I was warned. The Florida Trail has road walks, it’s not established. The people are sketchy, the wildlife is dangerous. I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen to the people who didn’t like the trail- and I’m glad, because I am in love.
Everyone I meet on the Florida trail warms my heart with their kindness and support, whether they’re a member of the trail community or I am the first hiker they’ve met. The trail is challenging but that is something that makes it special — swamp, prairie, jungle (complete with monkeys- invasive), beach, rivers, ponds, bluffs, hills, canals, endless sky, and yes, also roads which every trail has. That is the Florida trail, that is where the little orange rectangles lead, and that has been my life for the past month.
So it breaks my heart to find trash. At the end of the day… all roads lead to ocean here. Each water source is extremely important habitat (whether they are man-made retention ponds or natural streams), and once trash from anywhere, including the roads, gets into them it becomes so much worse for wildlife.
It isn’t even the mattresses, backwoods dump sites, beer cans, or coolers full of trash that really bother me. It’s the trash left by the outdoors community: the fuel canisters, protein bar wrappers, toilet paper, gun shell casings (remember hunting community- you share the trail), entire campsites, and micro trash. If the people who like being outside don’t even take care of the scenic places, how can we expect others to as well? The biggest issue is the micro trash (the tiny bits of wrapper that can slip out of pockets), the gun shell casings (don’t do an activity if you can’t clean up after yourself), and the toilet paper (I know LNT says bury, but just pack it out, it is your poop after-all).
When I was about halfway complete though, the real challenges of the trail came out and I got heat exhaustion. I think the hardest and most important thing on any hike is to take very good care of yourself. Days of straight exposure along the canals and through the prairie, I was working on a physical issue caused by my bear canister and didn’t notice the headache, nausea, exhaustion, that was slowly building. I decided to take a break and flip up north where it was cooler after spending the night throwing up water I was trying to drink, totally immobile, and totally dehydrated. Major issues can happen seemingly in an instant- and I need to get better at seeing the early signs and actually working on fixing them. Out here, I mostly hike and camp alone so if I don’t take care of myself, there is no one to pick up the slack.
Even with a body crash, I wouldn’t change a second of the trail. I have already swam in some of the most amazing springs, seen what feels like an infinite amount of wildlife, experienced more challenging days than on any other trail I’ve hiked… but also more rewarding. Summits are great, but I don’t know how many trails give you the sort of ecosystem diversity you find here within the span of only a few miles. If you want to experience something unique, something incredible, come take a hike on the Florida Trail; and while you’re out here… maybe pick up some trash along the way.