On December 21st, I flew down to Florida to hike the first thirty miles of the Florida Trail and engage in some touristing. Aside from my working holiday in Australia, I’ve taken no winter holidays since childhood, but this year the stars aligned with a work vacation and my antipathy towards facing another commercial Christmas where people exchange unnecessary bits of plastic. I told my family that if they wanted to give me presents they could make charity donations, furthermore told them that I would not be getting them (except my sister’s kids) presents aside from charity donations, and escaped to somewhere with a surprising general absence of Christmas decorations.
After purchasing supplies and downloading the southern FT segment on Guthook, I took Lyft out to the Oasis Visitor Centre, the FT’s southern terminus in Big Cypress National Preserve. The reason why I chose Florida as a destination is obvious: heat. I chose the first thirty miles of the FT because they were supposedly extremely difficult and involved wading through swamp, and swamp-wading is an essential activity for any tourist in Florida. I chose Lyft because it was substantially cheaper than Uber.
The Lyft driver was wary about dropping me off at the isolated visitor centre; I think he thought I was engaged in the ‘young person in Europe’ variety of backpacking, since he seemed unable to register the information that I was walking to I-75. He continued hovering around as I rearranged my backpack on the curbside, as if he thought that I would change my mind, but finally he drove off. The visitor centre was small, but its displays were interesting and it had a short informational film that I sat and watched before filling out my hiking permit at the desk. The employees warned me that they had heard the trail was extremely dry, which is what I had heard as well – no water for over twenty miles. Parts of Florida had seen heavy rain over the last few days, so I was hoping to encounter a decent amount of water, but I was carrying five litres just in case.
I quickly discovered that, as predicted, the trail was fairly wet and I encountered water across the trail multiple times during my first day of walking. The deepest was in a cypress dome and reached my mid-calves. Usually when my feet are wet on trails I’m fording and trying to get across an unpleasantly gushing watercourse as quickly as possible, so the wading through calm, clear water was novel and I enjoyed it.
I had devoted a lot of thought pre-trip to what kind of footwear I would use for the FT. Boots seemed out of the question, especially for wading, and I had read trail journals where people mentioned throwing away their shoes after passing through the swamp, so I didn’t want to wear new ones. I decided to use my old Asics trail runners + my orthotics for dry hiking, and an older pair of Altras + Superfeet for wading. I didn’t want to bring two pairs of shoes, but I learned in Mission Canyon on the PCT this past spring that my orthotics don’t take kindly to prolonged submersion, and I wanted to wear them as much as possible to ensure I had no foot problems.
A cement alligator surprised me in a lush area where the vegetation was growing easily and enthusiastically and wildly and loving life.
I random camped, not difficult since my surroundings were flat as a board. Supposedly the mosquitoes in Florida can tortuous, so I was delighted when they didn’t emerge until after dark, when I was already in my tent.