail there are wild pigs, from the very small babies to the interestingly colored parents. Of course there are also the ever entertaining squirrels, bunny rabbits, and raccoon’s. If you’re really looking, maybe you’ll even see a bobcat, or coyote. I would say a panther as well, but no one would believe you so you best get a picture of that one!

I’ve spent countless nights, and thousands of miles on this trail over the last few years, and despite all of this time spent walking through swamp, and startling wild pigs, I’ve only once felt like an animal had ill intentions for me. Remember not to get closer for a better picture? That’s because I’ve done that! The alligator wasn’t so pleased. He gave me a good scare, and without saying it, showed me why I should back up. As should you! Before the animal has to make such a sentiment clear.

I’ve seen what worries you time after time, from diamond back rattle snakes, to water moccasins, to wild boar, to alligators, to creepy eyes in the night… and I feel so long as your wits are about you and you remain vigilant none of these things are actually all that threatening.

Regardless, please be safe 🙂

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Our friendly Little Gopher Campsite neighbor, who lives in the nearby canal. I get water from where it’s shallow enough so that I can see whats under it while here.

Camping

You must stay at the campsites that are built and maintained for us. Fortunately there are many, and they are very nice! The land managers of the natural areas you pass through are very kind to let us have these campsites so we show our respect by staying at them, and not in random places along the trail.

Your options for camping are:

  • Loop 4 campsite in Dupuis – 2 tables, fire ring, and a pitcher pump. Could alternatively go on to Powerline camp.
  • Powerline camp at the Dupuis/Corbett boarder – Fire ring, and plenty of flat space, near a very large canal for water. A good place to stop early instead of going to Loop 4.
  • Little Gopher in Corbett – Multiple benches, fire ring, and water nearby.
  • Bowman Island in Corbett – A small fire ring, in a very wild place! Watch out for poison ivy.
  • Open Clearing in the Lox Slough – Water/pitcher pump a fraction of a mile south, on the trail. Sometimes this site floods. No campfires allowed.
  • Lucky Tract Campsite in the Lox Slough – Just north of the open clearing, a more secluded spot, no on site water, get it a mile(or less) prior in either direction. No campfires allowed.
  • Kitching Creek in JDSP – Tables, trash cans, fire rings, benches, a bathroom, and a pitcher pump. A very luxurious campsite.
  • Scrub Jay in JDSP – Tables, benches, fire rings, trash cans, a bathroom, and a pitcher pump. Equally as luxurious as Kitching Creek.

If you start at the ocean the first campsite you’ll come up to is Scrub Jay Campsite, I believe it’s only 4 miles from the trail head, so that might be a good place to stay if you get a late start.

If you had started at the lake, on the day before your last you could go further past Kitching Creek to Scrub Jay Camp, so you have more time for the Taste restaurant, relaxing at home, or on the beach. In other words those two sites are however you wish to play them! Same goes for Loop 4 and Powerline Camp, although Loop 4 is a nicer place, it may be beneficial to make the extra miles if you have a lot of daylight left.

In an effort to make your planning easier here is a sample of what I might do given however many days I have off. Feel free to deviate as this certainly isn’t the end all be all! You may find you want to make more miles in a certain day, or less. By all means check my data and tailor your trip to how you like to do it!

  • 6 day plan / 10.5mpd: Loop 4, Little Gopher, Bowman Island, Lucky Tract, Kitching Creek.
  • 5 day plan / 12.6mpd: Loop 4 or Powerline, Bowman Island, Lucky Tract, Kitching Creek or Scrub Jay.
  • 4 day plan / 15.75mpd: Loop 4 or Powerline, Bowman Island, Lucky Tract.
  • 3 day plan / 21mpd: Little gopher, Lucky Tract.

The first time I did this hike I took 5 days. Since then I’ve done it in 2, and I’ve even taken 6. Pick your poison, I wouldn’t be overly ambitious, and instead play it safe so I or the FTA don’t have to come pick you up 😉

Some of these areas you’ll be camping in require permission, it’s just a short phone call away, the Lox Chapter spells it out for you here.

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Camping in Dupuis, at the Loop 4 Campsite with my tarp, and bugnet contraption.

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Camping in the Loxahatchee Slough, at the Lucky Tract Campsite. No campfires allowed, but it’s still a nice pit stop to rest, in the middle of a beautiful area!

Parking

… and logistics?

If you are starting from the lake, I would find someone to drive you out there, or try Uber. It wouldn’t exactly be the safest place to leave your car as it’s an exposed parking lot right next to a busy road. That is to say, at the LOST/NENA trailhead next to the lake. However there is an alternate, which actually includes more miles of wilderness opposed to walking along a canal for a ways. Inside of Dupuis you can leave your car at the Governors house(a pavilion,) and that would be a much safer place to park for a few days. Take the western loop hiking trails, and you’ll meet up with the OTLHT after a few miles. The total mileage is about the same, and you wouldn’t miss all that much.

If you are starting at the beach, you can leave your car at the Hobe Sound Public Beach, but if you can avoid doing so I would. I have heard that the police patrol that area twice a night, and it is a very rich neighborhood, but parking is limited, and accidents do happen. My friends car was backed into at that very parking lot for example. You may want to call the local sheriffs department, and let them know what you’re doing, and that you’ll be leaving your vehicle there overnight. Again, you can do this, but it might be better to get a ride. Post in the Lox Chapter Facebook group and see if anyone could potentially shuttle you. Uber will take you from the beach back to the lake, and I don’t remember the price, but it’s much cheaper than I thought it would be.

If you plan to begin at the lake, and won’t be getting there until later in the day keep in mind camping at the LOST/NENA trailhead next to the lake isn’t allowed, and frankly it’s right next to a busy highway. You wouldn’t want to camp there anyhow! An alternative is to start your hike from within Dupuis, and utilize one of their group campgrounds that night and begin the next day. A much more enjoyable camping experience. Or of course you could make the 9 miles to the Loop 4 campsite.

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Walking into a prescribed burn in Corbett was a very cool, and strange event. Smoldering ashes, and little fires still burning for a mile or so. This tree is still standing. Keep your eyes peeled.

Water

Water is abundant! During the times of the year you will be hiking that is. Typically by April it starts to seriously dry up until Sep-Oct when it starts to fill in again. I totally advise against hiking in the brutal south Florida summer months. Although you won’t have to walk through water, the heat, exposure to the sun, and lack of drinkable water makes for a much less enjoyable time.

You should have no trouble finding water to drink, but you must carry some sort of filter! Water comes in many forms… from canals, to swamp, to rivers and creeks, to pumped out of an underground well. All of which are non potable. Drink as you go, find more, and filter more. There is no need to carry 63 miles worth from the start, as I know someone who did that.

In addition to a water filter, having a clean bandanna or a coffee filter is nice for a pre-filter. A lot of this water that you’ll be drinking has very small particles of silt or plant matter in it, by covering the top of your bottle with the fabric first and running the water through that into the container, you’re effectively removing a lot of what most would consider undrinkable. Then you use your water filter to keep out any viruses or bacteria. This extends the life of your gear, and keeps you from drinking sinkies, swimmies, and floaties.

The furthest you should ever have to go without finding a source to drink(while hiking in season) is 4 or 5 miles. Assume when you fill up that you won’t find anything for the next 6, which would take most a few hours worth of walking. Dehydration in Florida due to the heat is a major problem, so please be safe, and please remember to bring some form of electrolytes!

I personally have 2 liters worth of carrying capacity while I’m out there. For me that’s great, judge for yourself how much you drink while exercising in the sun. Maybe you would want more, but I wouldn’t recommend starting with less.

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Water? Not a problem!

Pets

In most locations I don’t believe pets are allowed… and really I don’t think this is the place for domestic animals. Due to the length of the trail, the amount of water you’ll be walking through, and the wildlife I think it’s best that the pet stays home. Aside from that I do think it is frowned upon in most of the natural areas along the trail.

Dogs and hiking are awesome, I understand the moral boost, and how fun it can be. Unfortunately for now this isn’t the place. However, if you’d like to take your dog hiking on this trail leashed pets are welcome in Johnathan Dickinson State park.

I encourage you do to your own searching around, as maybe more of these areas allow pets than I think, but I do know an end to end hike wouldn’t be in the cards. Bring a human you like instead, or two, or three!

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My friend Cassandra, and her doggies camping in Johnathan Dickinson.

Food & Resupply

If you’re looking to resupply and restock on food half way through your hike, that’s not really an option. Although you can supplement along the way!

When you get to that big busy Indiantown Road near Riverbend Park, 15 trail miles from the beach, just to the west you’ll find a gas station, and two restaurants. Pig out! Pizza or Mexican is on the menu. They are somewhat familiar with hikers and there are tables outside to sit at, and enjoy your meal. Less than a mile further down that road are more restaurants, and a Publix, if that is more to your liking.

A mile from the beach you can find a convenience store on Bridge Road 50 yards west of the trail, if you wish to have some cold drinks or snacks while you finish and relax on the beach, or a cold Gatorade for the beginning of your hike this is the best spot. At this same intersection you’ll see shops to your west, most importantly you’ll see the Taste restaurant. There is no better way to finish your hike, or alternatively no better way to pound some calories before you begin! They have seen my ugly mug many times, along with countless other hikers. Due to change in employees they may not be aware of what you’re doing, but whenever I stopped in they always knew what I was up to and asked if I was with the FTA. Very nice people, be sure to tip big to make a good impression for the rest of us! My favorite meal is the Portobella Sandwich.

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A Pine Lily in Corbett, a seasonal flower that’s very beautiful. Likely you won’t see these anywhere other than out in the wild.

Navigation

The Florida Trail Association really does an amazing job at marking the trail to make our job of hiking it, and not getting lost an easy one. Although there are a few places that are notorious for being mildly confusing, or I could see how they might trip up someone. Sometimes through the activity of hiking our minds wander, and we find ourselves off trail! Even after walking this 14 times from end to end I still miss turns here and there. Silly? Maybe, but it’s true. Luckily for us there are a couple options to help with navigation, and making sure we don’t find ourselves in a situation that is out of hand. One man got lost in Corbett for example and wound up spending the night out there unexpectedly without proper gear.

There are paper maps provided by the FTA that can be found on their website, under side trails, Ocean to Lake. Sandra Friend, the operator, and founder of the wonderful website Floridahikes.com has also created a phone app that uses gps to locate, and tell us where we are. The entire Florida Trail can be purchased within the app, or you can simply buy the section you need, in this case that would be the Ocean to Lake. It’s cheap and totally worth it.

Personally I would go with the phone app, but as we all know battery life doesn’t last forever, so if you have no way of charging your phone out there or understand that accidents do happen and electronics do fail, maybe the paper maps are the best option for you. It is smart to get and use one or the other.

A must have is the data sheet for this trail, which can be found on the Loxahatchee chapters website. It is mile by mile what you will come across. An invaluable tool for planning which campsites you’re going to stay at, and how far you’re going to travel each day. Sandra’s application has this implemented in it, so you don’t technically need to carry the sheet with you so long as you’re using that. Otherwise I feel you absolutely need the sheet on your person.

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The “Florida Trail” phone application.

Cell Service

A good rule of thumb, the closer to the beach you are the better the service. There are very few places along the trail you won’t be able to make a phone call, and they’re all deep into Corbett or Dupuis. Then again if you keep walking generally you’ll find signal again. At the Loop 4 campsite in Dupuis for example try walking ~50 yards in a couple different directions, and I guarantee you’ll be able to use your phone.

If you are wanting to charge your electronics or clean up, I’m sure the pizza place or the gas station near Riverbend would happily let you use their outlets, and bathroom 🙂

Alternatively you could bring an external battery! You can find cheap ones with a USB port at Publix, or even cheaper on Amazon. I personally carry one of those, or a spare phone battery. It is nice to have the security of a phone call when you’re having a rough time, or need to be picked up!

When you enter or exit Corbett, leave the youth camp alone. Without prior permission their services aren’t for us, as far as I’m aware. If you like, feel free to call them prior, and ask.

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Some rare neon pink dragonfly.

Places of Attraction

Along the trail there a very many beautiful locations for breaks, as well as benches, tables, boardwalks, bridges, and animals who can always be found in specific areas.

  • In Johnathan Dickinson State Park you’ll find sand dunes, two wonderful campsites, an endless matrix of pine trees, palmetto, and tall grass waving at you in the wind, as well as wetlands, and a beautiful single track trail winding through it all. Not only that, but JDSP is home to Kitching Creek which has a very pretty little bridge over it, as well as a few boardwalks scattered throughout the park. In this area you’ll eventually find yourself walking along the Loxahatchee River which provides great places to stop, rest, and enjoy the view or even go for a swim! If you are so inclined, when you get to the abandoned orange grove, see if you can find one that’s good to eat!
  • Riverbend Park is a wonderful place for a picknick as it has many sheltered tables and benches. Hell, I’ve taken many a nap away from the heat laying on their tables. There are also many lakes, small rivers, and an abundance of animal life, including wild peacocks. This area is protected, so often the deer won’t at all be concerned with your presence. I often see turkeys here, as well as owls, and other birds I don’t exactly know the names of. In the front of the park(off trail) there are porta potties. This area is where you’ll find Indiantown Road, and those restaurants.
  • The Loxahatchee Slough is wild in many ways with trail covered by large palm trees towering over you, wet open prairies, multiple wonderful boardwalks through cypress swamps, and a small campsite. About a mile from the campsite there is a pitcher pump with some benches, and here you’ll cross a large metal foot bridge over a very long canal. The Lox Slough is a favorite of mine for the amount of wildlife I see there. More so than anywhere else on the trail this seems to be the home of many wild pigs! I’ve never once had a problem, and at one time I saw 12 of them all scatter from me as I startled them. I frequently see cute little baby pigs and once or twice they strayed from their parents, and seemingly were leading me down the trail. This area is a good place for a couple breaks. I recommend the bench on the boardwalk, you’ll know the one.
  • The Hungryland Slough is what I believe to be a planned neighborhood that never came to be. You walk along a grid of dirt roads through wetlands, and often here I run into deer. A lot of places along this section offer big views of the vast water and tall grass that surrounds you.
  • Corbett by far is the deepest, wildest, section of this trail, and the Youth Camp at the front of the WMA also marks the halfway point in the OTLHT. Congrats! In Corbett you’ll find a lot of water to walk through, but wait! It’s not a bad thing because its accompanied by beautiful shallow lakes, and a winding single track trail through cypress domes. Some of my favorite sections of this trail are in Corbett as well as my two favorite campsites. Bowman Island camp is infrequently maintained but its really awesome because it’s on an island. You walk through the water ~30 yards to get there, and then you enter a tight jungle with a clearing in the middle for tents. Little Gopher campsite is 6 miles away from that one and also really great. Two small lakes nearby, benches, a fire pit, and the Big Gopher Canal which is home to an Alligator that I almost always see when I’m there! So when you’re approaching that area, keep your eyes peeled and you may see him. At Little Gopher, bonus points if you can find the orange tree.
  • Dupuis has it’s own special feel to it, at times similar to JDSP with pines but in a different much more diverse way. The animal I see here mostly is turkey, but I have seen bobcats, pigs, deer, and gators as well. A friend told me she saw a panther, although I’m not sure I believe it! The loop 4 campsite is totally awesome with a lot of fun places to explore nearby. Dupuis in the past was ranching land so you’ll find a lot of old and rusting relics from a time forgotten as you pass through. Bonus points if you find the bathtub 🙂 At the Corbett / Dupuis boarder there is a very large canal I like to stop and take breaks at, I often see alligators, and more interesting… otters!

All of these Natural areas are very unique in regards to one another. Something I really love about the trail, with each new section comes a different feeling.

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Boardwalk built as an eagle scout project by the boy scouts, in the Loxahatchee Slough.

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Trail in Dupuis lined with little yellow flowers for miles on end.

Hiking Season

The best time to hike this trail is when its comfortable outside, so hiking season starts with the first cold front of the year. In 2015 that was late November, ending when the nice weather dissipates typically around late April. If I were to recommend a best time to get put there that would be January-March. April might be a bit on the uncomfortable end if you don’t pick dates wisely, and earlier than November the trail might still be waiting to be maintained in various locations.

Be aware that the bulk of trail maintenance season ends in February and starts again in October. For this reason and more importantly the heat of the summer May-September are pretty rough times to be hiking the trail. Then again I’ve done that multiple times. Just be careful please. The amount of bushwhacking you’ll have to go through, and lack of water may be more than you are imagining during these months.

Something else to be aware of is hunting season. I have never had a problem, even during the heart of general gun season, but there are times of the year where you’ll want to wear very bright colors. General gun is the one you want to be aware of. Small game, or whatever the other seasons are called simply aren’t a big deal. You can find the schedule here(Corbett / Dupuis.) I’ve had good experiences with all the hunters, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few bad seeds out there. Corbett and Dupuis are the only two places along the trail that allow hunting. In Dupuis you likely won’t see anyone as it’s much further out west, but in Corbett they’re there. After a log day of not finding any animals to kill some Knorr Pasta Sides and trail mix starts sounding pretty good. Be sure not to feed the hunters so it doesn’t become an issue.

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My hunting season attire. At 6’2″ I sure hope I look nothing like a deer.

Gear

  • Hammock or tents are best. There are plenty of trees around to hang from, but what is most important is that you have some sort of bug netting to keep you sane, and a roof in case it rains.
  • You need to be sure you have some sort of rain gear, like a poncho or rain jacket as frequently storms can come out of nowhere, or you could get lucky and not experience that at all. Either way, its a must.
  • Make sure all of the important things in your backpack are water proofed. Either in ziplock bags, water proof stuff sacks, or the use of a compactor bag lining the inside of your pack. I use the latter.
  • I mentioned gaiters already but when it comes to walking through water and sand they really can be a wonderful thing to keep the crud out of your shoes. You can find some low cut ones online for cheap. Not a necessity, but may be something that keeps you from emptying sand from your shoes every couple hours.
  • Some form of sun protection is needed as you’ll be exposed in a lot of areas. Sunscreen, a hiking umbrella, maybe a quick drying long sleeve shirt, or a wide brimmed hat. You’ll be happy you brought ’em.
  • Some people like the comfort of a bug headnet. It’s a 1oz piece of fabric that goes over your head, and your hat, and keeps bugs off your face. The mosquitoes, and gnats are totally hit or miss so this is just an occasional comfort thing. I personally don’t carry one, but there have been times when I wish I had.
  • At least 3 pairs of socks. I dry one pair by hanging it from the outside of my pack while I wear another, and typically the third is worn while I sleep.
  • Dont forget the TP, and don’t forget to check the weather forecast to pack clothing accordingly for unpredictable temperatures!

 

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Bridge over a canal in Corbett WMA, and my backpack.

Speed Records

Including this because I can, and I want this article to be all inclusive. I know there are some rare few of you out there who are crazy like these folks!

The trail is 63 miles, and here are the fastest times it has taken to do the whole thing from end to end. The supported record was set at the annual Lake 2 Ocean 100k which takes place in June, but I know for a fact that there are better times of the year where that time would be easier to beat…

  • Supported: Andrew Barrett – 13 hours 36 minutes
  • Self-Supported: Christian Stewart – 13 hours 11 minutes
  • Unsupported: Jupiter – 33 hours
  • Unsupported yo-yo: Jupiter – 82 hours
  • Self-Supported yo-yo: . . .
  • Supported yo-yo: . . .

Feel like you could top any of this? Let me know if you do!

You ultra runners out there, the challenge has been presented. Nobody has yet done a supported or self-supported yo-yo. How quick do you think you could do it?

For anyone who’s really out of their mind, I once hiked the trail back to back 3 times in a row without any days off. How about a record for most continuous miles? I personally enjoyed that experience greatly, and over the course of those 8 days I noticed a lot of change in the trail that really enriched the experience. I even walked into a controlled burn in Corbett on my second time passing through, which was super cool!

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Runners at the start of a very brutal 100k.

Last of All…

If you do hike this trail be sure to check out the Florida Trail Association on Facebook and share your photos and experiences!!! They LOVE to hear that people are out there enjoying their trail. While you’re at it, consider becoming a member of the FTA 😉 The membership goes a very long way, and they sure do appreciate it! Or if you want to play a bigger part and help with trail maintenance, let me know and I’ll send you in the right direction. Without all the awesome volunteers this trail and others wouldn’t exist for us to hike, and they certainly need help from cool people like you!

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A few of the local FTA volunteers. Fred, Dean, Bea, Roy, and myself.

Useful Links

Check out the Florida Hiking Syndicate on Facebook too! Friendly group of Floridians who love hiking here.

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A misty morning in Johnathan Dickinson.

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Normally flooded, a cypress dome in Corbett.

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Eric going for a swim in the Loxahatchee River.

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The one, the only…

Thanks for reading! I sincerely hope this is helpful, and gets you out on the trail!!

Happy hiking, and if I can leave you with one last tidbit… be respectful! Leave No Trace

Jupiter

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A happy man finishing his trek at the beach.

One last shake down!

With a 4,700 mile hike looming I sit and reflect on a mindset I held close in trips of the past.

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Much to the dismay of my employer, I’ve taken a whole lot of vacations over the last three years.

With every trip I have a sub goal, beyond enjoying myself and relaxing in the outdoors… of learning something! With every hike I come back more experienced, with the knowledge, and practice that can only come from getting out there. With every hike I take a minute to focus on and think about my gear, or my technique. With every hike I’ve learned from my mistakes. A constant consideration to how I’m walking or handling different situations. A constant consideration as to how I can be a more effective and efficient backpacker.

This is something serious runners do far more than backpackers, from what I’ve noticed. They focus on their stride, foot placement, nutrition, everything beyond, and in between. It’s a mindset to certainly consider and learn from. A mindset I don’t see in many hikers. It’s no wonder why, walking is easy, isn’t it? Not really. Especially not so much when you’re walking 20 to 30 miles a day, everyday.

Train smart not hard, as they say. Or both, whatever suits you.

As someone who is always striving to improve any way I can, this is how I do things. I will mention that thousands of folks don’t do this, and they’re totally fine, and finish that thru hike. Then again a lot don’t.(Only 20-30% complete the AT each year. About 1 in 5.)

This is my last real training run

So here goes! One last serious shake down before my thru hike.

Although I run, hike, and backpack with great frequency this will be the last time I’ll be out with my pack for more than 3 days at a time before I fly to Quebec to begin my long walk back to Florida.

I’m heading up to North Florida to meet up with my good friend Longwalker to get in some much needed time off from work, and to hit one of Florida’s most beautiful sections of trail. The Suwannee River section of the FNST.

We have planned 91 miles over 5 days. A very leisurely pace of 18 miles per day.

I’m very tempted to go further in that time, but I mostly just want to relax and get away from work just once more! So I’ll be using this trip as an opportunity to take out my ECT rig(my backpack fully loaded,) and enjoy north Florida in all its glory.

There’s something special to me about knowing I’ll be at this section again come November, on my journey south to the Keys.

Only 3 and a half months until my thru hike begins.

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Photos of the Suwannee River courtesy of my Florida hiking buddy Longwalker

For more photos and info on this section check out Floridahikes

Jupiter

 

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop Trail – Post Hike Trip Report

Just a couple of days ago, I finished hiking a new route in Florida: I have dubbed thee the “Lake ‘O’ Lollipop.” I had the most amazing time, exploring and walking through areas which few see, and which even fewer will ever get to experience on such an intimate level as a three-mile-per-hour pace will provide. The idea of this trip was to connect two trails that were just begging to be connected, all the while seeing places which I have only read the names of on maps. I have hopes that this Lake ‘O’ Lollipop will become a route for any and all hikers in Florida who are looking to challenge themselves in new and interesting ways (as that was a main driving force behind me doing this), and of course who will enjoy seeing beautiful places in central Florida, and falling in love with the people and the small towns which surround Lake Okeechobee.

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For those who may have missed my pre-hike description, here’s a quick recap of what this route is, and which trails that it combines. The Lake ‘O’ Lollipop merges the Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail (OTLHT) with the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST.) Prior to starting, I had also decided that it would be really cool to make this into one giant loop, since the LOST is already a big loop trail that navigates the circumference of Lake Okeechobee, which is the second largest lake in the US and half the size of Rhode Island. So, this hike begins at the eastern terminus of the OTLHT on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean, and goes through multiple parks and wildlife management areas – all with their own feel and differing ecosystems. This takes you directly to the LOST, two miles south of Port Mayaca. From there, you circle around the lake, going either north or south, whichever suits your plan of attack better, bringing you back to the western terminus of the OTLHT where you will once again make your way back to the eastern border and Atlantic Ocean to finish your giant loop.

The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail is 110 miles around, and the Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail is 63 miles across. When you add them up in this roundabout way, doing the OTLHT twice, you have a 236-mile trail. The hike which I have now completed is 241.2 miles. I had to add on some miles, by walking around the lake on back farm roads and highways, due to construction closes on the southern half of the trail along the levee. I encourage anyone considering this route to do some of these road walks, even if the levee is open to the public, as they were one of my favorite parts of this trip. If I were to do this again, I would hike roughly the same roads as I did here, levee open or not.

The two trails contrast brilliantly. One is very much a jungle at times, and the other is very much out in the open and more or less an urban hike. (Urban thru hiking is gaining in popularity since the Inman300.) It was really beautiful to get to spend my first couple of days in the woods, then to walk through small towns, and then to finish back in the wild. Since you’re spending 126 miles on one trail, and 110 miles on the other (depending on your choice of route) you are spending roughly the same amount of time in each of these environments, and you thus always have something to look forward to … be it different scenery, or a new obstacle.

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop route, not marked are the roads I walked around closed sections of trail.

Pre Trip Preparations

Unlike how most train for a long and difficult hike, I choose to use methods of training which I like to call “saving my energy” and “stockpiling calories.” Daily, I eat six to twelve donuts and devour whole pizzas in order to save up those calories for the really big days ahead. I often do this while sitting on the couch, so as to not expend any energy which I might require later. People ask me the secret to hiking a thirty-mile day, and you here have just heard it. Just kidding…. I do make these questionable choices for my training regimen, but I also make sure that I go on multiple twenty-four-hour trips, in the sweltering heat, to make sure that I am happy with my gear, that my feet are feeling good, that I can handle the weather, and that my food selection is proper. My food selection for this particular long hike was not proper, but it was good enough for me at about two pounds, 4,000 calories per day. I don’t own a dehydrator, and I don’t order much food online, and so my supply was looking similar to that of your typical on-trail resupply. I frequently buy camping food staples like couscous, tuna, and raisins whenever they’re on sale, and so I had a full bin of food to dump out and plan out my meals for the days to come.

After devouring and printing maps for this trip (I could and should have bought maps of Lake Okeechobee from the Florida Trail Association), I decided that I would resupply my food either in Clewiston or the town of Okeechobee. I would be walking directly through or past both places on my journey, about four or five days after my start. I planned on averaging about twenty-seven miles a day, and finishing this adventure in nine days. This type of mileage isn’t new to me, but stringing this many big days in a row for nine days is. I always say that I’m looking to further challenge myself – and this is not even to mention doing this hike in June! Before leaving, I talked to multiple veteran members of the FTA about the things that I was worried about. They provided me with valuable information on what I was getting myself into; a big shout out to Paul Cummings for giving me a guide book on hiking the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. That book was really handy for me to have when I was first planning my daily miles and camping sites. It was also useful in identifying monuments, animals, and milestones to be on the lookout for. This book provided me with peace of mind.

I restocked all of my medical supplies, made sure that I had a lot of toilet paper, and took another good look at my gear strewn neatly on the floor. There is nothing worse than leaving for a trip, being out there, and only then realizing that you forgot something. Whatever that something small may be could be on your mind for days to come, as you convince yourself that it might have been the solution to all of your problems. For this trip, I was planning in particular on using a poncho tarp, which would serve as my rain gear and also as my shelter at night. It would have saved weight off of my back, but it sadly didn’t come in the mail in time. So, I went with my tried and true 7’x9’ tarp/ rain jacket. I had also tried ordering new shoes, since my old ones have taken a serious beating in my prior trips, but I mistakenly ordered a half a size too small. Fortunately, though, I had the same shoes in a half a size up from what I normally wear. Clearly, this was not the first time that I’ve made this mistake! I chose to wear those, knowing that my feet were going to swell from all of the walking which I was about to do. You will notice that your well-fitting shoes may seem tight after a few days on-trail, as your feet can grow a half or even a full size larger! With my backpack all packed, I had a base weight (only the weight of my gear, without food or water) of less than six pounds. So, fully packed with five days of food and a liter of water, I was set to be carrying a very heavy sixteen-pound backpack on day one. It was only to get lighter from there, a fact which I am always excited for as I am only going to get be getting more exhausted from there. After triple- and quadruple-checking everything, my pack seemed to be in order, and I was ready for my hike!

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Day 1 – Hobe Sound Beach to Hungryland Boardwalk trail head: 31.7 miles

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop is a go. No more working, all that I have to do now is walk, make as few mistakes as possible, and see to it that in nine days I make it back to the very spot which I start from. On this day, I wake up at around 4:00 AM, drink a protein shake, don my short shorts, pick up my pack, and transform my thoughts into those of a machine made to walk. I have chosen to get up so early because this trip is to be taken in June, one of Florida’s most harsh months when it comes to heat. People have already been telling me that there is record-breaking heat, and that I need to be careful. Starting a hike at 5:30 AM is certainly being mindful of the heat to come once the sun rises. I am being driven to the beach by my mom who is to drop me off and then not see me again until I am finished. We arrive, and I walk down to the beach and snap a picture. The sunlight is barely reaching the clouds in the distance, and everything around me is black except for that thin line of light on the horizon. I start to walk the sidewalk that will take me in the dark the two-and-a-half miles to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Within minutes, I scare some poor woman who is on a morning run with a flashlight, who apparently didn’t see me until I am right beside her. Not everyone is asleep at this hour, apparently. She is to be the only person who I will see for the next sixteen miles of the day, until I get to Riverbend Park. By the time I reach JDSP, the sun has risen, there is a beautiful pink hue in the sky, and I can see a spectacular moon. It is still high in the sky, waiting to fall out of sight and to be replaced by its more aggressive sibling. For once, as I tread the sand dunes in JD, a train passes by me. I always love seeing trains and so this is a great start to what will be a very long day. Being the first day of my trip, the initial road walk and then the soft sand won’t prove much of a match for me as I glide through the first five miles to the first campsite of the Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail, the Scrub Jay Campsite. I try to make a point of not stopping when I don’t need to, as there are only so many hours in the day to get to where that I need to be. The next three miles are beautiful in the early morning, nothing but tall weeds and pine flat woods. I fill up a liter of water at Kitching Creek, and the sun begins its relentless reign of terror which will last for the rest of the day. The next section until the Hobe Grove Canal is only two miles, but it has recently undergone a controlled burn. Some of the orange blazes that were marking the trail are gone, and the tree cover is very limited. I have already gotten my sun umbrella out, as I am trying to mitigate the rays from above. At least the trail is completely dry, and I can travel fast. The Hobe Grove Canal is a small water crossing. It is usually clear of debris due to the high volume of traffic which this trail receives. Well, I’m guessing that there haven’t been many other people out here, because I’ve been having to push my way through all of the weeds that have been building up in the canal. I pass an orange grove, and I walk down an overgrown dirt road where I see a turkey. Then, five little turkey babies pop out of the bush, and they’re all walking down the trail together. I’ve been feeling pretty good, and I decide that I will never be able to get a good picture from this far away! So, I start chasing them, trying to get a picture, until they dip off into the bushes. The next section has a beautiful wooden bridge over Cypress Creek, which is an offshoot of the Loxahatchee River. I sit there and snack, as it’s one of those can’t-pass-up locations. I see some bubbles and think that it’s a turtle underwater. I wait for it to surface, and wouldn’t you know it? Those bubbles are from an otter! He’s having a grand time swimming around, giving me a show. I watch until he goes around the corner, out of sight. It’s pretty amazing to see one, as I’ve sat here countless times during other hikes and have never had the privilege. My feet know this next four-mile section extremely well, and I push through it quickly. I only make one brief stop, at another one of my favorite spots on this trail. It’s a scenic overlook of a hairpin turn in the Loxahatchee River, a beautiful spot where I’ve sat and had many a meal before. Now that I’m in Riverbend Park in midday, the heat is truly upon me. Sun umbrella out, and a bandanna on my head, I’m not playing games anymore. I will look like this for the rest of the day. The people in Riverbend might not understand my look, judging by the stares I’m being given, but I’m probably travelling a lot farther than they are in this heat. Riverbend is a great park if you’re on a bike, out for a picnic, or going kayaking. For walking or running, though, I’ve always disliked the compacted hard ground. It seems to me to be more like a park for driving trucks around than it does for walking, despite the beauty. Take me back to the trail! After exiting the park, I sit down by a small marsh to have some lunch. I soon realize that there is a deer no farther than fifty feet from me, watching me eat! No sooner after that realization, another one comes in that I’ve been sitting in a pile of ants. Life goes on. The Loxahatchee Slough is next, another section which I know like the back of my hand. Fortunately, this section is completely dry. “Fortunately,” because it’s usually flooded from start to finish. There are a lot of small boardwalks here which make this a really great place to come and do day hikes, or just to walk through in general. It’s also home to a very diverse ecosystem which changes multiple times throughout the seven miles. There is one boardwalk in particular with a nice bench, made for an Eagle Scout project, which overlooks some wetlands. This, again, is one of my favorite places. How amazing that there can be three really amazing spots to stop and have a snack in just my first day! The section after this is undergoing a restoration project at this moment, which I had believed to be already completed. I soon come across some machines, and two workers. I say hello, and explain my mistaken thought. One guy tells me that I shouldn’t be here, and that the trail is closed. The other guy says, “I don’t see nothin’, man. Do what you want.” The FTA has done what they can to relocate the trail while the area grows back, but it has undergone some serious changes for a couple of miles. After this, I walk the Beeline Highway for a mile to get to the Hungryland Slough, an area which I think was planned to be a neighborhood – so you are walking undeveloped, grid-like dirt roads for about four miles. It’s very interesting and goes by quickly, as there isn’t much difficulty in the terrain. By this point, the heat is really getting to me, I’m tired, and it’s getting late. I have hiked thirty miles so far, and only have one mile left to go. I enter Corbett, throw away my trash at the dumpster next to the main gate, and walk the dusty road to the Hungryland Boardwalk trailhead. This is a grassy parking lot with two trailheads. Luckily, there are no cars, and so I set up camp immediately. This grassy parking lot is my home for the night. Situated right in the middle of the Ocean-to-Lake, I have walked half of this trail in one day (based on miles). I’ve done this before, but without this much ease. It has been an extremely hot day today, leaving me to wonder how I might do if I were to have a cooler day. Very happy to be done with my day, I settle down for the night. I’ve seen a lot of deer this day; I figure that I was seeing about a deer every couple of hours. At least one deer for every park or natural area which I have gone through. All night, I hear animals rustling in the bushes behind me. I can only hope that they don’t want to deal with me just as much as I don’t want to deal with them. Day One has been a success. I’m excited to be hiking the OTLHT again, and to be doing it bigger than ever before.

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20150604_151606Day 2 – Hungryland Boardwalk trailhead to Dupuis west boundary: 27.8 miles

I wake up late at 6:30 AM, and am moving by 7:00 AM. This timing will prove to hurt me a little later in the day. I could technically finish this trail today, in what would be a new personal record, but that would leave me without anywhere to sleep at the western terminus. I plan to stop just short instead, and sleep in Dupuis at the border of the management area. I start my day walking through Corbett. Used to walking through water during the sixteen miles, I decide to skip the first of the wetlands crossings and take the bypass trail around it. Later, I will find out that it’s so dry out, that the area which is typically up to my knees in water is completely barren. At least I am managing to skip what would have been a giant mud hole, so I stand by my decision to save my feet for another couple of miles. I get to the next wetlands crossing, known as “Eyeglass Lakes,” named after the overhead view in which it looks like a pair of eyeglasses, and you walk through what would be the center. This is another notoriously wet section that is completely dry. I’m stoked that I can for once move freely through Corbett without the burden of water holding me back, or turning my feet into raisins – something I’m used to, as it’s extremely rare for these sections of trail to be dry. I tell people the secret to walking through water is getting wet. The secret to walking through water fast is getting REALLY wet. The first six miles of Corbett are always a blur to me, although it’s a lovely section. There are recognizable sights, but I can never tell how far that I am from the start, or the next mile marker, once I’ve gotten going in it. The next campsite is the closest, most obvious, trail marker, but I can’t tell you the halfway point from only being a mile to it. For this reason, I try to blow through this section as quickly as is possible. I like to know where I am … for the most part, anyway. It’s nice to be able to track my speed and distance. After those first six miles, Corbett gets truly interesting. The scenery and the terrain start to change, and suddenly I’m really out there. The best known piece of trail here, and what I consider to be one of the most (if not the most) beautiful sections of trail on the OTLHT is called the “Hole in the Wall.” It’s a cypress strand, and it’s usually knee-deep to waist-deep with water that you can’t see down into. I turn a corner, and I’m there. I’m right in the middle of hundreds of cypress tree, countless air plants hanging from every single one of them. The corridor is tight, and stunningly pretty. Going through here alone can be a scary prospect, due to the depth of the water as well as the remoteness of the location. I’ll say that I’ve never had a problem, and never felt in real danger, but the thought remains. This time, passing through the Hole in the Wall, I’m blown away: It’s completely dry. I spend some time in here, looking around and taking pictures, because I may never get to come through again when it’s like this. It’s quite the treat to be able to experience this without worry of water snakes. I take my sweet time here, and enjoy while I can. After about a mile, I’m greeted by a bridge over a canal. I frequently get water here, and today is no exception. It has been overcast all day, but I’m now ten miles into Corbett and it seems that my luck has run out. Once again, the sun is shining, and the heat is on. I have plenty of energy, and I’m glad to have been so lucky with the clouds in the morning. A couple of beautiful miles later, I take my lunch break by the Big Gopher Canal. Some foresight has played its part here, as I know that an alligator family keeps its residence here, and that I shouldn’t get water in this spot. (When I walk up really slowly, light on my feet, I hear them dive under the water and hide. Rarely do I actually get to see them.) Good thing that I filled up extra at the last canal! After a nice break, where I add a couple pieces of Leukotape to my feet to combat the hot spot or two that I can feel coming on, I finish up the last four miles of Corbett. This is an awesome section with a lot of walking through cypress swamps. I am sad to report that I haven’t seen any larger animals in Corbett. Those hunters sure know how to clean a place out. More often than not, I see loads of animals everywhere but here. I cross under large power lines and into Dupuis. There’s a campsite here, as well as another canal. Some have spotted otters here, but I have only seen gators. I wonder how the two animals can coexist. The next five or six miles are devoid of water, so I decide to fill up two liters here and move on. The back country of Dupuis is extremely pretty, and extremely different from the front country. Since the last time that the FTA has mowed out here, the border has already gotten quite overgrown. There’s a really wild feel to the area. This trail is littered with little yellow flowers, and I’m walking through them for miles and miles. I feel like Dorothy on the yellow brick road…. I’m Jupiter on the yellow flower trail. This marks the beginning of my new PR of armadillo sightings. SIX in one dozen miles! I can go for days without seeing one, I meet disappointed out-of-state hikers wanting to see them, and now here I am faced with six of them over the course of just a couple of hours. I even see two at once; one silly armadillo is so scared of me that it runs directly into a tree! The trail follows a sandy road that runs parallel to another canal for maybe half of a mile. Here again is an alligator home, and I like to avoid animals that can do serious harm to me. There’s a giant, rusted metal tube lying nearby. I’d always imagined it as some massive culvert, never been installed, but I’ve recently found out that its use was as a feeder for cattle back in the day. There are more of these metal pieces scattered around Dupuis, but none are as big as this one. Shortly after this, I reach the last campsite of the trail, nine miles from the western trailhead of the OTLHT. This isn’t where I’d like to stop, but I’ve traveled twenty-two miles so far, with five-and-a-half miles to go, and this is my last location for water for the foreseeable future. I will begin walking around Lake Okeechobee tomorrow, with no prospects for drinking water, and so I chug down a liter right there and fill up all three of the liters in my pack. At this point, it’s getting really late, the sunset is coming soon, and I know that I’m to be walking in the dark. I walk three miles before the sun starts going down, one in the dim but colorful lights of the sunset, and the last one-and-a-half in the dark. Unfortunately, the second that the sun has gone below the horizon, and night is upon me, I enter a recently burned area. So there I am with my little handheld flashlight, capable of something like fifty pitiful lumens, looking for trail and orange blazes that have been burned off of trees. This proves to be quite difficult, as you can imagine, given the conditions. I fumble around, and lose and find the trail multiple times. I finally make it to a spot that I’m happy with, and I set up camp directly in the middle of the trail in the burned area. The next day, I’ll be greeting a group of ultra runners, who are running the trail from lake to ocean with a deadline of eighteen hours. This is something that I’m excited to witness, as these people are incredibly inspiring as what they’re doing is exceptionally difficult. Some call them crazy, but I think that you’d be crazy to not want to be able to do what they’re doing. If you think that me walking thirty miles in a day is impressive, try running sixty-three miles, over challenging terrain, in less than eighteen hours. I have my tarp pitched directly in their path, with cords going every which way, so the idea is to wake up before they get to where I’m camped. I’m in for a rude awakening otherwise!

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20150605_172248Day 3 – Dupuis west boundary to South Bay RV Park: 27.5 miles

Getting up just before 6:00, moving by 6:20, I’m super stoked to see the ultra runners start their race. I’d thought that it was beginning at 7:00, but an executive decision must have been made due to the heat that I’d been experiencing for a couple of days already. I make my way down the farm road, toward the mine that the trail passes, and I can see the group in the distance. One man is way ahead of the rest. There’s a tight group behind him, and then the rest of the twenty-plus runners strewn in the distance. I greet that first runner, and try to get a good look at his face, as I figure that whoever’s first in line will be the one to win, but then this isn’t a race about speed. This is a trail run. Navigation and ability to read the trail are everything. It’s one thing to be fast on a straightaway, and another thing entirely to be able to swiftly duck in and out of the wilderness. As the second group approaches, I recognize two runners who I have met in the past, and yell out, “Let the pain begin!” It may not seem like it, but this is my way of wishing them good luck. What this group is doing is a feat of endurance and athleticism. I am inspired by them, and admire everything about their style and choice of sport. Something is sparked in me, and I want to get out and do what they’re doing. Running marathons is cool, but running trails with distances even farther than marathons is even cooler. I can comfortably walk twenty-six-plus miles, but I can’t comfortably walk forty or fifty miles yet. Some of these runners are capable of 100- or 200-mile races. This group has a surprisingly equal ratio of women to men. My buddy Rob, who I’ve met several times on the trail, stops to talk with me for a second. I warn him of what he already knows: It’s hot as hell out here. I truly love seeing this event take place, and wish that I could be present for the rest of their journey, but I have my own path to follow. I finish the OTLHT, and immediately start down Highway 441 South, as this is a section of the LOST that is closed. For the next eighty-or-so miles, I will be walking down highways, on back roads, and also on sidewalks through towns. The asphalt doesn’t seem as bad as I’d thought that it would be. In fact, I wanted to do this trip as a way of experiencing the effects of walking on hard surfaces for prolonged times, to strengthen myself for future walks of this nature. It’s still early in the morning, so 441 is rather quiet. Not many cars pass as I walk in the shoulder. I like going against traffic, as it allows me to see if the vehicles’ drivers are paying attention or not. Some are, and some aren’t. Semis seem to show me the most respect, and so I start to show them the most respect in return. I get off the road for them and them alone. Motorcyclists are the worst offenders, seeming to mess with me by getting as close to me as they can. Today’s road walk is amazing, as I’m walking past all of these super cute homes. I see lots of cats, and some really fat chickens. I see an abundance of hoarded metal junk, and yards with pristine gardens. I wonder what growing up here must be like. To have Lake Okeechobee at the front of your house, and a sugar cane farm at the back. The views are spectacular, and the living is simple. I’m sure that you’d get used to the highway and railroad in between you and the lake. I walk this road, gazing at homes and occasionally sugarcane fields for maybe eight or ten miles, drinking my coffee until I’m all out of water. Wondering when I’ll reach the road that I need to get on for the next leg of the day, I come across the town of Canal Point and their community center. I decide that this is a great place to stop, because they have a giant map of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail right out front on the sidewalk; they understand! I spy a public bathroom in back of a playground, and some water fountains, and so I’m in luck. I stay until mothers with children show up to use the playground. I don’t want them to worry that I’m some predator. I keep on walking, and come across a poor neighborhood with feral cats running around everywhere and sleeping on everything. Someone has put out a big pile of food for them to eat, outside of a junk yard. This junk yard is something special, as it houses mobile carnival rides that fold up into vehicles, and big trucks with oddly painted murals of food – probably also used in carnivals. Right after this, I see two very familiar faces, Roy and Shannon Moore of the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association! Roy is the Grand Poobah, the Exalted Ruler … if you will … of that chapter. Or so he is to me! Shannon is his wife, and runs the Web-site for the chapter. They tell me where the runners are now, as they’ve been out taking pictures of them, and talking to the crew supporting them. After that, they decided to find me, bring me cold water, and see how I’m doing. Thank you guys so much! It’s great to see you two, as always. This really brightens my road walking for the day. I continue on, and am no longer on the road. I now have a sidewalk to hike on. I pass through more beautiful little towns, with more cute little homes, until I come across the Pahokee Community Center. They too have a giant map of the LOST! It sure is funny how all of these towns have big pictures of Lake Okeechobee, and yet the Army Corps of Engineers are doing such extensive work, costing millions of dollars, that nobody can use more than half of the trail going around the lake. I’m really overheated, and so I find an empty baseball field with seats, cold water fountains, and a bathroom. I hang out there in the shade for a while and cool down. I call the South Bay RV Park, to ask them about tent camping, as there is nowhere legal for me to set up my tarp, and I don’t want to be stealth camping on my first night walking around Lake O, just south of Belle Glade. The lady tells me that they close at 4:00, and I mention that I’m on foot and have a very long way to go. Making the biggest mistake of my trip, I tell her that I can probably get there in time, if I hustle. The heat and friendliness keep me from inquiring further, when really I should. She should give me more information. As I leave the baseball field, I begin the trend of dumping water all over my head and shirt to keep cool, and I weird out the people who see me doing this. Anyhow, everything good must come to an end. My sidewalks, for example. I’m back on the highway, and this is my first really long stretch of road without any shade. Getting burnt to a crisp, pushing to get to South Bay, rain is threatening to my east. I don’t know how far that I walk, but I eventually get off this road at Hooker Highway, which isn’t a highway at all. It’s a dirt road, and it dead ends in the direction that I’m going. My maps show other dirt roads connecting to it, in a fashion, allowing me to go farther south and get to a two-mile section of the LOST that isn’t closed, near Torry Island. These dirt/gravel roads are the beginning of my ankle problems. Dirt is fine with me, of course, but adding medium-sized gravel when I feel like I’m on a deadline is not good. I’m walking these empty roads, and a car comes up right behind me. A young man stops next to me, and offers me a ride. I tell him what I’m doing, and that I very much appreciate the offer, but that I have to walk. He tells me to watch out for water moccasins, and goes off on his way. Minutes later, after his car is gone, I hear four loud gunshots in the distance behind me, from Hooker Hwy. I turn around, and see a truck speeding away. That isn’t at all suspicious! I keep walking, and start to wonder if maybe the young man meant a gang when he said “Water Moccasins.” The Water Moccasins rivaling the Fire Moccasins for territory, around the southeast side of Lake O, sounds plausible to me. It’s only another mile to the levee and the Torry Island Bridge, but I’m really beat and it’s really hot. I don’t want to stop, because I’m so very close, but it’s hard to continue. I slog up the hill, and plop down in the first patch of grass that I see. I lie on top of the levee, right next to the Torry Island Bridge, with my umbrella held directly above me for shade. Car after car passes, wondering what the hell I’m doing. I’m so tired, and it’s 3:50. And I have two more miles to go. I call South Bay, and tell the girl that I’m not going to get there on time. I’m so very close, but so far, and I’m moving very slowly after trying so hard to get there before they close. Now, she says that it’s fine. She’ll leave out an envelope for me with all of the information that I’ll need, and I can pay her in the morning. Damn. Why couldn’t she have said that in the first place? I’m still happy that I’ll have a place to sleep, and a place to order pizza to. I take my first steps on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, and I make my way down the two miles. I finally arrive, and learn from the aforementioned envelope that I can camp anywhere on the grass next to the lake. I immediately call Pizza Hut, but they don’t deliver. I end up with a pizza establishment previously unknown by me. I order a fourteen-inch pizza, ten chicken wings, sixteen breadsticks, and a liter of Mountain Dew. I tip the driver very well, and he asks me if I live here. I tell him what I’m doing, and he asks me if I’m on a mission. I’m not sure what he means by that, so I simply say “No.” I eat every bit of what I’ve ordered. It’s so early to be at camp, but I’m so destroyed from pushing myself so hard on my first day of road walks. I cuddle up in the grass next to the lake, with my Mountain Dew and trash. I wait for the energy to set up my tarp, shower, throw away garbage, and charge my phone. There are only two other people in the entire RV park, both with RVs. What I have is a tarp by a lake in which there are alligators. There is a magnificent sunset tonight, but I don’t limp my way up the levee to see its true form. In this moment, it feels unlikely that I’m going to complete this trip. That’s how bad my left ankle is hurting. I’ve learned my lesson: Do not, push yourself to walk faster than you’re comfortable with (especially on roads or other compact surfaces). Every long distance hiker will tell you that distance is equal to your rate divided by the time that you have, and that the higher your rate is also the more prone to injury that you are. In other words, it’s why you’re better off hiking longer than faster, why hiking big miles means getting up earlier, and why I often don’t set up camp until it’s already dark outside. I know this, and I’ll be sure that I don’t repeat this mistake. People think that I walk fast, and I can, but they are misguided. Most of the time, I walk between two-and-a-half and three miles per hour. People are under their mistaken impression because they only see me on six to ten mile hikes, where injury is improbable no matter how fast that I’m going. I decide that my next day is going to be an easy day. I’m only going to go the fourteen-and-a-half miles to the Clewiston Historic Inn, to rest my feet and relax. I look up a video on ankle stretches, and I do those for a very long time. I hope that I will be feeling better after resting. I have a built-in buffer day, so that my overall mileage on this trip will be twenty-seven per day while allowing me to have a short day. I sleep by the lake with a stomach full of pizza, and I can hear some dog outside one of the RVs, barking on and off into the wee hours. If I do this trip again, I’ll spend the section from South Bay to Clewiston on the LOST, and I’ll camp along the trail.

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20150606_162136Day 4 – South Bay RV Park to Clewiston Historic Inn: 14.5 miles

South Bay doesn’t open until 8:00, so I get to sleep in, charge my phone a little outside of the bathroom, apply sunscreen, look over my maps, and figure out a game plan for the day. I pay the lady her ten dollars for the campsite, and am friendly despite the day before. I make my way out to Highway 27, and my ankle is feeling better from the night’s stretching and resting. Yesterday, I was walking mostly through neighborhoods and towns; today, I will be walking a real highway. The levee is to one side of me, the sugarcane farms are to the other, and there are a whole lot of cars in between. I see a guy riding his bike on the levee, and I stare at him from below as he stares at me from above. I would like to be where he is, but I’m sure that neither he nor I would be able to pass the construction sites that the Army Corps has here and there. Per usual, I’m walking against traffic, so that I can keep my eyes on those around me. When walking with traffic, I don’t feel safe – not even for a few minutes. Anyone could come up, not paying attention, and hit me at any moment. Walking against traffic, I feel more in control of the situation, and able to avoid any problems that might arise. The situation is more personal when the incoming traffic can see into my eyes. The drivers can relate to me. I’m a human like them, and a young guy at that. The road walking is actually pretty sweet today. I don’t have an overcast sky, but the heat of the day isn’t bothering me. I’ve had my umbrella out since the first moment that I started on the highway, and I will carry that umbrella for every mile that I walk today. I’m finding all sorts of things on the side of the road: cell phones, iPods, and a suitcase full of clothing. Why are these things on the side of the highway? I pick up and try out all of the electronics, but none of them are in working order. The clouds are amazing to watch growing and changing as I walk. Cloud-watching is a highlight to my urban hiking of today. My friend Wayne has pointed out that all of these farms on the sides of the roads have canals, and that all of the plants in and on the sides of these canals are dead. Others have told me about the pesticide usages, and I can see the consequences firsthand. Is there no better way? What is this doing to our water? It seems absolutely terrible, like we’d be better off without whatever good that chemical is providing. Science is the answer, and people smarter than I am coming up with alternatives to this archaic practice that our local governments seem to be overlooking. After Wayne brought this up with me, I’ve seen it everywhere. Beyond that, however, the farms are pretty to look at, with the sugarcane blowing in the wind. There are vast expanses of farms as far as the eye can see. When walking past these places for hours, sometimes the littlest things can become more and more beautiful in their own ways. Driving past them, I write them off, bored in minutes with my air conditioning blasting and music blaring. But here I am on foot, with no option but appreciating the simple beauty of it all. Much like the clouds, or the little bugs and spiders, the farms on the side of the road have beauty in them. I have long roads ahead of me, and can see little water towers way before me; I will eventually walk past them, and they will soon be way behind me. There’s an abundance of beauty. I walk five-and-a-half miles, and make it to John Stretch Park. There are some pretty bridges over a canal coming from a water structure on the Lake Okeechobee Levee, and trees with tables underneath. This is paradise to someone who’s been walking for a long while in the sun! I hang out here a bit, but I know that I still have nine miles to go. It will be pure highway, but there are different kinds of highways. People are playing soccer in the grass, people are gathered to drink, and there is a line of cars along the main canal where people are fishing. I finish my instant coffee from the morning, and fill up at a bathroom’s water fountain for the road ahead. I start walking, and soon realize that this is the type of road that has no cover and too much traffic, as Clewiston is one of the larger towns around the lake. So many Wal Mart trucks pass by. How many trucks does one Wal Mart need? What is in all of those trucks? I walk, I walk, and I walk some more in the hot midday sun. Eventually, I pass by some very small trailer parks, and see up ahead some cars parked along the road. I get up there, and I see that it’s a farm with a sign that says, “Fresh fruit and vegetables,” which sounds awesome to me! Nothing is better than fresh fruit after a long day’s road walk, I think. There are big bundles of bananas hanging out front, and as I walk down the road a few yards toward them I see some woman arguing with a very elderly, very tan, Spanish-speaking guy. The guy is the one selling, and the woman is trying to get him to sell for a lower price. She wants this six-foot tall stock of sugarcane, and she wants it for less than a dollar. She doesn’t look poor, and it sure looks like a very large piece of cane to me. I almost want to just give the guy a dollar and pay for it, but I don’t say anything. Really, I don’t even know what she’ll use this sugarcane for. I see a room with more stuff inside, and it seems to be what he’s selling, and so I go in. I realize that “Fresh fruits and vegetables” means bananas and sugarcane. There are a few gourds, but it’s a large stack of sugarcane and big bushels of tiny bananas that take up the space. The bananas look tasty, and I want to buy some, but he’s only selling them by the bushel. One bushel alone would not only be bigger but also heavier than everything that I’m carrying on my back. I contemplate just eating fifty or so tiny bananas right here, but decide against it. I would offer to pay for just a few, but the woman is still arguing with the seller, and so I smile and walk away. Those bananas sure would have tasted good. Back to the road I go. Farther down the line, I pass a sign letting me know that I’ve entered Hendry County. It turns out that I’m still a couple of miles out from Clewiston, but I’m getting close and my road walk for the day is almost over! Along the way, I’d been thinking about stopping and taking a break in the few shady spots that I’ve seen, but I haven’t yet and I won’t in these last miles to come. I’m already walking along a highway, and I don’t want to stand out any more than I already do by lying in the grass next to a major roadway. I see a lady doing just that, with no water bottle but a package of cigarettes. I don’t know where the heck that she came from, or what the heck that she’s doing here, and she probably thinks the same about me. But at least I have water! I smile at her, and she just looks away from me. Oh, well. Clewiston, here I come! Eventually, I arrive in “America’s Sweetest Town.” It’s a pretty sweet town, I’ll give them that. Right away, I have the choice of two different gas stations from which to grab a cold drink and a snack. I sit outside of my gas station of choice, and call the Clewiston Historic Inn to tell them that I’m ready for my room! Around this time, my buddy Wayne messages me to let me know that, surprise, he’s in the town to the north of me and heading south through my area with his girlfriend! I tell him that I’m checking into my hotel, and that I’m going to take a quick shower. I’ve learned a trick: Showering in my clothing, washing it as I wash myself, eliminates the need for laundry-doing. It works great, except that I then have to wear my wet clothing out to dinner. Wayne is kind enough to pick me up, and take me out to dinner and then for Hawaiian Ice. It’s very nice to see him and Liz again, and I don’t often get the chance to. Thank you so much, Wayne! It’s great to receive such excellent trail magic on my day of recovery! You’ve put the spark back into my eyes, and I’ll have a skip in my step tomorrow due to your visit. Wayne, Liz, and I talk about my trip thus far, and also what is to come – seeing the ultra runners, and just general backpacking talk. Liz asks a question that isn’t asked enough: What do I do when I get to camp? I do things differently than most due to my style of hiking. When I get to camp, I’ve hiked long and far, and I’ve usually just finished up the last mile that I can squeeze out without having to take a long break (which cuts into my sleeping hours, as I stop walking at sunset or just after dark, an hour or less before I should be going to bed for a wake-up time of 5:00 AM). What I do when I get to camp is take care of myself. I wash my feet with a bandanna, brush my teeth, drink water, study maps and mileage for the next day, apply a wax salve to my feet to help repel water from penetrating the surface, put Leukotape in any pained areas for the day to come, stretch my legs and feet, collect and filter water, and pack up and prepare as much as I can for the day to come. I do everything that I can to make the next morning go as smoothly as it can. I like to wake up really early, and be moving within thirty minutes of getting up. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s always the goal on a solo trip. I don’t make fires on solo trips, and I don’t explore my campsites. I do chores, more or less. It’s the same way when I take breaks during the day. I take off my shoes, and clean my socks and feet. For me, solo trips are about the hike. I’m out here for the journey, to enjoy nature while I’m travelling through it, and the purpose of camping is re-energizing. I’m not purely there to “work”; I like very much to look at the stars and listen to the sounds while I lie under my tarp at night. I won’t be camping tonight, but I still do all of those things to make my morning easy. I have my bag packed and ready to go, and my phone charged. I’m watching the weather channel, thinking about food, and wondering why I didn’t go out for second dinner, as I fall asleep.

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20150607_200806Day 5 – Clewiston Historic Inn to Lake Port (LOST): 27.3 miles

Another day and more miles to travel! I wake up early, and go down for the free breakfast. I’ve been looking forward to this. It isn’t much, but they have donuts, and I eat enough of them to make the stay worthwhile. The Clewiston Historic Inn is very cute, and much nicer than any of its price comparatives, and I would recommend it to anyone going through the area. I take my leave of it, and make my way down the main street of town. I stop at the Hawaiian Ice stand once more, and a CVS to grab snacks for the road ahead. I decide that I will skip resupplying in Clewiston, as I still have the options of Moore Haven, Okeechobee, and Taylor Creek, which all have varying degrees of food availability trailside. I still have food left over, and I can supplement that with whatever I can find in Moore Haven halfway through the day. This day starts off really nice, as I make my way down Highway 27. Forewarned by Wayne that there is a lot of construction between Clewiston and Moore Haven on this road, I dip down Highway 720, a back road with a small neighborhood and farms. This road gets less frequent use, and will take me to the same place. As I get on Highway 720, I come across a road sign labeled, “Happy Trails Blvd.” I take this is a sign that today is going to be a good day. I walk past small homes as I eat my Hawaiian Ice in the sun, eventually getting to nothing but farms that go deep into the horizon in every direction. This road is awesome, and I’m feeling great. My short day did wonders for me, and I’m not even feeling pain anymore. Crazy to think that I’m pain free, as on Day Three I’d thought that I’d sprained my ankle. I’m happy to be walking a mostly empty road. The clouds today are on a different level of beautiful. Clouds in the summer can be so dramatic, with how the formations appear and change. I love the ever-changing view, and I’m truly enjoying my walk. This road is to go on for ten miles, but something amazing happens halfway through. I’m walking along, and a man in a truck pulls up beside me and says, “There are a lot of things that I’d rather be doing than walking out here!” I tell him that I can’t think of anything that I’d be enjoying more. He pulls over to the side of the road, and we get to talking. He is one of the landowners of all of the farmland, and apparently his sixty-five-year-old buddy is a backpacker who does a 100-mile section of the Appalachian Trail every year. His friend also happens to be an ultra-light backpacker, and a self-proclaimed “gram weenie” (someone who thinks about every last gram that they have to carry in their backpack when they’re choosing gear; my kind of person). He knows immediately from my backpack and trekking pole that I’m not your average vagrant. We talk for a good amount of time about backpacking gear, and things like what I use for shelter, where I’ve been camping, where I’m going, what I have in my first aid kit, and which types of water filters are best. He opens his truck, and takes out a backpack of his own. He says that he created this kit for a survival situation in which he may be stuck for a few days. This is known as a “bug out bag”, and is often supplied with everything that you’d need to survive for seventy-two hours or longer. He’s a really awesome guy, and really seems to understand what I’m doing and that there aren’t many who would come out to recreate this or do it on their own. He offers me water and ice, but I’m already good to go. We say our goodbyes, and I go on my way, with my faith in people restored, and my energy renewed. I’m very happy to have met this man, and to know that he’s out there thinking about the same thing that I am: backpacking. You’re never too old to have fun with it. His thing is gear and survival. I continue on Highway 720, watching the birds flutter around, and looking for alligators in the surrounding canals. There are just a few homes out this deep in the sugarcane fields. When I make it back to Highway 27, and Moore Haven is within reach, I can see the massive bridge that takes you into town. This bridge is quite the spectacle, and goes over the Caloosahatchee River (I plan to use this river in a future trek). As I walk up the bridge, I realize that I’m on the wrong side for the best view! I hop the multiple concrete shoulders, and scurry across the roads to get to the other side for a beautiful view of both the river and Lake Okeechobee. I’m super excited to be experiencing this view on foot, rather than passing by in a car going upwards of forty miles per hour. I make my way down, and into the very small town of Moore Haven. The first place of interest that I see is a Family Dollar store. I passed one of these back on Day Three in Pahokee, and later regretted not going in. Now I know that I had indeed made a mistake, as they sell all sorts of food … even ice cream bars! I grab some junk, and a couple of sodas, and I sit out in the parking lot in the shade to eat it all right now. The beauty of urban thru hiking, the prospect of many places to get food! As soon as I enter Moore Haven, I leave. What a small place. It took me all of five minutes to walk through the center. I’m getting onto Highway 78 and walking ten miles north next. This road is very straight and very long. I realize soon after leaving civilization that I haven’t used a bathroom anywhere, which is met with the realization that I’m not going to be able to use a bathroom for some time. There’s a sheriff’s office to the left of me, and a correctional facility to the right of me, and I would rather not visit either for indecent exposure. I can’t drink any more water until I can get this problem solved, and it will be another hour before the flow of cars, mostly police, will slow down and I can dip off of the road. I’m very thankful when I can once again drink fluids, as I was starting to get very uncomfortable in the heat. This road seems to go on forever and ever. The heat of the day is no better, and people are once again messaging me about record temperatures. This doesn’t help, by the way! I can so very much feel the heat. Even under the shade of my umbrella, cool breezes are followed by massive heat waves, and this will continue for hours. I find a bridge to hide under to get some shade and drink down a lot of fluids. I get to sit by a small canal, and watch water birds walk on lilies, and scavenge. I find the strength to venture out again, thinking that I’m getting close to my destination. I thought that I’d gone eight miles, but it’s only been six. I have four to go. On this trip, I’ve seen all sorts of things on the sides of the roads. On this stretch, I find something that I very much enjoy: a very colorful party lei! It sure spices up my “dirty vagabond” look. I attach it to the back of my backpack, and go on my way. Before, I was just some dirty guy walking down the highway, and now I’m some guy walking down the highway with a flower necklace attached to my backpack! Oddly, this is a huge morale booster. I really like this lei, and I decide that I’ll carry it all the way to the end of my trip. At this point, I’m smack dab in the middle of my journey. I find another bridge for shade, an activity that I’m really beginning to enjoy – hiding under bridges like some troll. This bridge is accompanied by a large river and a park. The park has these offensive signs, saying “No camping,” all over. Good thing that wasn’t my plan. It’s getting late in the day, and fewer cars are passing me as I walk next to a nature preserve. I can feel that the end is nigh. When I’m honked at for the second time, I think that the lei must be working! People’s perceptions of my walking are higher. Well, that or I’m acting erratic on the shoulder of a highway that they’re trying to drive down. I wonder why more people haven’t honked at me on this trip. I’ve had thousands of cars passing me over these five days, but only two honks? I think that I deserve more honks than that! I have high hopes for my lei to get me more honks from those passing by. After a whole lot of walking, I finally make it to the LOST. After walking around half of Lake Okeechobee, about sixty-five miles on roads, and 128 miles into my trip, I’m now on the levee that I’ve been looking at for so long, and walking the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. The “Florida National Scenic Trail” sign on the gate is an amazing sight in and of itself. I can see the town of Lake Port down the road, but all that I want to do is walk along that paved road on the top of the levee. As I start down the levee, I see three bikers in the distance. I’m beyond excited. Here I am in my first steps on the LOST, and I’m seeing others out here using it too! I get up to them, and see that it’s a mother and two kids in their teens. I’m extremely friendly, and try saying hello, asking them how they’re doing, but they all ride past me without even making eye contact with me. This is a pretty disappointing first contact with others on the scenic trail. I only go another mile before deciding to settle down and watch the sunset from my tarp. The road walking has been painful at times, but I really have loved doing it. The next leg of my adventure is beginning now, and its name is LOST. I set up my shelter down by the river, at the base of the levee, and hope that I won’t be carried away by alligators in the night. The sunset from the levee is a sight to see. I love every second of it, and it’s only made better by the long walk that I’ve had to get to it. I’m a very happy man tonight, as I lie down in my bug net as the hoards of mosquitoes begin to arrive. The night stars come out, and I can see shooting stars, one right after another. I see so many within an hour that I assume that there must be some sort of meteor shower happening. Maybe it’s just so dark here that this is the norm. Either way, it’s much welcomed and appreciated. It’s a wonderful night to be on the LOST, and I fall asleep watching the shooting stars.

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That’s a tan, not dirt.

 

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Gator bait. Wonderful view of the sunrise the next morning. See below for closeup.

zpackstarpDay 6 – Lake Port (LOST) to Taylor Creek: 27.1 miles

This morning, I get up at 4:30 AM and am on my way down the scenic trail by 5:00. The sun isn’t set to rise for another hour, but the sky is already full of color. The grass is full of dew, going from my campsite to the trail, and so I decide to put my shoes on once I climb the ridge to the top of the levee. It turns out that the asphalt is so smooth, without rocks or glass, that shoes aren’t a big deal. I actually end up walking a mile, to a water control structure, before I even put them on. I’ve been too busy watching the colors in the sky change and continue to lighten. This has been a spectacular sunrise – without a doubt, the best of this entire trip. I watch in awe, as I walk, and it just gets better and better over the course of an hour. Finally, around 6:30, when I’m already a couple of miles into the day, the sun peaks at the top of the clouds and the day officially begins. Within my first mile, there’s something labeled as a “hiker graveyard,” which I first noticed in the guidebook from Paul at the FTA. Sure enough, there’s a spot that has a whole bunch of concrete blocks sticking out of the ground. I figure that it’s nice for those who make it halfway around the lake and perish, and those who get eaten by alligators along the lake. This is a convenient location right along the trail for their burial. I’m glad that I’m not one of those hikers! If it weren’t considered a hiker graveyard, I would think that it would be a good place for some serious ninja training. Jumping from block to block would really work for strengthening the skills of an average ninja. The day has started out really beautifully, but the exposed ridge soon becomes unbearably hot for walking on. The paved levee road is more like gravel at this point, which is super unpleasant. I prefer the blacktop by far. This isn’t your average gravel; this is like the cheap kind, where the stones are medium-sized, embedded, protruding, and loose. There are some that will make you trip, and some that are going to ruin your feet. This gravel is rough, and it makes up the trail from Lake Port to the Kissimmee River. There are eighteen-some miles of this stuff. I hide under more bridges whenever they come up, to get away from the heat and to rest my feet. Bridges have become a safe haven for me, away from the harsh Florida weather in June. The surrounding area is very beautiful and natural, with a massive nature preserve on one side, and a large canal that parallels the trail on the other. In this section, most of the benches and tables are down off the levee, by the canal. Although it’s tempting, I can’t justify climbing up and down that ridge over and over, through the thick grass, when I want to take a break. So, for the most part, I walk mile after mile without stopping, only going down when I need water. There’s a time during this stretch that I’m spotted by a helicopter (hopefully they don’t see me using the restroom). For a while, at first, they didn’t pay any attention to me. Before I knew it, though, I have this helicopter following me. It goes out and flies over the prairie for five to ten minutes, and the circles back to hover over and fly low past me. They continue to do this, for an hour. I decide that I’m a part of the scenery for them: “On this part of our tour, we have some idiot walking the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail in June…. Take a good look, and we’ll circle back in a few minutes to see if he’s fainted yet from heat exhaustion.” The helicopter at last disappears, and I move on, but after an hour it’s back again. I’m miles farther down the trail, and it’s following me again! It’s repeating the same process as before, getting progressively closer to me and lower to the ground. It’s pretty amazing that I’m a focus of this helicopter’s entertainment. (I don’t think that it’s a coincidence, and I can’t imagine what else could have been happening.) After that helicopter leaves for the second time, I don’t see it again. Maybe I’ve gone too far away from its base, or they’ve played me out with the tourists. Now, I’m watching cows in pastures on the side of that great big canal, and it seems like they’re watching me too. I start to whistle at them as I walk, and I get this giant herd of cattle walking alongside me, although maybe 100 yards away. This is really entertaining – I’m the Cow Whisperer/Whistler – until they start mooing at me. There are about 200 cows, all mooing at once in my direction. It’s no longer entertaining, and now really annoying, that they’re all following me and mooing! There are old and young cows, all doing it, and the last fifteen miles in the blistering heat have done a number on my patience. When I get closer to the Kissimmee River, I come upon a water control structure with a guy outside watching me. We talk, and he mentions that a big storm is to hit the area in the next twenty minutes. I haven’t looked behind me in a while, and doing so shows me a wall of black clouds moving in our direction. I’m not close enough to shelter for this to be a fun thing to look at. The guy also tells me that, after the river, the trail becomes blacktop again. This does get me excited. The winds start to pick up, and I can hear the lightning in the distance. I’m totally beat, and my feet have been destroyed by the terrain. I find an official Florida Trail campsite, with a table under a small sheltered structure. I would rather be under this if it’s going to be raining, than out walking. I eat some food, and I prepare my backpack for rain. I put everything important into bags. Then, I sit and wait. The wind is getting stronger and stronger, whipping off of the prairie, and pushing all of my gear off of the table. I turn to look at it, and I get a face full of the debris that’s constantly flowing in my direction. There are massive black clouds every which way, and I’m right in the middle. No rain has come yet, and I think that maybe I can make it into town before the storm really hits. This little shelter isn’t going to keep me protected from the elements any better than my rain jacket and umbrella could, anyway. I hustle my ass another mile down the levee road, to the Kissimmee River, and the rain starts. The thunder crackles, and the lightning flashes across the sky. I’m on the bridge, going over the river, as this is happening. Very much to my delight, I see a restaurant. Seafood is on the menu, and – more importantly – escaping this storm. I hide out there for a couple of hours, and I order a mountain of food. I eat until I can’t eat a bite more. I order beers, a few too many considering that I still have miles to make tonight. The waitress is extremely kind, and talks to me for a long time. She lets me charge my phone, and fill up my water bottles with fresh water for the night. She sure as hell doesn’t understand why I’m doing this, or why anyone would want to do anything like this, but she’s still very friendly. Her manager comes out, most likely to size me up to see if I have money, since I’ve been ordering all of this food and alcohol, yet I look very dirty and as though I could be the type to skip out. I tell him what I’m doing, and he’s very nice as well; he understands the freedom that I experience from a trip like this, but it clearly isn’t his thing. When the rain lets up, I thank the waitress, and tip her well, and I am off on foot to find the levee again. The next so many miles are nice, as there is a table at every mile. I don’t stop at any of them, but it’s nice to know my pace. There is the most lackluster sunset, due to the storms clouding the skies behind me, and then I walk the next two miles in the dark. The mosquitoes are terrible, and I camp right along the trail to save time both now and in the morning. I’m less than a mile from Taylor Creek. The stars and the lights along the lake are beautiful, and I plan my next day’s approach.

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20150609_154117Day 7 – Taylor Creek to Dupuis west boundary: 25.8 miles

I get up an hour before sunrise, and start my walk slow. Right off the bat, I’m met with a water control structure that’s gated off and locked. And it’s blocking my path. I’m glad that I didn’t hike farther into the night, as this would have been really disappointing to walk up to after dark, and to have to go back for camping opportunities. There’s a guy, maybe fifty yards away, looking at me. I don’t want to try trespassing or skirting the edges of this obstacle, but I do see a bridge that I can get to if I go out into the RV park adjacent to me and the town of Taylor Creek. I take the quick detour, and I am again met with a locked gate and a bunch of “No trespassing” signs. I have this map of the lake, sent by the Army Corps of Engineers, which shows all of the closed sections of the LOST. This is not one of those sections. I have no choice but to go around it on the three miles of highway, and hope that the next section is open to be walked. I’m kind of happy to be back on the road after all of the harsh gravel that I had to walk on the day before, leaving a sour taste in my mouth for the trail. I pass a gas station, and I figure that it’s my last chance to get food until the end of this adventure – or at least until Riverbend Park and Indiantown Road. I pick up some food, mostly nuts, trail mix, and power bars, as resupplying at a gas station is doable but not the best. I replace my two Smart water bottles with fresh ones, and buy a couple of shots of coffee to get me hyped for my walk. I forget to get both bug spray and some type of electrolytes to add to my water, and I can only hope that I haven’t made a mistake. The highways have been my jam during this trip, and so I’m pretty stoked to once again be walking them. It isn’t a big deal that this three-mile section is closed. I pass an interesting bar, with funny murals on the side, and more small neighborhoods and trailer parks. The roads are my home on this trip, and I’ve so enjoyed walking them. I come to the end of the three miles, where I can pick the levee up again, and I see dump truck after dump truck going down that road with one guy flagging them past. I walk up to him, and I ask if I’m allowed to use the other side of the trail. He tells me that I’m good to, and so off I go. From this part of the levee, I have a great view of Lake Okeechobee. I pass two Asian bikers on their way back from a ride, and I greet them. There aren’t any walkers yet, for obvious reasons. It’s really hot outside, and biking makes it easier to go farther and see more. The next approximately fifteen miles are spent walking the blacktop, looking off into the distance, and trying to see the places where I had been in the days before. Every so often, I go down and sit by the lake. I enjoy the view and the breeze, I collect water. I drop a bottle cap, on accident, into some rocks in an unreachable location, and so I go from having a water carrying capacity of three to two. The levee here is pretty. There are houses to my left, across the big canal, and occasional long views of the highway or farms in the distance. I’m dodging under the covered benches, which are scattered down the path, for shade, whenever the heat gets out of hand and I need to lower my temperature. My map shows water control structures every so many miles, and so those are my point of reference for how far that I’ve travelled. Furthermore, I can see them far into the distance, and so they’re how I know how far that I still have to go. Getting to each of these structures makes me feel like I’m moving, like I’m really getting somewhere. The in-between is a lot of lake, and big open space, where feeling forward progress is difficult. I see the Port Mayaca Bridge way off in the distance. This is the first sign that I’m really close to having walked all the way around Lake Okeechobee. It has seemed to take forever to get any closer to this bridge, and just when I’m about two miles away, a storm is visible in front of me. I brace myself for rain, and I hope for the best as I keep walking. When it starts coming down, it starts coming down really hard. The lightning is crashing just miles away from little old me, the tallest thing in the area walking on the top of the levee. I’m getting absolutely soaked, and I’m pushing to walk faster and faster to find shelter under that giant bridge. I walk the two miles in the rain, and I check out the Port Mayaca dam while I’m there, as I’m sure not going to be walking back to look at it. I take a seat under the bridge, and then I realize: I have to walk over this giant concrete obstacle, in this rain. This is a very scary prospect, as this highway is mostly used by big trucks and semis. I have only two more miles after this, and then I’ll be able to say that I’ve walked all the way around Lake Okeechobee. And I sure have to earn that title. I sit around and pout for a little while, until I decide that it has to be done. I get moving and climbing up the side of the shoulder of the road. The concrete wall, separating me from falling to my death, is not very tall. As semis drive past me, I can feel the force of the wind, physically pushing me toward the edge. When cars come by, I get covered in the mist of water picked up from the road, and I hope that the car behind the one passing can see the bright red of my rain jacket. I make it across, after an incredibly frightening climb, and I can only wonder why the hell that I couldn’t have just walked across the dam. There is no construction on the other side for a few miles, and it would have been infinitely safer. I have two more miles until the LOST/NENA trailhead, where the OTLHT begins. I walk those two miles of highway, in the rain, bubbling with excitement over having actually walked around the entire lake, to back to the place where I had begun. I still have the sixty-three-mile Ocean-to-Lake to do, but I’ve already made a massive accomplishment. By the time that I can see the trailhead, I’m screaming with excitement. Raining or not, here I am. I’ve done it. I stand around wishing that there were a covered bench, taking some photos of the trailhead, and then I begin my walk back east on the OTLHT. It’s only drizzling at this time, which is good as the first three miles from the lake are farm roads that are out in the open and very exposed to the elements. There is a one-mile detour around a mining road, and I decide to take it so as not to cheat the trail. This turns out to be a big mistake. I should have just trespassed, and then taken the shorter, more direct route. Only halfway into my trek down these dirt roads, I notice a big black cloud off to my right – and I think, boy, am I lucky that I’m not over there. Shortly after that, out of nowhere, comes pounding, sideways, heavy rain. I take a hard right onto one of the last roads that I have to walk down, maybe a mile from the closest place that I could be setting up shelter. The dirt road that I’ve been walking down has turned into a river that’s ankle-deep. I’m counting all of the lightning strikes, trying to determine how far away that they are. Some are sixteen, some are eleven, and some are only five miles away. I start to count the next flash, and BOOM! There’s an explosion less than 100 yards from me, in the cow pasture to my left. Scared for my life, I just start running down that road. I’m gripping my trekking pole and my umbrella very tightly in my hands, as I run the next mile all the way down to the Dupuis boundary. I keep seeing more strikes, happening very close to me, within just a couple of miles. I hop both gates to get into the park, and I hide under some brush and start to unpack my tarp to get set up as soon as possible, to get out of this weather. Still, the rain is coming down extremely hard, and so the best thing that I can do is to set up and create a dry place for myself. I had planned to go another five miles from this location, but my plans change quickly. I now have a safe place from the weather, and actually get to enjoy it instead of being destroyed by it. I’m soaked, but it doesn’t matter, as I’m happy to not be getting wetter than I already am. Late into the night, the storm stops, and the wind picks up. I’m excited about how well that my tarp has done in such a monstrous storm, as this is the biggest that it’s been in so far. I had pitched it in a half-pyramid formation, one of the most storm-worthy pitches that I know. Once I had that set up, I was completely safe, and I didn’t have any rain blowing in at all. I could set up the inside of my shelter, and organize my gear in peace, without dealing with the rain just inches away from me. It’s amazing what a simple rectangular piece of fabric can do when it’s used properly for the situation. All of my gear that I need to keep dry, I was able to, and I didn’t have any problems for the rest of the night. I fell asleep to the sound of the heavy winds blowing, keeping the bugs away.

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20150610_174427Day 8 – Dupuis west boundary to Hungryland Boardwalk trail head: 27.8 miles

I sleep in, and I’m not walking until 7:30 AM. I’m surprised that the strong winds actually blew dry my tarp overnight. I pack up fast, and I start to catch up with the day. Normally, by this hour, I could have walked many miles already. Surprisingly, Dupuis is pretty dry, without much standing water in this section. I’m laying down miles, and I’ve traveled about seven miles when I reach a canal and a giant metal tube. Just ahead of this, I come across the first water of the trail, which is where I finally have to get my feet wet. I look down at the water for a little while, not wanting to do it, but I eventually give in. I notice movement maybe ten feet in front of me, and I look up to see a big alligator directly in the center of this small wet section of the trail. I whip out my phone (like any idiot would do in my place), and I snap a picture of it as it turns toward me. The second that it turns in my directions, it CHARGES STRAIGHT AT ME! I nearly pee my pants. I have never in my life heard my own voice with so much fear in it. I scream out loud, “OH SHIT!” as it lunges in my direction. Everything happens very fast, yet in slow motion, as I back up very quickly, and turn and run another fifteen feet away. I feel very lucky that the gator doesn’t pursue me, and that it must have only been warning me to step back. This is easily the scariest thing that’s happened to me while hiking, and just ten hours ago I had almost been struck by lightning. I wait for a while as this five- to six-foot gator sits in the trail. The area surrounding me is incredibly thick, with plants taller than me, and I figure that it isn’t the safest for me to bushwhacking through it – but I don’t have much of a choice. I give the gator a ton of room as I make my way through the vegetation on the side of the trail. I don’t look back after I get past that area. I want to forget this as quickly as possible, with three big canals coming up in today’s hike and many, many potential water crossings ahead of me in Corbett. The rain the night before really did a number on this next stretch of land. Almost the entire five miles before I finish up Dupuis are under water – even though everything was bone dry just five days when I hiked it out to the lake. I push on past the power lines, and into Corbett. The sun is now out, and I’m losing my morning steam. I come across a main canal, with a bridge over it, where I need to get water. I filter two liters with my chemical treatment, and lie down on the bridge, with my feet elevated on my backpack. I don’t intend on taking a nap, but that’s what I wind up doing. When I wake up, and I look at the time, it suddenly seems very late in the day, and I still have ten or eleven miles left to go. I push through the next five miles of heat, and I am happy to find this section – including the Hole in the Wall and other typically very wet areas – dry. The heat is starting to get to me, and so I take a break at Bowman Island, and I eat some food to regain my strength. I have only six more miles before I can set up my camp for the night, and I get the idea that my ultra-running friend Christian is going to visit me where I’m staying, based on something that he said on-line. These six miles of Corbett are the hardest, always. I make it maybe three miles before I poop out again, and I stop to eat more food and hide out in the shade. About a mile later, I see some guy ahead of me, with a very large backpack, trudging through the water. I come up behind him, and I try not to startle him, but I scare him out of his mind when I say something. He whips around, wearing flip flops, with a two-foot axe in one hand, and another pair of shoes in the other. “Whoa! I totally didn’t expect anyone else to be out here!” Me neither, my friend! At first, I think that he’s hiking the Ocean-to-Lake, like me, based on what he’s carrying, but it turns out that he’s just testing gear for an upcoming trip that he’s thinking about. He’s planning on doing the Benton MacKaye Trail, a 300-mile hike that goes through Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, through the Appalachian Mountains. This trail is rough, not well-traveled, and requires map-reading skills to complete. I suggest that he do the 300 miles on the AT instead, as that would probably be more fun all around. His name is Jamie, and he’s a local to Loxahatchee. He’s a very nice guy, who I would guess is around my age. He likes glass-blowing, and he isn’t in the happiest place in his life. He decided that he wanted to take a big hike to think about what he wants to do. I’m excited for him, as I’ve been there, and hiking has helped me to become a much better person in a lot of ways. Hiking has given me so much, and I’m so happy to see him starting out on a similar journey. He and I walk the next two miles together, talking about trails, gear, and what we’re doing out here. He was on an overnight in Corbett, and actually found the OTLHT by accident, while hiking the hunting roads. He had probably hiked ten miles out on the roads, camped, and is now coming ten miles back on the trail. I give him major props for camping in that storm last night. It’s nice having company, after being mostly alone for the last eight days. Also, he has a giant axe to kill any more gators that might want to come at us. Why don’t I have a giant axe? I take him through the wetlands of Corbett, instead of taking the bypass trail, as this is a stretch of trail that he has to experience if he’s coming through this area. It’s kind of a rite of passage. It’s got deep water, mud, and a very long path through the middle of a wet prairie. We make it to the trailhead, where I’m going to be camping, as I tell him about the OTLHT. He lies down in some grass, to give his back and neck a break, and I go over to the tables to lay out all of my gear, to air it out and to prepare for the night. He comes over, and he lets me charge my phone with his external battery, as I’m pretty much out of power. We talk for a while, and my buddy Christian, who has just run in the Lake 2 Ocean 100k, pulls up! He has brought some trail magic in the form of cheesy calories! Christian comes bearing pizza and an Arizona Tea. This is much appreciated! I’m running really low on food, and I was about to eat some Ramen noodles. The pizza is so much better than those noodles would have been. So, Christian is now a glorified trail angel, for the OTL. If anyone wants his services, just let me know and I’ll patch you through. It’s really nice to see him, and to talk a little bit. I hope that we can hang out again in the future, and discuss fast-packing and ultra-running. (One thing that I know quite a bit about and one thing that he is a master at.) Jamie gets picked up by his ride, Christian leaves, and I’m alone again for the night. Tomorrow, I’ll finish the OTLHT for my twelfth time, and I’ll complete the Lake Okeechobee Lollipop trail!!

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Yep, that’s right in the middle of the trail.

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Dupuis trail.

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Corbett trail.

Day 9 – Hungryland Boardwalk trail head to Hobe Sound Beach: 31.7 miles

It’s my last day on the trail, and I wake up to realize that I only have two Clif Bars and a packet of coffee to get me the seventeen miles to Indiantown Road, where I’ll be able to hit up a well-stocked gas station, a pizza restaurant, and a Mexican place. I decide here and now that I’ll walk, walk, walk, as hard as I can, to get there and fill up for the rest of the hike. Today is going to be a big day, and I’m going to need the energy to get through the second half. I’m up extremely early, to try to beat the heat. By the time the sun has risen, I’ve already gone five miles. The Loxahatchee Slough has also been hit by the storm, and is partially flooded. I stop for water at the benches and the pitcher pump in the Lox Slough North, for my first break of the day. I push through, telling myself that I’ll stop for a break once I exit at the C-18 and am at the trailhead, but I’m pretty determined to get myself to food. I pass that location, and keep telling myself, just one mile farther, just one mile farther than that, and again just one mile farther than that. The southern exit to Riverbend is where I actually take my second break of the day. I’m maybe fifteen miles in. I’m pretty bent on getting to that gas station and pizza place for food. I’m sitting on the big metal bridge behind Riverbend when a girl on her bike goes by and compliments me on the lei hanging from the back of my backpack. It has gone over 100 miles with me now. I’ve been honked at three times, and I’m considering this my fourth honk. Thank you, girl on bicycle, my lei and I appreciate you. I make my way through Riverbend Park, and for once don’t see a single person on my way through. It must be the heat, or maybe it’s my smell that’s deterring people. Typically, this park has a lot of people. And, although there are a lot of trails, most of the people are on bikes and thus pass me at one point or another while I’m on the Ocean-to-Lake. I take the path under Indiantown Road, and parallel it for a while on the trail until I’m able to cross the Loxahatchee River and skip my way across the road to pizza heaven. Since I’ve been so low on food, I go a little overboard. I buy a lot of snacks, and two Gatorades, at the gas station, and then I head over to the Jupiter Farms Pizza restaurant, where I start in on a chicken Caesar wrap while they make me a calzone. I drink my massive fountain drink, and the girl in there tells me that she’s done half of the OTLHT. How awesome! Not many locals can say that. The calzone that they make me is absolutely massive, and I know instantly that I’m not going to be able to finish it. It’s a blow to my pride, but I can only eat half of it. I thank the pizza people, and I make my way back to the trail. I try to push to the Hobe Grove Canal crossing in one go, but it’s now midday and the heat is really starting to get to me. I stop one mile short at the very pretty Cypress Creek Bridge, after I accidentally find and sign a geocache. It makes me want to make my own geocache, and to make it EXTREMELY hard to get to, as I’ve seen some on my hikes, and I feel that these are the high-difficulty-level ones. I want one way out there, to require bushwhacking, water-wading, and just general carnage to get to. It would be a feat for the hardcore geocachers. Anyhow, I’m very tired and overheated at Cypress Creek. I lie down on the bridge, and I dream of jumping in for a swim, but I see multiple alligators hanging out, and I decide that I would be better off staying out of the water. After lying there for a while, with my umbrella held up over my head for extra shade, dripping in water that I’ve dumped all over myself, I hear something surface in the water. I think that it might be a big turtle, and so I get up to see, and I’m so surprised to see that it’s manatees!! This is the first time that I’ve seen manatees on the Loxahatchee River. Cypress Creek leads in the Lox, and that’s where they’re headed. There are two of them, and they’re very beautiful and gentle as they’re floating down the river under the bridge that I’m on the top of. This is amazing, and a first for me while on the OTLHT. I take this as a sign that it’s time to move. There’s only one mile from here to the Hobe Grove Canal crossing, and normally it’s an easy one on some back roads. Apparently, this time, someone thought that it would be a great idea to tear up the road and kind of reset it. So, the whole road has been broken up and turned into soft sand. With every step, my shoes sink in half a foot. I’m post-holing … but in soft sand. It’s a terrible experience, and I hope to see someone out here responsible for this, so that I can ask them why. What would normally take me fifteen minutes, takes me three times that long, as well as completely fills my shoes with sand. I finally trudge through and cross the canal, being careful to watch for gators after yesterday morning’s close call. The next section in JDSP has been burned recently, and a lot of the blazes indicating where the trail is are gone, and so it’s a slight challenge to find my way. Making things even harder is that the rain has completely flooded this entire area. It’s a very exhausting experience, and I stop at the Kitching Creek Bridge, which has recently been remade by the FTA. I lie down on it to rest, as it’s been a very hot day. This is a common thing for me, it seems. I’m either under a bridge for, shade, or sprawled out on the top of them to collect myself. At this point, I call my mom with the two percent of battery that I have left in my phone. I need to let her know where I am, and when to pick me up at the end. Talking to her is a breath of fresh air, after a very tiresome day. I pick up my things, and I push on to the next campsite three miles away. I make good time, and I’m surprised that this section after Kitching Creek is no longer flooded. When at the Scrub Jay Campsite, I collect water, and I sit down in front of the pitcher pump in order to pump water on myself until I feel good enough to finish this trail. Dumping water over myself feels great, and I’ve been doing it all day to lower my body temperature. When breezes come, they cool me down further. I see on a tree some arrows that have been stapled over the orange blaze … pointing in the same direction that the orange blaze would take you. While looking at this, I smash my big toe into a cypress knee, which is a nice start to the last five miles of this gigantic loop. The sand dunes of JDSP are rough, after already going twenty-nine miles. I want to stop, but I also want to get to the beach. I keep telling myself, over and over, one more step, and one more mile. This mantra really helps me to push up and over these sandy hills. Before I know it, I’m at US1, and I’m ready to walk the last two-and-a-half miles of this trail. It’s been one hell of a hike, and it’s time for the victory road walk. I never, ever stop and take breaks during this last section, and today is no exception. I have come a very long way to get back to here, and the end is so close. It’s more uncomfortable to walk these last miles than it has been in the past, but I handle it well. I look like hell, and I need a break. The last mile is bittersweet. You’re walking under extremely large ficus trees. They make for a red carpet of sorts, as this is very different from all of the hiking that I’ve done for the past 240 miles. By the last half-mile, I’m walking faster. I’m excited to have completed such an intense route, in one of Florida’s harsher months. Seeing the beach pavilion on my horizon is the icing on the cake. This is where I started, nine days and 241 miles ago. What an amazing journey that this has been. I can see my mom waiting to pick me up, and I walk into the parking lot and pose by the FT Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail sign for a picture. I make her come down to the beach with me for another picture, and to officially finish what I started. I’m bubbling with happiness, and I’m exhausted, overheated, hungry, and ready to sit down. This has been an incredible experience to have. It’s the most challenging hike that I’ve done yet. I’m the first to do the Lake Okeechobee Lollipop, and possibly the first to do the entire LOST and connect it to the OTLHT. My trip mileage is 241.2, and I averaged twenty-seven miles a day for nine days. I’ve loved every second of this hike, and it’s really sweet to finally finish. This trip has involved walking through beautiful areas, becoming close with small towns and big skies, falling in love with people and roads, and learning what I’m capable of and what my current limitations are. From here, my trips will continue to get bigger, as I’m going to continue to push myself.

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A really tiny snake!

 

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Thank you so very much for reading, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed my story of hiking the Lake Okeechobee Lollipop Trail!

If anyone is looking to do the same route I would be happy to help you get out there and hike it. I absolutely loved doing this and I may have had some trying moments during my time, I think it was the month I chose to hike in. I guarantee if you choose to do this you will have an amazing time as well.

–          Jupiter

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop Trail – Pre Hike

Well my gear is lying in a small section of floor neatly aligned so I can see and review every little piece, waiting to be decided whether I need it or not. My stock of camp food filling a plastic bin large enough for me to sit down in, waiting to be sorted into a big bag for my first 4 or so days. My manager has begrudgingly accepted yet another of my many vacation requests. I leave early on June 4th. The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop Trail is a go!

Here’s some pre trip thoughts…

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What am I doing?

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop Trail. A small route I’ve decided upon and dreamt up including the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail(LOST) and the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail(OTLHT) combined. (Could be considered the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail – Hard mode.) Using your imagination the map resembles a lollipop, and thus leading to such a name. Really, in my head before looking at maps I thought it would be a more clear picture of a Lollipop than it is. Anyhow, the LOST is 110 miles around, and is usually tackled in day hikes or by bikers. There may even be an ultra-marathon that navigates the circumference. Lake Okeechobee is the second largest lake in the lower 48(after Lake Michigan.) I’ve been thinking for a while now how cool it would be to walk around the entire thing. The open space, the daily sunrises and sunsets it has been on my mind as a “need to do” for the last year. It covers 730sq mi, and is roughly half the size of Rhode Island. Certain sections of it (almost the entire south side) are closed while the Army Corps of Engineers maintain the Herbert Hoover Dike for an undetermined amount of time into the future(they say 2019.) So not only is the trail designated the acronym, LOST, I too hope not to get lost while doing an added 30 or 40 miles walking around the closed section in small towns, and along big highways. I’m looking at this as a way to experience towns I have likely only driven to or knew a guy who knew a guy who said to never ever go there. Like Belle Glade(that place sure does get a lot of heat, lets find out why.) I also fancy this trip for… its road walking. That’s right, I’m actually looking forward to it. When I first came up with this idea a while ago that was my main driving factor before I even considered the views or the experience of this journey. The fact that I’ll get to walk upon hard ground for such a long time, and still have places to camp freely is a great opportunity to see how well I can take care of my feet and maybe learn and practice a few tricks while walking harsh terrain daily at a fast pace. Most of my hike during the lake section of the lollipop will be on top of the dike which will offer great surrounding views being it’s elevated for flood protection. Such open flat space may not be to hard to find in Florida, but views of the lake, and endless skies to either side of me without buildings to obscure my view will be a daily treat.

My favorite local trail is the OTLHT. A route that leads you from the Atlantic Ocean starting at the Hobe Sound Beach, and takes you directly to the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. It is pretty clear why I would want to add this to my trip and form the lollipop shape. Although when first thinking of doing the Lake O hike I hadn’t considered this, but as time went on it became without question something I would add to the trip. The OTLHT is a great jumping off point to get to the Florida National Scenic Trail, and some serious fun and wilderness experience on my way to the big open loop. The two trails will contrast each other nicely as I’ll be be walking in the wilderness for a few days, followed by the great expanse of the lake, and end again on that wilderness corridor. I will be starting and ending at the Hobe Sound Beach in what I assume will take 9 days for the whole trip at a pace of around 28 miles a day. About a marathon a day, give or take, for 9 days. I’m flexible with this as my physical health comes first, but that being the ideal average and the average I’m not only comfortable with but happy with. I know the Ocean to Lake very well and am excited to do it for my 11th and 12th time, having it be the start, and end of my 250mi journey. Not to mention beginning and ending on the beach a feature you won’t find on many hiking trails. A fitting end to a very long and hot walk. If you’d like to get out and do it yourself I wrote a Q&A on such a trip. The Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail is 63 miles and goes through Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Riverbend Park, the Loxahatchee Slough, Hungryland Slough, Corbett Wildlife Management Area, and Dupuis Wildlife Management Area–ending at the dike of Lake Okeechobee where the LOST begins. It’s a whole lot of interesting environments, habitats, and ecosystems that are exclusive to Florida packed into a shorter thru hike.

Bridge over a canal in Corbett WMA

Bridge over a canal in Corbett WMA

My Plan

It’s 250 miles for the OTLHT twice, LOST, + my reroutes. I have a planned 9 day itinerary but this may take me 8 days or 10 days depending on how I’m feeling and how the trip is going. I’m more into fastpacking you could say than typical backpacking as I set out to walk far, and enjoy the hike all day. I like waking up before sunrise, and setting up camp at sunset as opposed to going a short distance and enjoying the camp life for the majority of the day. It’s a style of backpacking that works for me, and I love very much. This style allows me to cover great distances in an overall shorter time. My days may be longer but I’m able to do the Ocean to Lake twice in the extra time that most would still be circumnavigating the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. More importantly doing big miles lets me do some of these nasty road walks in one day rather than not being able to do them at all or having to find a place to sleep halfway through. Although It’s more important that I finish the hike than do my planned miles so my physical being comes first, and I will try to remain flexible along the way. Some days are set in stone as I am only carrying so much food in between resupply points but I usually carry more food than I actually need so in the end I’ll be ok regardless of what I choose to do on trail. I’m also limited as to where I can camp in the southern half of the lake because of the closures on the trail so most of that I’ll likely blow through in a single day as I mentioned.

— Now my day to day is looking like this in theory beginning on June 4th —

Day 1: Starting at the Hobe Sound Beach and be walking at or before sunrise, hike through Jonathan Dickinson State park and Riverbend Park leaving me with the option of camping at the Loxahatchee Slough campsite or pushing on. I will most likely push on as stopping in the slough is not quite far enough. I think it’s 19 miles from the start and that’s a little short of where I’d like to be that night. I plan on camping in Corbett and covering half of the OTLHT on day one as Corbett is a challenging section that I’d like a full day to get through.

Day 2: From the Youth Camp in Corbett which I’ll be camping a few hundred yards from at the Hungryland Boardwalk trail head I’ll make my way through the drying swamp and wetlands 16 miles to the border of Dupuis WMA. Normally Dupuis has plenty of water around but during this time of year it’s rather dry so I’ll be going further to fill up at the pitcher pump in Loop 4 Campsite making this a 22 mile day, but day 3 is when the road walking begins so if possible I’d like to once again go further and pitch my camp for the night as close to Lake Okeechobee as I can in preparation for a long day ahead.

Day 3: The roadwalking begins. I’ll actually be running into a large group of ultra-runners who are doing the OTLHT in less than 18 hours while I’m still in Dupuis this morning. When reaching Lake O I will be going south on different highways walking in the grassy shoulder. Passing through Canal Point, Pahokee, Belle Glade, and eventually camping at the wonderful(coughcough) South Bay Campground. It’s 23 miles from the western terminus of the OTLHT to where I’ll be staying. I hope I can wash up and maybe steal some electricity there for my phone as it is my only device for photography.

Day 4: Roadwalking continues and my first potential resupply… a Walmart in Clewiston. I’m certain I’ll be damn smelly at this point so I’m sure I’ll fit right in at Americas finest shopping establishment. Walking through Clewiston and Moore Haven this day and probably 30+ miles to where I can camp–finally finishing the closed section of trail, and taking my first steps on the LOST. (Assuming I don’t decided to stop and pay some money for a night in one of the two towns.)

Day 5:Finally on the Scenic Trail I’ll be walking toward the town of Okeechobee and camping somewhere around there or just beyond at one of the campsites along the lake. Okeechobee is another potential resupply as there is a Publix just off trail a few miles. I also have friends that have offered there assistance but I think my waking up at 5am thing kind of negates wanting to stay with them for a night. Although I very much appreciate the offer I gotta make my miles!

Day 6: Walking another 20+ miles on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail to round up the loop and get back to the OTLHT I’ll be camping in Dupuis WMA and beginning my trek back to the beach!

Day 7: Camping in Corbett most likely at Bowman Island Campsite.

Day 8: Possibly camping in Jonathan Dickinson at Kitching Creek Campsite if again I wish to hike past the Loxahatchee Slough Camp.

Day 9: Finish the lollipop route and wash off 9 days of krud in the Atlantic Ocean after an easy 9 mile day 🙂

If for some reason you would like to join me for any of this–please, contact me beforehand as a small change of plan could mean we completely miss each other.

Possible dangers & unknowns

There are a few things I’ve had to wrap my head around before I leave. Being that I’m impatient and don’t want to wait for nicer weather to go backpacking I will be doing this trail in early JUNE. This leads to complications that wouldn’t typically be nearly as big a problem. There’s a good reason people fly down to Florida in the winter months and then go back to their northern homes when summer begins. Florida is a gnarly place in the summer months, between the blistering heat and the scattered storms there’s only one activity on peoples minds at this time of year… the beach. I have a different idea of fun i suppose but mostly I don’t wish to be limited when I can go backpacking. Much like hiking in the winter up north, hiking in the summer in the south brings its share of challenges to over come. There’s just a lot less documentation on how to deal with them in comparison to winter backpacking. Isn’t this what backpacking is about anyway? Being prepared for what’s ahead of you? Here’s a few things on my mind when it comes to possible adversities I might face on this walk.

Easiest of which being the heat. I’m used to it for the most part, but most importantly I’m used to dealing with it. I’ve lived in Florida all my life, and have been backpacking in very hot weather for quite some time now. I know what I can bring and what I can do to prevent problems like heat stroke and dehydration. My number one tip is to get a sun umbrella. You might think it’s silly, but I will tell you I use mine day after day, hour after hour while walking under the suns rays. The shade and comfort it provides is unparalleled especially on a trail like the LOST where shade is at a premium and there are very few trees to escape the sun. Sometimes I’ll soak my bandanna in water and put it on my head or do the same with my t-shirt, this helps to lower your body temperature. Carrying electrolyte mixes to add to my water, and drinking frequently will be the name of the game in such hot weather. I also like to start hiking sometimes as early as 5:30am until well into the dark on these types of trips so that plays to my advantage while hiking this route in the summer. Utilizing the mornings and nights can play a big role in avoiding the most harsh times of the day.

Lightning is another concern. My plan is to simply stay as vigilant as possible and seek refuge whenever possible if a big storm should arise. Keeping in mind that most people don’t die–they are granted super powers when hit. Contrary to what the movie portrays, Peter Parker was hit by lightning only to wake up finding he was Spiderman. Same story with the Hulk and Magneto. Don’t get me started on Storm. Most people are only granted the power to taste copper, whether they want to or not. In my area we haven’t been experiencing nearly as much rain as I thought we would at this time of the year. It’s comforting to know that there’s a possibility that I may not have any problems at all. In addition to that–most storms seem to pass within just an hour so that is to my advantage. Should be fun either way!

Route finding may not be very difficult on this trip but I certainly don’t wish to go up the wrong road when going around the southern closures on the lake. I spent a few hours on google maps the other day printing out sections of “trail” that I think may be troublesome. As In, I’ll be turning here or there’s a bakery over there. Important things I don’t want to miss. A kind FTA member lent me an old booklet on “The Big O” and its full of useful information, and I’ll have that with me as well. Problems that can be solved before they even arise are the best kinds of problems. So I’m coming prepared in regards to maps. Maybe I’ll burn them or something as I go. If only I was carrying a lighter. The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail would actually be really easy navigation wise if only they weren’t doing work on the dike. It truly makes things more difficult, and for most it makes enjoying these areas an impossibility.

Why do I want to do this?

As my friend Wayne jokingly said, “this is the Advanced Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail…” Well, I’m always trying to challenge myself in a new way and this trip offers a lot of new challenges to me. I actually wanted to walk across the state of Florida from East to West, but I’d rather save that for nicer weather, and this was number 2 on my list. I’m interested for a lot of reasons. Mostly that I’ve lived really close to Lake Okeechobee for a very long time, and it’s a damn big lake. When you look at a map of Florida it is without a doubt the most noticeable feature from above. Why wouldn’t I want to say that I’ve walked the circumference? Not many people have walked around it in one go without help I would imagine. Probably because they don’t see the beauty in such a trip, but I do. I like to think that Florida has a subtle beauty, and living here I’ve grown to appreciate it. To be out in such wide open space for days, to walk through small central Florida towns, to get rained on without a care, to push myself in ways unlike all of my last trips–this is a step up in both adventure and distance. It’s something I’m really excited to do. I can’t wait to get onto the OTLHT again, and to eventually see that lake, and see what I got myself into! I can’t wait to wake up to the birds and walk with the changing skies, to suffer and thrive both at the same time, to live differently than everyone else. To be away from people on some route walking, walking, walking.

Happy trails

– Jupiter

So you’re interested in the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail… FAQ

This post has been updated!! Be sure to check out the new one, that has way more information. Everything you need to know…

So maybe you live in the area and always wondered about the trail, maybe you heard about it from a friend, maybe you’re visiting south Florida and want to do some hiking, maybe you’ve seen me at the Hobe Sound Beach with my backpack and trekking pole the smell of hiker trash consuming the picnicking area… and you ask yourself, where the heck did he come from? In this post I’ll try and answer questions I get a lot, concerns, and hopefully help you to be successful in hiking the OTLHT from end to end!

What is the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail?

A 63 mile spur trail of the Florida Trail starting at Lake Okeechobee roughly in the center of the state that takes you all the way east to the Atlantic Ocean at the Hobe Sound beach. It starts (or ends) at the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) trail head, 2 miles south of Port Myaca and ends (or starts) at the the east end of Bridge Rd in Hobe Sound on the beach. It passes through Jonathan Dickinson state park, Riverbend park, the Loxahatchee Slough, Hungryland Slough, Corbett Wildlife management area, and Dupuis management area. While hiking this trail and passing through these natural areas I’ve noticed that the beautiful scenery and ecosystem is ever changing. Sometimes it seems as though every half hour you’re in a completely different style of wilderness. At times you are walking up and over sand dunes, through oak and palmetto hammocks, cypress swamps, on the banks of canals, or through wet prairies. There are even several pretty boardwalks along the trail to rest your feet. This is a truly beautiful and challenging hike that will give you a taste of what Florida and Florida hiking is all about.

The Loxahatchee chapter of the Florida Trail Association maintains 100 miles of trail within this area and that includes this trail. They do a lot of very hard work every year in order to improve on and keep this trail maintained so that we can enjoy it. If you do happen to hike it end to end you should find them on facebook or come to a monthly meeting to give them a thanks and tell them about your journey! They are very kind hard working people and I’m happy to support them where I can and by becoming a member of the Florida Trail Association.

When should I hike it?

The best time to get out there is from December through early March, in my opinion. The serious trail maintenance is usually finished in February and if my memory serves me right starts in October. This means during those months different parts of the trail is being mowed, clipped, reblazed, and repaired until they finish the 63 miles of trail. From Dec-Feb you will experience the best possible hiking weather and find the trail condition to be in its best shape. Always always always be sure to check the local weather often, days before you head out leading up to the time you leave for the trail. Pay attention to weather patterns and what you might be experiencing during your trip. The difference could mean that you are unprepared for 30 degree cold fronts(it happens) or that it will be raining for the whole duration of your hike. I have experienced both at different times and it certainly calls for a change of gear that I carry and mentality while hiking. The conditions during hiking season are generally very comfortable to hike and camp in and you should have an amazing time during these months.

If you do happen to want to hike this trail during other months out of the year… remember that this is south Florida. In the spring and summer you will very likely run into torrential storms daily, hot weather, a 90% flooded trail,  and perhaps a trail that has slightly overgrown in the off season. Hike in the off season at your own risk as I don’t advise it. Without proper experience you will likely be more uncomfortable(to say the least) than most would like to be. If this sounds all good and dandy to you then go for it, but you have been warned and I still don’t recommend doing so for a premium experience.

Do I need a map?

A map may be optional but I wholeheartedly think you should get one. The map made by the FTA is extremely useful and you won’t regret having spent the 6 or so dollars it takes to be the owner. The money will also go towards something you know is positive and not some guys pocket, like me.  There are a couple of sections that may be confusing if you come across them without. Otherwise I generally think you will be fine if you remember this and live religiously by it…. follow the orange!! By following the orange paint on the trees 95% of the time you are golden. Although I know a lot of hikers like to look at their feet while walking I not only encourage you to look up and enjoy your surroundings, but to also pay attention to the orange blazes and where you are going. A location comes to mind where there is a clearly defined trail in front of you(that leads to a horse trail) yet the OTLHT takes a turn. By following the blazes this is not a problem but there have been many to follow that trail on accident. If you do find yourself either lost or without a blaze to follow don’t be afraid to backtrack to the last one you saw and go from there. It’s better to do this earlier than later to avoid being very far off trail. The map has additional information and includes mileage between landmarks.

For free… that’s right FOR FREE, you can download and print a data sheet for the OTLHT. The data sheet offers up mile by mile of the entire trail. Noticeable landmarks, camping, roads, and even the occasional bench or pitcher pump. With this you can gauge how far you’ve gone, where the next campsite is, what your average pace is, etc. I personally bring this sheet with me every single time I hike and wouldn’t be caught without one. It’s truly the most useful information you can have. By looking at this and printing it in advance you can plan out your future trip day by day and see what it takes to hike this trail, by the miles. By not carrying the data sheet you will constantly find yourself wondering where you are and how far it is between here and there. Being that you’re out there to walk, for the most part not knowing these things could mean you under estimate the distance to camp and either have to hike in the dark or set up prematurely. We are blessed to be provided with such important information that keeps our mind at ease on the trail.

Should you bring both the map and the data sheet? Yes, I think you should. Be sure to keep both in a dry and safe place as it’s a tragedy when one gets wet or blows away into some canal. The data sheet and map also are made to go together and having both provides even more valuable information.

Is there water available?

At times there is too much available water, which brings me back to… don’t hike this trail in the summer. Anyhow, yes! You will need some kind of water purification or a filter but there is nearly water everywhere. I use Aquamira which is kind of like a chlorine. Iodine, pump filters, gravity filters, and bleach all work. I wouldn’t recommend drinking the water without filtering it although if you’re in a situation where you need to don’t worry about it. Giardia takes a week or two in order to take effect on your body so you will be long off the trail and have medicine available to you. Quenching your thirst with unfiltered water is far better than being dehydrated and ultimately facing the repercussions. A lot of the water has silt(small particles of soil) in it so first running it through a shirt or a bandanna to “pre-filter” it is a smart idea if its extra dirty. Some filters will clog and stop working if you don’t do this with the really dirty water. Pre-filtering is also nice if you don’t want to drink the “floaties” that inevitably get picked up.

Sometimes you will be filtering from a canal, pitcher pump near a campsite, swamp, wet prairie, river, or creek. However there are areas where it is known to be dry during certain times of the year. Between loop 4 campsite and power line campsite there is a 5 miles stretch that I have seen dry before. Although at both ends of that dry section there is a canal, if you go past the canal without filling up on water it could be a problem. From the LOST trail head to loop 4 campsite you will pass canals that are not the best water sources and a small pond, otherwise it can be a mostly dry 9 miles. Remember at both of these spots at certain times of the year you may even be walking through water but it is still advised to be prepared in case you aren’t so fortunate. From the beach(eastern terminus) to scrub jay campsite is 5.5 miles and can be an extremely hot and dry section, be sure to have water as you’ll be exposed going over the sand dunes and walking the road. There is a fine restaurant 1 mile from the beach that I recommend stopping at if you’re going from Lake to Ocean called “Taste Casual Dinning.” They are somewhat used to hikers and I recommend you tip them very well and sit outside as we all know you’re going to smell rather bad 🙂

I recommend starting this hike with 2 or 3 liters from either direction.

Eric going for a swim in the Loxahatchee river

Eric going for a swim in the Loxahatchee river

Hunting Season?

Be aware that after a long day sitting in a tree stand some hiker meat starts looking just as tasty to hunters as all the other animals they weren’t able to kill that day……. just kidding. Hunting season to me isn’t something to worry about or not go hiking because of. As long as you are armed with the knowledge that they are out there. I will post a link below to hunting seasons in Corbett and Dupuis. If you are hiking during hunting season it’s not just smart but very important that you wear some sort of brightly colored clothing as a safety precaution. An orange shirt, bandanna, orange vest, orange hat, etc. I have been seen before decked out in all of the above because I decided I had to hike the OTLHT in peak hunting season. I lived and so will you! The hunters know that there are hikers out there but it’s good to let them see you’re clearly not an animal long before you notice them. I have personally run into many hunters on the trail and haven’t felt threatened. They’ve always been nice to me and I try to be courteous by not talking long if at all and letting them continue what they set out to do. We share that space and I sometimes get the idea they don’t have the same respect for the forest as we do but we still must live together. Small game season is one of the safest times as most hunters are looking for a bigger kill in a different season. If you do plan on hiking during general gun season don’t plan your trip in the beginning of the season. Hunters like to congregate and shoot as many animals as they can within the first few weeks of general gun and then they taper off. Again, I don’t feel threatened hiking while they are hunting if I am prepared with my blaze orange hat and red t-shirt. I would hope I look very different from an animal. As I understand it by law they are supposed to spot an animal with a separate scope before even lifting their gun anyway.

Hunting season attire in Corbett WMA

Hunting season attire in Corbett WMA

What are the best campsites?

As the saying goes, hike your own hike. All of the campsites are nice in their own way and if it means avoidable pain going to one campsite instead of stopping where you are then by all means deviate from the plan and choose comfort over an excess of pain or walking in the dark. My favorite campsites are as such… Loop 4, Little Gopher, and Kitching Creek. Scrub Jay camp is very similar to Kitching Creek and both are extremely nice and full of amenities like a toilet, trash cans, tables, water pumps, fire rings, and benches. Both of which are in JDSP and you won’t find campsites with more to offer than these two. Little Gopher campsite in Corbett is equipped with a near by canal, ponds, benches, and a fire ring. A beautiful area that I very much enjoy staying at when I can. Loop 4 campsite in Dupuis has tables, fire ring, pitcher pump, and a canal. A fine campsite with many pine trees to set up your shelter underneath and enjoy a meal by the fire. I have also heard that Dupuis is used by amateur astronomers to star gaze, so that’s something to look forward to after night fall. A truly dark sky in Florida.

All of the campsites are very nice but those three have always stood out among the others. Bowman Island campsite in Corbett is also very nice and inside of an island surrounded by shallow water. Walking through the water to get to the site is fun as is the beautiful jungle you step into on the path to the back. Something to note about the campsite in the Loxahatchee Slough, Lucky Tract camp, is that there are no ground fires allowed. You may see a fire ring or burnt wood but that was done illegally by people I’m sure didn’t know better. Please refrain from having a fire while staying here. There is also no water at the campsite so 2 miles or a mile before fill up on as much as you can for the night/morning ahead.

To camp in the Loxahatchee Slough you will have to call ahead and get permission from Palm Beach County. The phone number is on the Loxahatchee chapter website and I’ll post it below. You will also need to call ahead and make reservations to camp in JDSP. It will cost a few dollars per night but what they are mostly trying to avoid is having a large group already camped there… and then you show up. Both the boyscouts and the FTA use these campsites for large groups and it’s smart to call ahead and confirm you are good to go.

Look out for setting up camp on an ants nest...

Look out for setting up camp on an ants nest…

Gear suggestions?

This trail can be very wet and you will be walking through water at times. Corbett is a definite, you will get wet area. The Loxahatchee Slough is also very often very wet. This is unavoidable and “water proof” shoes will not be the answer. They will get soaked and then not have the ability to dry out for the remainder of your trip. I personally wear shoes that water has the ability to flow in and out of. Shoes with mesh on the sides that can dry quickly by the fire, overnight, or while I’m walking the next day. I wear trail runners. They’re basically running shoes with a more aggressive tread on the bottom. Serves my purposes perfectly on this and other trails. Having spare shoes to walk through the water is nice in theory but let’s say you’ll be walking in water for a very long time? I think it’s best to embrace it and soon you’ll see it’s actually very refreshing to have your sore feet submerged and cooled down.

Gaiters also come in handy. Another way to keep your feet happy. They are pieces of fabric that attach to your shoe and wrap around your ankles closing off the hole where your foot goes in. They keep sand, mud, rocks and other undesirables from entering your shoe that make walking uncomfortable. I wear Dirty Girl Gaiters and they are a low cut fabric that will really improve the way you feel while walking harsh terrain.

My favorite piece of gear in the world is an umbrella. I bring my umbrella on every trip I go on and every trip I will ever go on in the future. When mine breaks I will buy another and so on. I use a chrome umbrella that not only sheds off the rain but also provides me with a safe haven from the sun. I have mobile shade and the most breathable imaginable rain protection. On this trail you will find that extra sun and rain protection is a big advantage. In certain areas there aren’t ways of escaping the suns rays and an umbrella will provide you with a fool proof method. Same goes for the rain, an umbrella will give you a place to hide from the rain and still maintain the pace you’re going at or a dry place to rest.

10 reasons to go hiking with an umbrella

A trash compactor bag. That’s right, a big garbage bag… but specifically a compactor bag. Use this to keep all of your gear dry instead of or in conjunction with a pack cover. I only use the compactor bag. What you do is before you pack anything in your backpack put the bag inside and line the inside of your pack with it. Then proceed to pack your backpack but putting everything you want dry inside the compactor bag. When done twist off the end tight and fold it over. This essentially water proofs your backpack and makes it so everything inside stays dry regardless of how much rain you may see. Florida is notorious for random showers in the evening. Be prepared with desirables in ziplocks and your gear in a compactor bag. You can buy a 5 pack for very cheap at any grocery store and they are exceptionally strong.

How do I get back to my car?

The hardest question there is and there’s no real solution yet. I don’t have any solid answers other than I hope you know someone in the area that can shuttle you back to your vehicle. You can email some Loxahatchee FTA members and see if they can help you or are available. There is a really good chance this would be a good bet. I personally will volunteer as a shuttle as well if we can work out a time when I’m not working I would be happy to do it. Ideally someone dropping you off and picking you up 3-8 days later is the best way. You can park overnight at the LOST trail head and alternatively you can start your hike from inside Dupuis as that’s an even nicer location to leave a car and the Dupuis trails are on the Ocean to Lake map. At Hobe Sound Beach there isn’t a good spot. There is no overnight parking at the beach but I’ve been told that maybe asking a local gas station if you could leave your car there for a few nights and offer money. That might work but then you would have to walk back to your car a mile or two. The best way to get back to your car is to…. hike the trail twice! Then you’ll be where you started and able to drive off into the sunset.

Why you should listen to me?

I’ve hiked this trail 10 times as of writing this within the last year and a half. I’ve done the fastest yo-yo, and was the second(bush whacker was the first) to yo-yo the trail, hike from the beach to the lake and then back to the beach. I’ve also hiked this trail back to back to back (three times) in 8 days. I go to every meeting the Loxahatchee chapter has and I’ve helped a bit with the trail maintenance last season. I consider these guys friends and I consider this trail home. You don’t have to listen to me but I feel I have something worth reading 🙂

Disclaimer: My views and opinions do not reflect that of the Loxahatchee chapter or the Florida Trail. They are of my own and I did not consult them before or after writing this. Contact them with any questions you have.

Useful links

http://floridahikes.com/florida-trail/ocean-to-lake

http://loxfltrail.org/

http://loxfltrail.org/OTLDataBook.pdf

http://ftashop.floridatrail.org/loop-and-side-trail-maps/ choose the “Ocean to Lake”

http://myfwc.com/hunting/wma-brochures/s/corbett/

http://myfwc.com/hunting/wma-brochures/s/dupuis/

https://www.floridatrail.org/

The JDSP phone # for Kitching Creek and Scrub Jay camping is : (772) 546-2771

For Loxahatchee Slough camping : (561)233-2400

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Goodluck and happy trails!

If I can leave you with one last tidbit… be respectful!! Leave no trace

– Jupiter

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The Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail

The Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail

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