jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

Author: jupiterhikes (page 1 of 5)

The Sheltowee Trace Recap

I finished my hike! I didn’t get the record or fkt(fastest known time) on the Sheltowee Trace I wanted, and actually gave that up maybe 4 or 5 days in but did still finish in 11 days and 4 hours. Somewhat of a quick pace for a 323 mile trail. So now what! Well I have a story to tell and something I’ve thought a lot about is I want to help the next guy or girl going out there with the same intention as me. Provide beta on the trail from the perspective of someone making a lot of miles.

First I’d like to give a couple shout outs.

Billy Sherlin helped me out on multiple occasions. He runs hiker shuttles for a very reasonable fee and lives near the trail, for instance he drove me a short ways to a restaurant once, and then the much much larger task of driving me from one terminus of the trail to the other where my car was parked over 300 miles. The Sheltowee Trace Association does offer shuttle support but ask that you get in touch with them 5 days in advance. Personally I hardly know where I’ll be hours in advance let alone days! Billy was there, and more than willing to help me out. I can’t thank him enough. If you are looking for a ride get in touch with him or the Trace Association. The alternative is what I call the ultimate rejection, standing by the road with your thumb out, visibly seeing the disgust on peoples faces as they wiz by you. Instead you can send Billy a message, he’s more than happy to shuttle and is even pet friendly. You can get in touch with Billy here:

(859) 398 – 9907

https://www.facebook.com/billy4shuttles/

City Gone Country Inn is a bed and breakfast in McKee, a trail town just off of the Sheltowee. After a bad couple of days, giving up my record attempt, and in very much need of some rest, relaxation, and a shower I needed a day off. I still made maybe 12 miles to town, and even with a dead phone Rick and Teresa still managed to find me. Waiting at the trailhead eventually finding me in town trying to charge my phone at the local park, they picked me up, brought me to dinner, a large grocery store outside of town for a real resupply, and back to their home to clean up. I felt like Michael Shummacher rolling into a pit stop. They had everything I needed. The bed and breakfast is on a very large property, I believe 100 acres if you so wish to explore. Rick drove me around in his ATV to see his goats, cows, chickens, and the most beautiful view I saw in Kentucky on top of their very own mountain. I had the whole house to myself though I believe it sleeps 19 complete with snacks, food in the fridge, laundry, shower, television, wifi, and everything I could have ever wanted. It was my most comfortable stay on any of my long walks beating out any hotel by a mile. They are incredibly nice people and even though it was Easter went far out of their way to help me and show me around. You can find them here:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/17465016?guests=1&adults=1

http://www.citygonecountryinn.com/

And of course the Sheltowee Trace Association, and its community. The volunteers, and locals do a phenomenal job with maintaining, promoting, and organizing hikes as well as providing information! Coming from a background on the Florida Trail I know the struggle of not being, say the Appalachian Trail, with a seemingly endless supply of everything. I was constantly amazed with the bridges built along the trail, how clean and well maintained everything was, the trail was very well marked the entire way, and there were even a few shelters! I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out but given a 323 mile trail(which I hear is in the process of being extended) is no easy feat. Organizing chapters, crews, and work parties is a massive effort and they seem to have done it extremely well. Coming into a lesser known trail I had worried about markings or resources but was met with more than I’ve seen on quite a few other trails! The Association offers shuttles on their website, guidebooks, maps, trip reports from previous hikers, current trail conditions, and even notes on things that may have changed. As well as a bustling community on facebook full of experienced hikers, STA members, crew, and veterans all willing to help, offer information, or cheer you on. I think all of this is very important for those out of state looking to come hike the trail like me. It has been more than a positive experience and really adds a lot to the trail knowing there’s so many rooting for you and working behind the scenes to make your experience a good one. While you’re preparing for this trail consider becoming a member of the STA!

https://www.sheltoweetrace.org/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/STABigTurtle/

So! Lets get to some information

Weather & Start Date

I started the trail April 16th and found that was a PERFECT time to be out there. It was frankly just when I was available, while I had originally planned to hike the trail in March. I feel mid April is that happy medium, some days it was hot but the nights were always cool, in 11 days I only experienced two days of rain. And most importantly I think any sooner and I would have frozen using the sub 5lb kit I had. Going fast often means carrying less. Mid April suited that objective wonderfully. I used a 40 degree bag, wind pants, beanie, synthetic jacket, and rain jacket. Temps ranged from upper 30s into the high 70s, I was never cold but felt I was right there on the edge as if I had planned this out perfectly. Starting any later and I imagine it gets hot very fast. On the trail there are a couple unavoidable dry sections which extra ambient heat would have made a lot worse. I think 13 miles was the longest without a water source. Possibly the fall would be a prettier time to be hiking with all of the changing of the colors but in April I got to see spring in action! In the north all of the trees were still barren, with little flowers just starting to come out of the ground, and by the time I got to the southern terminus everything was in full bloom, all of the trees were lush, and I even thought to myself once that it felt like I was hiking through some jurassic age jungle. Fall may also present another issue you won’t find in April, streams, creeks, and springs may be dry. This could be a question to ask elsewhere but I was very happy for the snow melt and to have water sources all over. I personally only had a total of 1 liter carrying capacity so this was a huge win. Water is heavy, and April made it so I didn’t often need to carry much of it.

Shelter & Bugs

I used a tarp and ground sheet as my primary shelter. No bivy, and no bug protection, this is mostly because I’m a stubborn Floridian and down here we have some serious mosquitoes. However! Not a single darn time did I even see a single mosquito! Again maybe since I was hiking in April this played a big part, but often I was near standing water, lakes, rivers and no bugs ever gave me trouble. So leaving the tent or the bivy at home was a great choice for me. Maybe a small headnet as a backup would do you right just in case. Now there is one issue with bugs, and that is ticks. In the first three days I found a total of three ticks on me. In the next 8 days I found quite a few more, I feel because it was warming up as I headed south, and the trail is more overgrown in the south. All of these ticks I found on my legs, none anywhere else on my body. This is thanks to treating all of my clothing with permethrin beforehand, which you can buy in a big yellow bottle at just about any Walmart. Most of the ticks were big and easy to spot before they grabbed on, but I did find at least one very tiny one. This was honestly my biggest fear heading into this trail, I know the north east can be extremely bad, and often I was afraid to sit down. However given my experience now I think that fear is gone, and once again I have my chosen time of year to hike to thank. Any other time of year and for the ticks alone maybe you would want a tent. This said I never found one on me in the morning even though I was totally exposed under my tarp, only during mid day when it was hot, and I was moving, I believe they must have grabbed me from some trail side brush. Something I did extra to combat the fear of ticks was wear a white shirt, it got very dirty but I was happy with the peace of mind knowing anything out of the ordinary would be very easily spotted should I get something on me like an unwanted intruder.

Animals

Keeping up with the animals theme I got a lot of messages warning me of bears, snakes, and dogs. I didn’t see a single bear, I only saw 4 snakes all non venomous, but the dogs are another story. As for the bears, even locals I talked to said they have been seeing less and less on their game cameras. Some campsites(not many, I personally only saw one instance) had bear boxes to store consumables in but I didn’t really worry about sleeping with my food as a pillow. I don’t worry about bears generally and don’t think its a huge problem even for Kentucky. If this were a blog post about Yosemite or the Great Smoky Mountains I would be singing a different tune. A rule of thumb for me is avoiding established campsites. If you see trash there that means some animal has probably found food there and may come back to check for more another time. Sleeping in random places off trail where no animal has ever found food I felt perfectly safe. Now as for the real threat. Dogs. I have never in all of my long distance hiking(8,000+ miles with more than a thousand of that on roads) seen so many dogs while roadwalking. This trail has some road sections, the majority being in the north, while the south is more rugged and remote. You will run into some unsavory dogs in the north, off leashes, protecting their homes. I feel in just the first 100 miles heading SOBO I saw and dealt with more than 100 dogs. I cannot recommend enough carrying a small bottle of pepper spray. Wacking a dog on the head with a stick or trekking pole is likely just going to anger it further, unless you are trying to kill it. This is all much harder to actually do in person when the dog may just be coming up to you barking like every other dog, and by the time you realize you need to do something it’s right up on you too close to even hit accurately. There is one long roadwalk in particular where all of your troubles will come from, maybe in a few years the trail will be routed off of it, and into the woods but for now it’s just what you gotta do. For the most part it was very pleasant, very few cars if any, and nice views of the country. This roadwalk was maybe 17-20 miles in length. After that you can throw away the pepper spray as that is the end of your problem.

Resupply

As for food I know it can be tempting to go for an unsupported record of 7-9 days but you seriously walk right past so many stores it just seems silly to me. Heading southbound you walk right through the very big very small town of Morehead which has a lot of options just 26 miles into the trail, then there is Miguels, a pizza place and hangout for climbers(that may offer showers) less than a mile off trail by Natural Bridge State Park and the Red River Gorge. On that roadwalk mentioned above you pass a very small convenience store halfway through which is good for some Gatorade and a lot of candy with a small selection of chips. The 49er truck stop you walk right by, which has burgers and the like, as well as a fairly common selection of gas station foods as well as the option to shower. Arnold’s Grocery which is by Laurel River Lake, probably a mile off trail, again serving burgers as well as drinks, candy, and generally more than the other convenience store had. And for me the last place I noticed was the Cumberland Falls State Park has a small restaurant you walk by, or a much bigger one by the resort a very short walk away, as well as a store just across from the first restaurant with very limited stuff(more candy!) As you can tell I stopped at all of these. By the time I got past that long roadwalk I gave up the record attempt and decided I was going to get french fries as often as I could. As for a record though you walk right by 4 of these which means you could conceivably carry very little food the entire time and still be totally fine given your threshold for eating mostly junk food is high.

Water

I never had much problem with water though on that long roadwalk water was quite scarce, you will come across some easily accessed streams here or there but it’s something to be wary of. It’s incredibly easy to get dehydrated and electrolytes as well as keeping water consumption up as often as you possibly can is incredibly smart. Most of the water in this state I feel does go past some sort of farm land so filtering it is a good idea. I didn’t and am not sick yet, but can’t recommend my method seeing what I’ve seen. This isn’t the Appalachian Trail, and you won’t be drinking from mountain springs every mile. A lot of the water is from very fine rivers, but considering the potential run off means bring a filter to me. The heat often got to me so even though I was ok with just 1 liter total capacity, 2 liters is the way to go just in case. Better carrying an extra 2 pounds than dehydrated. The only thing that caught me off guard is just north of Morehead there is a 13 mile dry stretch, you are mostly following a ridgeline and there isn’t any water to be found. I didn’t realize this until I was well into that section. Bad news and really slowed me down requiring a very long break in town to regain myself. So make sure to have real electrolytes, fill up as often as you can, and drink as often as you can! I found in my guide most sources weren’t marked and feel I sometimes got lucky. An interesting thing about this trail is how many rivers and streams you cross. Some are on bridges, but most have to be done the old fashioned way, by getting your feet wet. If you’ve walked through one river, don’t stop to dry things out there! Keep going, I found I often crossed the same river many many times over in the course of a mile. This came as a surprise everytime as I would nearly always stop after crossing to take a short break, only to find myself crossing again, and again! Fun, but something to note. I never once had to swim across a river, but at Horse Lick Creek, the water did get all the way up to my waist. That creek in particular there are two marked trails to cross, pick your poison. I think in the past the trail used to cross in different places so you may find yourself if you get off track walking through the higher water 3 times over.

Navigation

I personally only used the GPS app for my phone, in the app store it can be found if you simply search Sheltowee Trace. For the most part it was excellent! However! You will definitely want more than this. Though it did help every single day with minor decisions the gps track loaded on there is somewhat old, I figured at least from 2016, maybe even 2014. Sometimes I was way off trail according to it, yet still following the blazes in person. This brings up an excellent point. Always trust the blazes! This trail is changing, just around Cave Run Lake for instance there is a huge reroute that maybe adds 5 miles, it is way prettier and follows much more closely to the lake. Had I followed the GPS disregarding the actual trail I would have essentially missed out on something really beautiful as well as cut the official trail. The Sheltowee Trace Association does offer a guidebook for both south and north bounders on their website, as well as maps. I’ve even heard the guides are currently being re done so rejoice! Through the Associations efforts you get an up to date account of the trail. I used the guide for planning but often wished I had it because the GPS just doesn’t provide any information on water sources, if I’ll be roadwalking, sights to see, or anything other than you are here and the trail is there. If the phone application is updated that would be the greatest thing I think the trail could do in regards to accessibility. In this day and age of technology where most long trails now have some sort of app there will surely be more like me who use it exclusively despite the pitfalls of trusting such things. Even if they charged money for it, I would happily buy it, as for now it is a free service. Beggars can’t be choosers. In that sense, consider becoming a member of the Sheltowee Trace Association while you’re at it, a membership goes a long way! You should especially do so if you are hiking this trail. As for navigational problems most of my issues weren’t on trail actually, it was on roadwalks! The trail itself is wonderfully blazed and marked, though I felt at times the roads could use a couple more signs.

Footwear

I went with a fairly minimal setup, thin nylon dress socks, and shoes with a pretty minimal stackheight, the Altra Superiors. If I were to do it again I would beef it up a bit. Certainly the Lone Peaks which have a little more cushion, and probably Injinj Toe Socks which are a bit thicker and might have saved me from a couple blisters I got between my toes. Though I was happy for thin socks given the sheer amount of times you have to ford rivers but given the rocky terrain, and the roadwalking I was definitely wanting more, and the quick drying was not nearly as important as the ache in my feet after a long day. I would however avoid anything crazy like Hoka shoes or the Altra Olympus, anything with a super high stack, that’s just asking for a rolled or even broken ankle. Something quick drying with a medium not minimal cushion would have been perfect.

Getting to the Trail

I chose to drive up from Florida, you can park your car at the conference center in Morehead KY and if you let the Sheltowee Trace Association know in advance they can give you a ride up to the trail head from there, or you could call Billy Sherlin. This is by far the safest place to park. Alternatively you could park at the northern terminus itself but your car would be left in plain view of a road, and I may not have heard of anyone’s vehicle being vandalized I don’t think you would want to worry about that for a week or two while you’re hiking. As for flying to the trail I think easiest is to book a flight to Lexington and again message either Billy Sherlin or the Trace Association to give you a ride from there. This is all considering you would be starting in the north and finishing in the south. The other way around and I imagine flying into Knoxville or flying out of there would be the way to go. I don’t know where you would park a car at the southern end that would be safest but the trail head is again an option just assuming the risk of doing so is there. This parking lot in the south is far more busy, though the road is not! But the trailhead itself is. There’s a big river right there which kayakers and rafters use, as well as multiple trails that all spring off from roughly that point.

My Time On Trail

Now information is out of the way, how was my hike? It was great! I was thoroughly surprised by this trail. I purposely hadn’t done a ton of research beyond weather, and where I would get food because I wanted a completely fresh experience and perspective. I’m happy I did as I could have spoiled a lot. Though I do love the extensive research it’s nice to break away from that once in a while. My record attempt was more in the sense thinking I could take it just hiking the same way I always do. 30 mile days are not at all unfamiliar so just an extra hour or two each evening isn’t that bad right? Right, but things can always go awry! And they did. With proper planning I think it would have been easier but after a few exhausting days, and low appetite leading to low energy I gave in and slowed down for a few days. Though quickly realizing I still had to be home in time for work, I wound up speeding back up to the pace I was on and then some! Some of my last few days on trail were some of my biggest just to meet a deadline. Ultimately robbing me of what I love most about hiking, the freedom. Typically I quit my job and have nothing really tying me down when thru hiking but this time I had a looming date I needed to finish by, I had to somehow get back to my car, and then drive 15 hours straight home. Exhausting! But hey I did it, and got for the most part exactly what I wanted. To experience a trail outside of what most are doing. I gravitated initially towards the Sheltowee because I wanted to support a trail not many are doing, or at least not many who don’t live in Kentucky! I hadn’t heard much about this one prior to starting, other than Zoner who had attempted an unsupported record a couple years back which put it on my radar. Then, I saw a climbing film, that featured the Red River Gorge, and that was it. I saw all of the crazy geology and the natural rock arches, and knew Kentucky had something special. Similar in a way to what I imagine Utah would be if it was covered in trees and lush green forests. It really interested me, and I was not disappointed! There were so many giant rock walls and boulders on every section of trail, at every river, along every road, it was exactly what I wanted in regards to scenery. The rocks were oftentimes humbling, which I think can be seen in my videos or in my photos. Me this tiny little human absolutely dwarfed by these giants protruding out of the land surrounding me. Now beyond this I also knew the trail wasn’t complete and honestly that was actually a draw. I kind of like roadwalking, it can be a nice break from hiking up and down mountains all day. More often than I’ll admit I question if maybe I should walk the American Discovery Trail, a route spanning across the United States as I understand it, almost entirely on roads. I enjoy seeing the country from a different perspective, and roads certainly give you that. Often times more so than a trail can. From a third party perspective you can see how the locals live, their towns and architecture, you meet more people on roads, and they are easy to travel. While in the woods it is certainly a more rewarding experience, with more opportunity for enjoyment, but it’s just a different experience. I appreciate both for what they are. I would definitely rather be on trail but a road here or there is nice too.

In recent years I’ve become more and more aware of those like me quitting their jobs, or putting their life on hold to go off and do a long trail. Now one thing that gets me though is that everyone seems to go to the same places. The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or Long Trail. While there are hundreds of trails out there just waiting to be walked other than these! When I was on the Pacific Crest in 2018 that was the thing I liked the least about it. The sheer amount of people. Thousands upon thousands, every single day seeing upwards of 100 other hikers. It was truly something, and I know a lot of folks enjoy the camaraderie and I do too, but it was a little much for me. I like the solitude and really enjoy the fact I’m getting away from all of that on these trails. Not running into the same in a different form. So my sights have been set on trails that aren’t as known. The Sheltowee Trace was very high up on that list and I’m very glad I went for it. This isn’t to say I won’t go hike one of those other ones. I can guarantee you I will! I would love to go back to the Appalachian Trail for a very late season sobo, maybe start in September. Or do the PCT as a sobo, which I gather very few do it that way still. I’m sure in the coming years I’ll become a repeat offender. But coming from Florida and spending so much time on the Florida Trail here as a hiker, and volunteer, I see how some of these trails that aren’t as well known deserve the love equally or probably even more so. Maybe they aren’t quite the same level of wow as hiking through the high sierra on the John Muir Trail. But still provide that solitude I feel may be lost in other places. Still provide that life changing experience, and still provide that look into some fantastic new place you couldn’t even dream of previously. So here I am, I have a large list, it definitely still includes the big ones, but it also includes a lot of small ones. Particularly the Ozark Highlands, and Ouachita in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Among many others. Numbers rising is a good thing, as some of those people will finish their hike, and be looking for another, and another. Certainly they will find the Sheltowee Trace at some point like I have.

I hope this post helps you or maybe inspires you to get out and try something new. Of course I’m open to any questions you may have but if it’s directly trail related consider these options as well.

https://www.sheltoweetrace.org/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/STABigTurtle/

https://thetrek.co/hike-sheltowee-trace-kentuckys-323-mile-long-trail/

https://trailrunnermag.com/destinations/south/fkt-appalachias-sheltowee-trail.html

https://fastestknowntime.com/route/sheltowee-trace-ky

Don’t forget, a membership to the Sheltowee Trace Association goes a long way and I’m sure they would really appreciate it! If you do get out there to hike the trail, let them know!

Jupiter

Sheltowee Trace

via NPS

I’ve decided to attempt a speed record on the Kentucky long trail known as the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. Coming in at 323 miles total it is somewhat smaller than what typically interests me, but I feel regardless of the length getting to it is what’s important. You don’t need months on end alone in the woods to have a transformative experience, in this case it will be just a little over a week away from work. That is partly after all why I’ve chosen this one. I have a job and right now can’t afford the time off to do something larger, which I think should resonate with a few out there.

So why the Sheltowee Trace Trail? I know, Kentucky may not be the first choice of many when they’re booking a vacation, but from what I’ve seen in photos and video it looks absolutely beautiful and exactly what I’m looking for. From an aesthetic standpoint it may not be the Sierra Nevada but neither is the Florida Trail and yet I found a greatly understated beauty that I wanted to share. I feel Kentucky will offer that same experience.

And let’s be real, I really love hiking alone. My least favorite aspects of the bigger trails has been the sheer amount of people. Does the wonder of the trail make up for it? Yes certainly, and I know most love the community and I do to, but from a short distance. The solitude is something I look forward to. Ever since starting this hiking journey on my home trails nobody wanted to hike with me, mostly because of the prospect they would have to walk through some form of swamp land. Which was true. But it led to my ever growing appreciation for being alone. It seems to bring out feelings that aren’t often found in modern hustle and bustle of living in a city, and dealing with people. To escape for a little while and to have that is something special. Given the Sheltowee is relatively unknown at this point I see it as a huge upside. To meet the locals, travel through their land, and come away to tell the rest of the world about their splendor.

The most popular of the trails are popular for a reason, they’re exceptionally beautiful, there is massive amounts of support surrounding them, and absolutely no shortage of media coverage or information on them. But this can come with its downsides. Before starting the Appalachian Trail I knew of every little nook and cranny already, every little town, and even the majority of the most scenic points I had already seen in both photo and video. While in turn hiking through Canada I knew nothing. I had a vague understanding of where I would get food each week, and that was it. This added so much whimsy and excitement, to know I was having this alternate experience. I was one of the few out there, and I was walking through places few had before. Even in the trail registers on one page you could often see all the way back to 2009. While on the AT multiple pages of check ins get filled in a single day. Probably the best part of this is the people. On bigger trails the locals know who you are essentially, they know what you’re doing and sometimes it can feel as though there is no such thing as having the ability to make a genuine first impression.

So really I hope my story in Kentucky inspires others to venture out and come see it for themselves. I hope my stories from Quebec and the International Appalachian Trail inspire others to go there too. Looking back my best experiences and most authentic moments come from those tracts that are out of the way.

So why do I want to set a record on it? For me it’s exciting. Not knowing whether I’ll be able to, pushing myself in ways that inspire growth instead of remaining in comfort all of the time. Beyond that I really have some high hopes for Kentucky and this trail, it seems like everything I want, and though maybe a record isn’t the most optimal way to experience that it is my way at least this time.

I’ve been preparing and soon I’ll put my best foot forward to walk across the state.

The current record stands at 9d 8h 24m

I’m going for 8 days or less

You can follow my progress here:
https://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0gQKJCTYkHTJ3Qyae1aoWjqMqc2Czre6a

That link should go active Tuesday morning with live updates every 10 minutes for the duration of this hike.

The Next Chapter

I’m off trail. I broke my foot in two places around mile 200, and proceeded to walk on that broken foot for roughly another 800 miles. Very much so determined to achieve my goal, mentally 100% in it, but not knowing why my foot was in so much pain for an entire month.

You can watch the whole story unfold through this video: https://youtu.be/WdVskPFiLJU

Walking on a broken foot is rough. Some days I’d be in excruciating pain, then other days I figure where my bone was more aligned like how a doctor will ‘set’ a bone, weren’t so bad. This drastic difference in what I was feeling everyday added to the ever lasting confusion that was, “what’s wrong with me?” I took 5 days off at an unplanned stop in Tehachapi to see if things would get better. Looking back, I don’t think anything would have changed even if I took a month off right then in there, which would be unacceptable to still achieve my goal. Sitting in that hotel by the second day without the adrenaline of the trail I found I could barely walk from the bed 10 feet to the bathroom. I had to hold onto the walls and prop myself up limping just to get there. A friend who was hanging out saw me do this and I could tell he knew something was seriously wrong, but who knew what.

I made it almost entirely through the Sierra Nevada beyond that, which I’m very happy about. It is by a large margin the most amazing place I’ve ever been in my life. Mountains surrounding towering over everything up to heights of 14,000 feet. This sense of energy and wonder surging through the landscape. Snow still at high elevation even though it was April, and at the valley floor well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This area absolutely amazed me, just across from the Sierra you have the White Mountains, the Inyos, and Death Valley. How could one small section of this planet get so many cool features? Regardless of the pain, I was happy to be there.

I intended on getting off trail for a short break. I had taken 5 days and that didn’t seem to do the trick so I decided on 10. Finally I got off trail to rest, saw a doctor, had some xrays taken, and my worst fear was realized. I thought maybe the problem was an overstretched tendon, or at worst a stress fracture. Come to find I broke two bones. I remember the moment it happened clearly, descending Mt San Jacinto, getting up from a short break, and tripping. Catching myself with my right foot, and putting all of my weight on it. Immediately feeling a very sharp pain. Some days were ok, and some days were absolutely horrible. Still walking as many as 30 miles a day to stay on track.

I had still fully intended on coming back to the trail to finish what I started, I even had purchased a plane ticket to return after those 10 days. Learning what I did at the doctors office threw that plan for a loop. I skipped my flight, and decided after a full month I would see how I feel and maybe return then. No dice, after an entire month I felt no better. Coming to the conclusion that I need to rest, and focus on what’s next.

Now this isn’t all bad. I’ve now had a lot of time getting a head start in my next adventures. Things I had planned for after this hike. Though I’ve been recovering and unable to hike I have been able to work on a lot of art, a lifelong passion beyond hiking (even getting a job as a local painting instructor.) As well as continue to edit more videos! So a lot of my focus has been on those two things, and I’m happy to report that I have a large stock of videos to share with you about hiking. A ton of new artwork, and a video series surrounding it I’m very excited to begin posting!

Beyond that I’ve made future hiking plans, and have in general been setting myself up as best I can to do a lot of hiking this next year. My big focus will be on shorter trails, and going for speed records on them. There’s a lot of really amazing trails out there that interest me greatly, and it’s been impossibly hard to stay away while recovering.

Plus my wonderful girlfriend Nicole who has been so incredibly supportive and understanding through all of this is certainly happy to have me home, and I’m certainly very happy to be home with her too! In the coming year beside my own personal pursuits of records on long trails, her and I plan to do a lot of hiking together as well. After all she is a long distance hiker herself.

A lot of good to come.

For info on my paintings I just posted a lot of what I’ve been working on that I’m very happy with you can check out here: jupiterhikes.com/art

So I’m back! Hey!!

 

Here’s to a speedy recovery!

Jup

The Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Sierra I go. Serious mountains.

Pacific Crest Trail Yoyo 2018 – Introduction

I want to do something big. So I guess I will.

Welcome to the Pacific Crest Trail, in itself shorter than my 2016 Eastern Continental Trail hike, but if you do it twice! It’s quite long then, huh?

So I guess I will.

In reality, welcome to my 2018 Pacific Crest Trail Yoyo. Named such because the motion of the hike mimics the toy. First up, then back down again, or two continuous thru hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail back to back. Starting at the Mexico border, traveling up through California, Oregon, and Washington to Canada, then back the same way I came finishing my long walk just outside of Mexico again where I started 6 months prior. A total of 5,300 miles for the round trip.

Now the length in itself is somewhat daunting, but it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with mega long distance hiking as the ECT was 4,800 miles, and I completed that in just under 7 months. Feeling stronger than ever as I hit the half way mark, and topping it all off with a self supported speed record on the Florida Trail to complete my journey. This trail however has much harsher conditions. I start in the desert come May with extreme heat, exposure, and less than promising water sources. Thrown upward into the high country of the Sierra with the threat of many miles of snow travel, elevations reaching nearly 14,000 feet, treacherous stream crossings, and long distances between safety or being able to get more food. Swarms of mosquitoes will welcome me into Oregon, and Washington brings its own extreme elevation gain. All to turn around and do it again! Which should be it’s own fun mental experiment seeing the same things twice. I know of at least one person who quit this endeavor just after halfway for that reason.

This is all fine and dandy, I think there are much harder trails out there, and it is all perspective, but to complete this specific goal I have to go fast! Really fast. I’ll need to average 30 miles a day for 6 months straight, racing the unpredictable seasons. Should I fail this I’ll get snowed out on my way south in the Sierras, and either seriously risk my life or call it a day. This is without a doubt the hardest aspect of the journey. Hiking so hard to beat this fluctuating unknown date in October when the first big snow storm hits, coming more than 4,000 miles, and having to quit. However If I get through I’ve basically done it, and the final 700 miles will be somewhat of a victory march.

Though I’m mostly focusing on the difficulties in this post it’s because not everyone is familiar these trails. So long as you come prepared I think some of these conditions are overstated, but they are there. I don’t think just anyone could simply get up off the couch and successfully complete this hike once, let alone twice, as I’m attempting. As the trail goes it’s actually known as having much easier tread than its weird east coast cousin, the Appalachian Trail, which throws you around in every which way via rocks and roots in truly sadistic ways seemingly never evening out, only going straight up a mountain or straight down a mountain. The Pacific Crest Trail was made for pack animals, so it’s extremely evenly graded, and clean. In other words, if the conditions surrounding the trail don’t get me, miles should come easier, and I’m very excited for that.

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PCT yoyo watercolor depiction

I left you all in 2016, with my last public writings here about the 4,800 mile Eastern Continental Trail, and that faithful walk across America. From one point far away up in Canada, 7 months later finding myself in the deep south, Key West Florida. I knew it, I had been working towards it, maybe you saw it too. That was less so much a “trip of a life time” for me.It was more of a beginning. So here I am, less so much beginning again, and more so continuing what I started.

So why am I so driven to continue my journey along this particular trail?

While hiking over the mountains in Quebec, and again in New Hampshire I was left above the trees for many miles at a time, through storms, clouds, wind, rain, and sun. I was exposed, often given the opportunity to see forever. I was filled with glee, feeling as though I truly was on top of the world. But the Appalachians are best known for its dense forest, and relatively small mountains as opposed to the majestic, endless views that define the West. Thus these two points in time were the rare chances I had to experience that euphoria, bar a couple sections far south in Tennessee. I knew this, and though I loved all the rest, that was feeling above all the trees was where my heart suddenly felt strongest. I laughed at myself, resigned to hike this massively long trail that only shared a few key moments with that alpine environment. I joked while skipping on rocks above the trees that last time, maybe I should have just done the Pacific Crest Trail instead. Known for its sweeping views, exposure, and exceedingly tall elevations. No, this was what I needed, and this was ultimately what I had dreamt about for years prior, meticulously planning each step forward. It was right. It was a good beginning. If you could say that about a 7 month hike which nearly reaches 5,000 miles in length. A good beginning.

So here I am. The West calls, it did then, as it does now. Engraved in the human spirit maybe.

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Northern California on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Trinity Alps looming in the distance 2017

On this hike I’m following some self imposed guidelines.

  • I will avoid any sort of support from vehicles. This means no hitch hiking, or rides to and from town. I will walk the entire distance, and walk in and out of any town I choose to stop in, or pick up food.
  • I will carry all of my own food, water, and gear between towns as a backpacker. Or in other words I won’t partake in what is somewhat commonly known as ‘slack-packing’ where someone shuttles your gear ahead a days length away for you so you can do the same distance without the burden of your provisions.
  • Should there likely be a closure for fire, or otherwise I will walk any official detour around back to trail, connecting footsteps. Again, not accepting rides.

The point of all these rules is to stack the deck against myself. Each and every time you set your sights on a new objective, it’s about giving yourself an obstacle. Instead of seeing it as 500 laps of punishment for losing I see it as the path to beating the odds next time. By leaping that hurdle it’ll be that much easier to achieve my next goal. This is, as I like to say, self imposed suffering. If I should deviate from these rules in some way I’ll be honest about doing so, as I think it goes towards my own purity in this endeavor.

Only 3 people before have done a yoyo of the PCT. Most notably Scott Williamson, the only person to do it twice. To say he’s well known out west is an understatement, having hiked the trail 13 times as of 2011. Then there’s Eric D, who has done it fastest in 183 days. And Olive McGloin most recently, becoming the first woman to do this.

I’ll be aiming to beat Eric’s time this year with a goal of less than 180 days, and become the fastest to ever do it.

Interestingly enough all 3 hikers have started, hit the half way point, and finished at very roughly the same dates give or take a week. I think this is a testament to the extremely tight time frame to which one must adhere. This is also why being the fastest is so appealing. If I am to complete a PCT yo-yo, I might as well be the fastest. If you followed my ECT hike, you know I do love those long lonely days, and I never was much for being normal.

I start walking May 10, with an ambitious goal I’m eager to take on. And let’s be real, there’s much more ambitious journeys out there, but this is another good step in that direction.

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John Zahorian and Castle Crags on the Pacific Crest Trail 2017

You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

Jupiter

Stats from my Eastern Continental Trail thru hike

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Mile 0

This was my first thru hike.

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

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Mile 4,800

Let the walking continue.

Jupiter

Goodbye my friend, and thank you for everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jupiter

Florida Trail FKT Summary

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

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

Following the guidelines of a self-supported hike:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My daily miles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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28d 9h 59m

Familiar Faces, Familiar Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowly But Surely

​Day 2 / 36 MI / Eglin to Holland Rd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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