Florida Trail Hike 2016 Journal
I've compiled my daily blog posts, notes, and additional pictures here to share a bit of the trek with you.
I'd love questions about my trip, or when planning your own adventure. Weather, time of year, health, animals, and many other factors contribute to each hike being unique, even on the same trail. Enjoy your own hike!
From my past hikes, I've found that I much prefer to hike with someone than by myself. I enjoy being out along for a week or two, but much more than that is not for me. So, my son, Josh, is joining me for the first 2 weeks of this adventure until he must return to finish college.
The hope is that we will have encounter some other hiker(s) that I can continue on with, or go on my own until I've seen enough.
We found inexpensive air fair on Spirit from MSP to Ft. Lauderdale where we'll rent a car one way to Key West. The rental is cheaper than any shuttle and takes less time. The only bad part is our flight leaves at 1:15am and arrives at 5:30am. We'll be hiking our first day on pretty much no sleep. :-( My wife took us to the airport at 11pm and we're ready to go. Phones charged. Trail contacts stored. Important documents printed. Backpacks wrapped up for the plane ride.
Here are some key items that might be helpful to others considering this hike.
- $26 - I ordered and received my Florida Trail Guide. It contains non-navigation section maps that just give an idea where things are generally located along the trail. The pages that list water sources and camping spots are the real reason I purchased this book. Knowing how far to the next water helps me carry enough, but not too much. I've used the camping information to make my own 2-sheet list of camp spots and mileages that I will carry. That also is a starting point for my hiking schedule, but it is out-of-date even before I start hiking. (I didn't look at the book at all on the trail. Great for planning, but I wouldn't take it along.)
- $35 - I purchased the Florida Trail app for my phone. It lists a lot of the important information in the guide, but weighs nothing. (I used the app multiple times each day. It was definitely worth the price!)
- $45 - I submitted my Florida Trail Association membership request and received their member packet. You have to be a member to hike through the trail and cross some private areas. Remember to take your FTA membership card with you on the trail, but no one asked to see it.
- I submitted liability waivers to the Seminole Indians so we can walk across their land. I took pictures of the originals so I have a copy with us while on the trail. (No one asked to see anything)
- Food will be purchased in Florida as needed. The first week will be walking through population so we'll carry little and spend more to eat along the way. On our way out of Miami, we'll supply ourselves for 5 days at a Publix or Walmart fairly close to our route.
Researching the trail, both online and in the guide, I've run into some peculiarities of the Florida Trail. It is probably the most bureaucratic trail in the country.
Besides the FTA membership and Seminole waiver I mentioned, a hiker also has to do the following:
- Get a permit and pay to hike the FT across Elgin AFB. But, I can't do that now - I must wait until 30 days before I expect to arrive there.
- Get permits to use campsites in some state areas. They cost no money, but are required to camp. (I didn't get reservations because I had no internet and no one asked.)
- Get super secret instruction and permission to cross canals at a couple of locks. Not now, I must wait until I'm just about there.
- Pay fees to camp in some state parks and forests.
- Acquire other permits, pay fees, get permission, ... for two pages of requirements that the FTA sends to its new members. And, at the bottom of the list, it states "list may not include every permit and fee".
- Oh, hikers also must have blaze orange clothing. The trail crosses some hunting areas where it is mandatory to wear blaze orange, not an entire outfit, but a large swatch - just in case your hiking pace resembles a deer or alligator.
Well, if you couldn't tell, the red tape strikes me as a bit much for this trail. But, the FTA is working to make it simpler and, in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal. Just don't expect to wake up one morning and set off to hike the whole trail like some folks do on the AT.
Our overnight plane ride got us to Ft. Lauderdale with no trouble and no sleep.
Leaving the terminal in search of the rental car area, we found a long, very long, very very long, line of people waiting for a shuttle bus "To Rental Cars". Eventually, a bus arrived and picked up the first few in line which barely made a dent. At this rate, we would be here for hours and Josh found on his phone that the rental cars were just 1/2 mile away. We decided to walk there. Unknown to us, the only way into the building was from an elevated road above us but we found this out after walking completely around the building and parking structure chock full of cars just waiting for us.
Fortunately, we saw an employee on a smoke break and asked how to get in. He opened a side door and told us to go up some back stairs. Once we navigated our way through barricades and parked rental cars, we found the Avis counter and got our car with no trouble.
Driving down the Keys was an interesting experience. I couldn't help but try to spy out potential camping spots - a very rare item with water and shrubs much more prevalent than firm land.
We swapped our car for a crazy pink taxi at the Key West airport and enjoyed a short, expensive ride to the 'southernmost' point of the USA. It's pretty amazing how many 'southernmost' places there are, from inns to furniture stores.
A long line of tourists waiting to take their pictures in front of the cement buoy meant we'd be here quite awhile. Instead, we took a selfie in front of the crowd and hiked away.
Our hike finally began at the same time as the warm rain. We hiked from key to key until the sun dropped, and then kept going. Our legs were totally exhausted and sore, and I got two bonus blisters. Summerland Key was our destination for the night. I found a host on CouchSurfing.com who has welcomed us into his home. This is my first couch surfing experience and I'd recommend checking it out if you ever need free lodging on an adventure.
We've been up since yesterday morning and we hiked about 26 miles on our first day, so it's time to sign off and hope this night heals the pains for tomorrow's adventure.
After a wonderful night of rest, we began our day of walking with a light rain and high hopes for long miles. The rain stopped quickly and was replaced by a strong, steady wind and light overcast all day - perfect weather for walking! But, our miles were cut back due to the pounding our feet and legs are getting from the pavement and concrete.
It was a great day with amazing views, splitting the Atlantic and Gulf from bridges over channels. Our biggest challenge of the day was crossing the famous Seven Mile Bridge - walking along the skinny shoulder with over 1000 cars pet hour flying past for 2.5 hours. It's not really a relaxing walk.
Besides the views, my highlight of today was a sandwich at 5 Brothers 2 where we got to listen to a bunch of elderly Cuban friends chat with the owner. Couldn't understand a word, but enjoyed the experience.
This Overseas Trail will eventually be completed by moving the walking/biking path off the shoulder of the road onto the old bridges. Right now, it is a work in progress with many of the old bridges not safe for travel. Some of them go out across the ocean for miles and then have a section removed, so using them instead of the road is not an option.
Right after crossing the 7-Mile bridge, I saw these markers for people that have died on the road. I don't know if they were walking or driving, but it's obviously a dangerous area.
we stopped at King's Key campground just north of the 7-Mile bridge where they charged us $60 for a flat spot to pitch a tent. Ouch! The biggest overall challenge with this trail is figuring spots to spend the night without breaking the bank. Since it is all populated, stealth camping doesn't seem to be very hopeful.
The state parks are the cheapest option, but every one of them show that they are full until April on their online reservation system. In an effort to cut back on lodging expenses, I contacted scout troops, churches, and finally CouchSurfing.com before we started. It was some work, but was worth the effort. It just didn't pay off for this night.
We hiked about 23 miles today, most of it with cars whizzing past just a couple feet away.
After a night of less than restful rest at a loud campground, our hike through Marathon was interesting. Just like all the "Southernmost" places we saw in Key West, Marathon has some "Seven Mile" places - marina, gril, ...
If we had just been on a slower vacation, there are a few places I'd have checked out, such as the Turtle Hospital and Dolphin Research Center. But, our job is to walk, so we walked.
we had a great morning of windy, cool walking. The first few miles getting through Maration took forever since we stopped for groceries and replacement water bottles for me. I had left mine on the picnic table last night and some helpful person collected them and tossed them out as garbage.
The path was off the road all morning and had benches every mile or so. For a few miles, we were actually away from the road in trees and that was pretty nice. We saw many bike riders but no other hikers.The afternoon was a different hike with 6 miles of bridges with no cover from the weather. Mist turned to drizzle then to real rain, all driven by a robust headwind. It wasn't much fun on a long bridge crossing when even all the fishermen were packing up and leaving. At least we were not on the road shoulder most of the time.
We had no spot for tonight since we changed our plan to reach Islamorada. All the state parks are full but we planned to check at Long Key state park. The park ranger got us a "primitive" tent spot for just $14. As you can see, this is a VERY cool site. We are on a covered platform only 10 feet from the Atlantic ocean! No tents needed, and the breeze kept any bugs away all night. The breeze did nothing for the crazy raccoon that visited us, though. It is so habituated to people meaning free food, that it ran right up to our gear while we were sitting right by it and grabbed plastic bags and scurried off. He took my guidebook, but I got it back with teethmarks. We put everything away and hung our food.
We covered about 20 miles today.
I could tell you all about the horrendous rain and wind we had all morning across ocean bridges, but I won't. Instead, you can see Josh gazing back longingly towards Robbie's where we had just enjoyed great fish tacos for lunch. Even better than the food was our great chat with our waiter who was quick to share his life stories and plans with us, as well as ask about our trip. Just a great guy.
Last night at the state park, a young guy that teaches yoga walked by our site and we talked a bit. He had biked through here last year. When I mentioned we hadn't eaten yet, he insisted we finish his leftover pizza.
Tonight, we were allowed to camp at the Island Christian School in Islamorada beside some RVs participating in the Sowers Ministry. Our host drove us to an awesome restaurant so we didn't have to walk the mile. Our waitress, Lindsey, was so friendly and full of live that we couldn't help but have a wonderful time. The meatballs and pizza helped! After our meal, Lindsey had a cab take us back where we're camping.
We've met some wonderful folks here in Florida, these are just a few of them to mention. Our bright orange hats have made us a bit recognizable and known along the Keys. We've had 3 people say that they saw us down the road a day ago and ask about our hike. A handful of others have honked or mentioned our hats as they biked our walked past.
Having never visited the BSA Sea Base before when my sons were in Scouts, I was hoping we might stay the night on their property. Since they have crews on site participating in their programs, they would not let us stop. But, the trail follows the sidewalk right in front of their sign so I took a pic.
We hike about 17 miles through wind and rain and sun.
Getting an early start on a day with no clouds meant a nice view of the sun coming up over the Atlantic. Sure, we were walking on the shoulder of the road at the time, but I managed to keep cars out of the pic.
After this brief sun, misty fog covered us for a couple hours, finally burning off into our hottest afternoon so far.
We've cut back our miles due to shin and ankle pains, with the hope they will get a little more rest. Today, we hiked 18 miles to the Key Largo Kampground (which is mostly RVs, but has expensive flat spots for tents). We had time to contemplate our hike goals, physical wellness, and time left. After today, our plan has changed significantly and we'll have only a few more miles of road before hitting the swamp. Here's the deal...
At our slower pace, we would never make it to, and out of, the Big Cypress swamp in time for Josh to get back to school. We really wanted a continuous line from Key West to Lake Okeechobee, but that is no longer practical. We've decided that hiking the swamp is more important than doing the 80+ miles of roads through the Miami area.
We had to figure out how to get from Key Largo to the Florida Trail start. After some research, and help from some nice hikers on Facebook, we should be able to join the Florida Trail KickOff gang tomorrow. The plan is to buy 5 days of food first thing. Then, walking 3.5 miles to a bus stop, catching bus 301, then bus 38, then bus 137 which gets us to highway 41. Then, Miss Janet, a well known AT Trail angel will give us a lift to the trailhead. It will take most of the day, but it should work.
We hiked about 18 miles to finish our Florida Keys trek.
We were up before daybreak, packed, and on our way to the grocery store. Bought all the food we hope we need for the next 5 days at Publix. We saw some wild Florida cats - not panthers or bobcats, but feral house cats that some guy was setting food and water out for.
We found a bus stop, rode three different buses, and then caught a ride with Miss Janet to the campground - where we were warmly welcomed by the most voracious mosquitos I've seen. Mosquitos don't die off in winter - they migrate to the Everglades!
Our bug suits work pretty well, but it's going to be a challenge. Most folks here are soaked in deet and the smell is obvious.
After our ride with Miss Janet, Sledge, and Red Beardfield, we met other hikers and supporters here at the kickoff. The couple that wrote the Florida Trail Guide, a few that have hiked the whole trail, and some that we'll start hiking with tomorrow.
Tomorrow will be our first day off into the wild with no potable water, toilets, or cars. A big change from our trek so far along busy roads and this day of just riding around! Early into our tents and waiting to start the real hike.
Our first day in the swamp was awesome!
It started with a great breakfast by the kickoff folks and then a ride to the Big Cypress Oasis Center. We filled out required paperwork, filled water, took pictures, and finally started hiking a bit before 10am.
Everyone gets their picture taken at the southern terminus marker of the Florida Trail. Josh and I were so lucky to have the founder of the Florida Trail, Jim Kern, pose with us before we headed out into the swamp.
Last night, we met another hiker named Bennett doing his first long hike. Bennett joined us at the start and will hopefully continue with us.
We saw one lone deer way out here, and then ran into a hunter with 3 guns less than a mile later. Run, Bambi, run! Other than that, tiny fish swimming right in the trail and a couple frogs were the wildlife for today.
We arrived at camp very early but are taking it easy at the beginning. There are either sharp Palmetto plants or a few inches of water everywhere except on this slightly elevated camping spot, so we packed our shelters close together in case other hikers were to show up. As it turned out, Joey, who has hiked the PCT and CDT, stopped for a break then continued on; then two other hikers, Handlebar and Carjacker, arrived later and made camp.
Walking through water up to our knees occasionally, but more often our ankles, was a lot of fun. It certainly slowed us down, but the deeper water was cool and refreshing on this hot day. The trees and shrubs are amazing. Josh said it was like Jurassic Park and I have to agree.
The campsite is fine and we collected water to drink just fine. Water tends to be deeper, cooler, and clear in "cypress domes". They are stands of larger cypress trees like in this picture of the nice sunset we were treated to.
Another bonus is that there are very few mosquitos here. I heard it is because there are so few mammals out here in the swamp - whatever reason, it's good.
Really looking forward to tomorrow.
We hiked about 10 miles today, much of it through cool, clear water.
We walked through water nearly the entire 16 miles today and you can see our Spot track showing us moving very slowly. It took almost 10 hours to travel this far!
I'd like to describe what it's like hiking in the swamp. Imagine you are walking through about 2 feet of fresh snow without snowshoes. Imagine you have 2lb ankle weights for exercising strapped on. Imagine some kid left blocks and buckets laying all over the floor. Imagine you are blindfolded. Combine all that and it comes close to walking through the swamp! You can't see the holes, roots, and rocks under the water. Silt fills your shoes and socks. The water up to calf or knee just wears down the muscles. But, I'm so glad I got to do this. It's just a spectacular area.
The water is not green, slimey stuff like you might expect in a swamp. The whole everglades is like a big filter with water slowly flowing through, so the water is clear and cool. It's actually our water source for a couple days, too. We just scoop up the water, filter it, and drink it.
Here is the entrance to our home for the night - right from knee-deep water to thick jungle.
Tonight, there are five of us on the only small dry land around. Bennett hiked with us all day and we leapfrogged Joey a couple times. Us 3, Joey, and another guy are here, crammed into a small area hacked out of the jungle. We're totally wiped out and could barely put in the effort to eat.
Last night, we had owls hooting at each other between the cypress stands. Tonight, in our cramped, jungle campsite there are fireflies and hundreds of chirping insects. There are air plants all over.
Sunshine and a steady breeze were our companions this entire day. A wonderful day to walk out of Big Cypress and into the Seminole Indian reservation. Here, Josh is signing the trail registry at the I-75 rest area. Trail registries are fun to read and see who is on the trail ahead of you. Over days, you can sometimes tell if you are catching up to them or falling farther behind.
Our 4 miles out of the swamp was much like the last two days but gradually easier as the water changed to mud and then dry land. A chain link fence separates the wilds from the freeway traffic - presumably to help keep animals from becoming roadkill.
Once through the fence, wonderful trail angels from the local Florida Trail chapter provided us with snacks and water and a very long rest break in the sunny breeze. All my gear had a chance to dry out which made my pack a bit lighter. Then, we were off and hiking again.
I-75 is also known as Alligator Ally and we saw our first alligator soon after we left the freeway area hiking north along a dirt road. He was just basking in the low winter sun, trying to keep his cold blood as warm as possible.
Not long after the alligator (well, it may have been a few hours, I don't know) we came upon this snake, also just trying to keep warm and not interested in us at all. Now, if I can see a panther, that will be all three animals I was hoping for.
We entered the Seminole reservation with our mandatory permits and absolutely no one around to see that we had them. I stopped to filter water from a canal and, even after filtering, a sip of it tasted like Wisconsin lake water. We chose to be thirsty for a couple more hours of hiking rather than drink any more.
Our home for the night is under a nice, big "Chickee" in the Big Cypress campground, with a chill breeze blowing and no bugs to worry about, and Joey and Bennett camping with us.
The 16 miles of walking after the swamp were easy but wearing on legs and feet already fatigued. It was a wonderful day to walk.
We walked about 20 miles, 4 through water and 16 on dry land.
Having bypassed the long roadwalk through Miami, we're a bit ahead of schedule for Josh's return home. So, we take our time in the morning and Joey hits the trail (road) well before us. (This is the last we see of him, but on 02/04/16 I hear that he's still signing trail registeries in northern Florida.)
Bennett decides to take a zero day here, so Josh and I walk through the rest of the reservation, past miles of cattle country. I'm told Florida is the #9 state in cattle with over 1 million cows and they have their own breed called "Florida Cracker". Anyway, there's lots of cows along the trail and right on the waterways which are supposedly our water source. We stocked up on water and don't expect to drink cow piss water.
After 10 miles of road, we turned onto the extensive levee system dug to drain about 1,000 square miles of land for sugar cane production. Being a few feet above the surrounding terrain is all it takes to see for miles and miles in every direction. There's not much to see except miles and miles of sugar cane fields, but we can see them.
We walked another 7 miles northwest until we found the only turn in the road for over 25 miles. A wide spot at the corner made this a nice, open, breezy, elevated spot to make our home, hopefully far enough from the canal water to keep us safe from alligators. Actually, we saw a few alligators today, but they are not a concern.
This was the first night of our trip where we could just stop walking whenever we wanted and set up camp. No pressure to reach a park, campground, island, or any designated spot. Even though the "trail" is just a dirt road on a levee, the freedom to stop and camp at our descretion is nice.
Since our two buddies have gone on ahead and stayed behind, it's just the two of us now. A great day to be out walking and we saw a few alligators, many birds, a raccoon, and this turtle in the road. We could see him from about a mile away - just a dark lump on an otherwise endless white ribbon of crushed gravel.
Oh, and a few herd of cows.
It has been really chilling off at night, but not cold enough to kill off the mosquitos that still swarm around our shelters at dusk and for about an hour after. They are absent all day and night other than that 90 minutes or so.
We walked 17 miles, all of it on dirt road or paved shoulder.
I watched a documentary about some guys that hiked across a desert. Just sand for days and weeks. This was our view today as we turned the corner at our campsite and walked due north without a turn for 18 miles. I can't imagine how mind numbing the view of sand would be for days - this was bad enough.
We did get to visit with some cows, horses, birds, and dogs as we walked. And, the flat miles changed between some sugar crop, cattle range, and swamp - mostly sugar, though.
Both yesterday and today, there has been field burning on the horizon. Probably about 20 different fires set throughout the day which only last a few minutes each, creating a huge cloud of smoke and then black bits floating from the sky. Maybe we'll be closer enough to see one tomorrow.
They burn the fields just before harvesting to reduce the mass that needs to be transported to the processing plant.
A treat today was a chunk of cane from a field. Sweet juice as we walked along for a couple miles. We just peeled the outer bark off with a knife and chewed the soft, juicy inner flesh.
We met Devilfish near the end of the day and walked with him a bit. He's moving farther tonight as we stopped by the 'Lone Palm' spot which actually has two palms, so maybe we're some where else. Anyway, just a spot along the canal for the night.
According to the Florida Trail guide and app, we hiked about 23 miles today, but Google maps says it was more like 18 miles. I think the mileage on the app is incorrect in quite a few places, so we'll go with 18 miles.
An uneventful walk along levees and roads brought us into Clewiston, the sweetest town in America, due to its huge sugar industry. This will be the end of Josh's hike. He made it from Key West to Lake Okeechobee!
We did play tag with a white tail deer for almost a mile this morning as he was stuck with us between two wide ditches.
Josh's Grandpa met us at the Sunrise restaurant in Clewiston to take us to Marco Island for a zero day while we wait for Josh's plane. We were fortunate to miss bad weather tonight.
Another short day at only 13 miles, but a nice end to Josh's Florida hike.
We're taking today off and then Josh heads back to school while I continue on north. I'm hoping to run into other hikers heading north and hopefully join them for a few miles or days. We'll see.
I purchased about 6 days of food so my pack will start pretty heavy when I hit the trail.
There were thunderstorms and tornadoes today, so it was a good day to be off the trail.
Yesterday and today are spent visiting relatives off the trail in Florida. Lots of food, rest, and showers, and I'm itching to be walking again.
Thunderstorms are forecast for late tonight into tomorrow morning, so I'm just staying in a cheap, run-down hotel in Clewiston tonight. Josh is heading to the airport, so I'm on my own. But, not really.
I got ahold of Bennett and he has made it to Clewiston, too. He and I will hit the trail together in the morning so I'll have someone to chat with for a couple days. We'll part ways when the trail splits since I'm going west and he's going east around the Orlando area.
The weather was bad last night and early this morning with intense rain, high wind, and tornado warnings. It was good to be inside. It all blew through by 10 am.
I met up with my hiking buddy, Bennett, and we did a couple hours along the dam around Lake Okeechobee, covering only about 6 miles, to an open camp space called Liberty Point where we're resting now. The wind remained very strong all day, but it was nice and sunny. The entire lake has a dam levee built around it to help manage the water flow through Florida. It seems a lot of people have tried to control the water systems here, with nature wanting to have things one way and humans wanting another. I know who will eventually win, but there has been little natural space left for the past 50 miles or so - just canals, levees, and water control structures.
Just a half mile farther from our camp spot is a place called Uncle Joe's fish camp. Since we had so much daylight left, we walked there to check it out. Quite a dive! Grumpy old guy running the store.
The reason we did such a short day is that tomorrow has a very long road walk with no place to camp because of this construction on the levee that starts right at Uncle Joe's. We didn't want to get stuck in that and plan to do it all in one shot tomorrow.
This evening, the wind finally stopped, the sun set, and the mosquitos swarmed around my safe but tiny bug shelter. Now that Josh has left the trail, I'm using his better shelter, warmer quilt, and hiking poles.
This beautiful day graced us with a beautiful sunrise since we were up and moving quite early, then many miles of safe walking, much of it along very unsafe roads. The levee around the lake is being worked on so we were diverted. Walking right beside 65+ mph semi-trucks isn't much fun.
Once we got back on the levee, we ran into these three WARRIOR HIKE participants. It was the highlight of the day to chat with them for a few minutes. They are all hanging on hammocks and say it's very comfortable.
The Army Corps of Engineers is constantly trying to figure out how to best repair or improve the landworks they've created around here. This is an example of some pilings they hoped would support the earthen dam. The Florida Trail folks call it the "Hiker Graveyard".
Not much for wildlife today except for incessant turkey vultures riding the air currents and keeping an eye on us with the hope we might become their dinner. No such luck, today at least.
We met a couple nice ladies at Beck's Store in Lakeport. They let us get water and use the restroom, and chatted about the area. It's a useful place to resupply, unlike some of the places listed in the guidebook, such as the Big Cypress Landing which was $$$$$ and worthless.
Other than that, it looks like we might finally be out of the sugar cane fields. We caught a tiny glimpse of what looked like water in Lake Okeechobee rather than the miles of marsh that surrounds it. Saw, and heard, an airboat. And met my first lock tender - a guy that opens the lock for boats to pass.
Tonight's home was pleasant and dry. The only concern was from tiny burrs called Sand Spurs that are very sharp and tough - hopefully not enough to puncture my sleeping pad.
Today's 25 miles was a nice change, putting some appreciable miles behind me.
We walked the rest of the way around the western side of Lake Okeechobee - never did see an actual lake.
Just as we finished by crossing the Kissimmee river, we caught up to Devilfish and Carl. Josh and I had met Devilfish south of Clewiston. Carl just got on the trail at Clewiston the day before Bennett and I.
By the way, of all the road walking so far, the bridge over the Kissimmee is Most Treacherous!!! Not long, but absolutely no shoulder. I had to walk on a raised cement curb, giving me a 1 foot tall guard rail to keep me from falling into the river. Not fun!
Reports from hikers ahead have been that the Kissimmee river section of trail ahead is waist deep and higher water. This is all cattle country around here. Not wanting to swim through cow piss, I arranged for Mike, a great trail angel, to give me a ride north, skipping this flooded part.
Talking with Mike was the highlight of my day. He has done a little hiking and is enjoying meeting the folks hiking the Florida Trail this winter while he drives his camper around. The picture is where Mike dropped me off at the southern entry to the Three Lakes section which started with a 2 mile walk on a dirt road.
As soon as I stepped off the road onto the trail it was all water. I took a side trail back to the road which parallels the trail and walked it until it intersected with the trail again. Trying the trail, immediately under water. After a third try a couple miles later, I decided to just hike the dry road through the same area that the trail covers.
I expect when I reach the Green Swamp west of the town of Kissimmee that I'll encounter more flooded trail, but I have my fingers crossed.
The walk this evening was very nice - just me, a couple deer, and some birds. Finally away from fast traffic and it is very quiet out here far from anyone.
Devilfish and Carl stayed in Okeechobee. Bennett decided to go home for a family event and hope the trail dries out somewhat over the next week. It looks like I'll not see any of them again.
My 25 miles today was pleasant through the quiet, open, wildlife area.
I traveled about 28 miles today.
I really enjoyed the first 9 miles this morning of walking through the wildlife area. Saw a handful of deer and plenty of birds at first light.
After that, this picture describes the rest of my day. After about 14 miles of dodging traffic along a shoulderless road, a couple fishermen offered me a ride to St. Cloud. That's how the last few miles went so fast on my track. They were nice old boys and we got to chat about fishing a bit.
Once I got to St. Cloud, I walked 5 more miles looking for a hotel with vacancy and wound up here at the Riviera. It sounds better than it is, but it's a cheap place to stay in a town where the only 'campground' doesn't allow tents and is actually a retirement place.
Oh, I did see one alligator today - about 15 feet from me in the water by the road. Yikes.
9 of my 28 miles of hiking was nice - the rest was awful along busy roads.
I about 24 miles today - all of it on roads.
A guy doing some surveying on the road hollered at me, "I like your hat!" as I walked by.
The best part of today's walk was when I got to walk down the Old Tampa Highway and it was made of bricks for a couple miles. This cool monument was beside the road, but the road now has almost no traffic.
I saw a live baby alligator, two dead snakes, and about 23,592 beer cans. Blue Bud Lite cans are the most common.
At the end my day, I met Jon at the Ramada Inn front desk in Polk City, an extra 2-mile walk from the "trail". He was friendly and curious about my hiking gear and where I had hiked. It was nice talking with him.
20 more miles of road tomorrow before I reach the Green Swamp. There's also supposed to be rain and lightning quite a bit tomorrow.
Oh, what a day!
My morning started with the all too familiar road walking, the first two miles not even counting because I had to walk back to the "trail" of Deen Still Road from the hotel.
West on Deen Still Road is a sand quarry that is totally full operation, churning out huge dumptrucks about every minute. With the drizzle of rain on the road, every one that grumbled past me sprayed a nice bath of road mist all over me. What fun!
Being tired of all this road walking, I held out my trusty 'To Trail' sign as I proceeded to hike on. After walking 10 miles or so, Sarah stopped and gave me a ride to the Van Fleet bike trail.
Sarah is a real gem - completely living life on a positive, up beat tone. She does a bread ministry and is an angel at heart. Her 4 mile ride lifted my spirits, got me to the trailhead, and put things back in better perspective.
After miles of dodging cars, the serene paved bike path was soothing. So quiet and peaceful, I relaxed and enjoyed the stroll through swamp for an hour with birds everywhere.
Turning off the bike path provided me with 5 miles of road walking, but this was along a paved rural road through cow country with very little traffic. Much nicer. It was disheartening to see cows standing right in the streams that I knew flowed to the Withlacoochee River which would be my water source in the day ahead.
Very dark clouds ahead told me the big storm that had been forecast was closing in. I picked up my pace a bit to hopefully reach cover before the lightning caught me on an open road.
Ahead, I noticed an umbrella coming towards me - another hiker! This was "Don't Panic", a southbound thru-hiker heading all the way to Key West. We just chatted a couple minutes, snapped pictures of each other, and kept going since the rain had started. He did mention that he had run into two other northbound hikers a few hours ago, and that there were some deep water areas ahead of me.
And then I entered the Green Swamp. The entrance had a check-in spot for hunters. It was my target for shelter from the storm. I almost made it. I arrived in quite a downpour and ducked under an open shelter where 4 hunters were waiting out the storm. We chatted a bit, but I mostly listened to their hunting stories and usual complaints about weather, regulations, and the like. It was a nice way to pass some time.
Then, as the rain let up, another hunter pulled in with a wild pig he had shot. For the next 45 minutes, I got to watch them weight it (140 pounds) and butcher it. It was all very interesting, but then it was time to head on.
I was mentally prepared for slogging through mud and water and whatever was to come, since the trail has been so wet, and I did not have long roadwalks to do in wet shoes. But, as soon as I started following the blazes off the dirt road, it was exactly as I envisioned the Florida Trail to be! I walked miles through palm fronds, vines, grasses, and exotic trees. It was great! My feet got pretty wet a few times, but only up to my ankles.
Oh, I also met a deer hunter. As I was coming out the trail onto a dirt road, he stopped his truck and got out carrying a big rifle with a big scope. He said he just saw a big buck go that way - pointing right where I had come from.
I'm glad i hadn't hiked a minute slower.
These two kids are Sunshine and Trail Mix, thru hiking the Florida Trail. I met them as I hiked into my home at Trial Ford campsite for the night. I had seen their signature in the trail register earlier today, and Don't Panic had mentioned them, so I was hoping to catch up to them.
It was sooooo nice to have company. They've both worked at Northern Tier for the boy scouts. We chatted well after dark since no mosquitos were out and the full moon was lighting the jungle.
As we were calling it a night, something big came crunching through the foliage by our camp spot. Never did see what it was, but definitely bigger than a squirrel - maybe a skunk ape.
About 27 miles today, not counting the ride from Sarah.
The Green Swamp area is split in half by a county road. Yesterday, I covered nearly the whole eastern part and today I did the whole western part, all the way to Ridge Manor. It was a loooong day, and here are some pictures of the landscape I enjoyed.
Sunshine and Trailmix got up before me and headed out about 15 minutes before I set foot on the trail. I caught up to them a couple hours later and we hiked together for awhile. Not wanting to be like a chaperone, I hiked on ahead when they took a break. It was great spending a little time with some fellow hikers, especially ones that were so nice.
This wild area was a very nice hike. The trail was blazed well and fairly dry. I only saw a couple of hunters driving in their trucks, but no one on the trail.
I hit the deepest water crossing of my entire trek late in the afternoon at Devil's Creek. I considered stripping to keep my clothes dry, but decided to just hike up my shorts and hope it was only thigh deep. It was crotch deep. So, the rest of the day, as the temperature dropped, and the sun sunk, my pants slowly dried, keeping a bit cooler than was comfortable.
I wasn't planning on hiking over 27 miles today, but that's what happened. A relative in the area was interested in hiking with me for a day so I figured a way to do that and bypass some upcoming road walks.
With a couple phone calls, I arranged my next couple days. Tonight, the first step is to reach Ridge Manor to be picked up and stay at a friend's home in Brooksville. That is why I pushed the miles today.
I pounded into the Circle K in Ridge Manor well after dark. I had walked the last 1.5 miles on the shoulder of a busy, fast state highway after sunset. Again, not fun!
I was picked up by my cousin's son and his brother-in-law. We went to Applebee's for dinner, then to Randi and Keith's home where I met the coolest, most energetic 7-year-old in the world; named Peter. A shower and then visiting until almost 11pm, when I couldn't stay awake any longer, made for a great end to a very long day.
My day started with a bonus trekking adventure. Peter took me around his property, checking out the ravines, waterfalls, and other exciting wild places he gets to explore. There was frost everywhere, but Peter insisted it was snow. This trek was followed by a pancake breakfast and ride back to the trail in Ridge Manor, bypassing about 2 miles of road walking.
I spent the cool, clear day passing through the Withlacoochee Trail State Park, Croom Wildlife Management Area, and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. My entire day was on trails - not paved roads or dirt roads, real trail!
I saw my first wild armadillo today, along with a handful of his buddies through the afternoon. When I excitedly told people about seeing an armadillo, they were less than interested. I guess they are similar to grey squirrels or oppossums in the 'wow' factor around here. Well, I thought they looked cool.
The 10 miles from the Green Swamp area yesterday to this land today is an amazing change. Hiking through a jungle has changed to hiking through pine forest. With the sun out, and dry ground, this feels more like high Arizona forest, or walking through the Idaho mountains as a kid - without the mountain part. But, there are hills here; the first noticeable "climbs" of the trip.
I took my first wrong turn of the trek today. :-( The guidebook and app said that a blue blazed trail takes you to a parking lot inside the Withlacoochee park, so I should just follow the orange Florida Trail blazes as usual. Following the easy to see orange blazes, and seeing no split in the trail, nor blue blazes, I was surprised to suddenly come out of the trees into a parking lot! Checking my location on my app, it showed my GPS location at the parking lot on a blue blazed side trail. Huh?
I backtracked, keeping the app handy, until I reached the point where the trail split. Way off to the side, I noticed another orange blaze on the trail I should have taken. But, coming from the direction I had entered the area, straight ahead are nothing but orange blazes all the way to the parking lot. Grrrr! Another extra 1.5 miles or so.
About 90 minutes later, just north of Silver Lake campground, the Florida Trail is supposed to follow the "orange blazed Highland route" of the Silver Lake loop. At the fork in the trail, the highland route is blazed blue. So, do I follow the app, the guidebook, or the blazes?
I went with the app because I could follow along and use the GPS to know where I was on the trail. After passing a few blazes, I looked very closely at one. I could see that underneath the blue blaze was a tiny bit of orange paint - someone had painted over the orange blazes with blue. I was on the correct trail.
Large areas that I hiked through are charred and burned. I asked some day hikers and was told they are purposefully burned occasionally to manage the forest. I did see a handful of day hikers and trail runners today, as well as a half dozen deer and some hawks.
I am meeting my cousin's son tomorrow to hike with him, so I have too much time to go too few miles today. I'm taking my time so I'll be in an unpopulated area at night. When the sun finally began to set, I found a higher ridge off the trail and set up. It's supposed to get very cold tonight, so I don't want to be down in a low area. Also, there's a good cell signal higher. Actually, I've had cell coverage nearly everywhere on this trek except in the Big Cypress swamp and deep in the Green Swamp.
Hiked just 17 easy, relaxing miles today.
It got cold enough last night to have my water bottles frozen when I woke up! The normal condensation inside my tarp was all ice, too. I was comfortable most of the night, just a couple cold spots.
Thinking ahead, I kept my water filter close to me all night so it didn't freeze.
I hiked out of the woods to a short road walk where a new piece of trail not in the app caused me to go an extra 1.5 miles. This was my third and final mis-navigation of the trek.
I reached the spot where I was to be picked up to bypass a 10-mile road walk, but Jarrod was not there yet, so I kept walking down the road until he arrived.
Randi gave Jarrod and I a ride to the southern end of the "Citrus Tract" forest. Jarrod is my cousin's son so I'm told that makes him my first cousin once removed. We just met when he picked me up in Ridge Manor, so it was nice spending the day chatting with him over the 16 mile walk through the forest to Inverness.
Clear sky, very dry burned out pine forest, and smoke in the air made for a very different hike than past days. Randi would meet us in Inverness to pick up Jarrod. We started at 10am and soon realized that our pace together was over 3MPH. If we kept that up, we'd finish by 3pm rather than 5pm. So, with no reason not to push ourselves, we did just that - 16 miles in 5 hours. I couldn't do that every day, but it was fun for a change. And, I'll add that I had my full pack while Jarrod just had a bottle of water. :-) But, he could easily outhike me any day.
We arrived at the city park in Inverness with a couple hours to sit around and wait - Jarrod for his ride and me to meet with a local scoutmaster. I found this little friend while waiting. What a weird grasshopper sort of insect. I also dried out my shelter and quilt that had started the day covered in ice and was now just very wet.
Mr. Murphy, the scoutmaster of Troop 457 in Inverness, picked me up after 5pm with his son. We got his daughter and went to dinner at a local hamburger joint that was really good. After dinner, we zipped over to their new Scout Hut that the local Kiwanis club built for Troop 457 and 302 to share.
I presented a bit about my hiking and fielded questions, mostly from interested adults. They then let me spend the night in their building which was very awesome! The scouts were a great audience, asking questions and being polite. Unfortunately, I didn't have the wherewithal to get a picture with the scouts.
Around 22 miles were walked today, with no pictures since we were hiking fast all day.
At daybreak, I was met by Buster who is a reporter for the local newspaper. He had interviewed me last night and wanted to get a couple "action photos" as I headed out of town. I now know what a runway model feels like. :-) Buster was a really nice guy and you can read his story here (until it's taken offline).
Today, I just walked. A beautiful paved bike path runs north from Inverness to Dunnellon so I made great time with little effort. I also have a fairly light pack with just two days of food left and no reason to carry much water since there are towns along the trail.
The bike path was quite busy but not too close to the parrallelling highway. I stopped at Snow's Country Market right along the path in Holder - great, friendly people with tasty fresh fruit. My banana and two tangerine-like fruits were nice snacks throughout the day.
Close to Dunnellon, I left the path to head east following the Florida Trail orange blazes. At this point, I reached the westernmost point of my hike, a bit farther west than Key West. If I continued up to the panhandle, Pensacola is the western point of the entire trail, but not for me.
After crossing the beautiful Withlacoochee River one more time at Dunnellon, the paved trail ended and became the Cross Florida Greenway - a highly used recreation area braided with horse and mountain bike paths through sand and pines.
I took a blue blazed side trail tonight to the Ross Prairie trailhead where I set up my shelter in the "scout camp area" back in the trees. It's a wonderful, secluded flat area close to the bathroom that has hot shower and cold potable water, so this place rocks. I took advantage of the shower tonight, ate most of my food, and settled in to watch a Netflix movie on this my last night on the trail.
Rain is expected tonight and all day tomorrow so I pitched my shelter tight and firm. I think I finally got the hang of it. My last hiking day looks soggy just like my first day.
I did my first 30 mile day of the trip. With these shorter winter days, it's difficult to get that many miles in, but 10 hours at 3MPH gets it done.
Well, lucky, lucky me. It rained all night as forecast, but then stopped at 7:30am so I packed up in the lull.
The lull wound up staying all day so I had a wonderful last day hiking on the trail, ending my Florida hike at the Santos campground east of Ocala. The hike was much like yesterday with similar forest and few animals. I was happy to see this Trail Courtesy sign since this area is multi-use.
I crossed over Interstate 75 on the first land bridge in the country. This was the third time I crossed I75 - the first time was way back on Day 9. A land bridge allows animals to cross the highway, safely away from the traffic. Works for hikers, too.
The most angelic of trail angels, Sue, and her son Chris, picked me up at Santos Campground. Sue is the scoutmaster of Chris's special needs Troop 331 of Ocala, FL. Visiting with Sue and Chris and the rest of their troop was the high point of my adventure. The troop had a potluck tonight at one family's home so I got to meet everyone. They made me an honorary member of their troop and gave me a troop shirt. All the guys are good scouts and their parents offer wonderful support. I gave each one a "just for fun" merit badge and told them a little about my hike.
I hiked just 18 miles today, ending early so I could clean up before all the fun with Troop 331.
My flight home is tomorrow, so today was completely fun and restful. It started off with the scouts of Troop 331 coming to Sue's house for breakfast. Mmmmmm, cream-filled Dunkin' Donuts - Thanks, Roy! Right after breakfast, we all went to the local bowling alley for a couple games. Sue got the high score, but I think Chris had the best form. It took me a whole game to re-figure where to stand, aim, and deliver the ball. But, my second game was much improved.
A company called CountryMeats.com advertises on my BoyScoutTrail.com website and they are based in Ocala. We arranged to visit the owner (another guy named Paul) and had a short tour. I thought the production process was fascinating, and great to hear someone passionate about what he does telling his story.
Paul, Chris, Paul, and Sue are here in Country Meats world headquarters. Paul gave us t-shirts and some samples of their meat sticks. Their products can be sold by pretty much any group as a fundraiser and scout groups are doing great business with them.
After a late lunch, Sue dropped me off at Troop 100's meeting place while she and Chris attended their Order of the Arrow meeting. Sue and Chris are pretty much full-time scouting!
I met the scouts of Troop 100 and talked about my hike after helping them eat a small amount of the piles of food they had brought. A great bunch of scouts, very polite (as I've noticed in general down here in Florida), and well-spoken. Hopefully, my adventure might encourage them to tackle more high adventures of their own.
Sue, Chris, and I drove to the Orlando airport this morning. It was a beautiful drive, taking 90 minutes to travel what would take me at least 3 days to walk.
Once I fought my way through the madhouse that is the Orlando airport with all its lines, mobs, crowds, and queues, my trip home was smooth. I had a middle seat, but it was ok because, as an added bonus to this wonderful trip, I sat next to a young lady name Maggie that was doing an internship at Disney World. So, we talked for nearly two hours - me asking her questions and she telling me all about the "real" Disney World.
Now that I'm home, I've compiled this post-trek report which I hope provides insight for anyone looking to hike Florida. If that's you, feel free to ask me about it. I was blessed to explore some wonderful environments, meet some special people, and observe wildlife I'll most likely not encounter again.
Next, I'll be starting on my Outdoor Ethics children's book about the Florida Trail.
Thanks for adventure Florida!
Feb 05, 2016 - Sue
Great story of all your adventures here in Florida. We all miss you! We had a great time. Sue and Chris
Kale and I were very pleased to have you join us for the pot luck and fellowship with our wonderful group of Scouts and parents. We are looking forward to the book.
Gretchen & Kale
Wow, very cool trek you made. Nice meeting you in the Green Swamp East and thanks for posting the hog photo and commenting it was interesting. Its really cool how adventures cross paths as ours did. Happy hiking .. maybe we'll run into each other again ..
Patrick, Charlie with Mike of Sarasota Outfitter Services 941.504.5164 or email email@example.com.
Do you feel like it would be too difficult making it through the swamp alone? Was it visually inspiring or did you enjoy the people you met along the way more? Was there anything you would have changed?
We only spent time with 3 or 4 people, not like the dozens on more popular trails. Since it was my first time hiking in Florida, the plants and environment were very interesting.
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