The Florida Trail & Big Cypress

At the Southern Terminus of the Florida Trail.  Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

At the Southern Terminus of the Florida Trail. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

In mid January I decided that I would take the first few months of 2011 and hike the Florida Trail.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular trail (that is probably most of you), it is a National Scenic Trail that runs from the swamps of Big Cypress National Preserve to the beaches of Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida.  It is a pretty incredible trail and one that is only thru-hiked about a dozen or so people each year.

Bromeliad and Orange Blaze of the Florida Trail - Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Bromeliad and Orange Blaze of the Florida Trail - Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

My interest in the trail started a couple years ago when I was in the Everglades and realized that the southern terminus of the trail was located on Loop Road, one of my favorite locations in the entire region.  I had planned to do the Big Cypress section in 2010 but things didn’t work out.  So, this past fall, when I was grasping at straws and quickly realizing I needed a significant change in life, I decided I’d do the trail.

The idea was  to spend three months rediscovering the state I grew up in, and to have some good time to sort my thoughts out for the future.  The plan was to get back into photography and return to basics a bit.  So, on a Saturday in late January I hit the trail.

For the next four days, I crossed Big Cypress National Preserve on foot, starting on Loop Road and ending on Interstate 75.  During those four days I got to experience an incredible place slowly and at my own pace.  Unfortunately, about half of the 40 or so miles required wading in either shin deep mud or knee deep water.  The water wasn’t a big deal, but the mud was brutal.   Each step required sinking deep into the mud and then prying my foot back out to take another step.  As a result of this motion, both of my heels turned into giant blisters.

The Florida Trail in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

The Florida Trail in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

When I reached I-75, I was met by family and returned to my parents home in Orlando for a break while my blisters healed (insert bad pun here).  During the next two weeks, I rethought my plan.  While I absolutely loved my four days on the trail, despite the mud and the blisters, I reconsidered my goal.  After all, during those four days, I was typically too tired to take photos.  The act of carrying my camera gear meant an incredibly heavy pack. On a practical note, I love food too much to want to eat oatmeal and noodles for three months.  Those reasons, combined with a couple job opportunities and a chance to go back to school, meant that I decided to head back to New York, a decision my wife was very pleased with.

My three month long trip ended up being four days.  Did I fail?  Heck no.  I completed one of the most difficult sections of the trail and the section that I have been wanting to do for several years now.  I got my head wrapped around some of the things I wanted to think about.  I had a great time.  I’d call it a success.  Sure, I only covered 40 miles, barely 3% of the entire trail, but I loved every minute of it and I know I’ll be back someday.  Hopefully that day will be sooner rather than later but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Have you ever wanted to do a trip like the Florida Trail?  Maybe the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail?  I’d love to hear about your dream or maybe even your experience!

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Comments

  1. Thomas Rodrigues says:

    Thanks for sharing this post – it brings back memories from the Appalachian Trail. As you might recall, I took a stab at a thru hike back in 2005. I even met you down in Flamingo for a rather unrealistic practice hike… as it turns out, the flats of Florida don’t prepare you too well for the hills of Georgia.

    I started off on the trail in early April, and completed about 90 miles before succumbing to knee pain and a bit of loneliness. The blisters didn’t help too much either.

    It sounds like we had similar experiences, however, in that the hike gave me time to do a lot of thinking. I think there is something truly meditative about walking (and presumably mucking) for hours and days at a time.

    I would like to try the Appalachian again, but next time it will be in sections rather than a thru hike, and preferably with good company. Maybe I should call you the next time I get the itch.

  2. Planning to do that same section of the Florida Scenic Trail in December!

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