jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

Tag: florida trail (page 1 of 2)

Stats from my Eastern Continental Trail thru hike

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Mile 0

This was my first thru hike.

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

Let the walking continue.

Jupiter

Florida Trail FKT Summary

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

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

Following the guidelines of a self-supported hike:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My daily miles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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28d 9h 59m

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.

ECT: Not-So Private Emails

 

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Something different…

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

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

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

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How’s your planning???

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

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

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

What shoes are you using?

Is your pack a zpack or a mountain laurel?

Hope you are well!!!

Syc

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else should I be doing??

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

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

Nice to hear from ya!

Jup

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Yo yo yo!

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

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

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

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

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

Syc

 

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

 

Eastern Continental Trail: Food & Resupply

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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

Things to note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ressupply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra Gear

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

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

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

Things to note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jupiter

Mail Drops? Mail drops.

 

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Boxes that aren’t yet filled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love em or hate em……

Happy hiking!

– Jupiter

Backpacking the Suwannee River

I recently asked for, and took the last of my vacations before I quit to go hiking for 6 months (I start in about 11 weeks.) My manager is about as fed up with me going backpacking as you could be with a guy who takes a few days off just about every month. But I played the game, I followed the rules! He can’t legally stop me! Not even his tears, old man tears, could stop me.

This time I decided to do something different. I decided to not hike the 63 mile trail I’ve already done 14 or so times, and head north! I chose the Suwannee River section of the Florida Trail. Arguably one of the most beautiful segments the FT has to offer, although there are very many.

My good friend Longwalker lives up there so I prodded him for information. Before I knew it he took off 5 days, made a plan, and I now had a hiking partner! Before I knew it I now had 3 hiking partners. Chris, from the deep south came for the 5 days, and my friend Madeleine who joined for the first day and night. My original plan was to knock out some 30 mile days and see as much as I could in the 5 days I had off, but with the addition of more happy hikers that was toned down to 20s.

So here it is, a couple weeks late, my trip report straight from the Suwannee River!

This was my final “shake down” hike. A trip specifically for the purpose of testing gear and food, for bigger hikes ahead. In my case, a 5,000 mile walk across a continent. If I didn’t already mention, 5,000 is the new 4,400. I don’t know where Nimble came up up with that number, but I’ve added up all my data from the most recent guidebooks, and the Eastern Continental Trail from Quebec, to Key West is 4,963.5. That last half mile is what really gets people.

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Day 1: Ocean Pond to Madison Shelter – 21.9 miles

The 5 hour drive to north Florida was long and filled with storms so bad I should have gotten off the road, if only I could have seen where the road was. An ominous beginning of sorts. The next morning bright and early we would meet at the trail head in Osceola NF and start making our way north… or west. I don’t know. The first day we started off quite fast. Most of my training hikes are around 30 miles so I guess I was in that mindset. I’ll take a break when I’m finished, kind of mindset. We hiked through a matrix of pine trees, over little boardwalks, dodging water moccasins, and for the only time on the whole trip, through standing water on the trail. Osceola was very pretty, and I had wished it wasn’t overcast so I could see the light shine through all the trees. Everyone was doing well, and we plodded along the trail a rather fast 20 or so miles to the first campsite, making it there around 3pm. This was Randy Madison shelter, or as we later learned, also known as the “love shack.” It is reserved for FTA members only, and yeah there’s a good chance someone will come down to talk with you, and check! It was a beautiful little home along a river with a bridge to get there. A small screened room with a fire place, a table, a bunch of chairs, with animal skulls hanging from the wooden interior. If I were hiking solo I probably would have slept inside, to save myself from setting up camp, but due to the season the floor was bright yellow with a layer of pollen. Not to mention, I really love sleeping under my tarp outside, at least for now, while im just out for a few days. The shelter was complete with a privy. One so fancy it even had toilet paper inside, which is great because I’m constantly forgetting to pack my own, and a window from the thrown viewing the forest outside. We set up camp, ate, talked, and went to bed as a light shower started to fall just after dark. I was safe under my little shelter.

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Best friends.

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Day 2: Randy Madison Shelter to somewhere along the Suwannee River – 20.8 miles

The second day came and Madeleine had to leave us early in the morning. This was her first time backpacking, and she did incredible! Not many could do a 22 mile day out of the gate, with a pack, at my pace! So then there were 3. A short roadwalk was first on the list, a quiet back road lined with old oak trees towering above us, and shielding the suns rays. We were soon met with the trail head at a dead end that would lead us to the Suwannee River. Kind of like magic we turned a corner on the trail and there it was. 50 feet below us this massive river, flowing fast. Very different from the cypress swamps and wetlands I’m used to down south. Very different from Osceola as well. The trail gave us a hint as to what was to come. We would be walking along the banks of the Suwannee for the next 65 miles or so, for the most part. Pink flowers lined the trail and showed the way. The path dipped, and rose up and over hills, I assume created by the river slowly cutting away at the land for thousands of years. Boardwalks, and bridges spared us the need to get our feet wet, and we hiked on. Today taking more breaks, as to not repeat the day before, and get to camp hours before dark. At some point we were greeted at a road crossing to the town of White Springs with a friendly sign that mentioned it being a “Florida Trail Gateway Community.” Very cool! You won’t see that often on the FT I imagine. It was a very beautiful town with a post office on trail(I love that.) We stopped at the gas station so I could get some chips, and high quality beer, King Cobra. A special occasion it was, as I rarely if ever drink. Here and there while backpacking. Continuing on we entered the Suwannee River State Park, and took a break at their amphitheater to rest the toes, charge some batteries, and eat some chips. Soon back to climbing the hills along the river, as a flat lander of the south a much desired change for my muscles. Somewhere along the way Longwalker was contacted by a Florida Trail maintainer named Janie, inviting us to come say hi at their camp site a few miles ahead. What luck! Apparently they were cooking food, and enjoying some time away from the city along the trail. The prospects of real food got the guys moving real quick! Along the way there we walked under massive oak trees, and around some beautiful rivers. Finally arriving at a freshly built bridge over swift creek, with a family swimming in the clear waters below. We took way down a side trail with the scent of food in the air, seeing tents and hammocks in the distance, eventually reaching a very large pavilion like tarp, with people under it. And food! The group was very kind, and we hung out and talked for a while. Me and Chris relaxed down by the creek and soaked our feet in the cold water while their dog dug up rocks to go add to his collection of other river rocks. Janie came down to talk to us and wouldn’t you know it, she met up with my friend Sycamore last year on his ECT thru hike! When he needed some shoes, she had him covered! Legend is, his old pair are on now on display at her home… Just in case he ever needs them again.

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Reminds me of a place I call home.

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Stephen Foster

 

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Thank you for the hospitality!!

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Day 3: Spot along the Suwannee to Holton Creek River Camp – 19.7 miles

We wake up along the river a couple miles beyond the friendly FTA folk. During the night we were greeted with heavy rain and flashes of lightning. My small tarp held up and I stayed dry. I slept on an incline and was somewhat sliding occasionally waking up to move back into place. Oops! Should have gone further for a better spot. This night we planned to camp at Holton Creek. After packing up and getting going the trail provided with some beaches along the river, many creeks, and even a small waterfall. At some point we took a blue blaze to check out disappearing creek which was a very beautiful spot for a lunch break. The water flows right down into and under the rocks, disappearing out of sight. The trail took us up and down, sometimes even requiring stairs, and at points taking us to places 90feet above sea level, and 90ft above the Suwannee. A beautiful sight to look down on from the ridge. This is Florida, that’s actually a rarity. The highest point on the entire 1,400 mile National Scenic Trail is just 270 feet. As we moved on we came across a home, where the owner was kind enough to let the FT pass through his yard. Included were some benches with a view! I sat and ate some asian style noodles I had been soaking in my pack, with some soy and duck sauce. Very delicious! I don’t cook food while backpacking so this was just noodles, dehydrated vegetables, some spices, and sauces that I added some water to and let sit for a good while as I walked. Longwalker hung out with my while I ate, until some rain prompted him to leave. I still wanted to enjoy the view of the river for a bit longer so I stuck around. Maybe too much time had passed since they left because boy did it take much longer than I thought it would to catch back up to them! High tailed it in their direction, and even ran with my pack a little bit to let my lungs know who’s boss. At this point it was now fully raining, me and Chris with our umbrellas out. Longwalker being a man… and getting soaked. Maybe he thought we were closer to shelter than we were because it wasn’t for at least another hour in the rain until we got to Holton Creek River Camp. Wooden screened shelters abound, fans, electrical outlets, bathrooms, and showers included. All for free. You can only get here by river or by trail. What a wonderful place. We were literally the only people there, with something like 6 other shelters the same as ours scattered around the grounds. Chris and Longwalker opted to hang their hammocks inside the building, which actually worked out pretty darn well. They took showers, and I chose to revel in my filth like a true hiker… I mean it’s just 5 days! Not a problem, no chafe, and didn’t sweat much the entire trip. How did I smell? Wonderful as always!!

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Too hardcore for a rain jacket.

Day 4: Holton Creek River Camp to Cooper’s Bluff campsite – 17.4 miles

The day before had been incredibly beautiful. It’s no wonder why this is a lot of peoples favorite section of the Florida Trail. This day would be no different. Although something new, poison ivy. Everywhere. Lining the trail and whipping at my ankles. Shoot. No worries, somehow after the trip I was only slightly itchy! Although I really had to choose my bathroom breaks much more wisely. It had rained most of the night prior, but we were safe underneath the wooden roof. The trail was damp but not flooded, and for the first time this entire trip, the sun shown its face, no longer to be obscured by clouds. Chris got a head start on me and Longwalker, I already knew it wouldn’t be so soon until we caught him. It wasn’t until halfway through the day actually. At times the trail would take us away from the river, and then back again. At times we crossed roads. At times a land manager isn’t so cool, and the trail has to be routed around a natural area on a dirt road, instead of the forest adjacent to it. No matter, the woods are consuming and ever present. We passed many sink holes along the way. Some of them small, some of the quite deep. Like a battle field, they littered the landscape. Some point later we catch up to Chris, I make a few wrong turns on a roadwalk, and the peanut gallery quickly put me in place. Com’on! I forgot my guidebook and my phone was dead… How far could I have really gone! Soon we reach the point where there is only 2 miles to go till camp, with promise of french fries and onion rings along the way. Or for Chris, the best damn hamburger you ever got from a gas station. No matter the place, the fries and rings were delicious and welcomed. The store was just down the road from a hen house, the opposite direction from the trail, so employees wearing face masks to protect themselves from what I assume would lead to slow death caused by the farming flooded in for their burgers as well, while I sat and stared aimlessly. Carrying as many fries as I could to the campsite a half mile away, we got there with just enough time to set up camp, and watch the sunset down by the Suwannee.

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Roadwalking, not always a bad thing.

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Passing under the railroad. Very lucky to see a beautiful train pass by. Something I very much love seeing.

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Suwannacoochee Springs, where the Suwannee and the Withlacoochee meet.

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The road to fries.

 

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More high quality beer.

 

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Day 5: Cooper’s Bluff campsite to Winquepin Rd – 11.4 miles

The last day was short. No more 20 miles, just 10 to go with maybe some bonus at the end to get back to where we had a vehicle staged. I got up late, thinking they could get moving and I would catch up. They waited. Oh well. After 4 days and 80 miles my partners were facing some physical pain. I’ve been there, but it’s a process. The next time it’s always easier, you’re always stronger for it. Sometimes you have to endure to really get the most out of an experience. In this case, for Longwalker, a lesson on why Superfeet insoles only work for some people, not most. Chris, maybe a lesson on what best to combat chaffing. Not Desitin. For me it’s always been when I pushed passed what I was used to was where I learned the most. When I stepped out of my comfort zone, and went for something I had never tried before. With each opportunity arose new doors to be opened and eventually what you see here in the way I like to hike, and what I like to carry in my pack. Experience has gotten me there, and now experience has taken me to the Suwannee River. The day had begun, none of us with anywhere to be, we took the last 10 miles slow. Longwalker showed me some super cool stuff, and we talked a lot about backpacking gear. He’s really into the do it yourself crowed, who make their own gear, and I think within the next year he’s going to have himself some really cool home made stuff to take camping. Along the way there was an old cemetery we checked out, graves dating back to the early 1800s. For some reason I really liked seeing this, someone lived their life in that area, we were probably hiking on what was their land. Now 200 years later. Time is precious, and not to be wasted. Something I’m still working on. Later that day he also took me off trail to the site of an old homestead. A house that has been there since before the civil war. It was incredible. The remnants of a chimney, and from what he said just a month before the home was still standing. Apparently the elements finally brought it to its knees. Still magnificent, old turpentine clay pots and all. Pushing on we find Chris hanging out in the back of Longwalkers truck. The trip had gone as quick as it came. Hopefully on my thru hike south I’ll be back in this area again by December.

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My memory is hazy, probably smoked a few to many sandwiches back in the day, must be messing with the short term. So I apologize for leaving a lot out, or messing up parts of the days. I can’t help it! Some things are like a blur. It helps to take a lot of photos 🙂

I hope you enjoyed reading. I certainly enjoyed hiking! Thanks to Longwalker for giving me the grand tour of the area! Thanks to Chris, and Madeleine for joining the fun! I’ll be back soon. In 84 days from now, on July 1st I start walking south from Quebec. For now I continue to amass food, and finalize plans.

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Jup

Ode to Tarp Camping

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

Under a tarp I feel free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lean-To

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

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

A-Frame

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

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

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View of an A-frame from the top.

Half Pyrimid

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

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

 

 

Flying Diamond

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

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

Flat Tarp

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

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

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

Why a Tarp?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tips & Tricks

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

How to Pitch a Tarp – Suluk46

5 Tips for a Successful Tarp Pitch

11 Reasons to Switch to a Tarp

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

 

Remember… practice makes perfect.

Jupiter

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

 

Maps and Guides for the Eastern Continental Trail

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At first I thought, “Wow, this is easy! AWOL’s AT guide has been ordered, Sandra Friends FT Guide, too. 3,500 miles down, only 1,200 more to go!” Then I came across a bad sign… some guidebook for the International Appalachian Trail that’s written in french, a whole slough of broken links to trail resources, and overall next to no solid information. If you find yourself in the same pickle, don’t fret my dear hiker!! This situation will soon pass. I hadn’t yet dug deeply enough! Maybe at first my problem was looking at the ECT as one very long trail, when really I should have been thinking along the lines of planning a thru hike of each connecting trail separately. Which turned out to be easier than it sounds!

So here I hope to make it even easier. A nice list of what I’ll be using in regards to maps and guides, which I hope to update later with notes on how each resource helped.

I will say that this is far from the only resources out there available, and maybe I can include a bit more than even I am using. The rabbit hole goes very deep my friend. My original issue of having to little information became an issue of having way to much information. Not the worst of situations to be in!

Now before I begin…

I’d really like to thank Sycamore, who finished a flip-flop thru hike of the ECT, just months before writing this. He has offered me assistance(or maybe I forced it out of him!) He helped me pair down the research I had done to what is most important. I had a million questions ready to fire, and he has been very kind in answering my emails. Sycamore also unknowingly is the reason I’m doing the whole trail, and not settling for only doing that which is inside the US. I had mentioned I was going to be following in his footsteps the coming year, and what he said ruined me. “You’re going to LOVE Quebec!!” Dammit, I was planning on starting in Maine… not Canada!! Thanks for the push. I needed it. Secretly I was already disappointed to be missing the Canadian portion(and running the risk of not being a true ECT thru hiker.) You can find Sycamores amazing videos from his long journey here: Part 1 (AT+IAT) / Part 2 (BMT+PT+FT) and his journal here: Trailjournals.com

LandOfTheFree

“Land of the Free,” by Nimblewill Nomad. The second person to walk the ECT, and the one to give the route a name. As well as popularize the hike with his book “Ten Million Steps.”

My 4,700 mile journey begins in July. This is a glimpse into the madness that is my planning thus far. Imagine all the stuff I didn’t find worthy of sharing.

Florida

  • The ECT in Florida – An overview
  • Overseas Heritage Trail ebook – Very tempting, but I probably won’t use this. “Contains step-by-step details to the hike, including our top picks for hiker services, motels, campgrounds, nature along the way, a map of how to connect to the mainland, and where to find the tiki bars.”
  • FT Guide – Everything you could ever want in a trail guide book, and more!!
  • FT App – Can be downloaded for your smart phone, and maps purchased through the app.
  • FT Paper Maps – I will not be using these, and just going with the guide + app.
  • Florida Trail Class of *whatever* Facebook page – Search for it. Wonderful resource full of experienced hikers.

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – The app is indeed your best bet, but the guide book will still have much use in planning(though you don’t really need to ‘plan’ too much besides the keys. Speaking of the ECT extension from the FT to Key West is in the guidebook! and you will need that. Don’t bother with the paper maps.

Permits, the Florida Trail has quite a few permits that should be aquired prior to entering certain areas. For the most part… they are easy to get/download/print/whatever. Something worth noting.

The Florida Trail app is awesome! Totally 100% worth getting and using on a thru hike, or even just section hiking, and day hiking.

Alabama / Georgia

  • The Pinhoti Trail Alliance Facebook Group – Great place for asking questions. They helped me decided what maps I would use.
  • Alabama Roadwalk – This not only starts at the Florida Trail, but ends at the Appalachian Trail! That’s right, all the way through to the AT. I’ll probably carry both guides, for good measure, and because I didn’t come across another Benton Mackaye guide. As to the roadwalk  from what I’ve been told there are multiple different routes to take in between the PT and FT. This is just one. Pick your poison.
  • Pinhoti Trail Guide – The official trail guide, and I believe the most up to date.
  • Pinhoti Trail Towns / Water Information
  • Pinhoti Trail GPS Waypoints – Made by Gubbool. For those GPS users out there, this is specifically what Sycamore told me he used. Worked for him! Unfortunately I’m not a GPS user.
  • Alabama Pinhoti Topo Map – This is made by Mr. Parkay.
  • Georgia Pinhoti Topo Map – This is made by Mr. Parkay.
  • Benton Mackaye Trail Topo Map – Guess who… Mr. Parkay! Thank you Mr. Parkay!! I’ll be printing this series of maps myself, and this is what I’ll be using for navigation.
  • Pinhoti Trail Forest Service Maps – I won’t be using these but I did buy one, it’s exceptionally big, water proof, tear proof, and in general really nice. Talladega NFChattahoochee NF

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – The “Alabama Roadwalk” PDF guide above is all you need. Sure find maps or whatever but it’s not necessary I don’t think with some common sense and basic awareness. The entire 175mi roadwalk through southern AL is blazed yellow, and if you plug where you’re going into google maps that gives you almost the same exact route to walk, so yeah. That same guide also includes the PT and BMT all the way to Springer Mtn. It truely is ‘one guide to rule them all.’ I personally needed nothing more, though keep in mind all of these guides are old. Some stores are now closed, some rivers dried, etc. Don’t rely particularly on anything, though it still isn’t much of an issue given all the roads, I sometimes would walk a random one for a couple miles to gas stations. Not the most remote part of the country. The PT is blazed mostly well, as is the BMT sans a couple small intersections, though it is again easy to  deduce the way either through a very small bout of trial and error, or asking yourself, “if I were a trail'” where would I go? Have fun, camping on the AL roadwalk is not to be trusted, be extremely careful, extremely safe, and above all else extremely stealthy. Do not get yourself shot over some roadwalk.

I decided to save myself from the wide world of printing ALLLLL of Mr. Parkays maps, and instead use the Forest Service maps instead. This may be a mistake, as they’re not as good, and somewhat confusing to look at. We will see. (June 25 2016, prior to leaving.)

Appalachian Trail

  • AWOL AT Guide – You shouldn’t need anything else. I had a friend tell me to just use the PDF file instead of the actual book. Could be a good way to save half a pound.

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – Still the best guide for the AT, and the only real resource you need. Beyond that, if you have bonus money the guthooks app is pretty nice.

A lot of people really like the phone apps for the AT. Like Guthooks or something. I’m already sending hella resupply boxes, so paper for me is what I like most. I’m really only carrying a few pages at a time, ditching them as I go.

International Appalachian Trail

  • Maine – This site offers some maps, a guide, and text directions/data. The data and maps for free! I myself will be skipping the guide.
  • New Brunswick – Text directions, and a crude map. From what I hear the trail is well marked and it’s mostly on railroad beds, which makes for easy navigation. More in the way of a map could be needed here.
  • Quebec – Map packet (6 maps), Companion Guide, and membership(support support!) can be found here. I will be using the maps and the guide. You will also need a passport for this section, also found on this website.
  • Newfoundland – This is all I’ve really looked at being I’m not doing the Newfoundland portion of the trail. You’re on your own! Unless some kind soul wants to do the foot work and contribute to this article.

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – You 100% need the guide and the maps for Quebec, and I highly recommend studying the New Brunswick part hard, It isn’t always blazed, and goes from rails to trails, to roadwalk, and back to rails a couple times without warning physically that you needed to leave the original path you’ve been walking. I recommend figuring out a way to print sections of the “crude map” for NB especially surrounding the towns the trail goes through just to have an idea of turns you must make here or there. Or maybe even writing your own little notes “turn here, etc”

There is actually a guidebook for the Maine section, though I don’t specifically know where to get it. I’m sure an email to the org could get you one, or maybe their website. I found one in a shelter and carried it, and very much enjoyed it. It has many maps within, If you can’t get one, no big deal! it has almost the exact same text as the free guide you can find online, and print. Maine was marked mostly well, and I had very little trouble.

The Passporte! Quebec! You NEED to contact the IAT-QC office either by phone or email to aquire a permit to hike through Quebec. Its worth it yo, $350. Seriously, Quebec is fucking incredible, and the gem of this entire trail. The money supports them, and goes towards the use of their 4 walled shelters(that are extremely nice,) all up the trail there. They will ask for your itinerary, which is pretty easy. Once you have the guidebook, make a spreadsheet with all the campsites you plan on staying at, and the dates you think you’ll be there. The Passporte can not be skipped! You will be asked to show it at some point. I think in that price above includes a reservation for one of the parks. If you call ahead(they’re very friendly) they will explain what you need for the crossing of QC.

Maine, prior to leaving I looked up a bunch of trail maps for the IAT in Maine, specifically what is north of Mt. Katahdin directly. There are a few different options, and I felt it worth noting them, and carrying those crude, home printed maps.

maps

This has been an overview of my maps, and guides for the ECT! It’s been a truly maddening experience finding all of this, but I am stronger for it! The next time around on a more difficult trail will remind me of the joys I’ve had doing this one. Now that this is over I can focus on other things like food, and resupply! 4 months to go, and my to-do list is dwindling fast.

For those interested in extra information I have more saved, feel free to contact me, and maybe I can help. If you’re looking to thru hike any one of these trails maybe this post will be of use to you as well. After all the ECT is simply a combination of multiple different thru hikes that all happen to connect ever so neatly.

I need to stretch my legs! I need to get out and hike!

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Printed trail guides and other useful information.

Jupiter

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