Losing my job in November 2021 suddenly opened up a world of possibilities. The looming rise of the Omicron variant of COVID and most of the world still under lock and key meant I was fairly limited in my choices for a long-form trip. I had only recently heard of the Florida Trail(FT) and it was on my list of hikes I'd like to do in my lifetime.
The appeal as an outsider for hiking this trail is that it is fairly short. Standing at ~1100mi(1760km) long and with most people going NOBO or SOBO in January/February, finishing the hike lines you up to do another long trail in the USA later in the year. The trail is supposed to be flat, with easy resupplies, no need for hitch-hiking and it has a great amount of bio-diversity. Oh did I mention it's also just plain hotter than most parts of the world during January.
With much deliberation I booked a ticket to Fort Lauderdale. Watching the news I saw the cases of COVID in Florida state begin to bulge and I was worried that this decision was the wrong one. I convinced myself that I would be hiking, mostly alone, away from population centers and so I had little to fear.
As a Canadian I have no visa hoops that I have to jump through to enter the USA which is great. Without much fuss they grant a six months stay upon entry which is more than enough for the one to two months of hiking required for the FT.
If I had to do it again I would have bought a ticket into Miami instead. The amount of money I paid for a cab to go to Miami was far greater than the amount I saved by flying into Fort Lauderdale.
As for getting to the trail head, there are a few options. From Miami you can get an Uber/Lyft for something like $60USD. The other option is joining the handful of facebook groups that pop up each year for the FT where many locals(aka trail angels) are willing to shuttle a hiker or group of hikers to the southern terminus which is roughly 30mi(48km) west of Miami.
My plan is to go NOBO(NOrth BOund) along the trail using the maps I purchased on Far Out(formerly known as Gut Hooks). These maps include up to date information concerning water, campsites and closures or detours along the trail.
Using the Far Out app, I went through the entire trail looking at my resupply options. This trail is fairly easy to plan for in that regard. The only mail resupply I had to send to myself was for River Ranch Resort but otherwise all other resupplies were close to trail. As for water, there are plenty of caches dispersed along the way by trail angels that I never really planned too much ahead. Again this is where the Far Out app is very handy as cache's will be marked and hikers will leave comments to let you know if cache's are depleted so you can plan accordingly.
My personal experience was that I was able to drink potable water for roughly 90% of the hike. There were only a few times where I had to grab water from a natural source and actually drink it. Also the same thing with privies, I may have only had to do my business in the woods less than ten times due to the proliferation of port-a-johns and ceramic thrones that we passed on the hike. This just speaks to how much build up there is along the "trail".
As usual I was aiming for a fairly low base weight, under 10lbs(4.5kg) and considered ultralight. This style has served me well on all other trips and my back thanks me for the lightness of the load.
One thing I will recommend is to have a good setup up for bug protection at camp. The first 200mi(320km) have thousands upon thousands of mosquitoes come out as the sun begins to set. I had a drop net that did not work on the rough grass along the levees and it was hell. I strongly suggest a bug net that has a floor to it.
Understand what temperatures you are comfortable sleeping at:
Your sleeping bag can be fairly bulky but remember that you can layer clothes as well. Florida weather can dip into the low 20F(-6C).
Bring something to listen to:
There are plenty of long road walk sections which are very boring. Music or podcasts are a great way to keep up moral through these sections.
Prepare to have foot problems:
Carry just enough to triage an issue to get you to town. Almost every hiker I passed within the first 100mi(160km) suffered some foot issue(myself included). Blisters, soreness, tendon strain, splints. I generally do not pop blisters and I recommend some KT tape as the constant paved paths really agitate all the muscles in your legs over time.
With that being said I set out on January 4th to the Florida Trail 20222 Kickoff to meet my fellow hikers!
Day by day journal of the trip:
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