Hikers northbound. Hikers southbound. Too many hikers to keep track of! That’s what the 2015 long distance hiking season on the Florida Trail looked like, dished up with a liberal dose of wet. This was one of the wettest winters we’ve seen in years, but that snow up north – as in Alabama and Georgia – had more people coming to the Florida Trail to hike than we’ve ever seen before. Our trail information has greatly improved, with the launch of The Florida Trail Guide in 2013 followed by updated FTA maps and data book, and then an app version of the FT Guide, so more hikers are hitting the trail.
2015 Florida Trail Kickoff
T-shirts. Online registration. Connecting incoming hikers with volunteers who could give them a ride to the Southern Terminus from an airport, a bus station, or a hotel … and maybe a place to stay for a night. It was a flurry of activity in December pulling together a kickoff event at the last minute, working with FTA volunteers from the Happy Hoofers Chapter (David Denham and Lynn and Mike Thompson among them) as well as Bob DeGross at Big Cypress National Preserve, who wrangled us camping spots and cooking space.
Randy and Luanne Anderson oversaw breakfasts, Eric Mason brought the portable kitchen for the Happy Hoofers to cook dinners and prep lunches, and we all talked trail with the steady stream of hikers coming through starting January 5, at least 35 people either section or thru-hiking the Florida Trail. The idea of a multi-day kickoff is to spread out those eager throngs across the campsites in Big Cypress, since some sites can only hande a handful of people.
An unexpected surprise for most of the hikers as they arrived at I-75: M.J. “Eb” Eberhardt, aka Nimblewill Nomad, a legend in long distance hiking circles, was there to greet them. He provided trail talk and trail magic, cold drinks and fresh food, as the hikers scraped the swamp mud off their boots.
Billy Goat Day
More than five years ago, a group of long distance hikers in Central Florida dreamed up an excuse to have a potluck get-together along the Florida Trail to honor another hiking legend, Billy Goat. He’s one of the small clan of extreme long distance hikers, like Eb, with more than 40,000 miles on his feet while hiking America’s National Scenic Trails. The Pacific Crest Trail is a particular favorite for him, but Billy Goat always comes down to Florida each winter to enjoy the hiking here. The idea of Billy Goat Day is to celebrate his birthday while bringing current hikers on the Florida Trail in to meet him. With Eb there to greet him too, the tally of hikers – many brought to the event by volunteers who picked them up from more than 100 miles of trail – topped 52, the most ever at this event, held at Bear Pond Trailhead in Seminole State Forest.
Meet & Greet with Jim Kern
Although he was invited to Billy Goat Day, Jim Kern was busy in Washington D.C. advocating for the National Scenic Trails. We didn’t want the opportunity to slip by, so a gathering was set in Lake City for the Florida Trail founder to meet, for the first time, a group of Florida Trail thru-hikers while they were on the trail. Only about a third of the hikers currently on the trail were represented (it’s hard to track those moving targets down), it was still a great group that enjoyed a round-robin talking about their experiences on the trail this season, and getting their photos taken with Jim and Eb.