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 holiday and general antipathy on my part 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 basic reason why I chose Florida for my vacation 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 drove off. The visitor centre was small, but had some interesting displays and 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. The last few days had seen some heavy rain in Florida, so I was hoping to encounter a decent amount of water, but just in case I had brought five litres.
I quickly discovered that, as predicted, the trail was fairly wet and I encountered water across the trail multiple times in my first day of walking. The deepest was in a cypress dome and reached my mid-calves. Generally 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 somewhat old Asics trail runners + my orthotics for dry hiking, and a very old pair of Altras + Superfeet for wading. I didn’t want to carry shoes, but I learned in Mission Canyon 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. Having read that the mosquitoes could be bad in Florida, I was delighted when they didn’t emerge until after dark, when I was already in my tent.