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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
28d 9h 59m