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 It was more than ten years old and probably badly out of date--he entered it online years after he finished the trail from his hand-written notes.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. =)


Anonymous said...

Geez, Ryan, you're going to need a separate compartment in your pack for all the paperwork. Good luck getting everything together.

Knit Wit

Anonymous said...

wow, better make copies to leave with someone. would hate to see you lose them, toss them by accident as unneeded supplies, get wet.......and the list goes on.


Anonymous said...

They say that pepper spray repels bears in the wild. Is there a gator repellent that you can carry, or will you fling your heavy paper load at carniverous carnivores?

Grumpy Grinch

Anonymous said...

Have you "Goggled Earthed" the trail yet? Might be a good way to find obstacles now so you can prepare of them....
just a thought....buppsters

Anonymous said...

We wish you the best on your hike, goodluck with all that paper work have a Happy Holiday Ryan