Life of the Wanderlust

Tag: thru hike (Page 1 of 2)

Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hike Recap – 2022

  • Start Date: May 10th
  • Finish Date: Aug 1st
  • Direction: Mexico to Canada – Northbound
  • Total Miles: 2,653 miles / 4,269 kilometers
  • Duration: 84 days

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the longest hiking trails in the US at 2,653 miles, and by many considered to be one of the most premier. It has two siblings in the Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail both of which are of similar length. All three spanning from south to north across the entire country, and all three together making up what is known as the Triple Crown.

Standing at the southern terminus monument of the PCT at the Mexico border, just 2,653 miles to go

I had attempted this trail in 2018, but unfortunately right around mile 200 I tripped, I fell, and I immediately felt a sharp pain. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong other than it hurt, so I continued another 700 miles hoping it would get better before I eventually got off trail, got an xray, and quit. A broken metatarsal and toe.

I mostly consider that experience an accident. How many times have you tripped in your life, and broken a bone? Still it is worth taking lessons from, and I certainly could have trained more pre hike regardless of my past thru hiking experience. A reminder that these trips aren’t guaranteed, and we should do our best to prepare for success but also to enjoy the moment.

Now 4 years later I was ready to finally give this trail another go. I wanted to see how far I have come and how much I have learned in all the years and miles since my last attempt. I worked hard the year prior and over the winter to prepare, and I set out to hike the 2,653 mile trail in under 90 days. A near 30 mile per day average for the entire hike.

The first of my video series from the hike!
Mt San Jacinto in the background, a long 20 mile descent from high elevation with snow, to the second lowest point on the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail presents its own unique challenges

  • The ground is rocky, dusty, hard, and compact. This type of surface will cause more wear on your feet, joints, and bones. Your shoes will die quicker, and you’ll want to replace them with a higher frequency. I did not wear gaiters around my shoes, though given how often I would clean the grit out I probably should have. I would walk lightly and quietly to try and combat the hard surface, but for many trekking poles are the answer to alleviating pressure.
  • You start the trail in a desert environment, where long and heavy water carries are a daily obstacle to plan and navigate. The heat and sun exposure fries your skin. Electrolytes and sometimes frequent breaks in the shade are a must. Large brim sunhats or sun umbrellas help with exposure. Though I carried 4 liters water, I saw many with 6 liters or more, and frankly the more the better as it gives you options.
  • Climbs are not short and punchy, but instead very long and drawn out. Hikers mostly rejoice in how evenly graded the PCT is, afterall it is made so that a horse or pack animals could do it, but for me that means my muscles will be strained in one way for much longer. Rather than a constantly undulating trail where one muscle group gets a break more frequently, the PCT slowly takes you up or down mountain switchbacked trails for as many as 20 miles at a time. I need to remind myself to break and occasionally stretch as well as to pace myself.
  • Snow travel is an inevitability. You will find yourself slipping, sliding, and learning to travel safely on it in the end. Every section of the PCT can have this type of challenge depending on when you start or how fast you go. For instance I started late but went fast, so I had minimal snow in the desert and the Sierra, but loads of snow in Oregon and Washington. Those who started early but went slow had the opposite. It’s a very fine balance if you’d like to try and avoid all of it. Best to try and enjoy the uniqueness of snow travel regardless of where you hit it, as nature often doesn’t care about how well you’ve planned something anyway.
  • Wildfires are a part of the west. In the past 6 years or so of this trail, wildfires have been one of the largest hurdles of this entire hike. Imagine walking 1,500 miles, and then your hike being stopped, rerouted, or changed entirely due to conditions out of your control. That is a reality of this trail now. Wildfires are a way of life if you’re hiking out west and I think they should be heavily considered when you are planning your trip. Wildfire season is late summer and early fall. Either start early if you wish to go slower, or know the later you start the faster you will need to go to avoid these closures. Unfortunately given the unpredictability of these things you may still get unlucky. I did not fear rain on this trail because I would get wet, I feared rain because I knew it often means lightning, and fires.
North Cascades of Washington, the trekking pole was used for sketchy snow traverses, and high water crossings

Pace

  • Miles Per Day Average: 31.5 mpd
  • Zeros: 2 (Tehachapi CA & Sisters OR)
  • Neros: 9 (Any day less than 20 miles)
  • Avg Wakeup: 5am
  • Avg Bedtime: 10pm
  • Most miles in a single day: 60 miles
  • Desert: 28 mpd
  • Sierra: 26 mpd
  • NorCal: 41 mpd
  • Oregon: 37 mpd
  • Washington: 33 mpd
  • First Half: 29 mpd
  • Second Half: 35 mpd
  • Blisters: 7 (almost entirely from kicking rocks)
  • Shoes: 6 (I could have used one less pair)
  • Socks: 13 pairs (4 of which were from Walmart, all 4 got holes within the same day)

With this hike I wanted to test myself, and see how much I had learned over the past 8 years, and 11,000 miles of my hiking career. Especially considering how my first PCT attempt went in 2018, it often felt like I had a bit of something to prove to myself. I wanted to do the trail of course, but I also really wanted to push myself.

In the end I averaged 31.5 miles per day for 84 days to complete the trail. My goal was sub 90, and I am very happy to have accomplished that!

Speed is a good way to test how well you know your skills and self. Your pack must be light, so every piece of gear has to be chosen carefully and thoughtfully. You must be efficient with your time both in hiking and in towns, as daylight is limited and sleep is precious. You must learn how to take care of yourself all while still keeping up the miles. I think if you can do this you can do anything in hiking.

Most days I would try to be walking by 6am, and most evenings I would stop shortly after sunset around 9pm. I took minimal breaks throughout the day, and walked at a comfortable pace. I had 15 hours of daylight to utilize, and nothing else to do other than walk during that time. By the middle all the way to the end of this hike I was often doing 40 – 45 miles everyday, but the trick of course is making up lost time from town stops, so my overall average does not reflect that at first glance.

The Pacific Crest Trail lends itself nicely with high mileage as the grade of climbs and descents is gradual, the trail is well maintained and easy to navigate, the weather is mild, and towns are frequent enough where food weight is never too high. You can find a comfortable pace and just stick with that endlessly, while many other trails in the US are more varied in a physical sense.

Before this hike I did a fair amount of training. 60 mile overnight hikes, long daily walks, and running. I also paid close attention to my diet for the months prior to starting. Both losing a bit of weight, and staying active I think is very helpful. Anything to make the trip easier physically is worth while as the real trick and true difficulty of this trail comes with its length. At 2,653 miles there is a lot of time for something to go wrong, and it was a constant battle to get ahead of anything that may have stopped me. Much of that battle came before even starting.

Halfway, happy, and on pace for my 90 day hike. Feeling great and ready to ramp up the miles, I went on to average 40 miles a day for the next two weeks

The People

  • Thru hikers I passed: 1094

If I could tell without a doubt that a person was a thru hiker, I counted them. I did not count the southbound hikers I met, so this is only those traveling north. But I would say I saw another 200 heading south if I had to guess. Most interesting is that within the first 1,000 miles I saw and met 852 thru hikers. The other 242 came from the final 1,650 miles. I only ever saw three people more than a small handful of times because of my pace. Kevin, Gasket, and Mooch all hiking a similar speed and started around the same time as me.

The PCTA gives out something like 8,000 hiking permits a year, and of these people it seemed like half of them were from a country other than the United States. The majority of foreigners being from Germany, but I met folks from everywhere it seemed! It was a good opportunity to ask about hiking trails in their part of the world, and it was cool to see all the different styles of gear, and ways of doing things.

Coming into this trail I knew there would be a fair amount of people. I actually adopted the mantra “embrace the community” before I even left for the hike, as typically I want more solitude. Overall I enjoyed the company most of the time, and made a big effort to talk to as many people as I could. Getting information from others, sharing stories, having new people to hike with daily, and an extra layer of safety should I get injured was all a positive thing. The community really looks out for one another, so if you are in need maybe take solace in that another hiker will soon be up the trail behind you.

  • Trail Magic: 16
  • Hitch Hiked: 10
  • Rangers: 2 (who checked my permit)
  • Trail crews: 3 (thank you!)

As I got further north and passed the bubble of hikers, trail magic and any sort of help subsided drastically. Only twice total in the states of Oregon and Washington did I get trail magic, while all the rest came from California.

Hitch hiking was never difficult as most locals near trail towns know what you’re doing, and know that you just want to go eat food. I never waited long, and everyone was friendly. Though should you not want to take the risk there are many people all up and down the trail that offer rides for a small fee, who are more trusted than just a random pickup. Many times you may get to a trailhead and someone will be waiting just to see if you’d like a ride. It is their way of giving back.

Mooch at the start of the ridge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness with Mt Rainier in the background
Gasket coming through Tunnel Falls in the Eagle Creek alternate

Animal Encounters

  • Snakes: 28 (3 of which were rattle snakes)
  • Bears: 2
  • Weasels: 2
  • Mountain goats: 4
  • Horses: 8
  • Llamas: 4 (the llamas and horses were used as pack animals)

My favorite of the animals I saw were the birds! Most of the way up the trail I was using the app on my phone “Merlin” to help identify what I was seeing. It was a fun daily task that would often take my mind off the walking. I enjoyed the Stellars Jay, Spruce Grouse, some type of Quail, Scrub Jay, Western Tanager, and the Black Capped Chickadee most. I never did see an owl, but I likely wasn’t paying enough attention as I could hear them at times. I heard many people also used the app “Seek” to help identify plants, but I always forgot to download it while in town.

As for larger animals, people worry about bears, and people worry about snakes. I saw many snakes through the course of this trip but only three were of the venomous variety. One I almost stepped on in Norcal, one that slithered away very quickly, and one that snuck up towards me while I was taking a break in the shade. I would say you’re fine if you keep your eyes open, your wits about you, and only use one headphone should they rattle. As for bears you may not see any, or you may see a few. They are of little threat and just want your food. Be safe with where you choose to camp, how you store your food, and you likely won’t have any issue with them.

If you are concerned about this or anything else, most hikers these days carry a Garmin Inreach Mini. They are fairly expensive but worth the cost in the level of safety it gives you. It is a personal locator beacon your family or friends can use to track you, but it also has an SOS button that goes directly to search & rescue should something bad happen. I like this model over other brands because it has a messaging system where you can use it to text friends on trail who also have the device, or you can send messages straight to your family at home to let them know how you are doing. I think it can even give you a weather report. I will copy this excerpt into the gear section as well since it is something I believe is very important in this modern day of hiking.

Mt Rainier National Park, sleeping on a ridge with this view to wake up to

Weather

  • Shelter setup: 4
  • Rain: 5 (only one of which is memorable)
  • Snow storm: 1 (Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness)
  • Nights below freezing: 4 (Entirely in the northern Sierra)
  • Lowest known temp: 27°F / -3°C Yosemite
  • Highest known temp: 110°F / 43°C Stehekin

Depending on your start date this trail can be fairly mild when it comes to weather. It’s pretty hot throughout the desert, Northern California, and Oregon so that should definitely be taken into account with clothing choices and start date. Many will wakeup early while the temperatures are cool, take long midday breaks in the shade, and then hike again into the evening. As always remember electrolytes.

As a trade for the hot days I only got rained on 5 times during my entire hike. Only one of those times did I actually want my rain jacket, and felt a need to setup my shelter. The other 3 times I set it up was for wind, while every other night the entire trip I cowboy camped under the stars.

Rarely were temperatures at or below freezing at night, and most days were pleasant for me, though again this heavily depends on when you start. One reason I started as late as I did was so that I wouldn’t run into much cold as I know I handle the heat better. Most people prefer an earlier start with warmer gear to do the opposite and avoid the heat.

A storm rolling in over the John Muir Trail just north of Reds Meadow

Money

  • Money spent: $6,063 (not including flight to or from trail)
  • Resupply – $2,275
  • Restaurant – $1,201
  • Food Boxes – $650
  • Shoes & Gear – $837
  • Accommodations – $1,100
  • Laundry : 7
  • Showers: 12
  • Beers consumed: 4
  • Towns I stayed the night in: Big Bear, Wrightwood, Tehachapi, Kennedy Meadows South, Lone pine, Kennedy Meadows North, South Lake Tahoe, Burney, Ashland, Sisters, Snoqualmie, Stehekin, Mazama

I was quite surprised by how much money I spent on this hike as I figured I would come in around 4k, but I think a few things contributed to it. First, I now see a hotel along the way double charged me. But beyond that… I could have shared hotels with others! Splitting the cost with just one other along the way would have saved me 550 dollars.

Another big factor here is the towns themselves. The places I often found myself in are more akin to resorts and resort towns. High prices, small stores, and not much going on other than opportunities to spend money. Still they offer food, electricity, wifi, and other essentials.

Something else that stood out is that the towns came surprisingly frequently. I always knew the Appalachian Trail had a lot of towns and roads, but I never thought of the PCT this way. And to be fair, it doesn’t! But given that the trail itself allows for a faster pace, it feels like it does. Many sections it seemed like I could go to town every other day if I wanted.

I think in the end I had more fun out there than I expected to, financially speaking. Expensive hotels and expensive meals. Bought a pair of shoes I knew I wouldn’t like then proceeded to not like and replace them. But hey this is supposed to be fun, I ate what I wanted, and did what I wanted. I have heard and could easily understand people spending far more than 10,000 dollars to do this.

Views of Mt Shasta every day through Northern California, one of my favorite mountains

Food & Nutrition

  • Starting body weight: 186lbs / 84kg
  • Ending body weight: 176lbs / 80kg

Calories per day

  • Desert – 2,500 (felt good)
  • Sierra – 3,000 (lower energy, harder trail, hiker hunger kicked in)
  • Norcal – 4,000 (starting to chase the hunger)
  • Oregon – 5,000
  • Washington – 7,000 (finally caught up to hunger)

I wasn’t particularly trying to lose weight this hike, but I also knew that I could have been eating more. Most days I felt fine and I still made the miles I wanted, but it was that last hour or two of the day where I often wished I had just two or three more little snacks.

Heading into the future I would like to play around with cold soaking more meals during the day other than just dinner. Oatmeal for breakfast, beans & rice for lunch, and then a more built and hearty dinner for example, with snacks in between. I can fairly easily cold soak and eat while I walk so I don’t think I would lose any momentum, and I would likely gain a lot from this. Especially compared to the dense bars (or candy) all day for energy instead.

On this trip I bought my food from a store 2/3rds of the time, and the other third of my resupplies were boxes I had prepared before I left. I like boxes but you definitely don’t need to make any. Stehekin, and Crater Lake would be two places I would recommend, but those can be prepared easily while on trail as they are quite far north. Even then you could do this hike without any boxes, though the boxes sometimes give you the option of ‘better’ foods compared to a convenience store. Other potential spots would be: (in order from south to north) Kennedy Meadows South, Tuolumne Meadows, Seiad Valley, Crater Lake, and Stehekin. Every other spot and even some of these you could hitch to a different location for food.

Stehekin is a town only accessible by boat, bush plane, or hiking. No cell service, and not much going on, still it was my favorite town of the trail
Pastries from the famous Stehekin bakery, trying to recoup lost calories

Daily Milage & Journal

  • Day 0 – 0 – 0mi Colder than average, sleep near terminus
  • Day 1 – 38 – 38mi Lots of people the first half of the day
  • Day 2 – 68.5 – 30.5mi Mt Laguna, long descent very windy
  • Day 3 – 103.5 – 35mi Hot! Scissors Crossing, nice people
  • Day 4 – 138 – 34.5mi Hot! Eagle Rock, Mike’s place, boulders, setup for PVC
  • Day 5 – 162 – 24mi PVC resupply, heavy pack, big climb
  • Day 6 – 188 – 26mi Cool ridge hike, first very physical day, Mt San Jacinto
  • Day 7 – 220.5 – 32.5mi Hot! grueling descent, 2nd lowest point on trail
  • Day 8 – 252 – 31.5mi Whitewater long climb, bee stings my face
  • Day 9 – 266 – 14mi Big Bear nero, a lot of chores done
  • Day 10 – 288 – 22mi 1pm leave town, good walkin’
  • Day 11 – 322.5 – 34.5mi Deep Creek Canyon, hot springs busy
  • Day 12 – 357 – 34.5mi Lake SP, cajon pass McDonald’s, awesome long climb
  • Day 13 – 369 – 12mi Nero into wrightwood,
  • Day 14 – 390 – 21mi I love Angeles NF, Baden Powell, sweet Rd walk
  • Day 15 – 433 – 43mi Tired and first blister! Nice people but a lot of people
  • Day 16 – 467 – 34mi Extremely hot, agua dulce
  • Day 17 – 486.5 – 19.5mi Casa de Luna, disc golf with Joe
  • Day 18 – 526.5 – 40mi Pleasant oak & maple forest, hiker town, aqueduct
  • Day 19 – 559 – 32.5mi Hiker town aftermath, super easy 30, wind farm
  • Day 20 – 566.5 – 7.5mi Nero tehachapi
  • Day 21 – 566.5 – 0mi Zero in tehachapi, loads of people!
  • Day 22 – 597 – 30.5mi Leave at 10am, two long water carries 17 & 19mi
  • Day 23 – 631.5 – 34.5mi Pleasant meadow then grueling desert, Josh!!
  • Day 24 – 667 – 35.5mi Josh gone, walker pass, Sierra!
  • Day 25 – 702 – 35mi Sprocket, Kennedy meadows!
  • Day 26 – 719 – 17mi Leave 2:30pm, new socks new shoes, Sierra!!!!
  • Day 27 – 750 – 31mi Tooth pain! Lone pine, sprocket
  • Day 28 – 756 – 6mi Nero, jump lake, beautiful camp
  • Day 29 – 767 – 11mi (+16) Whitney sunset! Only us
  • Day 30 – 792.5 – 25.5mi I miss sprocket, Forester glen pass
  • Day 31 – 823 – 30.5mi Pinchot Pass & Mather Pass awesome
  • Day 32 – 857 – 34mi Muir pass snow, jbird
  • Day 33 – 888 – 31mi Selden Pass and Silver Pass, tired hungry
  • Day 34 – 921.5 – 33.5mi Reds Meadow, end of Sierra proper
  • Day 35 – 955 – 33.5mi Tuolomne Meadow, enter Yosemite
  • Day 36 – 989 – 34mi Many river crossings & punchy climbs
  • Day 37 – 1017 – 28mi No more bear can! Sonora Pass
  • Day 38 – 1046 – 29mi High wind, multiple injured hikers
  • Day 39 – 1081 – 35mi Cold wind in the 20s, Tahoe Rim Trail!
  • Day 40 – 1092 – 11mi Snow storm! South Lake & new altras
  • Day 41 – 1118 – 26mi Desolation Wilderness, Dick Pass
  • Day 42 – 1156 – 38mi Bear steals my food, Donner Pass
  • Day 43 – 1194 – 38mi Summer solstice quiet day
  • Day 44 – 1234 – 40mi Sierra buttes, norcal is hotter
  • Day 45 – 1274 – 40mi Trying to catch Joe, big burn area, boomerang
  • Day 46 – 1307.5 – 33.5mi Big climb, Lassen burn! Belden resupply
  • Day 47 – 1367 – 60mi Halfway!
  • Day 48 – 1396 – 29mi Caught up to Joe! Cool trail fam
  • Day 49 – 1419 – 23mi Claustrophobic anxiety attack at Burney Falls
  • Day 50 – 1447 – 28mi Burney crazy breakfast
  • Day 51 – 1490 – 43mi McCloud river quiet day
  • Day 52 – 1531 – 41mi Castle Crags climb
  • Day 53 – 1577 – 46mi Fun day! Trinity Alps
  • Day 54 – 1618 – 41mi Loads of blowdowns, crazy sunset
  • Day 55 – 1660 – 42mi Seiad Valley, less than 1000 miles to go
  • Day 56 – 1702 – 42mi Oregon! First real rain
  • Day 57 – 1718 – 16mi Ashland & chores, new superiors
  • Day 58 – 1742 – 24mi Ate too much in town
  • Day 59 – 1787 – 45mi Mosquitos!
  • Day 60 – 1837 – 50mi Crater Lake, Mazama resupply
  • Day 61 – 1878 – 41mi Lots of snow & OR/WA highpoint
  • Day 62 – 1923 – 45mi Shelter Cove resupply
  • Day 63 – 1968 – 45mi Three Sisters! Snow snow snow
  • Day 64 – 2001 – 33mi Lava fields, wildland firefighter gives me a hitch
  • Day 65 – 2001 – 0mi Zeroooooooo miles hiked
  • Day 66 – 2031 – 30mi Mt Jefferson!
  • Day 67 – 2075 – 44mi Lake Olallie, Starlord
  • Day 68 – 2116 – 41mi Mt Hood, Timberline Lodge buffet, Mooch joins
  • Day 69 – 2161 – 45mi Cascade Locks, Eagle Creek alt, Washington!!
  • Day 70 – 2206 – 45mi Section hikers everywhere
  • Day 71 – 2250 – 44mi Mt Adams
  • Day 72 – 2289 – 39mi Goat Rocks Wilderness! Hard day
  • Day 73 – 2330 – 41mi White Pass resupply, meeting punisher, wet campsite
  • Day 74 – 2378 – 48mi Ultra marathon on trail! Aid stations, Mt Rainier
  • Day 75 – 2394 – 16mi Snoqualmie Pass hotel
  • Day 76 – 2434 – 40mi 10k vert every day, beautiful
  • Day 77 – 2478 – 44mi Stevens Pass, hot! Bye Gasket & Mooch
  • Day 78 – 2517 – 39mi Dangerous river crossing, Cara, ridges
  • Day 79 – 2553 – 36mi Dangerous snowy pass, blowdown hell
  • Day 80 – 2573 – 20mi Stehekin! Shin splints
  • Day 81 – 2587 – 14mi Junior ranger day with Punisher
  • Day 82 – 2592 – 5mi Shin splints pain
  • Day 83 – 2617 – 25mi New shoes, KT tape, Advil
  • Day 84 – 2647 – 30mi Slow pace, stretching often
  • Day 85 – 2653 – 6mi CANADA!
The final thirty miles were my favorite. Views of Jack Mountain and overall good feelings

You can see in my daily miles that in the beginning I started immediately with big days, but then more time in town. Eventually all I was doing was big days. That however came with a cost, with just 150 miles until the end I developed shin splints. It was an incredibly painful few days where it felt like I had a broken ankle. Eventually a former triathlete southbounder saw me and was able to help with an initial diagnosis and some stretches to be doing. I took some time in the last possible town of the trail to research, buy new shoes to get me through the last 30 miles, and I hobbled on. In the end it was really nice to take that last section so slow. I had to let my friends get ahead and finish days before me, but spending the final days alone to reflect was what I needed. I took in all of the sights, and relished in the finish. It was bittersweet to finally get there. I deserved to be mildly injured for what I put myself through the rest of the hike, and hey, now I know better how to handle the problem.

I am very happy to have finally completed the Pacific Crest Trail. I did this hike how I dreamed of doing it, and got more from the experience than I ever could have asked for.

My Pa’lante V2 at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, I hung out and cherished the moment for a while

Gear

I started the trip with a 6.6lb / 3kg baseweight and overall was very happy with what I used, hardly changing anything over the course of the hike. Prior to starting I was already pretty dialed in with what I like to use, but there are a few standouts and things worth talking about.

I replaced my shoes and two pairs of socks every 500 miles. Important for the longevity of my feet, as many try to stretch shoes much longer. The shoes I wore most were Merrell Trail Glove 6, but at times when it was more convenient I did buy and use Altra Lone Peak 6 as well. One time I tried Altra Superiors and didn’t like them as the sizing is way off compared to Lone Peaks. Far too tight while the Lone Peaks were nearly too loose in the same size, so beware you may need to size up. The Merrells however were a dream for my feet. The fit was great, and the minimalist feel gave me a lot of control. Switching to Altras after those felt like I was wearing clown shoes. Rolling my ankles because I was higher off the ground, and generally very unstable feeling. Still Altras are the most popular trail shoe, I think in some ways it is because in nearly every town you can buy them while I had to order my Merrells online.

The socks I wore were Darn Toughs and overall I was pretty happy with the feel and lifespan. Mostly I went with the midweight, but the lightweight version worked great as well.

I would recommend anyone that is hiking this trail in the future to get gaiters for their shoes, as it will help keep rocks out, preventing blisters and extending the life of your shoes and socks.

The infamous windfarm section just north of the LA Aqueduct. I was ready for my first zero in Tehachapi

I used a 30 degree fahrenheit Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt and was very happy with the warmth, only a couple times being mildly uncomfortable the entire trip. If you sleep cold, a 20 degree would likely be preferable.

My 7×9 Zpacks tarp was perfect, as it didn’t rain often. So having the lightest shelter possible was cool since I hardly needed it. In Oregon there were many mosquitoes, they never bothered me but I would factor that into your shelter choice. Most hikers use a tent instead for that very reason. For the bugs I did carry a headnet, but only used it once.

I replaced my polyco groundsheet three times, and my pack liner twice to avoid tears and holes. Many use a tyvek groundsheet instead, as one sheet would certainly last the entire hike for just a couple ounces more.

For warm clothing I just brought a lightweight fleece (KUIU Peloton 97,) rain jacket (Enlightened Equipment Visp,) a fleece beanie, and some bodywrapper wind pants. I not once wished I had more than that. Since I was moving for most of my waking hours that added to my warmth and allowed such a minimal setup to be fine. If I was stopped, I was probably in my quilt, and soon going to bed.

I also started with and wore Ombraz sunglasses which I really liked, until I lost them around mile 400.

Wearing my fleece and rain jacket on the Tahoe Rim, this was just before a snow storm rolled in on one of my coldest days on trail

I carried 4 liters water to start, and though that worked great for me I would recommend others to start with at least 6 liters and then if you find you need less, you can always get rid of a bottle or two. I did something similar as I got north, for different sections I would carry different quantities. Adding a bottle or removing a bottle. The least I ever carried was 2 liters total capacity.

As for food I cold soaked the entire trail in a small peter pan peanut butter jar and was very happy with that! I like the efficiency of cold soaking where I can add water, hike another two miles, and then eat immediately upon getting to camp. Many prefer to use a gas stove instead which would give you more options when resupplying than having to find items that don’t need heat to rehydrate.

Many hikers used a sun umbrella in the desert. I did not, but they looked very fun and often I was jealous of them! Protection from sun burns, and a self deployed spot of shade to hide in wherever you are. A lot of those same people ditch the umbrella around mile 700 as they are leaving the desert and entering the Sierra, but many people do hike the entire way with it. I think I will personally give these more of a try on future hikes.

Early morning hiking before the heat rolled in. Joshua Trees scatter the landscape in the Mojave Desert

In the Sierra and for Washington I did add a trekking pole to my kit. One that I found in a hiker box that I later ditched, and then one I bought off of a southbound hiker that made it to the end. I found a trekking pole to be essential for safety and stability on the snow, and when crossing swollen rivers. I didn’t much feel a need for them other times but most do use them as they take weight off your joints and muscles, ideally helping to prevent injury, and make the hiking a bit easier.

For this hike I also changed cameras to a lighter and smaller one to film with. I will let you and anyone else be the judge as to how the Sony ZV-1 worked out. I personally really enjoyed the smaller size and significantly reduced weight. I enjoyed the image stabilization, and the zoom. I liked that I could charge it via usb, didn’t need a separate charger, and tons of spare batteries. Something that wasn’t the best though was in efforts to save battery life, I filmed entirely in 1080p instead of 4K, even though it has the capability. It used too much juice to do so and I couldn’t justify that. Still I am happy with the choice, and will likely continue to use it because it is multiple pounds lighter, and many times smaller. For most people I would say to just use your phone.

If you are concerned about this or anything else, most hikers these days carry a Garmin Inreach Mini. They are fairly expensive but worth the cost in the level of safety it gives you. It is a personal locator beacon your family or friends can use to track you, but it also has an SOS button that goes directly to search & rescue should something bad happen. I like this model over other brands because it has a messaging system where you can use it to text friends on trail who also have the device, or you can send messages straight to your family at home to let them know how you are doing. I think it can even give you a weather report.

Standing atop Forester Pass at 13,153ft it is the highest point along the PCT (since Mt Whitney is a side trail)

The flashlight is the Rovyvon Aurora A5x, the same I used last year on the Arizona Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and Long Trail. It’s still going strong! It is rechargeable via usb, ultralight, and has many settings for different levels of brightness and battery longevity. Oh! and it glows in the dark, so you will never have trouble finding it at night when you need it. I carry it in my hand while I walk which elongates shadows and helps to see rocks and things in the trail better than a headlamp would given the lower angle. It does come with a clip so at camp or while walking I can still attach it to my hat for handsfree chores.

My trowel is the deuce of spades, again very light, and I would argue an essential item to have out there. Much of the ground you will be digging in is very difficult to get into with just a trekking pole, shoe, stick or whatever else. Having a dedicated trowel to do the job was extremely helpful to make sure I was leaving no trace.

Descending Forester Pass with bear can and 5 days food inside my pack

My backpack was the Pa’lante V2 in Ultra, a 37L pack that was originally designed with the PCT in mind. Two front shoulder strap pockets for small gear you want accessible like a flashlight, camera, phone, knife, spoon, etc. A bottom pocket that is easily reached while walking to store food in, allowing me to keep moving without the need to stop and take my pack off for a snack. The side pockets very easily fit 4L of water. The overall size was perfect for what this trip called for and the gear that I use. I could even fit a bear can inside, but I would recommend you strap it on top empty instead, and all your food in your pack for maximum comfort.

Though I loved this pack, I think in the future I will use their Desert Pack as it is very similar, but just a touch larger to give me more options to pack out bulkier food items. The Ultra fabric was good and certainly held up, but I think I will use the gridstop in the future. Ultra has a lot of promise, and is working very closely with many companies to make it the best fabric out there, but I don’t think it is there yet. Gridstop is still king for the time being.

Overall I was very happy with everything I used and would hardly change a thing should I do it again. I think the PCT is interesting in that you can go extremely light with some smart planning and timing should you want. I feel like my 6.6lb kit kept me safe, comfortable, and happy the entire way.

For those interested in my gear from the Pacific Crest Trail check out this video! or my gear list can be seen here https://lighterpack.com/r/ub8e5c

Favorite Sections

When a friend asked me if I had any favorite sections or moments from the trail I could not come up with an answer, the experience as a whole was so incredible, and so many things stood out I could not choose just one. It is a similar story for what I liked the least, every section was so unique and interesting it would be hard to pick.

Naturally the Sierra Nevada is near the top of the list. After leaving the desert you enter this world of flowing water, large granite walls, old growth trees, and this sense of true remoteness. I enjoyed the Kings Canyon section the most, but my favorite moment of all was hiking Mount Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48 at 14,505ft) with my friend Sprocket. Many hikers choose to do the trek before sunrise to see the changing of light from the top, above the world. I am not one for waking up early nor night hiking so it worked out for us to be heading up in the evening. As we went up most were coming down and we guessed back and fourth as to how busy it might be up there. I figured there must be another 40 or so hikers hanging out at the top, she guessed less. We took our time to get to the summit to try and avoid any altitude problems, still I had a mild headache, and she said she felt a bit drunk. At the top we find there are only two other hikers there who were leaving shortly. We had the entire mountaintop to ourselves and it felt so incredibly special to be up there. Amazing views of the valley and mountains below, a time I will never forget. We descended the mountain while watching the sun set over the western mountains.

Sprocket on the top of Mt Whitney at 14,505ft
Descending Mt Whitney while the sun set over the mountains to the west

I of course look fondly back at the desert and how fun it was. How much the plants and animals would change from the lower elevations to the higher. I would find myself high up in the mountains nearly everyday, dipping back down to the desert floor, and back up again. This being my second time doing the section I even enjoyed repeating it, and feel like I had a greater appreciation for it than before.

I was surprised at how good Northern California was, as that is often hikers least favorite section. The term “Norcal blues” has even been coined and is thrown around frequently. I felt like it had much to offer both in the way of frequent towns but also constant changing beauty. With views of volcanos off in the distance and many wonderful wilderness areas it seemed like the trail changed drastically from day to day.

Northern Oregon again blew me away, the terrain is easier allowing for some more comfortable walking. It winds us around lakes and ponds, again with views every day of the massive volcanos. Not to mention the famous Eagle Creek alternate with Tunnel Falls, or the Timberline Lodge buffet under Mt Hood.

The Three Sisters in northern Oregon

Washington, and the North Cascades specifically were my favorite section of the entire trail. They also happen to be what I believe is the hardest part of the entire trail. The Cascades are the youngest mountains in the United States and it shows. They haven’t yet been worn down by weather so every peak and ridge looks like jagged shark teeth extending high into the clouds. The diversity from the valley floor to the ridges was always a treat. A near rainforest environment up into high alpine. Marmots, slugs, mountain goats, berries everywhere, beautiful mountains and remote places. I loved the Cascades, and was blown away hiking through. It almost made me forget that everyday I was doing more than 10,000ft of climbing, much more than any previous section.

8,000+ people a year want to attempt this trail for a reason. Despite the loneliness, pain, or any of the tough times, it feels like home.

Washington, just north of Snoqualmie Pass
An ocotillo in bloom in the desert
The California Oregon border, 1,700 miles into the hike
Burney Falls in Northern California
Many years later a dream realized

Thank you to anyone who has followed along, to the angels who helped me along the way, to the folks I met and hiked with, the trail maintenance crews, and PCTA.

If you would like to see some of my Pacific Crest Trail inspired paintings check out the shop on this website. Either way thank you for reading! I hope this has been helpful in someway if not just entertaining

Jupiter

Mt Hood with a blanket of clouds

Florida Trail Thru Hike Statistics

Florida Trail statistics from my second FT thru hike! The first go around I was a bit preoccupied with simply hiking, and enjoying the world Florida backwoods has to offer. So I certainly wasn’t taking down numbers or counting things as I went, other than miles. Mostly thanks to my hiking partner Lotus, this time we actually paid more attention beyond just enjoying the scenery and motion! So here are a few numbers from our thru hike, and a bit of explanation behind them.

 

  • Miles: 1,108 – We went southbound starting at Fort Pickens, on the Pensacola Beach. Went East around Orlando, and West around Lake Okeechobee. Ending our hike at the Big cypress Oasis Visitor Center, the official terminus. Other than going southbound this is the most typical route to take, while there are many alternatives. One could even increase the distance by 200 miles by starting or ending their hike in the Keys, at the southernmost point of Florida! I had done that in 2017; it’s mostly a road-walk, and very unofficial, and we did not feel a need to do that this time. We took these routes even though I had done them before because in part I feel they are the best ways to do it occasionally, but also I wanted to see them again for nostalgia, and to better help others with information.
  • Jan 3 – March 10 – Part of the beauty in this trail is that you can hike it in roughly two months, over the winter. It’s not as big of a commitment as something like the Appalachian Trail, and you can do it while the rest of the country is covered in snow!
  • 68 days – I feel our 68 day hike is a pretty average time it takes for someone to complete the trail. I’ve seen some take as long as three months, and the first time I did it in only 28 days. The two to three month range is common, and what should be planned for, though you can obviously do it faster if you are extremely motivated or slower if you wish as well! The hiking season here runs from December to March so that’s the time frame you’re working with.
  • Zeros: 6 – Some of these zeros were for leisure, and few were because we felt we actually needed them physically, though mentally it was great to take a break! Early on we took a zero to help our bodies adjust to the constant exercise. Another zero early on to dodge out of a storm, as at the beginning of a long hike we were less interested in walking all day in heavy rain. Later on we took zeros to go to Billy Goat Day, an awesome Florida Trail hiker event. A zero to see Lotus’ friends in the Orlando area, and a zero towards the end around Melbourne to go see a movie with my friends. It was nice to take the time off, but it eats money which I was definitely feeling, and eats time which means by the end of our hike it was getting hotter very quickly.

  • Avg miles between town: 61.5 – Many were shorter distances, and we were never very far from a town, or food. Some stretches were a bit longer carries, which is what leads to this number being higher than I would have imagined. Often times we were able to stop for food multiple times in a single day for instance.
  • Avg miles per day: 16.3 – We started out slower, taking more days off, and more short days to try and find our legs and groove hiking. Towards the end it was extremely uncommon that we had a day under 20, and we had a handful of days near or over 30. The thing with Florida is you hike it in the winter when days are shortest, so getting miles is hard if you don’t want to wake up early, hike into the night, or do both.
  • Avg miles per day w/o zeros: 17.8 – Overall not the biggest change, we stayed pretty consistent throughout the hike, and generally between zeros would do a bigger day to make up for the day off.
  • Avg miles per day / first half: 15 – Starting slow to find our bearings! A smart idea, especially when hiking with someone else as more can go wrong.
  • Avg miles per day / Second half: 17.8 – Picking up pace as the trail went on, this still included multiple zeros or neros.
  • Days w/o seeing anyone: 3 – As states go Florida is pretty populated, and those populations are very dense. It’s amazing first of all that we even have this massive hiking trail that spans the whole state, and it’s amazing again we actually went quite a few days without seeing a single other person. This number doesn’t account for the days we had a single car whiz by us at some point, or days we maybe saw someone off in the distance.
  • Days w/o cell service: 5 – Rejoice, you can stay in touch with your loved ones, if you wish. Though you may not use it, or need it, it’s nice to know that if something goes wrong you can phone a friend. The places we had no service or very little were Appalachicola NF and Ocala NF.

Town Days

  • Motels: 5 – The Florida Trail doesn’t really have hostels so it was motels all the way for us! Though in White Springs there is a very hiker friendly bed  breakfast that we stayed at. Certainly the closest thing to a hostel out here.
  • Showers: 10 – Surprisingly you can find showers fairly often, more often than we actually used. Various recreational areas have them, trail angels, motels, the 88 store has a nasty one, and even one of the trail shelters has a shower along the Suwannee River.
  • Laundry: 7 – Laundry was mostly done at trail angels homes, though there are a few laundromats around towns, and at a few motels we were able to. A lot of the towns you pass through on trail are so small basically the only thing there is a gas station.
  • Resupply: 18 – The vast majority of this was gas stations, convenience stores, and the very occasional Walmart or super market. If you’re willing to hitch a ride (which isn’t so easy on the FT) or rely on trail angels to get to bigger towns you could get better food. Truly there are so many gas stations on trail, or places you could send a package that’s just my preferred way. Stay on trail and make due.
  • Resupply boxes: 3 – If I were to do it again I’d *almost* entirely send boxes. We sent boxes to the JR Aucilla store, 88 Store, and River Ranch.

Foot Problems

  • Feet wet: 11 – Everyone’s biggest fear when heading to Florida: the swamps, and wetlands. This year was a dry year, and we only got our feet wet 11 times. Nearly all of those times, the wet section was so short lived I took off my shoes and socks and just walked it barefoot. I only actually got my shoes wet once or twice the entire trail. You may hike in a dry year as well! 2017 when I hiked last it was also a dry year, so really they are quite common these days.
  • Blisters: 1 – This was very early on in our hike, within the first 3 days I got a blister on the side of my foot. My shoe was rubbing funny, and with a little leukotape over the hot spot that problem was handled nicely, and never came back.
  • Shoes: 2 – I went through two pairs of shoes this hike, swapping them out at the 88 store which is roughly 650 miles into our hike. Lotus waited a little bit longer to exchange shoes but she also went through two pairs. I think the southern half of the trail can be harder on the feet and on footwear so that’s why we did what we did, swapping where we did.
  • Socks: 6 – I exchanged socks more frequently, just because when a sock gets a hole I can pretty much guarantee I’ll get a blister there. Fortunately I was able to buy the socks I liked at Walmart’s along the way, and in one of the boxes I had sent.

In general we didn’t have much in the way of foot issues, Lotus in the beginning had some pain, which was expected given learning how to walk on totally flat ground, unvaried like many trails. I had a little blister, and we cruised comfortably most days. The northbound hike is a much harsher beginning, so we were glad to have gone southbound and have the plush beach walks, and the wilderness of Eglin to ease into. Many a hiker quits the FT in the first 200 miles NOBO.

Hikers!

  • Day hikers: 20 – Most day hikers we saw south of the Orlando area along the Little Big Econ River.
  • Section hikers: 15 – Most section hikers we saw in Ocala NF, or the Suwannee River, though there were two in St Marks NWR.
  • Thru hikers: 39 – Nearly every thru hiker we saw was around the halfway point. There were many more we didn’t directly cross paths with, just by how town stops worked. Them still hiking, and us resupplying elsewhere. We imagined there were more than 70 people thru hiking this year. Almost all of them going northbound.

The vast majority of our hike we saw no one, no other hikers, the occasional hunter, and of course when we were on a road or in town is when we saw life. The southbound journey is one of solitude.

Animal Sightings

  • Coyote: 1
  • Deer: 34
  • Raccoons: 6
  • Armadillos: 12
  • Snakes: 7
  • Alligators: 118
  • Bald eagles: 7
  • Turkeys: 16
  • Pigs: 16
  • Otters: 3
  • Turtles: 13
  • Owl: 1 

These numbers account only for the animals we directly saw with our eyes, and specifically these are only my numbers of the ones I saw. Sometimes we could hear armadillo, knew it was armadillo, but didn’t count it as a sighting. Same goes for owls, heard many, but only saw one.

All of the alligators we saw were over the course of two days. 35 of them in St Marks NWR and the rest along the canals south of Lake Okeechobee. None of these alligators were a threat to us, none were in the trail, and we never really felt concerned by them.

Similarly for the snakes, most of those were non-venomous, and got out of our way long before we were even close to them. In Big Cypress however we did come across two water moccasins that were very near each other, directly in the trail, and not planning on moving. Still, compare this to in 2017 I didn’t see a single snake non-venomous or otherwise my entire thru hike.

Thanks to Lotus for the idea of keeping track, and for helping me with some of these things I personally wasn’t paying attention to! Without her this likely wouldn’t exist.

For anyone planning a Florida Trail thru hike, I hope you go for it! It’s a great trail, and it’s only getting better as the years go by.

 

Jupiter

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

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

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

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

Dungeon After Dungeon, Dragon After Dragon

Halfway to somewhere, halfway to nowhere. I’m not sure. 2,400 miles into the Eastern Continental Trail. Halfway between Quebec, and Key West. Halfway between where I started, and where I’m going.

A very long walk as it turns out! Maybe not quite long enough because I can’t help but to fantasize almost constantly about where I’m going. The next minute, the next hour, day, and naturally… fantasize about next year. What is to come? I can plan, prepare, dream, and it’s all good fun.

Life is short. So it goes. I think I’ll do whatever I want with it. Enjoy it, and live it in ways I can be happy and proud with. My traveling, hiking, my journey this year started with a one way plane ticket to Quebec, in Canada. I’ve never been before. I hadn’t known that “their primary language is French.” Means, “their primary language is French.”

I slept in an airport. I walked 30 miles of roads day one, just to get to the trail so I could walk 30 miles day 2. I sprained my ankle while jumping on a rock, trying to get a self timer photo of myself. But you know all of these things if you’ve kept up with my piss poor journaling. What have we missed? Quite a bit apparently. I haven’t updated my website since I was in New Hampshire. Oops!

The hiking has continued. The ever so strange Appalachian Trail has been what I’ve chipped away at since you last heard from me. A 2,200 mile foot path from Maine to Georgia. That’s a long way, right? Well, it is, but in the case of the all encompassing Eastern Continental Trail it’s just a piece of the greater puzzle.

Leaving New Hampshire was a big deal for me. A major milestone in this long and lonesome journey. The trail north of there was rough, uninviting, and…. seriously beautiful. Continuing south things got easier, and for that I was happy. Leaving the White Mountains of NH and entering Vermont I was able to focus more on style. The tread no longer trying to kill me, as before every step was paused by rocks, or roots. Things that were slippery, and generally a jungle gym made for feet. Careful footing had to be exercised. Now, once I entered Vermont, smooth sailing was the new word. 30 mile days became the norm, and have remained so.

This new found freedom of movement left me with the ability to focus. Focus on every step, on every breath. On every movement. Maybe not hone my walking to a highly refined skill, but edge my way a little closer. Maybe I should have crawled before I walked. Starting in Canada meant all the hardest parts of this trail would be dealt with right off the bat. I survived! I made it! A lesson in perserverance is ever present in this adventure. To keep going. Even though not every day is a winner. Some are some arent. Regardless, I keep on moving, and I find joy in the progress. The forward motion. Happyness in the head space, the peace in being out here, and the freedom to do what I want. Apparently, travel. Travel via foot traffic, at a pace of 3 miles per hour. Living, being, and journeying in these landscapes is exactly where I want to be. Not specifically the east coast, as next year my eyes are laid more westernly. But more specifically journeying, pushing the limits of my physical self, and seeking the depths of my mental.

At this point in my walk I’ve seen 7 bear, 7 moose, 2 seals, whales, a porcupine, a skunk, a few groundhogs, and somehow I can still recall what I was doing or where each one was. I chased a groundhog through the woods for 30 minutes one day. Losing myself, and almost losing the trail. He’d turn around and look back to me periodically like, “What the hell man.” I’m sorry groundhog friend.

The bears, despite every tourist ever asking, have all been totally non threatening, and yes at this point I have gotten in between a mother and it’s children. They just totally want nothing to do with us humans. I don’t blame them. Hunters, as I’ve been told, bait them with Dunkin Donuts and trail mix. Wait for them to start eating, then shoot them. Clever. Fortunately the bears I’ve seen have all been healthy. Babies climbing trees, mama’s and papa’s out hiking the trail, scaring the uninitiated, you know… happy healthy bear things? I came across one that I mistook for a hiker. I followed this bear down the trail, and attempted to catch up and say hello. Until I coughed, and it turned around, revealing itself to not be the short hiker with a large black backpack as I had thought. Just a bear, and a man with poor eyesight chasing it down, trying to wish it a good morning.

I’ve met countless people, some awesome, some less interesting. The town folk have pretty much all been wonderful to me. In Vermont I stayed with a cult. Their kool-aid was indeed quite good, but I was sure to leave bright and early the next day. Some stayed for weeks, some never leave. They danced for me, and blessed my hike.

I’ve met plenty of trail maintenance crews as well. I am always certain to give them my thanks! Volunteering for the Florida Trail Association back home I feel has given me an insight to all the efforts it takes to keep these trails up and running. It’s some serious work, and dedicated time! I recommend everyone to get out and do some trail maintenance or to support the trail systems. Without these people, and organizations we as hikers would have nothing to hike!

I’ve still yet to find someone to hike with, but I don’t mind too much. I do get lonely at times, and miss friends, and other hikers I’ve passed along the way. But I’m not sure I’d be comfortable putting someone else through what I enjoy! Id happily slow down or do things differently but im realizing that might be a future endevour. I may be too deep into this trip.

Camping alone, hiking alone. It’s peaceful. I have so much time to think. My future, what I wish to do when I get home. Skills I want to learn, books I want to read. How I can improve my life. I’m constantly making notes. Glad I have all of this time to ponder these things. The walking helps, it occupies part of my brain while the rest of me roams. And I’m glad that if I wish to walk hours into the night, or wake up before sunrise to spend my entire day walking without breaks, it’s all on me. The human body is an amazing thing, and here I am with the opprotunity to see what I can make it do. Alone I’m able to put myself through hell sometimes. But you know what, it’s only hard the first time. Then I learn, and improve!

Each night I camp away from others. I swear I’m not anti social! Really. I don’t know the deal, but mostly I don’t wish to bother others with my weird schedule. Rolling in after dark, russling around before daybreak. It’s something that evolved from backpacking back home, and has been solidified in the great north Canadian trails that were oh so devoid of people. Back home though, very few of my friends ever wanted to hike with me. I couldn’t imagine why….. so now out here I’m just most comfortable doing my own thing. When I want to charge forward, I charge forward. When I want to relax, I relax. My mistakes are my own. However, I have found someone recently who’s on my page. Really, he’s quite a few steps beyond me, and next year we’ve got something special planned. When it’s right, it’s right, ya know? Hiking is such a strange thing. There’s a million ways you can do it. None are right, none are wrong. But to find someone else who is into that same style you are is rare, maybe not, but to a strange hiker like me… so for now I continue solo! Fast, light, and free. I press forward.

At this point I’m really comfortable with my trip. In the beginning I almost didn’t want to mention to folks what I was up to. 800 miles in with 4,000 to go? I think the response is obvious. Day one, litterally standing at the northern terminus in Quebec, about to take my first steps, some guy immediately told me I would never make it. Actually many have told me that. Well before I left, and even well into my hike I would still get that reaction. Some guy I met on the Appalachian Trail was saying that walking further than 2,000 miles and not feeling like shit was impossible. I think it was a reflection of himself where his diet, a heavy pack, and likely an unwillingness to imagine anything larger than that is severely holding hime back! He was 2,000 miles into his Appalachian Trail thru hike, and about to finish. Aching, feeling like shit, and unhappy. I am in the exact opposite position! Feeling stronger than ever. More ready than ever to take on what’s ahead, and you’ll have to trust me, the best has yet to come.

I still have another 2,400 miles to go! I’m only half way done with *this* hike! The last 400 miles of the AT, the Benton Mackaye Trail, Pinhoti Trail, and of course the much anticipated Florida Trail! What an exciting lineup! My mind and body stronger than ever, and continuing to learn and grow as I head forth into these new worlds. It’s exciting. I’m probably most looking forward to Florida. What a dream this hike has been, and I still have 3 more months to go.

So what else? Lots else, but most will have to remain for my memories only. Dancing in the moonlight. Running for miles when my pack is void of food weight. Being given free apples from some orchard people when I took a wrong turn on a road… and a half gallon of fresh cider! Chasing down more New Zealanders, because people from NZ are awesome. Meeting a friend in Massachusetts who took me in for a night, let me play with his dog, and fed me delicious, and very spicy vegan food. Being constantly inspired by those around me, by those doing things differently than me, by those going bigger than me. Falling in love, finding peace. Losing my flashlight, my tent stakes, getting soaked to the bone in a storm, and having to sleep through it, only to be picked up by a beautiful stanger the next day, and taken to a walmart to replace what I had lost. I also completely stopped filtering my water months ago. I’ve eaten the same exact bean dinner every single night of this trip.

I’ve had good days, and I’ve had bad days.

I’ve run into actual homeless people, and felt real weird about my life choices(only briefly.) I’ve hiked 40 miles a day for 3 days straight. Walked 30 miles day after day as though it’s just a normal thing. Ive been rained on for a week straight. No matter what, I keep it rolling!

One step at a time, I’ll get there when I get there.

State to state until I crash into my fate.

Massachusetts was beautiful, and gradual. I loved walking there, surrounded by the history of this country. I paid a bus driver to give me a tour of the local towns. I crossed some highways, and showed the drivers my ass until I got a sufficient amount of honks.

I left Mass and entered Connecticut. Everyone was mean and seemed to want to rob me of my monies. Sorry, maybe my experience was strange? The trail was beautiful, rocky, and short. Only 52 miles and I was gone.

New York, I crossed the Hudson River on a large bridge. Never having been to the state before this was a wonderful experience, and place to walk. The trail took me directly through a zoo, and over a mountain which had litterally thousands of man made steps. I enjoyed New York greatly. I met a hiker who took a liking to me, he tried to give me a book which I detested. As we know my pack weighs less than 6lbs and I don’t ever wish to add anything to it! I still try and get rid of things constantly. A book? Please no. I took it anyway, after he assured me it was in his top 5 books that he’s ever read. The next day I found some other hiker who would take it. Sorry. I just want to walk, eat, and sleep!

New Jersey was quite boring, and quite easy! Just 73 miles or so, and I was in and out quick. On my last day there I ran into a group of birders who were watching hawks, and collecting data about the migration happening. I was aiming for a big day so stopping to talk wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do but they were so darn friendly! My mom loves birds so I felt a kinship with these people. They took a moment, and showed me a very large residential rattle snake, and gave me some apples. Followed by a short lesson on the birds they had been watching so I could report back to my mom! On their website, they mentioned me as something interesting they saw that day.

Pennsylvania has a lot of hype around it. Known as one of the least enjoyed states in the Appalachian Trail. 230 miles of the trail pass through there, and I met many who cowered in fear just at the thought of the rocky terrain. I didn’t think it was so bad! I did all of my biggest days in PA, and although it was very rocky, it was also extremely flat! There were some really awesome rock scrambles thrown in there too. Nonetheless I’m always happy to cross a new border.

A 45 mile day into Maryland, walking until well after dark. I made my miles, and I found a soft spot to sleep near the trail. The guide read, “residential area.” What that meant I wasn’t sure until the next morning, waking up, and realizing I was sleeping in someone’s yard no more than 30 feet from their house.

A dream come true. Maryland was short. West Virginia is even shorter, with only 4 miles passing through it. Those 4 miles are home to the Appalachian Trails main office. The dream is in the form of a photo. Every hiker that passes through gets a Polaroid taken of them there, you’re cataloged, and added to a book from whatever year you were there. I flipped through books, and photos from previous years. Searching for friends. This may seem insignificant, but I’ve wanted that photo for years. Taken right out front of the office. They gave me soda, veggies, and I walked on. I crossed the Shenandoah River, John Denver ringing in my ears, bring on Virginia!

Virginia holds 550 miles of the trail, and it takes most more than a month to finish. I think it took me less than 3 weeks. The terrain is made for comfortable walking. The mountains are gradual, and although after being at low elevation for a long time, now head back up into the 4 and 5 thousand feet ranges. Pointless ups and downs when you could just remain on a ridge during a section of trail known as the roller coaster. Pointless indeed. The Shenandoah mountains, where I crossed back and forth across skyline drive, a road, seemingly hundreds of times. Wilderness! Holiday weekend, and I ran into thousands of people. Weekends are no long as enjoyable as they once were! I prefer the solitude. The Shenandoah’s didn’t have many views. I actually walked the road for a few miles, and the road had more overlooks than the trail! Bummer. Regardless! Virginia has been awesome, and home to some of the best views I’ve seen since New Hampshire and Maine.

I passed a few iconic spots, and took a few cliche and iconic photos. The trail has been welcoming, and a joy to walk. I’ve met a bunch of wild ponies, made friends with them, took selfies with them, and generally have been having a wonderful time! The people here are great too.

I’m now on the edge of Tennessee and Virginia, with only two weeks left on the Appalachian Trail. Soon to begin a much more interesting part of this hike! The AT is somewhat easy due to it being around for so long, and having so much support. All I have is a guide, no maps, nothing. I just kinda walk and it winds me around. Up and down. The Benton Mackaye, and Pinhoti Trail won’t be so straight forward!

Somewhere in there fall started to happen, and the leaves began to change. Seemingly forever I was given hints of oranges and yellows, followed by a sea of green waving in the wind. When did fall actually hit? I’m not sure. I’m walking south so quick that it’s almost like I’m escaping it. Sometimes I come across wonderful sections of trail, where it’s like the trees are on fire. Some areas, the leaves have turned, and fallen, leaving the tree in a state of gangly death. And the trail I walk on covered over with crunchy brown leaves, making it hard to see the rocks beneath. It’s beautiful out here. Photos don’t do it justice.

2,400 miles behind me, 2,400 miles in front of me. Dungeon after dungeon, dragon after dragon. I press on.

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Hiker nerd


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Cairns in vermont


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Looking down on Massachusetts from the cobbles


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A lonesome fire


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The Hudson River!


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Bear Mountain in New York


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NY / NJ border


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Fun rocks in PA


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My 9x5 poncho tarp. I only set it up when it's going to rain.


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Halfway point if the Appalachian Trail


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Hello Maryland! Back in the dirty south.


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The dream polaroid


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1 of a small handful of views in the Shenandoah's


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The Guillotine gracefully held above hikers heads as we pass under


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One of my many new best friends


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Virginia has been sweet


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Just 4,000 miles to go!

When I left you last I was preparing to finally leave the province of Quebec. Limping. Although the last 200k had been through the valley and physically very easy with mostly rolling hills, beautiful views of the French Canadian country, I was forced to take it slow. Which I guess isn’t the worst of fates? I found myself searching for a cheap hotel to rest my tired bones and soul. Staying in the quiet town of Matapédia was my best option before entering the next frontier of New Brunswick. So I did. 3 days of ice, elevation, lots of food, and soaking my ankle and feet in the river. A bit dissapointed in the results I was seeing but the stagnation, my wallet, and pull of southern lands meant it was time to move on. I got a long way to go till Florida!!

My last night in town I was graced by the company of a young couple who just finished touring the gaspesie via bicycle. A trip of 1,600km along an extremely scenic highway that circumnavigates the peninsula. A classic Quebec vacation I have been told, that when you visit this is what you do. Most by car but you may remember I’ve now met close to 10 folks who were walking that highway. Seems like a lot of pavement…. then again when I say walking they more than likely hitch rides frequently. Anyhow, this french Canadian bike touring couple and I met in the local B&B (the BEST meal in town,) and they invited me over for drinks! I had greeted the young fellow with bonjour and later he told me he had actually thought i was french! I guess i was getting better. Another couple was there as well, and after not long rain began to pour. Spirits not dampened, and alcohol flowing, they sung french pub songs to me for hours. Through the rain and thunder their voices towered over. The campground was silent, and then there we were. I’m sure the entire town was listening.

An early start the next morning, happy to be on the move again, even if it’s not going to be very far! Still travel slow, burdened by the end of my injury. Crossing the border of the two provinces was awesome still. Over 400 miles in Quebec and now it was on to new things. The sign was in both in french and english, as I am now entering a new world where I can hopefully speak freely again. Met some folks I surely won’t forget in the north, and saw places so far removed, places most will never see. And really, I hiked with some seals man. Thru hiking a long trail and walking along side seals. Not to mention the snow, the rocky mountain tops above treeline, everything. Quebec was good. Looking back it’s without a doubt the gem of the International Appalachian Trail, and will be remembered as one of the best parts of this hike I’m sure.

Crossing the Restigouche river at the border, a little taste of what’s to come. No more trail signage, and really no sign of trail. So the highway I walked. 7 miles into the town of Tide Head, and I’m greeted by a friendly old man sweeping dust from his driveway. We get to talking and he clues me in to a multi use trail just down the road that’ll take me a very long way to the next town. Sounds like what I’m lookin’ for! A side note, dude is in his 70s and still manages to ride his bicycle 2,000k a year. Even more impressive considering how far north I am, and how little time you really have that isn’t blistering cold for activities such as this. So cold that this giant river I’ve been walking along completely freezes over and locals go out and do donuts around the ice on their snow mobiles in the winter.

About to leave town and head down that lonesome track once again i soak my feet one last time. Although this time is different. Lifting them out and moving again i feel way better. Like all my rest and healing finally caught up. I truly believe soaking or icing is the secret to injuries of similar nature. Still with aches in my ankle but no longer full of pain. To add to my joy the trail I’ve now started on directly follows a pretty river with many campsites abound. I dream of stopping and making a fire, but for those that know me, i truly hate stopping before sunset at least. This pleasent land unfortunatly didn’t last, although nearing pain free walking again my path which was exceptional is now an old railroad bed, and has no where to set up my tarp. A soggy bog to both sides of me, and directly off the trail where my guide tells me to camp is nothing but gravel. Because you know, old railroad. So sleeping on gravel it is, unable to pitch my shelter in the rocks I cowboy camp, and pray it doesn’t rain. Wishing I just stopped at the river earlier instead of walking into the night, but that’s my game. Stopping before darkness feels wrong.

I woke up to rain. Naturally. And made my way down the path less followed. Again the river pops up and i follow it for the entire day, over bridge after bridge, past swimming hole after swimming hole. What a ride this would have been back when this was a rail road. A path cut through the mountains, often it’s just me inbetween giant walls of rock peaking out to walk along the waters further. All day is like this and my pain is now almost completely gone. I truly attribute it to the daily soaking. My roll starting to pick up again after going so slow for so long. The forward motion and the feeling of progress is extremely enjoyable. Today I actually get in some good miles. Back into the land of twenties with higher numbers on the horizon.

After being alongside a flowing stream for so long to my surprise it ends abruptly. The guide for New Brunswick is nothing like what’s available for northern Maine, or what I was using in Quebec. Just a sheet of paper that gives next to no info, and an extremely crude map I printed so I had a better idea of where towns were. Despite this I’ve fallen into the routine of carrying next to no water for any given stretch. Easier on my body considering how heavy water is. Although now not having any to drink for miles and miles it’s not so easy anymore. My best options become beaver ponds with the very occasional river flowing outwards from a beaver pond. Stagnant with taste of giant rodents. I purify it but question all the times in the past I havent. In Quebec I only filtered my water twice the entire time I was there. That was fresh, clean, beautiful, and tasted wonderfully consistently. Then again it takes about two weeks for a stomach bug to kick in so who’s to say I just haven’t felt it yet?

Rolling into the town of Saint – Quentin my plans are to grab food for the next 6 days at the grocery and roll out to camp. Already having traveled 18 miles to get here I notice something different. My once quiet trail is now full of ATVs passing me. Too many to count. Easily 30 or more pass, I wave, and smile. No one stops, but I doubt they see walkers often, if ever. Getting into the outskirts of town a man is riding the streets on his dirt bike doing wheelies, and the power lines are embellished with little colorful flags. I don’t know where the store is, and being this is the biggest little city I’ve been to in a long while I make a quick phone call to my mom for some extra directions. The grocery stores parking lot looks empty, maybe everyone’s too busy riding around on their all terrain vehicles. Nope. It’s closed. At 4 o’clock? Nope its 5, New Brunswick is on some new time zone and I’m behind on figuring this out. Way behind, almost halfway through the entire province. But 5 seems a little early for a large store? It is. However… today is New Brunswick day. They closed 10 minutes ago. 6 days of food from a gas station it is. Happily they happen to fig bars and other things I like. Leaving town I follow the NB trail, what I’ve been on this entire time. Its a multi use trails system that goes through the entire province. After an hours walking something irks me, I haven’t once seen a sticker for the IAT, which isn’t so out of the ordinary for NB but still strange, and really gives me the feeling I’m going the opposite direction from where I should be traveling. All hopes dashed of getting some real milage in today, the sun has set, and now I’m an hour outside of town on the wrong trail, confirmed again by the MVP that is my mom. My guide didn’t mention that I would no longer be on the same path. Apparently I was supposed to take to the highway. Whoops. Laying down in the bushes of someone’s property just deep enough in there so at first glance I may not be noticed I curse the night and set up to retrace my steps in the morning. A lame deer plagues my camp to the point i consider just getting up and walking all night. I move a mile away as a compromise. Now in someone else’s bushes.

Maybe judging from my map I could have guessed but this next section was mostly a roadwalk. 80 miles of roadwalk. Funny thing is I go right through Mont Carlton Provincial Park. On the road. Not some back road, but a highway. 80 miles in a little over two days. Sleeping in places I definitely shouldn’t be. However leaving the park to continue my pavement pounding I’m stopped by a game warden. If he was American what he said to me would have sounded more like “What the hell you doin’ out here boy?” But he’s not, he’s French! Thus far more polite. Very nice guy! The days are so hot now that it’s August he offers me his ice tea from lunch and I very happily accept. This drink was pretty crucial, because again I found myself in a spot without water for close to 10 miles. Middle of the day, walking a highway, in direct sunlight. His name is Richard and it was very nice to meet him and speak for a little while. Certainly a highlight of my time in New Brunswick, aside from all the beautiful rivers that are here and there.

At this time I was approaching a man’s home who’s a big supporter of the trail and as it happens is a legendary canoe builder. From picking the tree he’s going to carve to the finished product, everything about his boats are hand made. Miller Canoes if you want to check it out. I was dreaming of stopping at his house, as he is known to let hikers sleep on his lawn, charge my phone, learn about his craft, and get some water. Approaching his home I was bummed to find he wasn’t home. The rest of the day I curse my timing, hoping he would see me walking the road and stop to say hello. No dice. I slept in someone’s yard hidden between two trees, feet propped up on one, head against another. Not the best fit, but again I walked my 30 so I didn’t care. Not many options if you don’t want to pay to camp at an RV park. Which I refuse to do.

Finally the roads are over, word is after the town of Plaster Rock I pick the ATV path up again, and follow the Tobique river all the way to the US-CA border. The town is small and beautiful. Cute in everyway and full of everything a hiker could want. I don’t stay but stop for more groceries and fresh fruit to eat down by the water. A big storm brewing in the direction I’m going. Lightning crashing in the distance, I hustle to gather my things and hit the trail instead. Despite the storms ominous direction of travel, somehow I don’t get hit by a single drop of water. Feet in the river I eat my pineapple, blueberries, and raspberries… sit back and relax. Back on the trail and off the roads tonight, I can make some bonus miles. I walk until 10, again sleeping in someone’s yard. This time though, an old man sees me laying in the bushes the next morning. Damn this other timezone. Waking up at 5 am in my mind was actually 6. The guy said nothing, walked on, and life is good.

Today I will cross back into the US. It’s been a long time coming but finally I’ve made it home. In Canada I was only able to truly wash my clothes outside of a stream once due to no laundromats, rarely could I keep my phone charged as there just were never any electrical outlets to be found, Internet could only be had if I could find wifi, my phone calls back home costed money, and most everyone spoke french! For the vagrant that I am these little things meant something, as we know all i pretty much got is walking and what the weather is doing. Creature comforts become a big deal at times. As does speaking the same language as the locals… The US is gunna be great! No longer will it matter if I smell, this is America, we all smell! Walmart here I come, you have the cheap foods I want, the electricity I need, and the demegraphic of people I fit in with. Canada has been awesome, but I haven’t been on a real single track trail since Quebec and it’s time I get off the old railroad beds. The last 4 days have been 30s, I’m no longer in pain, and I’m ready to hit some mountains again. I’m ready to show this body crafted on the IAT, to the hikers of the AT.

Crossing the border was interesting, and I was somewhat unclear of how that would go, other than follow my guide step by step, leading me nowhere, and calling my mom again for real direction. You may have thought it would be some obscure trail I’d have to be escorted across into the new land but no, I did it the same way the cars do. In fact I got off trail and stood in line with all those cars. I waited for the light to turn green, and I walked up to customs with passport in hand. “Ya’ll dont get folks on foot often now do ya?” They dont. A few questions to determine what I was doing, and I was on my way. Surprisingly no drug dogs, no pat downs, no making me unpack all my things. Here I am, a guy with a backpack walking across the border. I guess Canada was just as ready to get rid of me as I was to leave. 25 miles into my day I had been so excited for this moment it was still early. I called border patrol to let them know until 8pm I would be walking the line. They understood what I was doing and wished me luck with the mosquitoes. Little do they know I’m from florida. Mosquitoes know better than to fuck with me.

Between Canada and the US there’s a 20 yard swath of land where they’ve cut down all the trees and erected little stone monuments every kilometer. As we know, the US celebrates itself quite well. Even in this remote and untraveled area. It was truly an experience to have the opprotunity to walk that line between nations. Rolling hills and beautiful views of farm land. Canadians on my left wondering what the hell I’m doing, Americans on my right… also wondering what the hell I’m doing. Streams I forded that crossed the imaginary line between the countries, and some swamp land as well. For the most part easy walkin’. Even after already going so far earlier in the day I was fresh. 40 miles in total I walked, and now back on home soil. I think it was the happyness that propelled me so far. Dained but smiling, physically feeling on the top of my game.

In Quebec, frogs and toads were everywhere. At a time I counted them every day but I would always lose track. I hear that’s a sign of a healthy environment. In New Brunswick it was slugs. Every morning slugs would congregate and pray to this new deity that had been resting on their land. They would slime up all my gear and generally were annoying enough to actually drive me insane while plucking them off my things each morning. Now in maine, both were gone. It’s now mice, squirrels, and chipmunks. Or generally just small varmints scurrying around making noise in my direction as i approach. I liked the frogs of Quebec best. They don’t try to steal my food like the mice do.

Now in Maine I’m greeted by towns almost daily, and being I’m walking more than a marathon during daylight hours sometimes multiple restaurants between waking up and falling asleep. Aiming for 30s I try not to stop at everyone of them, but looking back I missed one or two that really might have been worthwhile.

Everyone has been super cool in Maine. I don’t think most know what I’m doing, but a few figured out I’m not exactly homeless. Only mostly homeless. Walking an ATV path along rivers again a couple passes, I smile and wave. The same couple later passes again, slows down, and stops. I suppose I don’t look dangerous because before i know it theyve invited me over for snacks and drinks at their home! Which just so happens to be a mere 200 yards off the path I’m following. From their house I get the greatest gift of all aside from their hospitality. My first view ever of where I’m going. Mt Katahdin. Days away and there it is. The end of the International Appalachian Trail, and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Magnificent, and lit like a candle she sat on the horizon. Almost far enough to be out of sight. This older couple was so very kind, and the gentleman even told me stories back from the 80s of climbing those mountains. Likely way beyond the difficulty of today. Trail? More like taking a baring off of rocks and seeing how it goes. Things are so well traveled and documented these days all you have to do is commit sometimes. Takes the risk out of it in ways.

After that couples home I went to the nearest lean-to to sleep in. My first of Maine, and my first in a while as there were none in New Brunswick. To my surprise, anger, and bewilderment it was beyond trashed. The firepit was overflowing with garbage, plastic all over the geound, cans around the corners and backside, and the every wall vandalized with names of those I imagine were too lazy to pack out their own garbage. I could go on for days about how much this bothers me but I’ll only say a little. These are our public spaces, our wilderness, and trails to explore. If we don’t use them, they will be taken away. If we decide to trash them, they deserve to be taken away. Please for the love of the outdoors. Don’t leave your trash, leave nothing. Pretend as though you were never even there. I fell asleep hoping the animals local weren’t so accustomed to the food strewn across the ground that I would get a visitor in the night.

After this section I was once again greeted by roads. About another 80 miles of them. Making swift work, as I do, but still less pleasent than walking through the forest. Graffiti under a bridge mostly what you imagine is going through a 13 year old child’s head, this time actually said something of interest. “What will you be remembered for?” A thought that echoed.

After miles, actually days, of pavement I pass a few small vacation camps and enter the woods again. Away from cell service now, phone dying, and dangerously close to Baxter State Park. In the last town I picked up new shoes as my others had developed a massive hole so I’m ready. Ready to finish the IAT, and start the next leg of this journey. The Appalachian Trail. Where hikers flow more freely than the rivers, and I will no longer have to walk roads again for the next 2,200 miles. At least. The trail is now on a cross country ski track and it’s pretty sweet. Rivers to cross, and soft ground to plod along. I come across a sign advertising a shelter just off trail, decide to stop by and at least sign the trail register for other future IAT hikers to see. I was once here. No one saw me, but I was here.

Surprisingly this was not your typical hiker lean to. It’s already kind enough of the locals, or the trail organizations to build these homes away from the rain for us, but this was not normal. This was truly a cabin. On a lake. A door, windows, bunks, food coffee and tea inside. Magazines, and more amenities than I as someone who hasn’t showed in a week deserves. Sadly though, I’ve only walked 5 miles today, from my bed in the leaves. Guess I should have gone the extra distance yesterday. Isn’t that always the case. I move on.

A sign directing me off trail for hot meals only 1/4th mile away catches my attention. Across a beautiful bridge and onto a property along the river with beautiful wooden cabins littering the grounds. A man looks at me, as I yell a greeting with a smile. Sure enough he is the manager here! Apparently, although this is what I consider prime season to be in maine, when it’s not under snow, this is his off season. The place is empty and he is just here taking care of things. Apparently in the last 4 years I’m only the 5th hiker to ever come off that trail to visit. My friend Sycamore being the one prior to me!! Sometimes I feel like I’m walking in his foot steps……. This time, last year. The guy is mega friendly, and unlocks the dining room so I can come in, talk, and relax. The place is furnished to the max, and simply beautiful. It’s really a wonder why no one would be here. Trails behind the place, a river just feet away… seems like the perfect summer spot. He says people prefer lakes? And naturally so far away no cell service is a small downside. However those other places I’ve passed have no where near the class of this location. He sends me off with some peanut butter crackers, and as many sodas as I could carry. 4 was the magic number. Definitely happy I stopped by, even if they aren’t exactly doing anything special in the off season. During winter however the place is supposedly bumping! Currently he’s baiting bear with… trail mix (no wonder bears like hikers!) And dunkin donuts. Who knew that’s what the bears crave. In the winter thousands upon thousands of miles worth of snow mobile trails bring people from all over looking to spend big bucks. Broke hikers aren’t exactly a concern, however he was extremely nice to me, and from the sounds of it he’s been very good to every one else who’s stumbled across that bridge!

Wasting far to much time at the cabin, and the snowmobile camp, looking at the prospect of night hiking a few extra miles to meet my mark. I’ve been walking 30 miles or more ever day since Saint – Quentin, about a weeks worth of that if not more, not exactly feeling like breaking that chain. Tomorrow however is a very big day, and likely extra important i walk the bonus. Tomorrow I officially finish the International extention to the Appalachian Trail, and continue my way south along the mountain chain, and begin a new trail! Climbing my last mountain of this area, Deasy, there’s a side trail to a fire tower I pass in my haste as the sun sets, and lower down the way a creepy decrepit home crushed by time, that once was the fire wardens shelter. Making good time, almost at a slow jog, unfortunately a large river to be forded in the valley slows me down, and forces me to call it early. Meaning I’ll be losing sleep to begin my long walk to the top the next day. The hardest climb of this entire 4,800 mile route across the country. Mt Katahdin, at 5,200 feet or something it’s size is deceptive. It’s truly a rediculous climb. Boulders that dwarf men, and hours upon hours of arduous upwards (hardly forwards) motion.

4am. It’s time. 15.7 miles away I get up and go. Mouse ate my snack that I accidentally left out but it’s ok. Maybe he was hungry. 5 miles in I’m pressing forward with everything in hopes I can pull off a not so typical 30. Why? Because I have no reservation to stay in Baxter, I have no permit, I’m coming in on some unknown and very random trail, and plan to pass through the entire park in one fell swoop. My last IAT trail marker is a wooden sign, and it brings a massive smile to my face. This is the official end to the International Appalachian Trail. I did it. Quebec, a sprained ankle, New Brunswick, and northern Maine. What a ride it’s been thus far. Still yet, just the beginning. I’m only getting started. This may be the official end to the trail, but you’d be a fool to stand 10 miles from this magnificent mountaim, and not climb it, so I think everyone besides the state park agrees the top of that is truly the end. Entering the park on a trail that’s massively over grown, short shorts doing me no justice, legs getting torn up. Powering on I see a moose! My first moose in QC scared the hell outa me. She was with a child and wasn’t budging. This is now the 7th, and I barely slow down. The moose sees the steam rising from my feet, the fire in my eyes, and it runs away from me as though I’m holding a rifle. Today there are no breaks. Today is a big day. I connect the Katahdin Lake Trail, to some parking lot, walk a short road to another parking lot, and begin my real ascent up the Helon Taylor Trail… which leads to the Knife Edge of the mountain. The rain has already started to fall, and I see my first hiker, he just finished the Appalachian Trail, what I’m about to begin. I ask how it is up there. A blank stare. “Windy.” I have no back up. It’s up and over.

A family I pass slowly making their way up, in another two hours I’ll see why they’re not going to make it to the top. Rock climbing, boulder scrambling, and crazy weather is no hike for a child and two parents. Me? Up and over. After hours of climbing I’m now in the clouds, the wind is blowing strong, and I’ve reached the knife edge. Aptly named due to the sharpness of the ridge that you scramble across. I sit down at the top, question what I’m doing for a few minutes. The clouds clear for a mere second and I see someone else on one of the multiple ridges ahead, quickly again shrouded by nothingness. Looks safe enough. I slide down a clif into a little pocket of rocks, carefully, and slowly making my way to the base of the first miniature peak. Climbing up the next, and the next. The knife edge is just a mile but what an experience. Wind doing you no favors, visibility at an all time low, and hand over hand physical action. You’re litterally on the edge, looking down 5,000 feet. Walking, crawling, edging, and sliding across rocks jutting in all angles. This is the coolest thing I’ve done since I was in Gaspesie National Park in Quebec. Truly reminding me a lot like those trails. It’s maddening in the best way. The scrambling, and rock hopping truly awesome. If only more of the trail was like this. I pass a girl, who maybe I should have asked if she’d like to hike the last bit with me. She was almost there but in the clouds it’s near impossible to tell beyond pure feel. This wasn’t quite the place to pass someone, but I wasn’t exactly planning on stopping for a breather. Reaching the end, I never did see her up there. I think she must have turned around. That was cool. That was the most fun I’ve had this entire trip. One mile of pure adrenaline. The top of a mountain, walking some ridge way beyond trees. Just you, careful footing, and rocks. Pick your own poison, how best do you wish to get across these rocks. That’s what I loved. Not so much a trail, but more a route of your own choosing. What looks safest to you? What’s most doable. I hear the white mountains in New Hampshire are pretty cool. I can only hope they’re half as cool as that.

Reaching Baxter Peak I could hear people well beyond the point in which I could see them. And there it was. That wooden sign so many know so well. The northern terminus to the Appalachian Trail. What folks walk 2,200 miles to get to. Me? 755 miles on trail, but 800 in the books since I started due to my added road walking into and out of towns. If you remember, this trip is about a lot of things. One thing being human powered travel. No hitch hiking. A constant stream of footsteps from Quebec to Key West. This sign is surrounded by people, some on day hikes to the top, some who just finished the long walk from Georgia, and me. Some strange guy with a Canadian flag who came outa nowhere. Wide eyes, and bothered by the crowed. I just want a quick photo. I still have 15 miles to go today, and it took 4 hours just to get up here. It’ll take another 4 to get down the other side. “Hey kid, my battery is dead, and you got one shot. This better be good.”

Down I go. Briefly cell service enough to call my mom, let her know I’m good to go, and then my phone dies. The next 115 miles I have not a single photo. You’ll just have to trust me but the lava fields and dragons flying above truly made for an interesting few days.

31 miles and Mt Katahdin in one day. Finishing after dark camping just outside of park boundaries. I planned just 3 days for Maines 100 mile wilderness. In total between the next town I would be in, Monson, and my last town, Patten, it’s about 185 miles of food I had to carry. Or in my delusional mind 6 days. Well I’m in monson now, and it took 7. In the 100m wilderness I was greeted by rain for 3 days, and although in my opinion, besides the infinite number of rocks, roots, and general trickery I thought it was pretty darn easy. My last day I met a guy who just hiked the trail from Georgia to here, and he was just starting what I just finished. Destination Katahdin. He made some remark congratulating me on completing this section, and I mentioned back. I thought it was really easy. The look on his face said, I’m going to come over there and hit you. Although what he actually said was, “There hasn’t been a single part of this trail that I thought was easy.”

So now on to the fun stuff. Southern Maine, and New Hampshire should be the hardest parts of the AT. Excited to begin, excited to slow down. Although this is more of a… I think I have to slow down, rather than… I’m just chillaxin. I don’t think I’ll be doing much of that. Likely really difficult days ahead.

I went from not seeing a single hiker in 400 miles, to passing close to 50 a day. It’s really strange, and actually slows me down considerably. Although it’s nice, they’re all up to date on the weather ahead, water sources coming up, and general trail info otherwise I would be surprised by. Sometimes surprised in a good way… sometimes bad. Still, the amount of hikers out here is amazing.

The International Appalachian Trail is now thru, and I’m onto new things in this long and lonesome walk. One thing I must mention. The AT has been around for maybe 80… 100 years. The International AT, has only been aground for 20 at most. They need our help, as a trail community. As hikers, as locals. Our support really goes a long way. A membership to the International Appalachian Trail is fairly cheap, I’d say 15 dollars and it would mean a lot to me, and to the trail organization I’m sure, if more folks signed up. The trail has SO much potential, and SO much beautiful land it passes through. But they need help. The trail is still new. If you’re local to northern Maine, New Brunswick, or Quebec, I really encourage you to reach out to them.

In other news, I’m still moving fast, I’m moving strong, and I’m going to keep on trucking. It blows my mind that I’ll be in New Hampshire soon, and shortly I’ll be reaching 1,000 miles into this trip. It’s been wonderful.

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

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

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

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The OTLHT, map courtesy of the Loxahatchee Chapter.

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

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

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

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

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

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An FTA led overnight backpacking trip in JDSP.

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

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

Difficulty

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

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

Things to consider

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

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

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

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

Wild Animals

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

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

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

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

Regardless, please be safe 🙂

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

Camping

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

Your options for camping are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parking

… and logistics?

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

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

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

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

Water

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

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

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

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

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

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Water? Not a problem!

Pets

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

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

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

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

Food & Resupply

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

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

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

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

Navigation

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

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

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

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

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The “Florida Trail” phone application.

Cell Service

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

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

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

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

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Some rare neon pink dragonfly.

Places of Attraction

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking Season

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

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

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

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

Gear

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

 

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

Speed Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Runners at the start of a very brutal 100k.

Last of All…

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

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

Useful Links

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

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A misty morning in Johnathan Dickinson.

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Normally flooded, a cypress dome in Corbett.

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Eric going for a swim in the Loxahatchee River.

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The one, the only…

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

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

Jupiter

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A happy man finishing his trek at the beach.

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