Monday, December 31, 2007

Report From 30,000 ft

I'm on my way to Florida! I stayed up until about 2:30 in the morning last night, getting the last of my affairs in order. I wrote out a check to the IRS for those pesky estimated taxes I'm required to pay by January 15th. I did a few last minute tweaks to Atlas Quest, and copied the last of my changes to the all important flash drive.

I'm sure I forgot a few things, but I'll live. =)

I slept about two or three hours before waking up again to go to the airport. I didn't sleep especially well, but who does the night before they go off for a 3 1/2 month hike? Not nervous--I've done this before, after all--but anxious and excited. The moment has come. And I'm bald! =)

Yesterday was a long day for me, and much of it was spent running around town looking for seam sealer that works on silcone impregnated nylon. I've been sewing lots of colored bags--much nicer than the all green, all the time bags I made for the AT. I have about a dozen colors available this time--bright red, yellow, white, light blue, mid-tone blue, dark blue, purple, black, orange, a wonderfully gaudy flourescent yellow, and even a shiny silver color.

The thing is, when you poke a bunch of holes in it with a sewing machine, it tends not to be waterproof anymore. It's a slippery material that most seam sealers can't stick to well, so I needed a special seam sealer that works specifically for this material.

I didn't buy it with the fabric since I *thought* I already had some, but two days ago, after much searching, gave up. I walked to Mountain Air Sports to pick some up, but got the wrong kind. The back had a sentence which started, "For silicone impregnated nylon...." I stopped reading at this point--time is short, and that's what I needed!

Big mistake. Turns out, the end of the sentence read, "do not use this product, use such-and-such OTHER product."

Whoops. So yesterday, I walked back to exchange the item. Except they ran out of the seam sealer I needed. No problem, I think, I'll get it at Granite Mountain Stairway. I walk to that store... and they were closed on Sunday.

Crap. Now I had a problem. I had no idea where else in town would carry such a specialty item. Maybe, just maybe, Big 5 would have it. It was a long shot, but I was desperate.

Being on foot, keep in mind, I'm walking around to all these places.

Along the way, I passed what appeared to be a fishing store with lots of outdoor gear, so I stopped in to check. Nope. They suggested an army surplus store nearby--so I went there, but they were closed on Sunday.

Drats. Next, Big 5, and not surprisingly, struck out again. Since I was now at Madonna Plaza, I dropped into Payless Shoes to look for an extra set that my mom could forward to me on the trail, and I did find another nice set of shoes. I have two spare sets available now.

Then I stopped at Ralphs, the nearly supermarket, buying lots of food for the trail.

But I still needed seam sealer. On the way back to my mom's place, I stopped at a bicycle shop in pure desperation, and as expected, they had no such thing.

I figured I'd have to acquire it in Florida and seam seal my bags there, until I discovered my own sorce at 12:30 last night! Woo-who! I knew I had some! =)

By then, it was too late to apply it in California--it wouldn't be cured well enough before I had to leave for the airport. I still need to seam seal my bags.

I'm now somewhere over Texas or something. Maybe we're even further--Alabama or Louisiana or something. I see solid ground outside, so I know we aren't over the Gulf of Mexico.

They were supposed to play the Nancy Drew movie for this fight, which I'm sure Amanda would have been thrilled to know I finally saw it, but they had trouble with the tape and played The Nanny Diaries instead.

Kind of a strange movie, but there was a line near the end that seemed oddly apropriate for me at on this particular fight. I don't remember the quote exactly, but to paraphrase, it was that some anthropologists would say you have to put yourself into another culture to really understand your own.

That's a seniment I feel strongly is true. The culture shock of Guatemala really pointed out the things I took for granted in the United States. Eggs that don't need refrigeration, putting used toilet paper in a trash can instead of the toilet, and even sodas in plastic bags.

The Appalachian Trail wasn't nearly as extreme for me, but the same principle applies. You would not believe how incredibly good food can taste, and I still remember a certain slice of apple pie I had in Rangely, Maine.

The Appalachian Trail has a culture, and I lived it for nearly six months.

The last couple of years, I've felt like I've been getting to comfortable. I needed to immerse myself in another culture once again--not only because it's fun, but because it helps understand my life outside of it as well.

I usually don't dwell on philosophical thoughts, and I promise not to bore you all with them on a regular basis.

Tonight, DebBee has offered to put me up for the night, and I have a hunch there are going to be a lot of bags with seam sealer hanging around curing overnight. ;o)

Then tomorrow, Key West and the first steps of the adventure.

I also wanted to thank everyone who has sent me messages wishing me good luck on my little adventure. I'm rather surprised at the number of people who've taken the time to write, and while I have not replied to all of them, I have read all of your e-mails and thank you so much for your suport. It's been a humbling experience! =)

In other news, I've now lost sight of land. We must be over the Gulf of Mexico now. Florida, ready or not, here I come!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Holy freakin' hairdo, Batman!

Who is this man? What is he doing? That is me, without any hair. Told my mom, "Take it all off!" And she did. Buzz! Buzz! After the hair came off, I showered, cleaning off those little annoying pieces of hair that never come off except in a shower, then took pictures of myself.

My official weigh in, sans hair, came to 179.6 pounds according to the scale in my mom's bathroom.

I have shaved my last shave. The trail awaits....

Friday, December 7, 2007

Seminole Tribe Woes....

I talked to the folks at the Florida Trail Association (FTA) this morning about the Big Cypress reservation being off limits in January and got more details about that. Deb says this happens every couple of years. Perhaps to remind the FTA who's really in charge of the trail through the reservation? I don't know--I'm up-to-date on my tribal politics. For whatever reason, though, they didn't get around to approving hikers for January, and they expect it'll be permitted again during their next tribal council on January 20th. It's possible hikers could be allowed through again near the end of January. I've tentatively said I'll go through starting February 1st.

But that leaves with with a problem. I'd have to walk pretty darned slow to arrive February 1st, which I'd rather not do if I want to arrive at Springer Mountain on April 16th. There are no good road walks that would get me around the reservation. Hiking along I-75 is not allowed, and there's not exactly a whole lot of places to hide from any cops that might drive by.

So tentatively, this is my plan.... I will hike to I-75 and arrive whenever I happen to arrive. I figure it'll likely be near January 20th, right when the tribal council would happen, give or take. If I arrive later than expected, fine... maybe I can just hike through. If I arrive when I expect (or even earlier).... I have a problem. I'll just skip that section starting at I-75 jump ahead to just north of the reservation. Apparently, it's perfectly fine to drive through the reservation--it's the hiking through that's illegal. Despite the fact that much of the hike through the reservation is on roads. I guess they view hikers as "suspicious" (and honestly, have you ever seen a thru-hiker? They do look more than a bit suspicious....), so they need to tell all of the police in the area the names of hikers passing through if any of them stop me, they know I'm okay.

The trail comes out near a rest area on I-75, so I'll try to get a ride out from the rest area to an area north of the reservation and skip the reservation. Then later, hopefully early in February before I get too far north, I'll get a ride back to I-75 and hike through the reservation. After reaching the north side of it, I'll get another ride back to where I hiked before I had to backtrack.

Which means I need to arrange three rides to get this section done. First to skip the reservation, then to backtrack to the reservation, then to forward-track to the point where I stopped to backtrack. Make sense so far?

And, more importantly, are there any volunteers who can help shuttle me around this mess? =) I can work around your schedule when I do the backtracking to make things as convenient as possible. My arrival at I-75 isn't set in stone, but that's less predictable. Anyhow... let me know!
I'd be more than happy to cover the cost of gas (and tolls!) for the drive to help me out. =)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Planning Ahead

I have to confess, when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I didn't do a whole lot of planning ahead of time. I got the idea to do it in February, and two months later I bought a ticket on Amtrak to Atlanta. Mark gave me a lift to Amicalola Falls SP, and I started walking. My pre-trip planning included buying a couple of copies of Backpacker magazine, looking through gear at Gaylans and REI, and dehydrating a bunch of food. I also bought three sets of shoes that my mom could forward to me as needed. I also read one person's blog of their adventure from Springer Mountain to Katahdin. It was more than ten years old and probably badly out of date--he entered it online years after he finished the trail from his hand-written notes.

The Florida Trail, on the other hand, pre-planning has taken a distinctly different challenge. There's not a lot of literature about the trail. I read Ten Million Steps, which really isn't very good, I'm sorry to say. Nimblewill Nomad might be a great guy, but nobody would mistake him for a professional writer. And... well, that's it. I don't know of any other books of adventures on this particular trail. I found a couple of blogs online, but none of the ones I looked at are particularly interesting or useful. It's not that the trail isn't worth writing about--there just aren't many people who thru-hike it.

The latest issue of the FTA's bi-monthly magazine Footprint gives the statistics:

At this point in time 59 hikers have completed the Florida Trail.... The 2007 hiking season was the largest yet on record with 12 hikers finishing the entire trail.

It's a small club indeed! Of the 59 people known to have hiked the entire length of the Florida Trail, 43 of them were thru-hikers (completed it within one season) while 16 of them were section hikers (completed it over two or more years).

I actually plan to hike a bit more than just the Florida Trail, from Key West to Springer Mountain. It's part of the Eastern Continental Trail which runs from Key West to Newfoundland, Canada, so technically speaking, I guess I will be an Eastern Continental Trail hiker. Besides being a mouthful, however, I'm not thru-hiking the entire Eastern Continental Trail since I plan to stop at Springer Mountain. So what am I? I will be thru-hiking the Florida Trail, but it's more than that. I won't be thru-hiking the Eastern Continental Trail. But then, I may be section hiking it. I already did the Appalachian Trail section, and after this trip, I'll have finished everything south of it. I'll have to go back and do the International Appalachian Trail--a 500 mile section leading north from Katahdin deep into Canada. Then I'll have hiked the entire length of the Eastern Continental Trail, but I'll only be a section hiker of that trail since I'll have broken the hike into three distinct segments, each completed in a different year.

In any case, the section from Key West to Springer Mountain does not have one, single name, which makes describing it more complicated. From here on out, I hereby designate the trail between Key West and Springer Mountain the Southern Appalachian Trail.

Just kidding. But seriously, I'm calling this a Florida Trail thru-hike for simplicity, but the hike will cover more than just the Florida Trail. How many people have hiked from Key West to Springer Mountain? I don't know, but seeing as only 59 people have done the entire Florida Trail, it has to be less than that. Nimblewill Nomad has hiked it, though, so I know I won't be the first. I'm thinking I can probably count on my fingers the number of people in the entire world who have thru-hiked from Key West to Springer Mountain. Thus, there's not a lot of information about the hike.

One issue I'm dealing with--something I never worried about on the Appalachian Trail--are permits. I need them. Several of them. I've been making calls this morning. I called the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, and they're mailing a permit to me that will get me through next March.

To hike through Eglin Air Force base, one must have in their possession "an official letter from FTA confirming their status as a thru-hiker and listing approximate dates of travel with Eglin." So I called the FTA about acquiring this letter. I figure I'll hike through that area in March sometime, but it's hard to predict exactly what those dates may be, and they suggested that I should wait until I'm closer to Eglin before getting the letter and have a better idea of when I'll be going through.

Another problem permit area is the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. I need to get permission to hike through that area and needed to sign a release form with two witnesses watching. I did the witness thing--used it as an excuse for a letterboxing gathering in Seattle last month. But the FTA gave me some bad news. Seems that the Seminals did not renew some sort of agreement with the Florida Trail Association for January, and no hikers at all will be allowed through in January. Which is very unfortunate for me, because that's the month I planned to go through. December is fine. February is fine. January--not allowed. The FTA only found this out yesterday. No warning at all.

Not sure what my options are there at this point. Hike through illegally is always an option, I suppose, but one I'd rather not do. A road walk around the area? Or will I have to make a point of hitchhiking back and do that section in February? I need to talk to someone who knows the area better than I do, and I left a message with Deb Blick from the FTA to give me a call.

I also gave the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) a call this morning to get permission to hike through Hickory Hammock. The guy I talked to took my phone number and e-mail address and said he'd make sure everything was taken care of for me. I predicted I'd be hiking through that area in February, but I don't really know. It's a guess. He said they expected an online method of registering to already be done by now but wasn't, but hopefully by the time I arrived it would be done and a few clicks online will get me through their territory without breaking any trespassing laws.

In this paperwork the FTA gave me, it also warns that Deseret has closed the trail through their property and a road walk will have to be done around it.

And I must call the Avon Park Bombing Range before entering their territory. You think? =)

There are several other permits I need to acquire, but the rest of them look like I can pick them up along the way.

It gives me a headache just thinking about all these permits. What if I miss one?

I haven't even looked at the section of the trail in Alabama and Georgia yet. Lord knows what permits I need to do for that section.

Why the big difference between the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail? Besides the fact that the Appalachian Trail is the trail most traveled, it's also nearly 100% protected on public land. Alas, large swaths of the Florida Trail are not. Permission to hike can come and go at whim.

Tomorrow, I think I'll take a break from Florida Trail stuff and start investigating the trail through Alabama and Georgia. Figure out where it goes, get some maps, and learn what permits are needed to hike through. Ugh.

Once I get on the trail, though.... it'll all be worth it. =)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Knock, knock!

I'm just making sure this blog gets up and running. =) There won't be any real content for at least a couple of weeks.