Monday, 29 March 2010

Florida Trail - I did it!

I left Crestview in very good spirits after a very relaxing rest day with my couch surfing host Mark. I had spent a whole day (8 hours straight!) at Mark's computer organizing the next leg of my trip (Arizona Trail), getting updated on emails and even paying taxes in Germany. Thank God for the internet! Mark works for the Forest Service so he could give me a lot of information as well. I had a great stay - thank you, Mark!

I had 3 1/2 days left on the Florida Trail - piece of cake really. Only the last stretch posed some logistical challenge. The FT ends on Santa Rosa Island, a barrier island south of Pensacola with beautiful white beaches and incredible views. The down side of this is that there are no camping possibilities for 37 miles - it is either protected National Seashore or expensive beach motels. Other hikers had already complained about that. I did not want to spend a fortune on a motel and I did not want to stealth camp in the dunes either, especially since I have a non-freestanding tent that would be impossible to pitch in the sand. So I came up with what I thought was an incredibly clever idea. I would hike as far as I could and then take a taxi to the end of the island (and the FT) to Fort Pickens, where there is a state campground and hike back the next day.

So I hiked 27 miles on my last day, called a taxi and was confronted with a most talkative driver. He had just moved to Pensacola three weeks ago, but was already driving a taxi (hey, what are GPS for?) Luckily, you just have to follow the beach road to get to Fort Pickens campground, so he did not have a chance to get lost. Things started to get wrong when we came to the park entrance and there was already a sign saying "Camp ground full". Well, that does not deter a thruhiker. The problem was that the Ranger would not let us through because the camp ground was full. I pretended having a reservation. "Great", said the ranger. "What is your name so I can check with the late arrival list?" I made up a story about sharing a campsite with friends who were already there and was eventually let through....

I had hoped to find a quiet corner somewhere at the campground but it was absolutely packed. Luckily this was not a problem. This end of the island was wooded so I just hiked on a bit and found a spot in the forest to pitch my tent for free. I guess I was not exactly legal there, but considering the wind that came up that night I was extremely happy to be sheltered among trees. Early next morning I went to the Northern Terminus and visited historical Fort Pickens where I was totally alone - no one there to take my finishing picture either!

Last road walk
I hiked the 10 miles back I had missed the day before frolicking at the beach - as much as you can frolick in strong winds and ice cold water - but it was a pretty beach. And then I had even officially finished the Florida Trail! The first German to ever hike it!!!! Horray!!!! Telling by trail journals I am the only one to do a straight thruhike that year so far. Other hikers did the whole trail, but due to flooding they had to flipflop some sections.

 At Pensacola Beach I was picked up and stayed for two nights with Tom and Anne in Pensacola in the most beautiful house with a sea view to die for. Tom is a the section leader for the Florida Trail and I learned a lot about the trail, its background and maintenance. I was spoilt rotten with great food, interesting conversations and 5 paperback books that will be my reading material for the Arizona Trail. What a great end for an adventure hike thanks to Tom and Anne!

So today I will fly to Phoenix, AZ and start the Arizona Trail on April 1st. I have already received an email telling me that there is still thigh deep snow on the trail due to the El nino year....Aren't I lucky?


Suwanee Refugee said...

After hiking through swamp that came up to your waste, snow is going to be super easy.

eArThworm said...

Maybe I told you this before...
Nimblewill Nomad is starting the Arizona Trail 1st week in May. Too bad you'll miss him...unless you hike SOBO, in which case you'd cross paths.