Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A significant fork in the road

The trail turns left here, but I went straight.

"Key West or Bust" - Day 110

Today, as I took my first steps out of Oviedo, Florida, I diverged from the Florida Trail.

Why?  I have completed just over 800 miles of the trail and I have only a little more than 300 miles to go.

The answer boils down to personal preference.  For four years I've lived on the beach.  I love beach hiking.  I was exposed to long distance beach hiking when I did North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 2014 -- It has 85 miles of mostly beach strand walking along the Outer Banks.  The Florida peninsula has lots of great beach too, and it has been calling.  I'm going to shift over to the coast and walk at least 100 miles of white sand.

That is the positive response.  The other side of the coin relates to reported trail conditions.  Under the influence of the El Niño global weather pattern, Florida has seen a deluge of rain lately.  Stream levels have been at or near daily record highs for several weeks.  Hiker reports say that low places are flooded.  There are places where people have had to swim or use boats.  There is much more wading and slogging than normal.  The trail is a mess.

Now wading is not exactly a challenging activity.  Kids go out of their way to splash in puddles.  But it's not what I want to do.  It slows me down.  Foot care - keeping my feet dry - adds to the expended time and energy.  Prolonged hiking with wet feet gives me blisters.  The only pleasure wading provides is access to places of natural beauty.  But perhaps because I've already hiked 800 miles of Florida's amazing wild swamps, rivers, hammocks, sink holes, forests, steepheads, prairies, scrub flatwoods, and savannas, the attraction of more of those great venues is diminished. 

So today, instead of plunging into the woods to walk alongside the Econlockhatchee River for five or six miles, I viewed it from a bridge on Highway 419.

From there, the road walk to the beach is actually shorter than a trail road walk required to get from Tosohatchee WMA to Bull Creek WMA, and I'll actually be walking part of that same road - I will technically be back on the Florida Trail for about seven miles.  When I noted that during a logistics planning session a couple weeks ago, that's when the idea of hiking the beach first struck me, and with the continuing rains since then, it just seemed like the thing for me.

The 'Key West or Bust' quest continues.  I still hope to extend my Personal Continuous Footpath - a string of continuous footprints - from the summit of Katahdin in Maine to America's 'Southernmost Point' - but from here on I have to withhold the 'Florida Trail' label from my reports.  I already miss it.

Today was a short hiking day.  I took the afternoon off anticipating rain and just taking a bit of a break as I step into this new phase.  Below is a map of the route hiked.

Beginning a road walk to the beach at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Florida

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