Month: December 2022

Day 0 Flying to Miami

Sometimes the hardest part of a hike is getting there. This travel day went much smoother than most. On time flights, good weather and Uber save the day.

Packing and Preparing

I have been working on the gear list for several weeks now. In fact I have had more time to prepare for this hike than most hikes. But there have been many points of indecision such as which stove to take.

I prefer using the isobutane stove because it is fast and convenient but there is a shortage of being able to purchase the canisters in Miami. The alcohol stove burns ethanol or methanol which is easy to find at gas stations Walmart and many other stores.

The day before I left, I checked Dick’s sporting goods and Walmart to see what the availability was in Gainesville. Walmart had both heet and denatured alcohol and Dick’s sporting goods still had some isobutane cylinders.

I spent the morning before the flight testing both methanol and ethanol in the alcohol stove. The methanol had a definite odor to it and being toxic I decided I will probably never use that in the future. Both fuels took about 4 minutes to boil a cup of water.

The isobutane stove takes just over a minute to boil the same amount of water. Decision made – isobutane it is, even if it is going to be harder to find them on the trail.

I still also had not decided which camera gear to take. The drone weighs two and a half pounds with three batteries but takes awesome video. The 360° camera is only a half a pound and the video quality is not great but the pictures that it takes are clearly unique. The pocket osmo also takes excellent video and is probably what I will be using most of the trip. In the end it all matters how heavy the pack is as to how many cameras I bring.

So when I finally packed everything up with 5 days of food but no cameras and no water it ended up weighing 22 lb. That was lower than I was expecting so I have decided to bring all three cameras since I should be able to keep the total weight under 30 lb even with water.

Travel Day

Having a late flight at 7:30 p.m. instead of a.m. means that I have plenty of time to do chores. And one of those chores is getting my haircut for the last time for the next 2 months.

Karen used the same stylist many years ago, so she went with me to my appointment. It was like a small family reunion. But we were very early so we ran out for a quick beer before arriving.

After the haircut, we went to the local food court. They have a satellite location of one of our favorite pizza shops so it was a great decision. I have a feeling that Karen will be going there without me quite a bit.

We also got to the airport early. Early is beginning to become a theme for this trip which is perfectly fine for me. TSA even opened up the screening line early for me. And that’s a good thing because they wanted to open my pack and inspect a few things which took time.

Did you know that you can’t take peanut butter on an airplane? I know that now. They were super nice about it and even offered to let me go leave it in my car if I had a car in the parking lot. No car, not for a while. I had to sacrifice a new jar of Trader Joe’s peanut butter to the landfill gods.

The Flight

I had just read an article that morning about Southwest airlines canceling nearly all their flights. I was hoping that American airlines was not in a similar situation. The flight was on time and maybe even a little early. When there are only 30 people on the plane, and you are the only plane leaving the airport, nice things like that can happen when the weather is good.

The flight was perfect. Fifty minutes to Miami. But the Miami airport is so big that it took 25 minutes just to get to ground transportation.

I got on the shuttle bus to the Courtyard and even asked the driver if this was going to the Courtyard on the northwest corner of the airport and he said yes. After getting to the Courtyard I realized it was the one on the Southeast corner of the airport instead. Uber time

Once I finally got to the correct hotel, the check in went very quickly. I had shipped three last minute Amazon packages to the hotel and they were delivered earlier today, so I inquired about them. They said they would go get them and then ring my room when they had them. No phone calls.

Thinking about the packages and a travel day on an airplane, means that the brain is going 100 mph. I arrived at the hotel at 11:00 p.m. and waited for the packages until 12:00 but could not get to sleep until about 1:00 a.m.

Emotion of the Day

It is hard to pick a single word to describe the emotions of the day. But releif has to be the strongest one.

I have been preparing for this hike for approximately two months. To not have made a decision on either stove or cameras until the day of the flight is very unusual for me.

But with such an easy travel day, a lighter than expected pack, and less worry about purchasing fuel in Miami, means that there are no more decisions. Other than tracking down my packages, finding a place to eat breakfast, and getting an isobutane cylinder for the stove, there is nothing left to do except hike.

A New Adventure on the Florida Trail

I have been blessed with another opportunity for hiking, this time much closer to home on the Florida Trail. Join me as I hike from the everglades to just short of the Alabama border in the west panhandle of Florida.

This will be an 1100 mile journey, and I have a mere eight weeks to complete it. Florida, being flat, is normally not a problem to do this kind of daily mileage. But most hiking is done in the Summer or shoulder seasons where there is plenty of daylight. This hike will be in January and February where I will have several hours less daylight than I am accustomed to.

Although I love night hiking, I am not a fan of finding a campsite in the dark, so I do not plan on doing much hiking after sunset. I am not averse to night hiking in the morning, so I will probably get up before sunrise to begin the day. There is nothing better than be hiking for 20 or 30 minutes before the sun even makes its presence known. I want to be the first one to see sunrise, even at the expense of clearing every spider web with my face. Take one for the team.

I am unsure how many hikers I will see on this trip. I will be leaving a week before the official kick-off weekend, where a dozen or more FTA trail angels will shuttle hikers to Big Cypress from both coasts and have some informational seminars on what to expect and Leave no Trace (LNT) principles.

If I see one, or see a hundred, it makes no difference to me. In previous section hikes during the hiking season, I have tended to see only one thru hiker a day at most. many other hikers have already started from both ends. So I know I should at least see plenty of south-bounders for at least the first half of the trip as they finish their hikes.

I have section hiked maybe a quarter of the trial over the years. I have been an FTA member on and off since 1990. The only areas I have never ventured to are the southern 300 miles in the sugar cane fields and swamps of Big Cypress, and the center section of the panhandle near Eglin AFB. I am looking forward to new experiences.

One thing that will be different about this hike, is that I have decided to hike in “costume.” The trail name that I acquired on the AT in 2016 was Gilligan, from the 60’s TV show Gilligan’s Island. later that same year, it was transformed into Dirty Gil, as the desert of California is very dusty and a white shirt and cream pants get dirty very quickly. I have white pants and shite shorts, a red long sleeve shirt and a short sleeve one, and a white bucket hat. I have also shaved clean for the first time in 30+ years. Perhaps I should dye my hair brown, too? I am also bringing an orange hat and orange shirt, because I will still be in active hunting areas for the first few weeks. We shall see how long the coconut lasts… it’s heavy.

I have changed out much of my gear, too. I am going with a Gossamer Gear pack that is lighter than I am used to. I will be using my 40 degree down bag, but switching up the insulation layer to a super thin 1/8″ foam pad more for prickly protection, and a torso length inflatable pad. I have a back issue that requires me to elevate my lumbar when sleeping on the ground, and the torso length pad eliminates the need for that and actually improves my sleep significantly. The combo is lighter than my normal Z-lite or Ridge-rest setup. But the biggest change is I will not be using my hammock this year, I have opted for a Zpacks solo plex. It’s just soooo darned light and still has great rain and bug protection. I have only spent a few nights in it so far, but think I am going to love it.

I have selected five locations to mail myself packages of harder-to-find items, but will be buying most of my food along the trail. I prefer to buy locally as the palette changes over a period of weeks on the trail and you get sensitized to the flavors of some of your food items. I doubt I will ever be able to put a Clif bar in my mouth ever again. Tuna packed in oil? Still love it and will have a dozen in each box. Once I discovered (by accident) to eat it cold and not hot, I just cannot get enough tuna fish even to this day. I probably have enough mercury in my body by now to make a thermometer.

I am upping the camera game on this trip, too. I will be bringing the DJI Pocket Osmo again. It takes great video. But I am also considering bringing a drone. I know I cannot use it in the national lands, but there are hundreds and hundreds of miles of the trail where they are permitted. I have a tiny 450g drone that takes great video, but I am unsure if I want to lug the weight of the entire kit with batteries, controller, case, etc. It’s over 2 lbs, and that is a ton of weight for a hiker. I must make my final decision soon. I also have a 360 degree camera, but early tests show that the editing software on the phone is just too cumbersome to try to post anything on the trail. it is also nearly half a pound, so this one will stay on the gear shelf for this trip.

I will not bother with a complete gear list because up until the time I board the airplane, I probably will not know exactly what I want to take. On our 2016 Appalachian Trail hike, I had brought a small bluetooth keyboard to assist with blogging. But as we entered the train station in Washington DC, there was a USPS post office on the ground floor, and I mailed it back home before ever setting foot on the trail. I hope to not have any last minute moments like that any more.

Day 49 – Back to Civilization

Driving back home

Twelve miles does not seem very far, but it’s far when it’s cold. I had camped high up on a ridge and ridges mean wind, so it was a little chilly that night and especially in the morning when you have to put on cold and damp clothes. But the excitement of the final day of hiking motivated me.

Just beyond the break of rocks where I had camped was a nice outcropping with a great view of Waynesboro, VA. The sun was just coming up and making great patterns with the extensive cloud cover. Can you believe that I did not snap any pictures? My brain must have been frozen. I spent nearly a half an hour taking in the views before heading towards my last destination – Rockfish Gap, and the entrance to Shenandoah National Park. Karen was set to meet me at 3PM, so I better get going.

The morning was uneventful, and the weather held out just fine. I was lucky on this entire trip to not have much rain. It could have been colder, too, but it could also have been hot and miserable. My only regret for the timing of this hike was that in the fall, the days were too short to make enough miles to get all the way to Harper’s Ferry, WV in the allotted time. First world problems.

I made good time with a light pack devoid of food or heavy water. I ended up getting to the Rockfish Gap parking area an hour early, so I sent a text to Karen letting her know I was at the pickup point. I dug out some less-dirty clothes to wear, and started digging through my food bag to find something to munch on to pass the time.

One thing that surprised me as I car-watched, was that there were way more cars than I was expecting. Like four times as many more. Being in a break-out-of-COVID-lockdown-mood, apparently all of Virginia had decided to head to Shenandoah NP. There was an unending stream of cars at every interchange, all waiting ridiculous lengths of time to merge into traffic. Karen might be late.

But as luck would have it, Karen arrived right on time. I could see her approach from the intersecting road, and loop all the way around me to get to the parking lot. Our eyes met as she looked for traffic, and I could tell that she was as glad to see me as I was to see her.

I quick hello, hug, and kiss, and it was time to load up and take off. I think she hd enough of driving for the day, and it felt weird for me to get into a car and start driving. After spending nearly two months going 2 MPH, a leisurely 55 MPH seems like light speed. It takes a while to get used to it.

The rest of the day was uneventful – check in at the hotel, take a shower, then find a place to eat. Apparently life in civilization is just like life on the trail. We found a nice outdoor pizza joint and had a pizza and a bottle of wine. Hmm, again like trail life.

I wish I could say that I learned some great revelation about life or myself on this trip, but the only thing that I can say that I have reaffirmed, is that I really love hiking. The Appalachian Trail might be a bit harsh or cruel at times, but the beauty never abates. I think I will try to keep doing this for as long as my body allows and opportunity provides.

(Editor’s note – this was published over two years after the hike ended just to put proper closure to the trip.)