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Florida Trail Under 100 Kilometres

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 5: Arrival At I-75

The mosquitoes were thicker overnight than those in the Diamond Peak Wilderness during my 2017 PCT LASH, and that’s saying something. Those that crowded into my vestibule were easy to kill by pressing my tent mesh against the doors, so Florida played witness to a bloodbath in the morning when the mosquitoes and a burst of rain had dwindled and I wanted to start walking.

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More wading in the morning and showers throughout the day, but the sky was mostly blue. I repeatedly put up and took down my umbrella. The weather was hot and walking through the deep, cool water of the cypress domes was pleasant.

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I saw frog (?) eggs hanging cloudlike around stems in the water.

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The main buggy road in Big Cypress marked a transition from wading to periods of wading interspersed with walking on dry ground. My wading footwear had worked perfectly thus far – Altras, Superfeet, no socks – but the no socks part started to irritate my skin when I was walking partially on dry ground and no water was flowing between my flesh and the gritty interior of my shoes. I tried to wash them out well in the puddles a few times as I walked the rest of the way to the interstate.

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Swamp buggy road
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Gate at I-75

The northern rest area has spigots where I cleaned my muddy feet and shoes before contacting an Uber to return to Miami. Coincidentally there was a driver only a few minutes away, so I quickly gathered up my gear and hoped that I didn’t smell too much of swamp.

In conclusion:

What a fantastic hike! I love seeing new ecosystems and this one was very different from most of the others I’ve visited. I’m not sure whether the entire Florida Trail is on my radar yet, since it includes lots of road walking and clean water is scarce in areas, but if I have the opportunity to do more swamp hiking I definitely will.

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Florida Trail Under 100 Kilometres

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 4: Day of Wading

Beautiful weather today! Soon after the mile 27 marker (which actually marks 21 miles from Oasis Visitor Center), the route became 99% wading with a few sections of mud. The mud was more difficult than the wading, having incredible suction.

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Muddy.

The water level was below my knees most of the time, but still made for tiring walking that required a lot of concentration. The swamp bottom is a layer of muck covering limestone karst with solution holes, so every step requires careful foot placement.

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Sliding my feet forwards was most effective, then I could detect whether one was going to enter a depression. The muck infiltrated my shoes and built up on the insoles, but they were easy to clean by removing them at intervals and swishing them around in the water.

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Oak Hill Camp, which is located on one of the strand’s densely vegetated pine islands, had daytime mosquitoes and they were atrocious. I only stopped long enough for a short rest and snack.

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Black Lagoon, a cypress dome that perhaps got its name from the inkiness of its water in the shade, was gorgeous.

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The Black Lagoon

The Black Lagoon contained alligator flag, which by growing only in deep water indicates where water will remain and alligators will retreat to in times of drought.

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Alligator flag
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I finally saw another hiker! He was heading past Oasis Visitor Centre to Loop Road, the old southern terminus of the FT. After two years on the PCT, I keep expecting hikers to jump out of nowhere, but that’s not the FT experience.

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At small Thank God Island I decided to camp.

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Friend on Thank God Island

Wading through the swamp was such an intense experience that I kept remembering my body movements while trying to fall asleep.

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Florida Trail Under 100 Kilometres

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 3: Suddenly Dry

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The trail was suddenly dry this morning. I encountered no water until a notorious alligator hole located directly beside the FT, where a small amount of water was visible. Guthook claims that the alligator lives underneath a ledge inside the hole, so despite no alligators being in sight, I wasn’t going to stick my hand in there. I continued along, reaching a wet cypress strand when I had about 300 ml of water left.

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The route was confusing in the vicinity of the gator hole and within a forest packed with long grass. I heard a strange sound that I thought might be a black bear vocalizing – they don’t hiberate in Florida, where they can find food year-round, and I’ve seen their droppings along the trail – so I backed off and shouted ‘bad dog’ and clacked my hiking poles to scare the beastie away. Without determining its identity, I regained the FT’s orange blazes.

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Rain on and off throughout the afternoon. I brought my sunbrella for this hike, and while I haven’t needed it for the heat, Florida is the first place where I’ve found a sunbrella effective for the rain. It’s hot so you don’t want many rain clothes, there hasn’t been much wind, and the weather does this thing where the sky is innocently blue with sporadic white clouds but every cloud passing overhead rains on you. Wearing rain clothes would require constantly putting them on and taking them off, as opposed to an umbrella that’s easy to take out and stow away throughout intermittent rain.

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For the first time I saw other people, two men passing in a swamp buggy along a swamp buggy road. They asked whether I needed anything, but I was doing fine with my umbrella bobbing cheerily overhead.

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I random camped just before the big cypress strand, which will require around seven miles of wading broken by a few islands to rest on. For company at supper I had butterflies and a variety of birds, including a downy woodpecker, cardinals, a brown version of a cardinal (?), and warblers (?). After I got into my sleeping bag, something small hit the bathtub floor by my waist hard, then tried again halfway down my legs and hit hard again before leaving. Rodent? Snake?

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Florida Trail Under 100 Kilometres

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 2: Still No Alligators

Day two on the FT. Everything was misty and wet this morning and I felt little incentive to get up, but get up I did. The sun emerged just before I entered a section of wading.

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7 Mile Camp
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I don’t know what I was expecting from the swamp water, but I was surprised by how lovely and clear it is. I read that one shouldn’t go near the water at dawn or dusk because alligators can sometimes mistake people for prey, so I’ve been abiding by that advice. No alligators seen yet.

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In places, the trail was only a channel of flattened grass. I imagine that beating back overgrowth is an endless task in this lush ecosystem, and the FT doesn’t get many thru-hikers. I’m not sure how many hikers the section from Oasis Visitor Centre to I-75 receives in general – I didn’t see anyone today or yesterday, but that could be the time of year.

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I random camped. A bird and the vegetation are being noisy outside my tent. I’m taking great satisfaction in seeing the mosquitoes batter my tent mesh and being unable to access my soft appetizing flesh.

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Florida Trail Under 100 Kilometres

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 1: Escape to Florida

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.

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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.

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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.

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A cement alligator surprised me in a lush area where the vegetation was growing easily and enthusiastically and wildly and loving life.

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This little guy has seen better days.
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Jungle-like trail

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.

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