Hiking Dude Blog
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On a long trail, you don't meet regular people. How can you possible call someone that is walking all day, every day, for weeks on end "regular"? You wouldn't expect to meet a John, Paul, or George out there, would you? Maybe a Ringo.
If you did meet a George, you'd never remember his name a few days later. That's why many long distance hikers have acquired Trail Names - more colorful nicknames used while hiking. I've met hikers with names like Papa Bear, Valderi, A-Town, and Vanilla Thunder. Since an author may have a nom de plume, I think a trail name should be a nom de sentier but that's probably not right.
Allow me to tell you about the interesting folks of the Florida Trail that I met on my days out there hiking.
The Florida Trail Association holds a kick-off event for a few days in early January near the southern terminus of the Florida Trail. After hiking through the Florida Keys, Josh and I camped overnight with these nice folks on their last night before starting our hike through the swamp.
Before hiking into the swamp, we were fortunate to get our picture taken at the southern terminus monument with Jim Kern, the man who got the Florida Trail started. We didn't get to talk with him much since he would be doing a presentation to folks not hiking this day, and we were anxious to get some miles into the swamp.
Many long trails originated as the brainchild of some particular person. You can learn more about Jim at JimKern.us. By the way, Jim also co-founded the American Hiking Society - pretty cool, huh?
Having never been to an annual kick-off for a long trail before, I had no idea what to expect. I know the Appalachian Trail has a huge, week-long Trail Days party in Damascus and the Pacific Crest Trail has its ADZPCTKO kick-off at Lake Moreno each year. The long trails I've hiked - Arizona, Ice Age, Superior - have so little traffic that they don't have such an event yet. So, this would be the first for both Josh and me.
On all of these trails, you can find people that help hikers. They may or may not hike themselves, but they are an integral part of the hiking community, providing shuttles, food, a place to stay, moral support, or other precious assistance to hikers when needed.
Josh and I got a ride from Miami to the kick-off campground from Miss Janet Hensley. Miss Janet is a fixture on the A.T. and decided to join the F.T. gang this year since the A.T. is pretty quiet in January. Miss Janet is known for shuttling hikers hither and yon in her van - snooping online, it appears she has gone through at least a couple vans over the years.
In the short time we were with her, Miss Janet made me feel like I was with friends and helped this introvert meet a few others at the kick-off. In the 2 days prior to our arrival, groups of about a dozen hikers had set out through the Everglades. So, it was a smaller group the last evening but I enjoyed asking questions of the old experts and listening to the young'uns getting ready for the morning. I was hoping to find someone that might be a potential hiking partner for the time after Josh would leave the trail - he only had a few days left.
Right away, I noticed one young guy with his girlfriend. He seemed pretty quiet, fit, and not too boisterous. To be honest, some of the folks out on long trails are a bit too dramatic for me, but having someone along that is more talkative can be a good thing. Anyway, this guy looked like he was ready to hike.
I said 'Hi' and introduced myself. It turns out that Bennett (no trail name) would be thru-hiking the trail and his girlfriend had just brought him to the starting line. Chatting awhile, I found out he had put in a lot of time practice hiking so he was in good shape. But, this was his first long hike, so he was pretty unsure of himself. I liked him right off the bat! I let him know that we'd love to have him hike with us, at least the first couple days through the swamp, and he agreed that would be good for him. Most people starting their hike had not hiked through swamp before and we were all a bit nervous about the prospect.
I could do an entire story about Bennett, but here's the short version: We hiked two days through the swamp together. Josh and I left him at the Seminole Reservation when he took two days break to rest his feet and we continued on to Lake Okeechobee and then took two days to visit Josh's grandparents. When Josh left for college, I hiked with Bennett around Lake Okeechobee to the town of Okeechobee. At that point, Bennett left the trail for a few days and I went up the trail.
Bennett got back on the trail a few days later, taking a different route than me so I never saw him again. The trail splits and most people go East around Orlando, but I took the less traveled Western Corridor route. I heard from his girlfriend that he was in the Ocala forest, and I just heard today that he was at home. I assume that means he did not finish the trail, but he did a darn lot of hiking out there!
I was impressed with Bennett for two main reasons. 1 - He put in a lot of effort to prepare for his hike, expecting hardship and being ready for it. 2 - He kept to his plan, and it worked for him. I think I may have pressured Bennett to hike more miles than he was comfortable doing, but he was content making progress to his schedule. He was the most physically prepared person I've ever seen on a hike. He put in many practice miles walking in the surf to get ready for the swamp. He tried out his gear. He had a plan. He was a cheerful man on the trail. The days I spent walking with Bennett really were a highlight of this hike.
There were a few others that started the same day as us. Bennett, Josh, and I were the first to head out in the morning, but three others caught up to us when we stopped for the day at 10 Mile Camp. Joey, Carjacker, and Handlebar all stopped by. Joey continued on but the other two set up tents. Carjacker is a young guy and you'll have to ask him how he got his trail name - something about borrowing trail angels' cars. This night was the only time we saw him. He went a bit slower with Handlebar, but then left the trail for a week or so, and then he and Bennett hiked together weeks later. As far as I know, he's still making headway down the trail.
Handlebar was an older fella with a big mustache (hence the name) and wearing a kilt. He's still moving along now, too. Last I heard he was hiking with Morning Wood, after Carjacker left the trail for his break.
Now, Morning Wood was another interesting dude. We caught up to him our second night when we splashed out of the swamp onto a small hummock where he had hung his hammock. When Joey arrived, that put 5 of us in a tiny spot of jungle where really maybe 3 should be. Morning Wood didn't talk much and was first to leave the next morning. To be honest, I was a bit put off by his behavior but having followed along online, I think it would have been good to get to know him a little more. Last I heard, he is nearing the end of the trail, hiking with Handlebar, so they met up along the way at some point.
I don't have photos of Handlebar, Morning Wood, or Joey - sorry. Joey seemed like a really nice, very quiet, methodical hiker. He has hiked the PCT and CDT so, when he kept going past our campsite that first night, I expected to never see him again. As it turns out, we caught up to him in the swamp on the second day and he camped with us - but said no more than two words. Then, he camped with us the third night on the Seminole reservation and talked a bit more - with some dedicated effort at questioning on my part. :-) He left before us from there and that's the last I saw of him. I've since found out he is in the last few hundred miles of trail, hiking with Melanie. His pace seems to be slow and steady. I think he'd be a good hiking partner, too.
After the swamp, there's no place to hide. With nothing but flat, open levee roads and sugar cane, we could see anyone far ahead and far behind. That's why I was very surprised when we ran into Devilfish sitting at the one covered shelter out in the fields for dozens of miles in any direction. I was sure he must be a southbound hiker since we'd not seen him. But, no, he was hiking north like us. We chatted awhile and he seemed like he was in no hurry and would be hanging there awhile so Josh and I kept hiking. Not much later, when I stopped to tie my shoe, I noticed he was coming up behind us. So, I waited for him to catch up and this is the one pic I got of him. He was a fairly small guy with what appeared to be a massive pack.
When we stopped for the night, he kept going another couple miles. I ran into him a couple days later, but then he went east around Orlando. He has been posting updates to the FT facebook page often and is closing in on the end of the trail.
Most people hike at their own pace and don't have much of a schedule to follow, except for reaching resupply points. I tend to push myself, not so much to set any record but just to push myself so I have a bit of challenge each day. Walking around Lake Okeechobee, Bennett and I caught up to these three Warrior Hike participants. They are veterans who are being sponsored to hike the trail and "hike off the war". It seems like a good program. But, they must follow what sounds like a fairly strict, and slow, schedule - doing only about 10-12 miles a day. They have presentations to do in communities they pass through, and they get to meet with VFW posts, so it's not just hiking.
Last I heard, they are still moving along the trail.
Reaching the north side of Lake Okeechobee, the word on the street was that the Kissimmee section was flooded. Since I had a schedule of my own to keep, I figured this section would slow me down too much so I contact Mike online to see about getting a shuttle past it. We arranged a pick-up, and this is where Bennett left the trail for a few days.
When I found Mike in his camper beside the road, he already had two hikers with him and was surprised to see me. He thought I was ahead of him on the trail, so I was very lucky to find him. The other two hikers were Devilfish ( I caught up to him) and a new guy named Carl. Carl had just started hiking the trail on the south side of Lake Okeechobee and was just looking for good spots to check out. They both wound up staying in town while Mike took me up the trail, but I heard Carl jumped up to the Ocala forest and then I heard he was in Georgia. So, he's out there someplace.
Mike has hiked some of the A.T. and is enjoying time meeting F.T. hikers. It was a nice, quick, uneventful ride to the next section of trail, but I could have enjoyed spending more time visiting with Mike. Nothing crazy about him, just a nice, helpful, friendly Floridian meeting folks.
After leaving Mike, I knew I'd be splitting off to the Western Corridor the next day and would most likely see no one until I reached my scouting friends in Inverness. And, the next 60 miles or so would be walking along busy, boring paved roads.
Other than a couple fishermen giving me a lift to a hotel, I just walked all that day, all the next day, and another 10 miles the third day. Until, along came Sarah! She had seen me hiking with my "To Trail" sign out a couple hours earlier and was now heading home. She gave me a 6-mile ride to the trail and talked a mile a minute the entire way. Sarah does a bread ministry where she distributes surplus bread to needy folks. She is busy doing a ton of other great stuff, too - like helping hikers. :-) While Miss Janet and Mike are part of the trail community, and hikers sort of expect that support, and sometimes help cover their costs, Sarah was just a concerned person giving someone a ride, a complete unexpected surprise. I was hoping she'd contact me through my website, but hasn't yet.
After Sarah dropped me off, I had a bit of trail, then more road walking. Thunderstorms were rolling in from the west and I was walking right towards them, hoping to reach a hunter's check-in post for shelter before they hit. Coming toward me down the road, I saw another hiker, and he had an umbrella! This was Don't Panic winding down his southbound hike of F.T. With the weather coming, we didn't chat long - just long enough to take each others photo, wish ourselves luck, and share about the trail behind us. I said it's all road for the next 3 days. He said there's only one really deep water spot - and he had run into a couple hikers earlier in the day. Say what? Other hikers?
Sunshine & Trailmix
There was a trail registry a few miles ahead, at the entrance to the Green Swamp recreation area - one of the very few registries I found, and one of the fewer that were not completely destroyed. In it, I saw that Sunshine and TrailMix had been there just the day before. Hey! Maybe I'd run into them in the next couple days.
I hustled on to the hunter's shelter, almost making it before the drenching rain and lightning, but not quite. I waited it out a couple hours and then hiked on, shooting for a campsite in the swamp. I hiked a lot faster than expected (the miles may have been off) and found I could reach even the next campsite so I pushed on.
When I arrived, I saw two people already there and two tenst erected. Well, to be honest, I did have a bit of hope they might be there. Sure enough, it was Sunshine & TrailMix. They had stopped early for the day and invited me to stay. It was So Wonderful to have people to chat with into the evening. We actually talked a lot longer than I expected. They are planning to hike all of the F.T. - that is both the East and West sides of Lake Okeechobee and Orlando. They figure this will be the first time someone has done that.
Unfortunately, they have very heavy packs, they are only doing about 15 miles a day, and they don't need an old chaperone joining them for the next few weeks. So, the next morning, we hiked together awhile until an opportune moment when we parted ways with my hiking on ahead and they taking a break. It was a wonderful, short friendship, at least from my viewpoint.
And those are pretty much all the people I met on the trail that I can remember. Every day on the trail has some sort of adventure. It may be seeing a deer or alligator, or crossing a wild river, or enjoying warm, dry wind; but interactions with other humans, I've found, are the best of them.
If you'd like to see how some of these hikers are doing as they near the northern end of the Florida Trail, check out the Florida Trail 2016 group on Facebook at this page.
Out on the long trails, many people enjoy the solitude for weeks on end. Not me. I'm more of a social creature that loves being out in the wilds - sort of a conundrum, I know. I find myself longing for social interaction after being on the trail alone for more than a few days.
A breakdown of my time spent solo hiking looks something like this...
- 12 hr - walking
- 6 hr - sleeping
- 3 hr - trying to sleep
- 1.25 hr - eating
- 1 hr - rest breaks during the day
- 30 min - setting up, taking down camp
- 15 min - talking with people I meet
From talking with other hikers, I think most are closer to...
- 9 hr - walking
- 7 hr - sleeping
- 1 hr - trying to sleep
- 2.5 hr - eating
- 2.5 hr - rest breaks during the day
- 1.5 hr - setting up, taking down camp
- 30 min - talking to people you meet
That's about 15 to 30 minutes per day spent talking with someone else. Of course, it doesn't happen every day. There may be a week seeing no one when suddenly there's someone else on the trail! He's either hiking right towards you going the opposite direction, or you see his back in the distance ahead of you, or you hear his footsteps getting closer behind you. Each of these possibilities have unique interactions, but they all eventually reach the same inevitable conclusion.
Whether gazing towards distant peaks off to the side, studying the tread for roots and rocks, or mindlessly daydreaming of a chocolate milkshake, a flash of color causes your eyes to snap straight ahead, instantly focused down the trail on whatever interrupted your thoughts.
Bear? Bird? Swarm of bees?
No, it's a human! A human with poles in hand and packstraps over his shoulders - another hiker!
A complete make-over occurs almost instantly as you unconsciously prepare for the meeting that is only seconds away. You unslouch your shoulders, let the concentrating frown melt from your face, place your footsteps with purpose, and clear your throat with the hope your voice still works.
As you draw closer together, on this narrow trail made for single passage, you both slow, smile, and, being the quicker of the two, you greet him with "Hey, how's it going?" And, with that, you stop walking completely, step to the right a half-step to make it possible for the other hiker to pass on by if he wishes, but hoping he will linger at least a few minutes.
If he continues on, which is more likely on a highly trafficked trail such as the Appalachian Trail where he's already talked to other hikers today, than on lesser used trails like the Florida Trail, Arizona Trail, or Ice Age Trail, then the conversation is dead before born. You have your mental fingers crossed, hoping for a positive reply.
"I'm great. Heading to Big Meadow campsite tonight. Got a long way to go."
"Yep. I walked through it this morning. Looked like a nice place." And, as he steps past, you add, "Have a nice hike."
He may have replied, but you didn't hear as he's already a dozen feet past, walking on.
But, that rarely happens. Usually, the other hiker will also half-step off the trail and reply...
"I'm great, how's your day been?"
"Pretty good. The trail's in good shape. There's a long muddy stretch about 4 miles back, but not deep."
"Cool. Once you get over this mountain, it's nice and easy for 5 miles or so. Where're you headed?"
"Tonight, I'm hoping for Clear Spring campsite, but any place will do. How about you?"
"Yeah, you should make Clear Spring no problem. I'm shooting for Big Meadow."
"Are you hiking the whole trail?"
By this time, you're both leaning on trekking poles and contemplating if this would be a good time to take off your pack and have a real rest break. You grab your zip-loc of trail mix and snack a bit.
"Nah, I'm just out for 5 days, doing the 100 miles from Garwin to Dawson. My wife's picking me up there, so I kinda have to make it."
"Ha-ha! Well, you're about half way, right?"
"Yeah, I'll have to push it harder the next two days. How about you? Looks like you're out for awhile."
"Yep. I started 12 days ago and still have a lot more to go. I'm hoping to reach the other end."
"I thought so. It looks like you've got gear dialed in."
"Well, it's working for me. Have you seen much wildlife?"
"Not much. Just deer."
"Yep, deer everywhere. Any other hikers?"
"Well, last night a guy stopped at my camp, but kept going. He called himself Rabbit. He seemed nice enough. So, I guess he's about a day ahead of you."
"OK. Maybe I'll see him in a few days, if he's taking it slow. I passed a couple guys coming this way two days ago, but that's all. You'll probably run into them tonight or tomorrow."
"Good. I guess I'd better go see if I can find them. Ha! It was nice chatting. I'm Bingo. What's your name?"
"Hiking Dude, or just Dude. Nice to meet you. Have a nice hike Bingo."
"Same to you, Dude."
You count your steps as you place your feet back on the trail, counting to 30. You stop, turn around, and see a glimpse of blue backpack through the brush as the trail consumes the hiker on his way to places unknown to him, but recently conquered by you. Your paths crossed, you had a nice chat and rest, and now look forward to the next chance encounter with humanity.
Chasing the Rabbit
As it turns out, you soon come up to a trail registry. These are notepads or books occasionally placed along the trail where hikers can jot down the fact that they've been here and enjoyed the trail.
For thru-hikers, it's a way to see who is ahead of you and determine if you are gaining or losing ground on them. In this registry, you see someone signed in with:
"02/17/2016 2:00pm - Rabbit - love the trail. A little wet, but beautiful!"
Hey, Rabbit was here yesterday afternoon! He's not very far ahead.
As you jot down your mark in the registry, you have a decision to make. Do you pick up your pace and maybe hike longer into the evening, possibly catching up to him sooner? Or, do you keep to your regular trek as if you didn't read the registry?
- I've never, not once, ignored the fact that someone was just a bit ahead. Every mile I cover from that point on builds the anticipation of possibly seeing the hiker around the next bend, or sitting along the trail, or at the next campsite. This may go on for days as I gradually gain on them, at least in my own mind. If I find their name in another registry and the time is shortened, that is just additional encouragement. If the distance is increasing after a few days, I know I'll never catch the rabbit, but I might find a sitting duck if I'm lucky.
- Before I say any more, I want you to know that I don't see it as a race, or competition, trying to get ahead of the person. I think it's the excitement of meeting another person and getting to talk with them awhile. I still enjoy my hike, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. Actually, I enjoy it a bit more, being a little energized and on the lookout for signs of recent passage.
Maybe a few hours or days later, you notice the footprints in the trail. They aren't faded from dew, wind, or rain like most prints. They are crisp, the sole pattern is obvious, and they are going your way. It shouldn't be much longer now.
You see a glimpse of movement on the trail ahead. Unlike the hiker coming towards you that you crossed paths with, this was just a glimpse. Maybe it was a bird, or tree branch waving in the breeze, or maybe... it was a hiker. Without meaning to, your pace picks up a tiny bit. Your eyes look farther down the trail, through the brush and trees, around the rocks.
Eventually, you see him. Definitely a hiker! Depending on the density of the forest, roughness of the terrain, and relative hiking paces, you may have an hour before actually catching up to him. In that time, you mull over what you'll say thousands of times. In the end, it all comes down to the same thing.
The first thing you need to do is get his attention without startling him too much. Quietly walking right up behind someone out in the wilds and saying, "Hi!" is not the right thing to do. Maybe you'll shuffle your feet to make some noise with the gravel. Maybe you should start whistling a little now so it wafts up to him. Maybe a cough, or sniff, or tap of hiking poles, or clink of water bottle while you're still a ways away will alert him to your approach.
Whatever you decide, it will scare the bejesus out of him. It's always a jolt to realize something big is stalking up behind you.
So, you finally close the distance to about 20 feet and say, "Hello there" in as mellow a voice as you can muster, trying not to sound like a psycho killer, or mountain lion. Of course, he jumps and turns with his hiking poles up to ward off whatever lunatic is about to attack.
"Oh, Hi. You startled me." Of course you did. And, he stops, half-stepping off the trail so you can pass if you want to.
"How's it going?" you ask, as you stop too, trying to size him up quickly. After all, he's slow since you just caught up to him, but maybe he'd make a good companion for a few miles.
"Oh, just fine. Beautiful day."
"Any chance that you're Rabbit? I saw a trail registry earlier."
"Yeah, that's me."
"Well, nice to meet you. I'm Hiking Dude, or just Dude. I've been following your tracks all day. Where you headed?"
"Clear Spring. I think it's just a couple more miles. How about you?"
"I was thinking of stopping there, too, unless I can make it a bit farther." (This leaves wiggle room later on)
"I don't want to slow you down. Go ahead and I'll see if I can pace you for awhile."
And, just like that, you have a hiking buddy for the rest of the day. You take the lead since you're the faster hiker, but you have a good idea of his pace so you slow down a bit. After an hour of hiking, you know if you're comfortable camping with this person and maybe hiking together the next day, or not. If you don't mind the slower pace and his conversation, you now have company for a few days. If he's just not your type, then you need to force the break up.
Your options are limited and it can get tricky, depending on how clingy the other hiker has become. It's simple to announce that you need to take a break to go dig a hole (meaning to use the bathroom). But, being a faster hiker, you will eventually catch up again. In this situation, the Push On Gambit is probably your best bet.
Since you had mentioned possibly going farther than Clear Spring earlier, you can announce your plan at any point. It usually works better when stopped to get water, at a trail sign, or a snack break, but can be done while hiking along.
"Well, I'm feeling pretty good. I think I'll try to push on past Clear Spring to cut off a few miles from tomorrow."
"Hmmm, ok. I might have a couple more miles in my legs, too."
"Cool. I'm going to have to speed up a bit so I can find a camp spot before it gets too dark."
"Right. If I reach Clear Spring early, I might keep going. Maybe I'll see you down the trail."
"Ok. Have a great hike!"
As you start walking faster, it's poor form to stumble, so don't sprint away down the trail. And, don't look over your shoulder to see how much distance you've opened up for at least a half hour. If it all works out, this will be the last you see of Rabbit. He'll see your name in the trail registries but you'll have no idea how his hike develops.
Being the hiker in front does make you blind to all activity behind you on the trail. A couple retired teachers, or a Boy Scout troop, or the sexiest person to ever hike the trail may be just a couple miles behind you for your entire trek, hiking the same speed as you, and you'll never know it.
The only way you'll ever know someone is behind you is when, while you are walking along, you suddenly have the bejesus scared out of you by a "Hello there!" at your back. You'll spin half way around, stumbling on a root or rock, with your hiking poles poised to protect you from whatever escaped convict, hermit, or mountain lion is about to attack. You only spin half way because that's how long it takes for the greeting to register in your brain and for you to regain control of your body.
"Oh, hi. You startled me."
"Sorry about that. How's it going? Are you Hiking Dude? I saw your name in the trail registry back there."
"That's me. And, who are you?"
"They call me Plugger. I just keep plugging along."
Plugging along? Ha! More like sprinting along. This guy was flying down the trail to catch up to you!
From here on, the conversation is pretty much the same except you are on the other side. Plugger leads you down the trail as you talk, you picking up your pace to see if you can keep up with him. If it's a comfortable enough speed, and the conversation is interesting, you've got a hiking buddy for a few days and you'll cover a few extra miles to boot.
If Plugger announces that he's going to push on past Clear Spring, your best bet is to reply with "Ok, it was great hiking with you today! If you decide to stop at Clear Spring, I'll see you there." That gives him the opportunity to break up with you, or keep the relationship going until tomorrow.
To be honest, Catching the Rabbit and Plugging Along rarely happen. The most common way to meet other hikers on the trail is when one of you is a Sitting Duck not moving - either the end of the day at a campsite, or taking a break along the trail.
Think about it - if you walk 2MPH and I walk 2.5MPH, I'll close a 2.5 mile gap between us in 5 hours. But, if you are stopped, I'll close that gap in just 1 hour. Chances are higher that I'll meet you while you aren't moving.
If the other hiker is going the direction opposite of you, then this is just a variation on Crossing Paths and you'll only have a short-lived interaction. If you find out you're going the same way, then this is actually the easiest way to get to know fellow hikers, so it's good that it is the most common.
When you encounter someone at a rest break, you have ten minutes or so to size each other up using the common dialogs we talked about earlier. After that time, there are two options:
- One of you says, "Well, I guess I've burned enough daylight here. Got more miles to do. Have a good hike!" And, he starts down the trail while the other person extends the break, giving him time to open a large gap.
- One of you says, "Well, I guess I'll get going in a couple minutes. You want to hike on, or stay and rest a bit more?" This gives the other hiker a wide open door to accept or decline the invitation.
After you start hiking together, it becomes identical to Plugging Along or Catching the Rabbit, depending on if you were at the rest break first or second.
Meeting at a campsite at the end of the day is my favorite way to catch a Sitting Duck. If there is already someone at a camp spot, I'll holler a friendly, "Hello in the camp!" before I enter the area.
"Hey, good to see you. Do you mind if I set up here for the night?"
"No problem. Pick a spot."
No one has ever said, "No", but I wouldn't hang around to find out why, if they did.
Now, I've got the entire evening to chat and find out everything there is to know about this other person. Since he was there first, I'm probably traveling faster. All I have to do is leave a few minutes before him in the morning and I'll never see him again, or leave after him and catch up on the trail.
If I was at the campsite first, and would like to hike together the next day, I have a little more work.
"So, have you been putting in some long days?"
"Oh, about 20 miles or so." (Not bad, I can do that.)
"It's been nice hiking in the cool morning. Do you get going pretty early?"
"Oh yeah, I set my alarm for just before sunrise." (Alarm? Oh great, that will wake me too.)
"That's when I've been getting up, too. I pack up and just eat something on the trail since I'm not too hungry right away."
"I've been making oatmeal for breakfast since it's been getting cooler." (Good. I can get ahead of him.)
"Well, if I'm on the trail before you, you'll probably catch up to me again. Maybe we can hike together awhile."
"Sounds good to me."
Once I'm on the trail tomorrow, it becomes a game of Plugging Along with the difference that I know someone is behind me. I can push to stay ahead, or dally to let him catch up.
All of these interactions with fellow hikers conclude the same way - you each eventually continue on your own hike. In very rare occurrences, you may complete your hike together, but those are rare indeed.
Hiking is all a fun game. A trail may be overburdened with people, running into another one every few minutes, or completely void, seeing no one else for weeks at a time. This post is just a way to look at how my mind has worked when I've encountered others on the trail, not to be taken too seriously.
I'd love to hear what goes through your mind when you're out on the trail. Do you look forward to meeting others? Have you changed your hike plan to spend more time with someone you've met?
Have you ever used Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate? Sure, you have! But, you probably know it as the brand name of Mylar.
It was developed in the 1950s by those great chemical folks at DuPont that also brought us neoprene, teflon, kevlar, tyvek, and panty hose.
Mylar has many uses, but the one we're most likely to see is the cute, shiny, fun party balloon. Mylar balloons can be any shape and color, are lighter than latex balloons, and they keep the gas trapped longer. That's great for parties - BUT it means they can float longer and cover more distance if their ribbon breaks. And, break they do!
On every single one of my long hikes so far, in Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now Florida last month, I have recovered mylar balloons far out in the wilds - a couple stuck in a cactus, one in a soybean field, four floating in a swamp, and others. I thought I was just unlucky to find this many, but it turns out balloon litter is a Huge Problem that effects the environment, animals, our electric grid, and maybe even air travel. I had no idea.
A few years ago, I attended a big Scouting event with my sons at a local amusement park. It was a big deal. To kick off the event, the local council arranged to have a couple thousand helium-filled, latex balloons released. I was not aware the release would happen until I saw the mass of color floating and spreading into the sky. It was sure colorful, but I just thought, "Really?" I was surprised that our Boy Scouts council would be doing such a thing with our emphasis on conservation and outdoor ethics.
All those balloons would disperse far and wide, but I knew they would eventually come to earth in thousands of places across the miles. All balloons that escape into the wild are a problem, regardless of the material used to produce them.
In 1986, Cleveland set the world record by releasing 1.5 million balloons at BalloonFest. It caused air traffic problems and interfered with a helicoptor rescue of two men that ultimately drowned. The organizers expected the balloons to float far away (becoming a litter problem someplace else), but weather caused them to stay right in Cleveland, creating a huge mess.
Main Problems with Balloons
- Every balloon released into the air is litter. They all come back to earth someplace.
- A balloon, whether mylar, plastic, or latex is man-made and takes years to break down. Mylar balloons hang around for a loooooooong time - think decades at least! This is a bad thing!
- A popped balloon, or pieces of balloons, lying in a natural area looks like food to many wild animals. Animals get tangled in the balloon ribbons and die. Animals consume the balloon material and slowly starve with their digestive tract blocked.
- While in flight, balloons may be a nuisance to air traffic, but I could find only this one article that may be a plane crash caused by balloons.
- Mylar balloons, being metallic, can cause fire and power outages when they hit power lines, like this.
- Helium is a non-renewable resource and every floating balloon frivolously wastes a bit. Some estimates are that we will exhaust the earth's usable helium supply in under 30 years.
OK, you get the idea that I feel balloons are floating litter, bad for the world, and possibly dangerous. So, what should we do about it? Well, the two main uses for balloons are Parties and Balloon Releases.
- If you really want balloons, use latex balloons. They are the least bad.
- Fill balloons with normal air and save the helium for science and other uses that make the world a better place.
- Attach balloons to walls, wire frames, or hang from ceilings. They won't rise on tethers, but they also won't float away.
- Dispose of balloons by having a fun Balloon Popping Party after the party. Place latex balloons in the garbage. Place mylar balloons in recycling.
- Use paper decorations instead of balloons.
- Visit BalloonsBlow.org for some alternate ways to decorate parties, including pinwheels, bubbles, and inflatables.
- Don't do it! There's just no valid reason to ever organize, host, support, sanction, encourage, or do a balloon release. It is simply littering, plain and simple.
- These releases are often to kick off an event, as a memorial, or a celebration. Alternative ways to recognize the event could be to fly kites, make giant bubbles, plant a tree, float flowers on a stream or lake, use drums, or even use tethered sky lanterns.
As someone trying to be a good steward of the earth, I do what I can to follow the seven Leave No Trace principles, one of which is Dispose of Waste Properly. I will not purchase helium-filled balloons. I pick up balloon litter I find. I encourage others to explore options to using balloons.
It seems to me to be an easy decision to use an alternative to balloons for decorations and events.
Check out BalloonsBlow.org for more information about the problem of balloon litter from a couple of girls in Florida. Then, decide what you'll do about it where you live, or not.
I've almost finished my post-hike write-up and will post it tomorrow.
I can relax and not worry about this sign for quite awhile now. :-) I enjoyed a day off the trail in Ocala playing with new friends and doing a couple presentations to scout troops. Then, a quick flight on Friday got me home to Minnesota for a day of recuperating yesterday.
Now comes the fun chore of piecing together tracker pings, pictures, and blog posts into my journal. I hope to have that finished midweek so I can tell you my story.
Looking back at the pictures, I was blessed to explore some wonderful environments, meet some special people, and observe wildlife I'll most likely not encounter again.
Thank you, Florida!
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Feb 13, 2020 - Jason Berklund
Feb 13, 2020 - Hiking Dude
Getting to the northern terminus is expensive (in my mind). If you can schedule correctly, Arrowhead Transit is cheapest to Grand Marais, but then Harriet Quarles is the only shuttle I know of. You might find a good ol' boy in Grand Marais willing to drive you the 35 miles to the end for a few $$$.
It's a 3 hour drive from Duluth - that's 6 hours and 300 miles round-trip. Maybe your friend would like to drive up the north shore for a day.
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