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Life of the Wanderlust

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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

Final gear list for the ECT

Check out this gear… in video form! Youtube

This is what I’m carrying on the Eastern Continental Trail.

  • I’m starting in Quebec in July, and will probably be done with the first leg of the trip, the International Appalachian Trail, by August. Here I will dance with the caribou, square off with moose, and speak broken French with the locals.
  • Then off to the very strange community that is the Appalachian Trail for 3 months, August through November. Hopefully meeting up with a friend who is yoyoing the AT, and we’ll walk south. We will eat vegan food, enjoy big miles, and witness fall in the Appalachians.
  • I’ll leave him at Springer to tackle a section of the Benton Mackaye Trail, continuing on to hike the Pinhoti Trail, and walk to Florida on roads. This will likely be how I spend early November. Getting lost in Alabama.
  • Finally reaching the Florida Trail, and my home state, celebrating my birthday on the trail, Thanksgiving, and likely Christmas too. What are holidays anyway? Finishing up with this grand adventure in the Florida Keys around new years.

Some 4,800 miles down the east coast.

ECTmap

This is the time line I’ve laid out to avoid harsh weather in the north, and hike through Florida when it’s not a sauna. Seriously, where else can you hike in January? I only mention this stuff because my gear is chosen wisely based on the conditions I will face on this specific trip, for these specific conditions.

I don’t recommend you follow in my footsteps, or make the same choices in your gear as I have. Get out, use what you own, and change things as you go with the experience you’re gaining. The stuff I use is very dial to how I like to do things. I suggest you find how you like to do things.

Backpack

  •      Backpack – Pa’lante Cuben Simple                                                         7.4 (ounces)
  •      Bag Liner – Mountain Laurel Designs pack liner                                 1.3

Sleep System

  •      Quilt – Mountain Laurel Designs FKT synthetic quilt L                      15
  •      Pad – GossamerGear Thinlight 1/8″ (torso length)                             1.1

Shelter System

  •      Tarp – Mountain Laurel Designs cuben ProPoncho 9×5                    6.4
  •      Guylines – 4 / 6ft, and 4 / 3ft lines w/ mini carabiners                      1.7
  •      Bivy – Mountain Laurel Designs silnylon Superlight                         6.7
  •      Stakes – 6 Titanium shepherds hooks, and 2 titanium V shape      1.9

Water / Kitchen

  •      Water Bottle – 2 SmartWater 34oz                                                         2.8
  •      Food Bowl – Ziploc 2cup 16oz screw top container                           1.4
  •      Food bag – 20 x 12.5 OPsak                                                                      1.2
  •      Spoon – Plastic                                                                                           0.4

Clothing(Carried)

  •      Neck Gaiter – Blaze orange                                                                      1.4
  •      Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight micro                                           2.2
  •      Hat – Zpacks synthetic micro-fleece beanie                                       1
  •      Rain Jacket – OR Hellium II                                                                     6
  •      Long Underwear – Montbell Zeo-line Tights                                      4.1
  •      Jacket – Montbell Thermawrap                                                               8.4
  •      Glove Liners                                                                                                1.3

Misc.

  •      Flashlight – Fenix LD02 + extra AAA battery                                      1.4
  •      Bug Repellant – 98% Deet, repackaged                                                 0.2
  •      ID, Money, & Credit Card – In a ziploc                                                  0.4
  •      Knife – Swiss Army Knife classic S                                                        0.8
  •      Lighter – Mini Bic                                                                                      0.4
  •      Cell Phone – Samsung Galaxy s5                                                            4.9
  •      Exra Phone Battery                                                                                    2
  •      USB Cord – Charging phone                                                                   0.3
  •      Wall Charger – Single port charger                                                       0.9
  •      Maps & Data – Cut up guidebooks and maps                                      ~0

First Aid Kit

  •      Soap & Toothpaste – Dr. Bronners, repackaged                                 0.2
  •      Toothbrush – Sans handle                                                                       0.1
  •      Advil & Tylenol – Mini ziploc                                                                  0.2
  •      Ziploc Bag – Holds FAK and Misc.                                                         0.2

Total base weight of pack (the weight without food, water, fuel or worn clothing)

  •      < 6 lbs~

Worn on my body: Altra Lone Peak 2.5s, ball cap, long sleeve button up shirt, running shorts, Injinji toe socks, LED flashlight necklace, and sunglasses.

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Even with such a small backpack, I am still learning how to, and wanting to lighten up further.

Jupiter

What I’ll be carrying on the Appalachian Trail and Florida Trail

(This has been updated)

In 2012 I set off on the Appalachian trail for a section hike with a backpack weighing in the range of 60-70lbs. This was one of my first real backpacking experiences… and I sure learned a whole lot! I learned that all the comforts of home I was carrying didn’t actually add anything to my enjoyment of the wilderness. By the end of that 250 mile section my ankles hurt, my back hurt, and I hobbled around for a week after.

Since that hike I really started to look at my gear in an effort to lighten up as to learn from the past. I began pairing down what was necessary, and developing a style of my own along the way. Through the course of hundreds of trips, and mountains of research  I found that as my pack got lighter, walking got easier, and life got simpler. I am no longer in pain, and I now enjoy being in the woods even more!

Since deciding to take on 4,000 miles of the Eastern Continental Trail, I’ve collected all the gear that makes me the most happy, I’ve spent a whole lot of time on the trail, and I’ve stayed tried and true to the philosophy that less is more. My base pack weight, the weight of my gear without counting food or water, is just under 7lbs to start the AT, and I’ll likely get that down to 6lbs once the weather warms up. This is the gear I’ve been fiddling with for the past two years. Everything has been used thoroughly, and prior to that researched endlessly.

My gear list can be found here if you wish to look at individual weights and everything in a more condensed form. This list is live so when I change something you can see it there.

http://lighterpack.com/r/2pj411

Some of this gear is expensive, some of it isn’t. I could have thru hiked last year but I wanted more time to hike in my local area for training, learn new skills, and continue my research. I’m very happy with this decision. It has allowed me to buy the exact gear that I want, and learn how to use it as second nature. You’ll find that with sufficient research most ultralight gear is actually cheaper.

Everything on this list is something I fully support, unless stated otherwise. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be carrying it.

If you too are looking to shave weight from your pack, don’t rush it. With experience will come weight savings. Only after spending a very long time in the woods have I gotten to this point. I am still always looking to lighten up, try new things, and become more efficient with the gear I use.

This is a series of mini reviews of the gear I’ll be starting out with on the Appalachian Trail for a mid June start up north, in Maine. I expect low temperatures for the first 500 miles, and a whole lot of rain for the entire trip. I will be going solo, and plan on taking advantage of shelters in heavy storms. I will continue past the AT to the Florida Trail, and my gear will remain the same. I expect to reach Florida sometime around October or November after finishing the AT in September… if all goes as planned. A faster thru hike is my goal, and I think my gear reflects that.

Backpack

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 32L Backpack

I love this pack so much I bought 2 of them! I have used it for the past two years, and its gone over a thousand miles without any sign of wear or tear. It’s everything I ever wanted in an ultralight pack. It’s frame-less so I use my sleeping pad to give it rigidity, and save weight. This pack is minimalism at its finest with no useless flairs or features, and weighing in at only 11 ounces! Fast and efficient, everything you need, and nothing more. The most food I’ve had in it has been 9 days and that was pushing this pack to its absolute limits. I wouldn’t carry more than 25 pounds with this thing which is why I don’t recommend it to most people. It was made for really low weights, and a more fastpacking versus backpacking attitude. I really like the design, and since I’m going for a faster thru hike, carrying less than a normal amount of gear, this backpack suits my style perfectly. I actually cut off the hip belt it came with on the first one I purchased, and for the second one MLD made it for me without one. My pack weight is so low I don’t need the extra hip support, and thus it’s just dead weight to me. It allows a quicker style of use, and I dropped a few ounces in the process.

MLD makes the Prophet which is slightly bigger and would be more suitable for most people. The Burn is tiny, at 32~ liters you seriously have to pair your gear down to only the essentials. Non bulky, lightweight, essentials at that! The small size is possibly one of my favorite parts about it. I see day hikers carrying bigger packs than me. I used to use a GossamerGear G4 which was of similar style but really wide. The Burn has a really skinny profile, and I love that in comparison. It doesn’t catch on anything protruding into the trail, and sits very centered on my back.

I’ve taken this pack through some harsh conditions, and put the pain down on it. It’s held up through everything with no sign of slowing down. It’s made of a very strong, and light weight fabric called Dyneema. Able to withstand even the most brutal of falls, scrapes, long term use, and general mishaps. I know this pack will not fail mechanically on me in any way, even after thousands of miles. Mountain Laurel Designs has done an amazing job of making a well built, durable, and extremely lightweight backpack. Very comfortable as well! The most comfortable pack I’ve used to date. In comparison to carrying my monster from the AT in 2012 or any pack since, this is a dream with shoulder straps.

I will use this pack for all my future hikes. The small size is pushing it for a thru hike, but I think with my minimalist kit I will be able to happily manage. One day I’d like to make my own pack but even then it would roughly be the same design as this.

Mountain Laurel Designs Pack Liner

The idea behind a pack liner is that if you have a big bag full of your gear, sealed, it will keep out any water. Most traditional backpackers will use a pack cover which just covers 2/3rds of your pack and lets water seep in through your back. A pack liner keeps everything out, where it belongs. A pack liner weighs less than a pack cover and does its job exponentially better. The reason I bought the MLD pack liner versus the typical trash compactor bag that you can find at any grocery store is that the MLD version fits my tiny pack better. A true trash compactor bag would be far more durable but I like how this fits. It’s ever so slightly lighter as well. I guess I couldn’t resist. So far the MLD pack liner has held up over the last year of serious hiking. I expect I’ll have to replace it sooner than later. Came with two for just 5$.

Sleeping

Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20 Degree Quilt

Enlightened Equipment makes some quality quilts! I highly recommend them. I also own a quilt from another highly regarded cottage company that I use for warmer weather, and I’ll say the difference between the two companies is night and day. When it comes to quality my EE Enigma is top notch. Everything about it. The degree of warmth, the stitching, the small details, and the low weight are all on point. It’s a worth while company to look into if you’re contemplating a new sleep system.

What is a quilt? A quilt is a sleeping bag without a back or zipper, which saves loads of weight! I choose a quilt over a bag because when you lay in a sleeping bag you’re compressing and crushing the insulating material, and it’s no longer keeping you warm. Only the fabric on top of you is actually doing anything for you. So all that fabric you sleep on top of is dead weight. Potentially a large sum of weight, that you have to carry! A zipper is too since you just tuck the sides of the quilt under neath you. This can create drafts if you happen to untuck one of the sides while you sleep by rolling around, but I haven’t had a problem with that yet. I like how this quilt comes with vertical baffles, which hold the down in place better, instead of horizontal. With horizontal baffles the down tends to migrate to your sides leaving your front exposed without insulation.

I got this with a rating of 20 degrees as I’ll be starting my hike in Maine just after winter. There will still be cold nights and I could get away with less but I’d like 20 degrees so that I could use this same quilt on other trails with more harsh weather. It’s a small luxury but It’s actually lighter to carry a slightly heavier sleeping bag than to get that same warmth from extra clothing. The downside to that idea is that to stay at your peak warmth you must be in your sleeping bag and not able to be hanging around camp wearing your extra clothing. With my style of hike hike hike, camp to recharge, this is what I want. Since I’ll be hiking all the way south into winter I also foresee running into some cold nights in Florida assuming I’ll be hiking the FT in November/December. So 20 degrees seemed like the proper choice all around.

Some people like for their jacket to have a hood or for their sleeping bag to have a hood, you wont get that with a quilt. I believe this way is a more modular system. You can’t remove the hood, and you certainly can’t wear your bags hood while you hike. Thus I carry a beanie to sleep in or hike in. Same effect with many more uses.

While on the Appalachian Trail it’s going to warm up maybe 500 or so miles into my hike, and at that point I will send this home and swap it out for my much lighter 40 degree bag. Once I’m very sure it’s not cold anymore this will drop half a pound from my back just as I’ll be picking up the miles!

GossamerGear Nightlight Torso Length Sleeping Pad

Do I like this pad? Yes. Would I recommend it? No. If you camp in a location with a lot of natural ground cover like leaves, grass, or pine needles it’s great. Those things provide extra insulation from the cold hard ground. More comfort and padding. If you are one to choose a campsite near a shelter or in an area commonly camped on this pad will not be comfortable, it will purely take away the “edge”. Unless of course you like a stiff bed. So you will commonly find me camping in locations away from shelters in areas that aren’t used often or ever before. I do like this pad, and I will continue to use it until I am older, and require something more cushy. The pad is stiff but if I sleep on my back, and follow the guidelines above I get good sleep, and sleep comfortably sleep with it. This pad is also used as the frame for my frame-less backpack giving it form and rigidity, and as my camp chair while lounging around after a long day. It also happens to be extremely light at just 4.9 ounces. Which is why I would only recommend it to those who are really looking for the lightest possible setup.

It’s a great foam pad but you have to think about your sleeping location a little more than the next guy. It’s only the length of my torso, from my shoulders to my butt so I use an inflatable pillow under my head, put my backpack under my feet for added insulation from the ground, and to elevate my feet at night for better recovery. The bottom half of your pad is mostly useless, so cut it off! You can even do this with inflatable pads if you have one, using a hot iron to seal it up again. It’s your upper body that really needs the most insulation unless hiking in winter, while your backpack can separate your legs and feet from the ground.

Exped Ultralight Air Pillow Medium

Of all the camping pillows in existence I’ve found this one to have the most positive reviews. I’ve personally found it to be very comfy, and I have happily carried it on all of my hikes in the past year without issue of breakage or a bad nights rest. Before this I used my shoes, blown up ziploc bags inside a stuff sack, clothes inside a stuff sack, and my food bag as different pillows. Yes, seriously, my food bag. Although all of those are good choices, this pillow is really comfortable, and offers superior sleep. Getting a good nights rest is very important to having a strong day of hiking, and you won’t go wrong with this cushion of air. Even the fabric on top is nice against the face, and doesn’t feel like plastic. Sometimes it slips out from under me a little but due to its curved shape I always wake up with it under my head. I remember this pillow as being on the pricier side but I would still buy it again if the one I own breaks beyond repair. I do worry about it busting so I do try to be very careful with it. I highly recommend an inflatable camp pillow, and this one works wonderfully for me.

Shelter

Mountain Laurel Designs 5×9 Cuben ProPoncho Tarp

I’m a tarp guy. I wasn’t always. I used tents for years and even bought a really nice one. Then I decided I’d get a cheap tarp and try it out. I never looked back. There is much beauty to behold in a flat tarp. You can set it up in almost endless configurations depending on your skill, and the weather. If you have a really amazing view you can set it up to have a nice vantage. If you have a crazy storm you can pitch it low, and away from the weather. Most tarps provide much more space than a tent, and they do it at a small fraction of the weight. Only recently have tents gotten to a point where they weigh 2 pounds or less. Where as I could buy a tarp that weighs around 4 ounces and it would provide twice the space. This particular tarp gives me 45 square feet, doubles as my rain gear, and only weighs half a pound with all of its guy lines. When my options are a 2lb tent with a 6oz rain jacket, or an 8oz tarp that doubles as a rain poncho, I’m saving almost 2lbs off of my back. A tarp is another one of those things were the amount of skill, experience, or research you’ve done will dictate how useful it is. Or rather how much fun you can have with it, and how happy you’ll be with your decision. Practice, practice, practice, much like everything else.

One of the tips to having a lighter pack is having more multi-use items. This poncho tarp embodies that. As I mentioned, I’m saving pounds off of already really lightweight tent setups. Not only because tarps are by nature lighter weight, but also in this case it’s multi-use, eliminating another piece of gear from my backpack, the rain jacket. As tarps go this one is rather small at 5×9 so I am risking it with the sheer amount of rain on the east coast, but with the intention to use shelters when needed, and my brain when choosing a site to camp I think I can out smart the weather. If you’re not already very experienced with a tarp I would not recommend this particular shelter. The overall size makes it a tight fit, and increases the risk of use by a considerable amount if the conditions aren’t good. A more comfortable size for a new tarp user would be 7×9 or upwards of 9×10. The small size does dictate that I generally set it up lower to the ground in a storm, and have to be more careful with where I’m camping.

This is a very specialized piece of gear, yet as a tarp still remains flexible. My choice of bringing it on the AT is that if need be I can stay in one of the many shelters that litter the trail. I plan on taking advantage of those lean-tos when I can as the margin for error with this piece of gear is rather small in bad weather. In constantly wet, and raining conditions without the option of these shelters this tarp wouldn’t be a very wise choice. To make things easier I use mini carabiners(instead of having to tie knots daily) to make setting up, taking down, and changing to poncho mode easiest in inclimate weather. Carrying an umbrella really helps the transition from rain gear to shelter in a storm, as well. For the Appalachian Trail, with all its rain and glory, I’ll be using the shelters very frequently to escape the rain.

The whole product is extremely well built, and designed. The rain gear aspect of it is awesome. This essentially replaces a rain coat, rain pants, and a pack cover. I absolutely love that my shorts stay dry, and that I don’t have to wear rain pants or a rain kilt using this poncho. It goes over my entire body, and my pack, keeping both the outside, and its contents dry. The hood on it is really well made, and as I understand was recently redesigned in the version I have. It fits great over my head and I can cinch it tight so when I look around it follows with me. Has a cute little brim too, keeping the rain out of my eyes.

My biggest factor for looking into this in the first place was how much I disdained rain jackets, and their lack of breathability. All rain jackets have big issues with breathing, you simply sweat them out, negating almost all reason of wearing them in the first place. Being a poncho this breathes extremely well by letting air flow in from under my arms, and the dress portion around mu legs, keeping me dry of perspiration and rain. You can tie the poncho close to your body with a guy line for really bad weather, or you can let it hang loose and have maximum air-flow. This is wonderful in a very wet climate, with sweltering humidity, like the AT and FT. Being a Florida hiker, humidity is nothing new. A rain jacket simply wasn’t working for me, and this was the answer. I now hike more comfortably than ever in the rain.

Most peoples issues with tarps are that they think they’ll either get wet in a downpour, or the bugs will get them. A tarp is actually even better in a storm than a tent. You have multiple ways to set it up, plenty of space, and once you set it up no more rain is falling, and you can peacefully put down your dry ground sheet for a water free zone. Having to set up a tent in the rain I found that I would get rain in the tent, and then have to mop it up before I could do anything. That isn’t an issue with a tarp as it stops the rain before you put down your ground sheet. When it comes to bugs, they are an issue in Florida, it can be remedied with just about any bivy or bug netting. If you set up your tarp so that a draft can blow through, the bugs will be blown away! If you pitch your tarp away from water then you are avoiding even more of them.

Overall I’m very happy with this tarp, and the experience of using a tarp as my primary shelter as a whole. There’s nothing like the feeling of closeness with your surrounding wilderness you get while being under a tarp, and not zippered up inside a rigid tent. The same goes for being in the rain under your tarp. You’re there, you see it, you could touch it, but only if you want to. It’s really magical to hang out dry, while the rain falls around you.

Mountain Laurel Designs did an amazing job with this tarp. I wont be using a bivy with it as I find them too confining. Maybe in the future I will.

How to pitch a Tarp: Suluk46

How to minimize condensation

Stakes – 8

I use titanium stakes to keep my tarp pitched to the ground, tight, and in position. I also use them as a poop trowel. Titanium is lighter than steel, and more sturdy than aluminum. I have found only using the skinny shepherd hook stakes isn’t quite enough unless you put rocks on them to keep them in place when the ground isn’t so stable. So I use 6 shepherd hook stakes and 2 stakes on the most crucial points, the ridge-line, that are shaped like a V. The V shaped stakes are so much more secure in soft sand or ground with a lot of brush.

Ground Cloth

A ground cloth is almost a necessity with a tarp. I guess I’ve seen people without them but that is beyond my knowledge thus far. If you’re using a tarp you’ll want one of these. Polycryo versus Tyvek is the question. The only reason I would use Tyvek over polycryo is that Tyvek is more durable. If I were using a blow up sleeping pad and was worried that rocky ground might pop it this would be the answer. I use a foam mattress so this isn’t an issue. Polycryo is far lighter and will still keep me off of the ground. As I mentioned with the tarp is that once you get it set up you can pull out your ground sheet and you have dry ground to organize your things, eat your food, and sleep.

I’m using the size medium from GossamerGear. This stuff is some sort of common construction material used for windows. Forget the name exactly but large quantities can be gotten for cheap. I buy from GG because it’s still pretty cheap, they give you two of them, and they probably last a good 500 miles or more depending on where you’re using it.

DIY Bug Net Condom

Weird name huh? I attribute this marvelous piece of gear, and idea to Lint. Lint has been a big inspiration to me while researching the hiking world, and this is a totally ingenious idea that he came up with.

This will be my bug protection, which will be much needed up north at the start of summer, in the land of lakes, Maine.

It is a large bug net that is close to 5 feet in length, and it slips ontop of an umbrella. When I lay down to go to sleep I slip this bug net over my umbrella, open it up, it keeps the netting off my face, and gives me living space. It’s like a miniature tent… for my upper body. The net only goes down to my torso, and gets tucked into my quilt, creating a seal between me, and the nasty mosquitoes trying to suck my blood. My quilt acts as the second half of my bug protection, which is why this is so light. This particular system weighs less than most bivies(the alternative option for tarp users,) and I find it to be vastly more comfortable. I have room to eat inside, read, I don’t feel claustrophobic like I do inside a bivy, and most importantly it keeps all the bugs out! I love how simple it is, there are no zippers, and I can easily take it on or off of me. I don’t have to stake it down, or tie it up to my tarp like most bivies. I just take out my umbrella, and open it inside the netting! Some who choose to tarp in bug season, and want to go extremely light only use a bug head net with their sleeping bag over 95% of their body. That system fails when it’s to hot outside, and you wish to take off your sleeping bag, thus leaving you exposed to the bugs. This is similar to a bug head net but 5 times the size, and more robust! Being that your umbrella is behind your head you also have the added benefit of rain protection at your head end.

Love this piece of gear although the one downside is it does nothing for splash from rain coming in on your sides or your foot end. If you are experienced with a tarp this can be prevented with site selection, and how you pitch your tarp. Due to the heavy rain on the Appalachian Trail, and the Florida Trail a bivy would be the better option, but with the availability of shelters every 10 miles on the AT I can always hide out in one for the night if need be.

Water / Eating

Aquamira Water Purification Drops

My favorite of all water filters. It’s a chemical solution of chlorine dioxide, and an activator. When mixed and added to water, will kill bacteria, viruses, guardia, and crypto. It is two bottles that you mix in a little cap, let sit for 5 minutes, add to 1 liter of water and hike on while you wait another 15 for it to do its job. This is why I love it. I spend 5 or so minutes eating a snack while the liquid readies and I’m off again. I started first with a pump style water filter that weighed a pound, was bulky, and had tubes everywhere. You would sit there and pump away until you had water. It was annoying and eventually got clogged and took more effort, time, and patience to get it to work. I swapped to a Sawyer Mini which was toted as the lightest water filter on the market. Again after just a few trips the filter got clogged beyond repair and I wound up drinking all sorts of unfiltered water cursing the darn thing out. At best the flow rate on the Sawyer Mini was terrible. It would take me anywhere from 20-30 minutes to squeeze a liter out of it. After not long I couldn’t squeeze anything out of it.

I met this guy on the trail who laughed at my aquamira drops and how I had to wait to drink my water. I added my mixture and was a mile away before he had half the amount of treated water than I did.

Bottom line is Aquamira is efficient and extremely light weight. The more disgusting the water the longer you should wait to drink it. It says to use 7 drops of each but I only use 5 on most water. Never been sick and I’ve certainly drank my fair share of putrid water. I love the get up and go style which is what I center my entire backpacking kit around.

If I were to switch to anything beyond this it would be bleach. Same idea but only 1 bottle necessary instead of the 2 for Aquamira.

2x Smart Water 1 Liter Water Bottles

These are my choice of water bottles. They are lighter than Gatorade bottles and the long and skinny profile fits well in my backpack pockets making it easy to remove while walking. I like these over a water bladder because a bladder and the tubes weight a whole lot more than people think. This is the easiest way for someone to drop weight from their pack as it seems like most people use a bladder without giving attention to trying two bottles.

On the AT water comes frequently and is plentiful. Frankly I could do this trail with less than 2 liters of carrying capacity but the 2 liters is specifically for camping. Have extra water for food, the morning, and less trips to a source in general.

Plastic Ziploc Screw-Top Container For Soaking Food

Going stove-less on the trail. This isn’t my first bout of stove-less cooking, I’ve been doing this for most of the last two years with the exception of a few overnight trips. Some say this is masochistic to not cook food for weeks or months while hiking. I personally love it. I used to carry a canister stove with the big bottle of fuel and that was obviously very heavy and bulky. I decided to switch to a cat food can alcohol stove. That was pretty awesome. Much lighter than the canister stove, looked badass, and it was very small. Until I stepped on it. I made another, and once lit a table on fire, another time I burned my leg pretty bad. I decided to stop using those. They are very accident prone. I actually had someone else step on the final one I made! Squished my cat food can like a mushroom in Super Mario Bros. I love the alcohol stove idea, and I think everyone should make one as its a very good thing to know. They’re also known as a ‘hobo stove’ as you can make them very cheaply and pretty much wherever you are. The true and biggest problem with them if you’re careful enough to avoid accidents or areas with fire bans is the fuel you have to carry! A big bottle of HEET or a repackaged smaller bottle of denatured alcohol. So for short trips they’re sweet as you wont find many stoves lighter. For long trips the weight of the fuel outweighs the benefits.

After all this fiddling with stoves I found some articles online talking about stove-less cooking. Its more of a soaking, or a re-hydrating. You put your food in your plastic screw top container, add some water, and let it sit for a mile or two as you walk. Boom you’ve got ‘cooked’ food. It’s completely hassle free, it reduces on smell by a considerable amount, and the food tastes the same at room temperature as it does hot. If you’re hiking big days you won’t even care. Did I mention how much lighter this is than a stove? I just looked up your typical cat food can stove, and eating system for a former AT thru hiker. The total weight including fuel was 1 pound. My screw top container and my spoon(my entire cook-set) weighs 2 OUNCES. That’s 14 ounces saved, or in other words almost a pound. There are few places you can lose this kind of weight from your pack without upgrading gear and spending a bunch of money. That’s significant.

When eating stove-less I do a lot of couscous, noodles, powdered mashed potatoes, and granola with powdered milk. I’ll add anything and everything to these meals. spices, dehydrated vegetables, olive oil, etc. I recommend trying this sometime and you may be surprised. The possibilities of no cook meals are endless especially if you have a dehydrator. I’m currently working on vegan meals that are extremely healthy, once I have a few of those nailed down I’ll likely do a post about that.

These screw top containers can be found at your local grocery store. You could also use a peanut butter container or a gelato container. Has to be screw top and you must be sure it won’t leak.

Food Bag – OPsak

This is my food bag. Its an odor proof bag in the size of 20 x 12.5. I can fit about 5 days of food in it and I will put my first days food in my backpacks outer pocket if I need to carry more. I’m not going to go to far into detail but I have no intention of hanging my food away from animals unless there are bear poles available. No, I don’t want your opinion on this 🙂 Using this bag isn’t fool proof but it adds to a degree of being careful that I hike by. This bag is a piece to a puzzle of an overall low odor strategy. If you want a serious review check out “swami” who is a man with more than 55,000 miles of backpacking long trails under his belt.

At night I keep this bag under my feet to elevate them and reduce swelling while I sleep. It could also be used as a pillow. Another really great idea if you are worried about critters is to keep your smelly shoes and socks on top of it to mask any additional odor. This is a trail tip from Bobcat.

Fits nicely in my pack, holds a considerable amount of food, and best of all I’ve yet to have critter or ant problems using it. Nice bag, would recommend.

Titanium Spoon

A plastic spoon is lighter, you can also cut a plastic spoon in half to take it to that next level. Yet here I am with a titanium spoon? For all of my shorter trips I go plastic. In the cold though, plastic has a tendency to harden and then break. A fate I don’t wish to subject myself to while somewhere in the mountains. I’ve had to carve wooden spoons before and I don’t particularly want to do so again out of necessity. The titanium offers peace of mind. I’ve tied a piece of orange string to this one so that I can more easily see it, and hopefully not lose it.

Clothing

Initial thoughts: Being that I’m living in Florida most of these clothes don’t have the miles under them that I would like to give a fair review. I have used each piece of clothing in ~20 degree Florida weather a few times, but it’s not a true judgement. A SOBO hiker experiences less harsh weather due to the time of the year we start. I plan on starting with all of this, and sending most of it home within the first 500 miles of the trip. I have done extremely extensive research and believe these clothes to be MORE than enough for the conditions ahead.

Bandana

The multi purpose item of all multi purpose items. You can use as a towel, protection from the sun, water filter, pot cleaner, tent drier, handkerchief, or in my case… I chose orange as my color and thus protection from pesky, hiker hungry, hunters!

Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight micro

I love these socks!! No blisters, ever! I attribute this to the socks, and shoes I wear mostly, with a good helping of foot care when I can. Toe socks feel weird at first, and takes just slightly longer to put them on but you’ll not only get used to the feeling but also addicted to the feeling. Being able to wiggle and move your toes independently inside your shoes is a wonderful thing. I got the really thin socks as that is what works best for me to avoid hot spots, and the eventual blister. I chose pink so I could know which ones are mine in a group laundry load. Just kidding I want to look really cute in my pink toe socks.

I carry 2 pairs in total, one I’m wearing and one in my pack. I wash them as often as I can and switch them daily. Taking care of your feet is the number one priority while hiking, and these socks in combination with my shoes are a very crucial component to that. I tried sock after sock after sock until I came upon these. No other sock compares.

Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket

An incredible jacket. Extremely light at just 5.3 ounces. This goes into my layering system as all of my clothes are capable of being worn at the same time for maximum warmth. I don’t plan on using this in the rain. It’s more of a not while hiking item. Only being used at night or in the morning. I do believe there to be warmer jackets but for the conditions I’m facing this one has me stoked. Just so damn light. For the quality it’s actually fairly cheap too.

Zpacks Fleece Beanie

My jacket has no hood nor does my quilt. This is the solution. More versatile than having a hood on either of the two aforementioned items a down or fleece beanie is the way to go. I can wear it when hiking, I can wear it when sleeping. It’s only 1 ounce and I probably won’t send it home for the entire 4,000 mile trip I am attempting. Something I can’t say about most of my other clothes. I plan on sending home most everything else as soon as I can tell summer is upon me.

PossumDown Glove Liners

Just a thin layer for my hands. It’s important to me for my extremities to stay warm. Although I could use my extra pair of socks as mittens or put my hands in my armpits I think the 1.5 ounce glove liners are worth it so I can maintain dexterity and actually be useful in the cold. Not overkill like most gloves, just right. I think I could save half an ounce with a different pair… maybe that’s too picky.

Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket

For the weight of 1.6 ounces, and the ability to scrunch it up into the size of a golf ball, it really can add some warmth. I expect to be hiking in this on bald mountains, and always have it handy. It cuts the cold out of the wind and traps a bit body heat in while not being suffocating. The perfect balance of breath-ability in comparison to the other top wind jackets. Not to be used in the rain but in a light drizzle or heavy mist would work great. I’ve heard great things about this jacket, and I look forward to testing it more outside of Florida. A wind jacket would be best used in the desert in lieu of a rain jacket but I’m using this as an extremely light breathable layer to add to my clothing system.

Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants

I wear the shortest of short hiking shorts. Not the best when its cold or windy. These pants will cut some of the wind, and give me a bit of warmth for my legs. Being that summer will be just around the corner when I start my hike in Maine I think these will come in handy until I’m much further south. While hiking you don’t need much to stay warm as your body generates enough heat for itself. The wind jacket and wind pants are probably all I’ll need on chilly or windy days on the trail. The other clothes I’m carrying are more for while I’m in camp. I debated carrying long underwear instead of these but in the end as a southbound hiker walking during mostly the summer I don’t feel I’ll need more warmth than these pants provide. In much colder conditions I would carry both the long underwear, and these wind pants.

Sea-To-Summit Bug Headnet

Works like a charm. Can see through it well, keeps the bugs off my face, only 1 ounce, fits over any cap, and only looks just slightly stupid! When I first saw these it was on the AT years ago, a couple sitting on a log, miserable, and both wearing bug head nets. The black fly were particularly bad that week and this couple was literally crippled by the biting flies. I thought these people looked mighty silly wearing these nets as I was doing great. Maybe as a Floridian I have a higher tolerance for bugs that bite. I’m carrying this on the AT because the bugs in the north as I’ve heard, specifically the 100 mile wilderness in Maine, are a nightmare. So I figure for 1 ounce it could save my sanity for a few days.

Misc. & First Aid

Golite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella

I love my umbrella!! It is without a doubt my favorite piece of gear. It’s silver, and I use it more in the sun than in the rain! Either way it’s the most amazing, and wonderful thing you can own or take backpacking, in my opinion. Sun umbrellas are huge in places like Asia, you wonder why Americans haven’t caught on. Hikers have! Or at least I have. A sun umbrella is the style for me. It’s constant shade when you’re out in the sun, on an exposed trail, or it’s shelter from rain. I can huddle up under it in a storm or when I’m taking a break from the heat. At a half a pound I think the ultralight community is split on its worth, but it’s been decided time after time for me. When using it constantly in the sun I am able to carry less water, and thus evening out the weight of the umbrella. Even on a trail like the AT I think this umbrella will be extremely useful. Not for the sun but for the constant rain. Have you ever been rained on for days on end? I have, and it’s a lot more fun when you have an umbrella.

After Golite went out of business many other companies have sprung up to take this large market of sun umbrella lovin’ fools.

Fenix LD02 Handheld Flashlight

A single AAA flashlight is what I desired for my light weight madness, and this is what I got! There are many on the market that are quite unreliable but I’ve found this one to be excellent. It has three settings with a low of 8 lumens and a high of 100, for reference a candle produces 13 lumens. In other words the low, and medium setting are very dim. Yet I find myself exclusively using the low setting. If you’re scared of things that bump in the night this probably isn’t the flashlight for you. I use this as my primary source of light, and often night hike with it. In the night a flashlight is better than a headlamp because it’s held lower and thus extends the shadows of obstacles on the ground, making it easier to navigate. For me this flashlight is amazing. It comes with a clip that attaches to the brim of my hat to take it from a handheld to a head lamp. I always carry at least one extra AAA battery just in case.

Bug Repellent

I bought some Visine so I could dump it out… and put some DEET in it. It’s not much but I don’t often use it. When I do I put it on my clothes, as deet actually works because the mosquitoes don’t like the smell. That’s the secret of DEET, the smell. My worst experiences with bugs should be in Maine. I have coated my clothing in Permethrin, which is also a bug repellent, I’ve found to be exceptionally good against ticks. It also helps with mosquitoes allowing me to use less of this terrible chemical.

DEET: A registered pesticide

Swiss Army Classic Knife

I have the smallest of all the Swiss Army Knives. I primarily use it to cut food. the tooth pick and tweezers can come in handy as well as the scissors. Almost the most minimal knife you can carry. If anyone is looking for a gift idea I’d love a Derma-Safe knife 😉

Mini Bic Lighter

I rarely, if ever, make fires on my own. A little bit of leave no trace ideals, a little bit of too much work after a long day. I will probably be making them far more than I typically would since it’s a nice moral booster. Nothing like sitting by the fire while camping.

Cell Phone – Samsung Galaxy S5

It’s a pretty rad phone. Takes far better photos than my last phone! I was really stoked on that. I love to take photos. I never knew it would be such a big part of my hiking. I used to think that these experiences were for me, and what I saw and did was mine alone. Now it’s the exact opposite! I love to share my experiences backpacking through photography, and hopefully more in this blog. I am carrying both a plug, and a USB cord for my phone to keep it charged. When hiking I keep it in airplane mode 90% of the time, and that does an incredible job saving the battery from dying quickly. Having a smart phone is great just in case I need to order a piece of gear online while I’m on the trail or to look up the weather or maybe play some music. My phone will be a pretty big deal to blog from the trail, and post pictures as I go. I hope to keep in touch and let everyone know how I am doing along the way!

RAVpower 10400mAh External Battery

My biggest issue with this is how long it takes to charge. If I do find I don’t need it I will certainly get rid of it. If you do buy one pay attention to the charge input and make sure its more than a measly 1.5A! Otherwise I love this battery pack, I can charge my phone about 3 times while in the middle of no where. It gives me the opportunity to fiddle on my phone, make calls, upload photos, and message friends in my down time. I also have to carry a small USB cord to charge this. I could probably use a smaller, lighter, external battery, but I already happen to own this. 6600mAh would probably suffice. Although, I do very much like using my phone for various reasons, that I would not to like to lose the ability.

Dr. Bronners Soap

This is both my tooth paste, and hand soap! Dr. Bronners is magic. Just read the label on the bottle at the grocery store, the hype is real. I use the peppermint flavor, and it’s certainly not for everyone. I happen to like it as a very little bit goes a long way with this stuff. So I get to carry less, and not have to carry both soap, and toothpaste. Hand sanitizer does very little to clean you, and is not effective for giardiasis. Next time someone offers you some of their food, don’t take it. A vast amount more people get giardia from someone elses dirty hands than from unclean water.

Toothbrush

In true ultralight fashion I cut off the handle of my toothbrush. I’m still fully able to brush my teeth even with the inch long handle that is left, and I saved a full ounce from the original thing! Not a big deal to most but when your backpacks base weight is at times 80 ounces in total or less, one full ounce is a big deal in getting to that level.

Advil & Tylenol

I use Advil for inflammation and Tylenol for headaches. People use Advil so much while hiking it’s almost disgusting. It’s so common to take daily that it’s known as “Vitamin I.” I prefer not to use it as often as possible because it simply masks the problem instead of treating it. If you’re taking Advil frequently you’re choosing to ignore the problem, and likely letting it get worse. Listen to your body, and treat it right. Advil only when necessary.

Imodium

Imodium is for… stomach issues, lets say. I’ve never had to use it but I do carry 2 of them at all times, just in case.

Safety pins, Needle, and Thread

This is for blisters but I hardly get them so it’s more reserved for gear repair. If you do have a blister thread the needle through it, and leave the thread in there over night. This allows the fluid to drain and the blister to dry.

Earplugs

Earplugs are essential on the Appalachian Trail, mostly because of sleeping in shelters in close proximity to hikers who snore loudly. Also hikers who roll into campsites late at night, hikers who wake up earlier than you and make a lot of noise, or hikers who are generally disrespectful after 8-9pm. This is one of many reasons I usually camp away from others, at sites less often used or never before. Just get some earplugs, you won’t use them a lot but when you need them, you need them.

Leukotape

Duct tape and Leukotape being the two most useful tapes out there to carry backpacking. Duct tape for gear repair, Leukotape for medical issues. Leukotape can be used to improvise in many ways but it’s most common use is foot problems, more specifically blisters. This stuff is super sticky, once it’s on you’re not likely to have an issue with it coming off assuming you applied it when your foot is dry. Most other tapes will move around in side your shoe, bunch up, and come off. Now in my ultralight fashion I personally don’t want to carry a whole roll of this stuff, nor do I think I need it. I cut off strips of this, and put it on slick paper that stickers come on. At the post office you can get sheets of shipping labels, take those off, and put tape on in its place. Most do about 1 foot strips to avoid any contamination from your fingers as once you touch the tape it looses quite a bit of stickyness. In the field you cut up your 1 foot strip into the size that you need. My Swiss Army Knife scissors work great for this.

Bonnies Balm

The Appalachian Trail, and the Florida Trail are both very wet environments. You can expect your feet will be wet very often, and there is no way to avoid that. Now there are many ways to deal with wet feet, and Bonnies Balm or other wax salves are a great tool to make constant wet feet a non issue.  I apply it at night before I go to bed to the bottoms of my feet and let it sink in while I sleep. This is effectively adding another layer to your skin, and making it so water can’t seep in, and be absorbed as easily.

How to minimize the effects of wet feet

Zpacks Cuben Fiber Repair Tape

Although duct tape is most useful for repair in most situations this repair tape is made specifically for Cuben Fiber gear. A very expensive, very light weight, and very sought after fabric. My shelter is made of cuben so I am carrying this if the worst shall happen, a rip, tear, or hole shall appear. You can get tents, packs, bags, clothes, just about anything you could ever want made with cuben, and it’s guaranteed to empty your pocket book while making your pack lighter than everyone else’s even when they carry less than you. It’s kind of cheating in some regards when you just buy your way into the ultralight weight (under 10lbs of gear,) without taking the time, and gaining the experience prior to whittle your loadout down safely. It is wise to carry a little bit of this tape if you own cuben gear.

Carried Items

 

Hat

I like a ball cap while hiking, nothing too fancy like those large sun hats. It’s just enough to keep the sun or rain out of my eyes, keep my scalp from getting burnt, and keep bugs out of my hair. I’ve had an Appalachian Trail hat since 2012, and it has been my go to ever since I bought it. I do really love big floppy colorful sun hats but I tend to be too serious to be wearing them often.

Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Shoes

I absolutely love these shoes. Coupled with my thin Injinji toe socks, this is the secret to my personal comfort, and blister free hiking, even while covering ultra-marathon distances day after day. One of the things I like most about these shoes is the really wide toe box, giving me plenty of room to spread, and stretch my toes. Having breathing room in that area is very important to me as I used to get blisters in between my toes from other shoes that were more narrow. I no longer get blisters of any sort, and although I’m sure a part of that is how I take care of my feet, I believe my choice in shoes and socks are a very big part of how I take care of them.

Altra shoes are probably most noted for their “Zero Drop.” Meaning your heel and your forefoot are at the same height vs most traditional shoes where your heel is typically twice as high as your forefoot. This seems dandy to have more cushion under your heel but in reality it promotes an unnatural style of walking. If you ever have the chance, give these shoes a try, and see for yourself. After a thousand miles of wearing them happily, and comfortably I’ll never go back to another brand.

I wear the version 2.5, which is new. So far as I can tell they are more breathable than their former 2.0 version, and offer more cushion under your feet than the previous iteration of this shoe. The breath-ability is great in most situations, although I’ve found in Florida while hiking in soft sand or really silt ridden swamp they tend to let in more sand than I would like. Not that big of an issue if you have time to dump it out occasionally. The breath-ability is good in another sense, besides keeping your feet cool, if you are hiking in really wet conditions these shoes dry out very quickly compared to other shoes I’ve worn. Maybe not over night but once you get walking on dry ground again it isn’t long before your shoes are completely dry again.

These shoes come with a velcro trap on the back of the shoe to hold gaiters in place, so for those of you that like gaiters you’ll love this. No more taping and gluing velcro to your shoe that eventually falls off. Now you have a designated shoe made for such gear.

I’m a big Altra fan after experiencing a big change in comfort during my hikes after buying my first pair, and now after ruining 3 pairs I recommend them to everyone. One friend specifically is now just a big a convert as I am. If you have the chance, and are looking for new shoes I highly advise trying these out.

These will last you anywhere from 600-800 miles depending on how you treat them. I will probably go through 6 of them during my 4,000 mile hike.

Ditch your boots

Spread your toes

Shirt

My favorite shirts are long sleeve, button up, with a collar. Although I may not smell so good while hiking I at least look classy!  The long sleeves are good to fight the war on bugs, keeping ticks and mosquitoes off of me. Ticks being a big issue on the Appalachian Trail this is something very much so worth thinking about. The long sleeves also help in a big way to avoid sun burn, and add another layer to my arms if the temperature drops. Synthetic, never cotton. I soak all of my clothes in Permethrin, a bug repellent. Not fool proof but really does help with ticks.

Shorts

I’m a big fan of short shorts. Like, really short shorts. Like 1inch inseam, short shorts. Almost feels like I’m wearing nothing at all, and are extremely comfortable to hike in. I get a tan as I’m walking, and get to show off the legs that are carrying me on my journey. One true advantage of shorts or if they get wet, they won’t take nearly as long as pants to dry out, and they’ll be far more comfortable while wet. Although with lyme disease, and ticks on the Appalachian Trail I’ve been told I’d be wise to wear pants. I think with taking precautions like being tested during my hike, and checking myself daily I’ll be ok. I guess I just like shorts too much. Black is my color of choice, and the shorter the better. Wish my shorts had a pocket of some sort but it seems none of the shorts I ever order have pockets.

Native Sunglasses

Over the course of my life I’ve ruined a whole lot of sunglasses. So naturally after ruining my last pair I decided to get a really really nice pair of Natives. A most logical decision. Well I do very much like having sunglasses while hiking, and these just happened to have a life time warranty. So in the long run maybe I’m actually saving money? Sunglasses as the name says… keeps sun out of your eyes, and just so happens to make you look super cool. On trails with a lot of snow they are a must so you don’t blind yourself, the Appalachian Trail and the Florida Trail don’t happen to have a lot of snow. Still, I’ll be wanting them in the future, and for the time being they are nice to have for less pertinent comfort.

Photon Freedom Micro LED Flashlight

I love this thing, and I totally recommend it to everyone. It’s a small necklace with an LED light at the end. I wear it all the time, and find many uses for it in my every day life even. I mostly use this around camp at night to save the battery life of my actual flashlight. It only produces a small amount of light, but it’s just enough to do camp chores or answer natures call during the night. It uses one of those stupid watch batteries but it does last a long time so it’s not like you’re replacing it often.

GossamerGear LT4 Carbon Trekking Poles

Very nice poles. When I first got them I didn’t believe how light they are. It’s seriously incredible how little they weigh. Since with every step you are swinging these back and forth, the less weight means the less energy is expended. Anyhow, this comes with its downsides. The poles are made of carbon fiber, and from what I hear it isn’t the most durable in high winds under pressure, or when getting them stuck in between rocks. Using these I’ll have to be more careful not to break them as I would with cheaper aluminum poles. GossamerGear doesn’t offer any sort of warranty like Leki, who has a lifetime warranty on their trekking poles. I’ll be using these to set up my tarp, and again I hear in really high winds they snap like twigs. So I’ll have to avoid camping in really windy locations and opt for more covered areas for camping, a wise choice regardless but having the option would be nice.

I wanted the lightest poles, and that’s what I got. In fact I didn’t even want to use trekking poles for a long time. I still don’t. I think that using them you are compromising your walking style by having to pay attention to your pole placement vs just your foot placement. Also by using trekking poles, overall you’re using more energy being you’re no longer simply walking, now your arms are getting a work out effectively tiring yourself out faster than the next guy. One last thing, trekking poles typically propel people forward, making them go faster than your natural walking style would allow. The ability to walk faster sounds like a good thing but now you’re pushing your body in a way that it isn’t accustomed to, potentially causing injury. These are the reasons that have kept me from using poles for as long as I have, although I eventually decided that I was happy I haven’t used them for a long time to develop my walking form, it is now time.

Trekking poles help immensely to go both down, and uphill. I choose to use them mostly because I want to avoid injury at all cost. Injury specifically in my knees. By using the poles to guide myself downhill I’m removing a lot of the impact that my body is receiving, and hopefully making life better. I may or may not still send these home, it’s undecided. Some people love them, some people don’t. I think I’m closer to the latter although I see their merit.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Mini Hip Pack

First of all Patagonia is a great company, I’ve experienced nothing but the most excellent of customer service from them, and top notch gear to boot! I guess “hip pack” is the new word for “fanny pack.” Are fannies not cool anymore? Hell yeah they are! I love a fanny pack. Besides from being really stylish it’s also really useful. I don’t use a hip belt on my backpack, and this gives me the option of carrying a few items in which I don’t need to take off my pack to get to them. I often keep my water purification, phone, map, identification,  money, snacks, and other miscellaneous gear in this. Patagonia makes this fanny pack in a whole bunch of awesome colors, and many different sizes. I got the mini but I think I might have liked one size bigger even more. You know… for extra snacks.

Final thoughts

This has been pre-thru hike gear reviews. When I finish I’ll do something again similar to this but with the new found knowledge of 4,000 miles behind me.

One thing I hear a lot about ultralight gear is that it isn’t durable. This is simply not the case, and I believe it’s a poor justification for ones own pack weight. My pack for example is BOMBPROOF, and it’s only 11 ounces to boot. It’s not made in a factory, it’s constructed and sewn by hand out of very strong material, by a man who runs a cottage company where customers are everything. What makes it, and a lot of my gear lighter is that it has less features. That’s the big difference in light gear vs mid weight, or heavy gear. The amount of useless add-ons, and extra features adding grams, ounces, and you guessed it… pounds. I have never felt that any of my gear wasn’t as strong as a big box companies “heavy-weight” gear. Just because it’s heavy doesn’t equate to more durable. Similarly, just because it’s light doesn’t make it fragile.

The true idea behind ultralight backpacking is traveling more comfortably. Isn’t that what everyone wants on a long distance backpacking trip? You don’t have to be doing big miles to take advantage of being happier while you walk. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the death march that is carrying a really heavy load. It’s not fun, and at times detracts from your wilderness experience. I’ve carried the 70 pound pack, and everything in between, I didn’t start out with an ultralight pack. By carrying less, and or lighter gear you’re able to walk more freely. As my pack has gotten lighter I no longer face as many problems, I’m no longer in pain, and I no longer get blisters. This equates to freedom, to me. The freedom to do what I want without being burdened by my pack weight. This may seem like fantasy but it’s true. While keeping my brain busy with dreams of sugar plums… and my base pack weight, I just happened to come across other useful information which has also guided my pain free hiking. The safest way to carry less is to know the conditions you’ll be facing extremely well. By knowing what you’ll be going through ahead of time you’re more able to pick the lightest gear for the task. By doing so you’ll be safe, and more comfortable than that guy carrying all that “what if” gear. By knowing whats to come, without leaving it to surprise, you’re more able to plan properly. This is purely why I do so very much research.

The mind game that has been, how to take my pack this far, has been a whole lot of fun. I feel like I learn something new every single day, and it’s a constant process to evolve further.

Regardless of what you carry all that matters is that you’re having fun. This happens to be part of the fun for me 🙂

HYOH

-Jupiter

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop Trail – Post Hike Trip Report

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

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

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

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

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop

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

Pre Trip Preparations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s a tan, not dirt.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dupuis trail.

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Corbett trail.

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

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

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A really tiny snake!

 

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

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

–          Jupiter

The Lake Okeechobee Lollipop Trail – Pre Hike

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

Here’s some pre trip thoughts…

lakeo

What am I doing?

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

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

Bridge over a canal in Corbett WMA

Bridge over a canal in Corbett WMA

My Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible dangers & unknowns

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

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

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

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

Why do I want to do this?

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

Happy trails

– Jupiter

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

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

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

What is the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail?

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

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

When should I hike it?

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

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

Do I need a map?

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

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

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

Is there water available?

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

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

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

Eric going for a swim in the Loxahatchee river

Eric going for a swim in the Loxahatchee river

Hunting Season?

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

Hunting season attire in Corbett WMA

Hunting season attire in Corbett WMA

What are the best campsites?

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

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

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

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

Look out for setting up camp on an ants nest…

Gear suggestions?

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

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

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

10 reasons to go hiking with an umbrella

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

How do I get back to my car?

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

Why you should listen to me?

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

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

Useful links

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

http://loxfltrail.org/

http://loxfltrail.org/OTLDataBook.pdf

http://ftashop.floridatrail.org/individual-trail-maps-choose-your-next-adventure-s/ choose the “Ocean to Lake”

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

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

https://www.floridatrail.org/

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

For Loxahatchee Slough camping : (561)233-2400

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Goodluck and happy trails!

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

– Jupiter

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The Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail

The Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail

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