We are home in Texas.
We finished the Florida trail on Thursday around lunch time. It was very anti-climactic. There was no wooden sign, no three hour-4K foot climb, just the last blaze painted on a piece of wood and a three sided display board about the Florida Trail. Nothing to say we were done. We stood at the edge of the parking lot looking for a stray blaze, seeing if perhaps it would take us to the top of the Fort or maybe the water, but when I looked at the little paper on the board that outlined the mileage for the section it stated that mile 0.0 was on the eastern edge of the parking lot. Yipppiee. Something more interesting should be there. A northern/western terminus sign or congratulations or I dunno! Something!
The trail leading up to it was nice. We had about 30 miles of beach or nearby beach to look at for the last two days. We even walked along the beach for several miles on the final day, walking past thousands of pearlescent blue bodies of Portuguese Man o’ War and finding a small, dead, juvenile green sea turtle. And some tar balls here and there from the oil spill. BP and it’s clean up crew are still active on the beaches here with complete crews in some of the parking lots. The area appears mostly clean except for the tar balls but I am sure the turtle stranding will be of note, especially since we did not see any obvious sign of trauma on the outside. We did also see a large drum (fish) washed up.
As for the Florida Trail, it is certainly not a the AT. I didn’t expect it to be in the sense of scenery or hills and mountains, but I did expect more from much of the trail maintenance and well, I was really disappointed to find out about how much road walking we really did have. On the AT we ran into many people who gave disparaging comments on the FT in regards to the road walks and we would defend it and say there wasn’t that much. But, really….there is. A lot.
We do plan on writing a letter to the FTA with some of our comments and critiques, particularly on road walks, some areas with poor maintenance, areas with crappy blazing (sometimes you will find these double blazed poles and then someone puts arrows in addition to the blazing and will, there is no need for arrows if you blaze correctly!). In total we trespassed three times to stealth camp along a roadwalk. Camping along side the right-of-way is just as dangerous, who knows what kind of people might come harass you or a cop could kick you off, so ducking into the trees is a must. If the FTA is working to negotiate a real trail through any of these private lands, at least they could negotiate several approved camping areas until real trail could be built. It’d be much nicer to camp in approved areas than stealth. Also, we did find an approved campsite along the beach walk in the UWF dunes that was not on our map or listed in our book. It was an Escambia county approved Leave No Trace campsite! If we’d known that we would have probably arranged to stay there instead of a hotel an extra night with Chris’ dad. So, things like these will be mentioned to the FTA, as well as other issues like the horrid trail conditions of the Lake Butler Forest, areas that could use bog boards and areas of repair.
We did hike a very brand new section of trail on our third to last day out. Our map had a proposed trail section but it wasn’t completed so when we saw a turn off a roadwalk we got very confused. Chris called the FTA and they said it was open, gave us a mileage (which we thought was too short, really thought it was several miles longer) and off we went into a new trail. The first part was pretty good but the maintenance started getting worse and there were all of these windy little trails that just seemed ridiculous and a few of them could be straightened out. And things like not cutting trees across a trail and making you duck under them. Really? Not something you see on the AT—-at least very often. But, it was nice to be in the woods after another road walk.
As you can tell the Florida Trail is very much a trail not finished. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will be. I guess I also wonder at the motivation of the FTA to have it done and what their main desire is, to have it more as a day hiker/weekend hiker trail where those people enjoy it in the wooded areas, or if they really want it as a AT/PCT thru-hiker type of trail where a couple hundred folks come out and hike it every year. Those road walks really do scare people off. We met a guy at a gas station on Pensacola Beach who’d done some hiking on the AT and said when he saw the map of the FT the road walks just kinda scared him off.
That being said, northern Florida and the Panhandle is super, duper nice in the forested sections. Pretty much everything from the Suwanee River and west was beautiful…of course some exceptions like clear cut areas in San Pedro Bay WMA. Hiking in clear cuts sucks. We were very surprised in Eglin Air Force base to see crystal clear spring fed creeks running through there. And hills—-yes there are hills in Florida. Some of the hills had switchbacks, not necessarily needed but they were there.
In a few days I’ll start my comprehensive write-up like I did on the AT, so stay tuned!