I guesstimate that I’ve visited at least 100 unique public lands sites this year, from Olympic National Park in Washington to Big Cypress in Florida to Anza Borrego in Southern California and scores in between. I’m still updating the website with all of the places, people, and outdoor recreation businesses I’ve encountered so far. But, 2017 has ended up being more of a whirlwind road trip at a breakneck and frequently stressful pace. Now, I’m ready to HIKE. So, in 2018, that’s exactly what I’m going to do: Hike. Like, a LOT.
What better year to go for a bunch of really long walks? In honor of the Golden Anniversary of the Act that made their designations possible, I’m spending most of next year on foot, hiking the Florida, Appalachian, and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails, as well as the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail – about 7,000 miles total.
Officially designated in 1983, the Florida Trail runs approximately 1300 miles from its southern terminus at Big Cypress National Preserve southwest of Fort Lauderdale to its northern terminus at Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola. During a visit to Big Cypress in early May of this year, I walked the first few miles with local experts Jess ‘Swamp Ape’ Karcher and Ralph ‘El Prez’ Duharte of the Florida Hiking Syndicate. After that little teaser hike, I knew I wanted to come back and do the whole thing. It’s completely different from any other hikes I’ve done, and environmentally, almost the opposite of my desert homeland. Although currently a true thru means substantial road-walking, the Florida Trail Association, Friends of the Florida Trail, and Hiking Trails for America are all working towards the goal of completing a non-motorized right-of-way for the entire trail. In the meantime, I can’t think of a better way to kick off my long walk: the FT should be an exciting challenge that’s sure to test my comfort zone.
At nearly 340 miles, the Pinhoti Trail extends from the southernmost Appalachians in Alabama, with a southern terminus at Flagg Mountain, up through Georgia, where its northern terminus lies at its junction with the Benton MacKaye Trail near the town of Blue Ridge. Not only was it designated a National Recreation Trail in 1977, but also a Millennium Legacy Trail in 2000. The Pinhoti is the longest trail in both Alabama & Georgia, and is one of the longest off-water National Recreational Trails in the US. I got to walk a couple miles of it back in April, where it shares some track with the Bear Creek Trail in the Conasauga Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. It was a beautiful, woodsy walk, so of course I wanted to do the whole thing – it took some willpower to not just stick with it and walk to an end! Since I’ll already be pretty close to Flagg Mountain after finishing the FT, seems like as good a time as any to hop on up there and continue my long walk with a Pinhoti thru-hike. It’ll be my first long hike in the Appalachians, and my first time hiking in Alabama. Yay!
Once I reach the northern terminus of the Pinhoti, I have 3 options: I can turn around and backtrack around 24 miles to the Cohutta Overlook and hitch out; I can turn left onto the Benton MacKaye Trail and walk around 220 miles to a campground in the Great Smoky Mountains NP; OR I can hang a right on the Benton MacKaye and walk around 70 miles south to arrive at Springer Mountain, which also happens to be the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Guess which option I’m taking?
By the time I reach Springer, I’ll already have around 1700 miles of mostly-flat terrain behind me, so my body should be in pretty great overall condition. Therefore, the almost 2190 miles of the much more steep AT shouldn’t be as impactful to my knees and hips because I won’t be shocking all of my muscles and joints at once; it’ll be a more gradual process. So, I guess I should probably just turn right back around at Springer and head on up to Maine…
By the time I reach Katahdin, I’ll have hiked over 3,900 miles. But… if I get there when I think I will, it will only be early July, smack dab in the middle of prime thru-hiking season. Obviously it would be silly to quit walking then. You know what people do in mid-July? They start southbound thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest or Continental Divide Trails. Sooo, since I’ve already done the PCT, I’ll head to the CDT!
At around 3,100 miles, the CDT is the second longest National Scenic Trail, and like the PCT, extends from Canada to Mexico, passing through 25 National Forests and 3 National Parks on the way. I’ll have had plenty of hill time on the AT, but it’ll be great to back to some higher elevations. It will be my first time in Wyoming and Montana, and for me will start in Glacier NP, which I can’t wait to see!
I’m going to keep spreading the word about the importance of preserving and protecting our public lands, but in ‘18 it’s going to be from the ground, almost a solid year of trail time. I can’t wait to share with you the beauty of so many more of our public lands, but this time, at an average pace of around 3 miles per hour. Hikers hike!