Goodbye my friend, and thank you for everything

img_20170206_024726.jpgI finished my long walk on January 21st at sunrise. Just 4,800 miles south of where I began. I wish it were longer.

Just 3 miles from that big southernmost buoy, camping in some bushes, next to an airport, along some road, the night prior. I was worried I’d be spotted as the sidewalk and bay just across the street was teeming with human life at sunset. I sat down along the water watching the colors change, and darkness fade in. A group of girls motioned behind my back as if they were going to push me in, laughing as they walked off. I may be young, but I could tell most through the Keys just thought I was homeless. A group of prisoners had approached me to chat just a couple days prior. They didn’t care, and asking if it’s true. Am I homeless? Technically I suppose not. I have a home to go back to. I have a fancy computer phone. I have money, although very little. By most standards I wasn’t. Yet I hesitated to answer. I’ve been asked many times now. I always hesitate. It’s a weird question for me. For the past 7 months I’ve slept anywhere and everywhere. I think it was 400 miles into this trip I first slept in someones yard without their knowing. I had no other choice, besides paying money to camp at an RV park. A big no in my books. Pay to camp? Go away. 200 days later I was ready and willing to camp everywhere, and anywhere. My standards have lowered. Where I begin and end my day doesn’t matter, it’s now been focused on what happens in between.

Stopping only to rest. Building a fire takes energy I often didn’t have. Friends to camp with have been few and far, mostly due to my pace, or the nature of such a long walk. I’ve been on a mission. Experiencing something in my own way. Although I suspect I am 1 of 25 or so to do this specific hike over the last 20 years, I doubt any one of us have gone through the same things. I have my style, my way of doing things, and they have theirs. No right, or wrong. Simply a matter of choice. A matter of money. A matter of time. Comfort, or lack there of. I’m happy with how things have gone. I made it, didn’t I? But is it about walking every mile? Maybe to me. Is it about finishing? Maybe to me. Ultimately it’s about that space in between.

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What happened in between? I hesitate to answer. How can I wrap up 7 months, where every waking moment is spent in a different location than the last? Spent meeting new people, seeing new places, interacting with different animals, problems, dreams, and aspirations. Pushing my limits. Mostly in a mental capacity, as it turns out my body will do just about whatever I tell it to. Maybe not always with grace, but it will press on despite the signals telling it not to. I sprained my ankle while still in Quebec. I thought this was over. I thought I was done. Just 400 miles in, how could I be so stupid? I layed in the middle of the trail, and I cried. Not just in pain, but that I worked so hard to do this, and somehow managed to fuck it up within the first couple weeks. I healed, and I pressed on. So it goes. I think a lot of people look for excuses to go home, or to quit. So long as I am still breathing there is no quit. Go home and do what? Sounds good for a minute, but you know you’d regret it. Or justify it wrongly. It would have destroyed me, eating away. I look for reasons to stay, while others look for reasons to stop. If you want to do something great you have to actually go through with it. Telling friends, coworkers, strangers, it doesn’t mean anything, unless you follow through. So I did. I actually rarely had the feeling of wanting to go home. Sometimes I would get bored walking all day, depending on where I was, but I knew it didn’t matter. I kept myself sane and happy regardless. Looking at birds, watching my footsteps, feeling the tightness in my muslces, learning from podcasts, and occasionally even playing with a yoyo. In such a long trip not every sight can be a vista, but there is beauty in all of it. I’m glad I stayed true to the course. Now I have all of these beautiful memories to look back on, and an accomplishment I’m proud of. A decision to be free, that I’m proud of. You see, it’s a choice. Every second is a choice.

As it turns out there’s a lot of things I love, and a lot of things I love doing. Which really was emphasized as all I could do for the last 7 months was think to myself, and walk.

I dreamt about riding my bike, running, hanging out with friends, painting, drinking water that wasn’t yellow with things floating in it. Okay, that last one’s not true, we all know by now I actually enjoy that nasty shit. Grimy puddle in the road? Sure, I’m thirsty. It’s funny what people take for granted. As it turns out, a lot. Me too! I’m no saint, and that’s for sure. I’d hope this trip has helped me to appreciate those things a bit more. Most importantly I’d think, is time. Ever fleeting, but ever present. I’m happy now at home just doing anything, so long as I’m not doing nothing. Sounds silly maybe, and I’m not sure I can describe it, but I got home, and immediately cleaned out my room further. Living out of a very small backpack for so long has me yearning for more simplicity in my own home life. Do I really need this thing? Chances are no. A question I asked myself repeatedly while honing down the few items in my backpack I needed for this trip to keep me safe, and happy. A good question to continue asking myself.

Even starting out this trip only carrying 6lbs of things, by the end I’ve managed to cut that down further. I carry the same weight, but now less clutter. I like less clutter. Beyond that, my home, my backpack, its contents have allowed me to go further. Colder temperatures, longer days on my feet. Happier. On that note, it’s funny that all of my coldest nights have been in Florida. Down into the 20s on multiple occasions. Take that, Canada! Ok ok, January in Florida or July in Canada. Our winter is still much like their summer. However despite however cold it got, however much it rained, and however many miles I was doing on any particular day I was happy. I’d thank my gear for that. At times happyness came in different forms, and I’d yell into the sky, but I’d always get over it quick, and be on my way. Just 6lbs of things to live for 7 months. I made a short video detailing what I carried here.

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One night, my coldest night, where I slept on top of Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the east at 6,800ft or something. I didn’t particularly want to sleep up there, and I guess it’s a story in itself I might as well tell. I had a choice, I was extremely low on food, but still in a battle with myself to get more miles behind me. I could cut my day short, and attempt to hitch-hike into town. I don’t like hitch-hiking, and I didn’t need to this entire trip, but it was an option. Probably the better option. However, the town was far. Gatlinburg, maybe 14 miles away from the trail, and I would wind up wasting an entire day, trying to get down there, then get back up into the Smokey Mountains. I wasn’t about to waste a day, so I decided to take a chance. As I often did. I ran into some weekenders at sunset, it was already below freezing. November in the Smokies, if you’ve been, you can imagine. I had already gotten 35 or more miles in that day, but this new plan asked of me to go further. They didn’t understand, I assume few who met me understood this need to keep going. I would almost always walk into the night, even away from comradely. I still had life in me, so I would press forward. I wound up maybe 6 miles further down the trail, past my last chance at going into town. Now 40 miles away from my next chance at food, but with nothing more than a thousand calories of food on me, and a handful of taco bell hot sauce packets. I also found myself on top of Clingmans Dome, and it was cold. I have no idea what the temperature was but waking up I was surrounded by ice. I also happened to be getting up at 3am. Why? I knew with so little food, my pace would ultimately deteriorate, and a 40 mile day into town, before the only store closed would be difficult had I not. The air was so cold I could barely sleep anyway. I knew what I signed up for. Finding my way through the dark for hours, descending this mountain, passing other hikers still asleep. I had the novel idea of eating those Taco Bell packets. They must have calories, right? Not enough. Although I must have had 10 of them, swallowing hot sauce on an empty stomach wasn’t going to happen. I still finished off 3 just to try. The rest of my food wasn’t much better. I was at the bottom of the bag, maybe three ziplocs of protein powder, and a couple power bars. Not exactly the best fuel, but it would have to do. Movement was slow, until the grapevine told me that hikers were ahead of me, now after sunrise. Always a boost to my energy levels. Like a race suddenly I found the strength, and this helped me get most of my miles in that day chasing them down. There was also a day hiker, who was planning her own thru hike that I ran into. She grilled me, and was beyond stoked to be running into someone who had already come close to 3,000 miles. I didn’t let her know the current situation I was in. I don’t think most do this to themselves, and didn’t want her to have the idea that this was normal. With just 10 miles to town, I realized I had a slim chance of getting to the store before they closed, and 40 miles total, now turned into a bit more as I saw the store wasn’t exactly where I thought it was. Determined and hungry, I powered uphills, and ran down the other sides. Then I started running the flats too. Not the time to be a bitch. Also not the time to regret a former decision. Just time to do the thing. Every other hiker would have just wasted(if you can call it that) the day in town and not done this, but I had to. It’s times like this I find strength. If everything went perfectly all the time, I don’t think I’d learn much. And with every minor scrape or bruise, some new neural pathway is formed. It’s only hard the first time. My first ever 30 mile day years ago was hell. That second go at it was much better. Each time I learn more of what needs to be done to do what I know I can. I made it to that store, 10 minutes before they closed. I spent 40 dollars there, and sat outside eating for the next 2 hours, before I wandered back into the woods to sleep in the middle of the trail. Like usual. You’re capable of more than you might think.

These next few days were also somewhat defining for me. Suddenly I was shrouded in smoke. Breathing it in, walking in it, and spending the entire day looking through it at a hazy bright red sun, so covered I could stare directly into it. Like sunset, but night never came. There had been talk of wildfires. It’s been a dry year, just earlier hikers had been exposed to trail closures due to a fire. Now it seemed I was dealing with that. I told myself I would just go through, but as I descended into the nantahala valley I could see how close it was. I could see the massive volume of smoke pouring off the mountains I would be heading into. Fortunately down in the valley was a restaurant, and place to charge my phone while I contemplated my fate. A few other hikers mulling about, seemingly just as confused. I searched online for specific info on what sections before me where closed. I strangely found very little info. I decided not to die by fire, at least not that day, and to walk around the closure on roads. This is the defining factor. Remember how I don’t like hitching rides? Taking rides? or using vehicles much at all? I am out here to walk afterall. This isn’t actually a shared trait by many. Most will hitch a ride across the street if the trail doesn’t directly take them there. But I wanted to walk from Quebec to Key West. So I did. I chose the safest option, not knowing exactly what was on fire. I chose to walk 70+ miles of road around the wildfire. After charging my things, I headed off into the night. Quickly stopped by police who were concerned, but I explained my predicament, they understood seemingly, gave me fresh water, and I moved on in darkness. As I walked, the entire cliff side next to me, running all the way into the road was ablaze. Both very sad, and beautiful. I don’t remember how late into the night I walked but close to 20 more miles. I don’t know of anyone else who walked around the closure, I think everyone got a ride. Just a slight detour into towns I otherwise would have never seen. One of the more enjoyable roadwalks of this trip, and trust me, there have been many while crossing this continent.

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One of the nicer roadwalks, the 7 mile bridge down in the Keys. Wide shoulder and everything.

Down in Alabama, I once again dealt with wildfires. Just after finishing a section of the Benton Mackaye Trail (that I greatly enjoyed) connecting me to the Pinhoti Trail, I was met with that familiar smell in the air. Alabama was going through a drought of 70 days, and if I remember there were close to 60 individual wildfires throughout the state. I only know this because I ran into some forest service personnel. An extremely kind couple, the Whaley’s, had come out to give me a little support in the name of food, and friendship. I had the idea I would set a record on the Pinhoti, which didn’t quite pan out, but ultimately taught me lessons I’d later need for when I successfully set a record on the Florida Trail. They were helping me out before I began, which I can’t thank them enough for. However these forest service folks came up on us, and wouldn’t leave until they were escorted out, and preferably me too. I hadn’t come so far for that to happen. I whipped out my map, and asked where exactly the fire was. He showed me, it was just a mile north of us. I lied, and told him how I was taking this trail away from it, and convinced him to let me go that way. I said my goodbyes to Larry and Brenda, and jogged down the road back to the trail junction. I jogged, to get out of sight before the good men could see what I was going to do. I took a hard left, towards the fire. That night I slept at the Pinhoti Trails northern terminus, near some water, just a mile south of a forest fire. Engulfed in smoke. The next day was surreal. The cloud didn’t lift until I was 30 miles away. The trail completely empty, and occasionally I’d cross a road, and an official would get a glimpse of me. I made 53 miles that day, my highest mileage yet. I didn’t stop for a single break until after dark. A good day in my books.

Alabama was an experience in its own that maybe one day I’ll write more about. To say the least, I got the blues! So instead of speeding up to get out of there, I slowed down, and thus tumbled further into a strange state of being. Eventually broken by the infinite happyness of finally reaching Florida. To those of you foolish enough to want to hike the imaginary trail that is the ECT I will let you know that the connections between the Appalachian Trail and Florida are all very easy. The 175 mile roadwalk is completely blazed yellow, and I didn’t have much in the way of navigational problems. Just print the guidebooks, they’re free, and you’ll be good. Camping was ultimately my biggest problem in southern AL, so be careful. Packing up my things one morning at 4am, I was approached by a man pointing his shotgun at me. At 4am. He wasn’t too happy, and you could say I wasn’t either! Apparently the land underneath the bridge I slept under was his. It was a very busy road, so you could understand my confusion. I apologized profusely, and repeatedly. I mentioned how I would be more careful next time, trying to explain what I was doing, saying I would knock on a churches door asking to sleep in their lawn instead. Surely a church would let me do so. He informed me that they too, would shoot me. So by all means, be careful. Later that same day some local at a country store after offering me deodorant, was grilling me on what type of weapons I was carrying for protection during this trip. None! I don’t want to be in a position to make that choice. I want to talk my way out, or look for another way. He didn’t understand, and proceeded to offer me an array of knives. As I turned them down, he proceeds to offer me a handgun. Thanks, but no thanks. After this I was much more careful about where I slept, or you could say I was extremely paranoid. I think most would be too.

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Out of the smoke, and away from locals with guns, somewhere along the Pinhoti Trail.

I spent most of 2016s holidays walking. My birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, New Years. I’d have it no other way. I actually didn’t even realize Halloween had passed, and again I didn’t realized Thanksgiving was approaching until I started to see Christmas lights. One home in the backwoods was rather peculiar. Most back home put out lights to display to those driving by. This particular home however had all of their blow up, plastic, and wooden decorations facing inward toward their home. Their display wasn’t for those passing by, it was for them exclusively! I had a good laugh.

My birthday was somewhat special, I had forgotten to buy anything extra to celebrate, although I should have gotten wine, and camped like a normal human being. Instead I walked all day per usual, however that morning was different. I hiked my last mountain. After close to 3,400 miles I knew eventually this earth had to flatten out…. Sure enough! It did! Flagg Mountain in Alabama was my last real climb of this trail. The southern most 1,000ft peak in the Appalachian Mountain chain. I sat at its base, singing Jay-Zs “Forever Young,” collected myself, and moved on. Much happier to save my breath from then on, and walk rolling hills, that I knew by Florida would be more akin to a race track.

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The summit of Flagg Mountain in Al, the southern most 1,000ft peak in the Appalachian Mountains. I had now walked the entire length, starting in northern Canada.

Thanksgiving was spent in a hotel by happenstance, eating canned vegetables from Walmart, and watching a “Back to the Future” marathon, twice. All three movies. Twice. It was good. I hadn’t showered in about 1,000 miles, and really could use it. The last hotel I stayed at prior had been in Damascus Virginia, at my halfway point. My legs caked with dirt, feet looking like they were those of a dead guy. I don’t particularly like being dirty, and I often wash up in streams, but Alabama was so dry that wasn’t an option, and my funds so low stopping at hotels weren’t either. Fortunately this didn’t cause me problems. Just made town folk wince.

Christmas was then spent walking some ungodly amount of miles on the Florida Trail during a record attempt. Christmas eve was no different, except calling home to say hi to family. They were just like any other day, except magic was in the air, or something. The roads were quite, as everyone was home with family. I walked on. I stole some sodas from car campers at a public campground as my Christmas gift. Just imagine me with 6 sodas under one arm, speeding out of sight. It was a good day.

New Years eve I walked late into the night, and watched fireworks launch into the sky way off in the distance across cow fields. Eventually falling asleep in some bushes alongside a road. Serves me right for starting a 25 mile road at sunset. I often camped in weird places, as we know, and New Years was no different.

I was happy to spend my holidays this way. Ultimately I was doing what I wanted, and I knew what I signed up for.

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One of many sunsets in the Keys. These were nice, but on a trip so long, you get a bit more than just pretty vistas.

The largest single portion of this hike was the Appalachian Trail, at close to 2,200 miles, just under half of the total miles of my trip. The ECT is a route connecting 7 or 8(depending on how you look at it) different trails down the east coast of America. So of the 205 days I spent doing this, 91 of those where walking from Maine to Georgia on the AT. A feat in and of itself. Only 1 in 5 complete that particular walk, and I can’t imagine how few don’t finish what I set out to do. 3 months is a long time to be focused on one goal, let alone 7 months. So finishing the Appalachian Trail was a big deal for me. I had attempted it in 2012, and due to a lack of resolve, and a massively heavy pack, I was unsuccessful. I had unfinished business. I actually didn’t really think of it as much of an accomplishment until the last 10 miles or so, but by then I was almost running. I passed every hiker that day with swift, and quiet footsteps. Stopping not once. With 4 miles left another hiker actually passed me! He was more excited than I was, and likely didn’t know how much further he had to run… I had imagined I would get to the end, immediately pack up, and move on. When I got there, instead I sat down, and for once enjoyed the company of other hikers who had just finished something monumental. Something we had all together, but separately been working towards for months. Climbing mountains every day had been a beautiful existence, and although that is what the trail is comprised of the experience is truly made by the friends around you. A kinship instantly formed, because all at once, everyone you meet is doing the exact same thing as you. So I took a moment and got to know those hikers, who I now don’t remember the names of(haha!) They are good people, and I am happy to have shared the experience with them, and that moment. We all sat together, and joked until nearly sunset. Something I hadn’t done in a long time. They went one way, and I went another. I still had 1,800 miles to go.

I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 91 days, including 14 zero days.

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My Simple pack by Pa’lante at the southern terminus of the AT. The last white blaze pictured.

Now I’m sure you’re curious about those final 200 miles after the Florida Trail. I took off 5 days to rest after my speed record. It felt wrong, it felt discontinuous, but it also felt necessary. Within hours I ran into my former manager, Mike. I was happy to see him, although my cover had now been blown! He’s a big fisherman and I actually thought I might see him around Lake Okeechobee a few days prior. Instead, it was while I was trying to pick up a few groceries. Getting back to the trail I decided not to get my feet wet in a final 8 mile stretch of swamp, and instead walked the road. I questioned, now that I wasn’t trying to go for big miles what would happen? I stopped for many breaks, and even ate at a restaurant before departing from the indian reservation. Somehow still managing 35 miles, and finding myself walking yet again into the night. I guess that’s just how I like to do things. My friend Michael gave me a date to finish this trip on, it was his next day off so he could be there for the end, and take me home. I like him, so I obliged, but it meant I’d have to slow way down. Which turns out is harder than you’d think!

I had heard horror stories of the road I was approaching. That it’s a bad place, and would be a dangerous walk. I found neither of those things to be true. There was a lot of construction, but that just meant I was able to walk through land they were molding, far from the speeding cars. I played with my yo-yo, and made swift time. Eventually breaking off into a neighborhood to walk a multi use greenway around the city of Homestead, along some canals in an agricultural area. The night prior I was stuck in a storm, and naturally was too lazy to set up my shelter, instead just rolling over and accepting the fate of all my things getting soaked. At this point I didn’t even mind sleeping in the rain. So once I made it passed the roadwalks and back onto trail I took some time to dry my things. It was a special day, as we know very few even attempt what I was finishing, yet I had gotten word from a young French Canadian girl who is giving it a go, and I was expecting to see her in the evening. She’s a strong hiker. Not just was she averaging 20 miles a day from the get go, she just stealth camped her entire way through the Keys. A feet not as easy as it sounds. English on top of this, isn’t her first language, and she doesn’t even have a phone! I’m still impressed, as she’s picking up more miles, and laughing off situations that would destroy other hikers. She’ll have no problem finishing this hike, if she wants to. She may not know it yet, but that’s the nature of the beast. We camped together, and she shared some wine in celebration. The crossing of the ECT thru hikers. Class of 2016, and class of 2017. One per year is about right, for the past 20 years.

Tempting to turn around and follow her north, but when has that ever worked for me, I continued south to finish what I started. The canal water on the outskirts of Homestead eventually making me sick to my stomach with agricultural runoff, I cut back into town for some fresh water, and Mexican food. Finding my way to an international hostel in Florida City. I felt like I deserved it! Came all this damn way….. And what a place! The Everglades Hostel was magnificent. An oasis in the middle of a very fast paced city. Massive trees tower over, a natural river fed waterfall and pool, a tree house, hammocks, outdoor shower, and for the most part very kind people. I signed the log book as Jupiter Hikes, where it asked for my home, I wrote “I walked here from Canada.” Probably the nicest hostel I’ve seen this entire trip, and I’ve seen a lot.

I continued on early the next day down a barren stretch of road known as US1. Tall fences line both sides, leaving me nowhere to rest away from the sun. I walked. Cars would slow down to look at me, causing minor traffic jams. A woman pulled over to offer me a ride, and was very surprised when I turned her down. She thanked me, out of confusion. I knew soon I would once again see the ocean. Last two times being 1,200 miles prior in Pensacola, Fl. Then before that, 4,700 miles ago up in Quebec. The miles came quick, and suddenly I was in the Keys. Suddenly realizing camping would actually be a bigger problem here than expected. I had no idea so many people lived down there! What a beautiful place, sullied by all these humans, and their possessions. I curled up in some bushes along the road, next to a business, apparently in a popular speed trap. All night cops were pulling over drivers just next to me. Each time the lights would flash I had that feeling like I was spotted. I didn’t get much sleep. Sometime in the night while spread out, trying to get comfortable, propped against all sorts of trees, my buddy Bob texts me, informing me about all the poisonous plants down here. Awesome.

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My first views of the ocean, in a very long time.

I like to disappear into the bushes in the night. I wonder if anyone ever sees me. One second walking, and then gone. Same goes for the morning, too late for them to fight me. The deed has already been done. So I proudly emerge, and swiftly fall back into step walking away.

This final 100 miles is by all means a roadwalk, with the more than occasional bike path known as the Overseas Heritage Trail, next to the road. The Keys are very linear, and ultimately there’s only one way in, and one way out. So over the course of a few days I got the feeling like people were starting to recognize me. Creeping ever further south. No one ever stopped to ask me though. I’m actually rather disappointed the police weren’t curious enough to find out. Of all people, it’s hard to believe they didn’t take note. Maybe it was as a favor they were doing me. Or maybe, simply, I was just one in the crowed.

There’s a large population of homeless in the Keys due to the mild weather. I didn’t even need a sleeping bag, and to my surprise bugs didn’t bother me either. I had figured no-seeums would rip me to shreds, but it wasn’t until my last night did I start getting bit. When looking for places to sleep, I constantly worried about the bushes I was entering were already inhabited. In the end it turned out not to be a problem. However I did find one guy sleeping in the bushes. A very strange place to be homeless, but I guess if I were to choose anywhere…

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The days went by quick, and I made a point to stop at any restaurant that even remotely interested me. Even taking time to see a movie. Rogue One. It was fantastic. During the Floirda Trail I passed up a movie theater, and really wished I could have stopped. Happy I was given the opportunity once again! The front desk man was nice, and gave me a free drink even.

The water impossibly blue, and I spent my days looking at sail boats, and house boats. I’d approach pelicans hoping they wouldn’t fly off so I could befriend them. I stopped for sunrises, and sunsets. Enjoying the opportunity to take my time. I gazed down off bridges, hoping to catch glimpses of sharks or other big fish. To no avail. However bright red star fish littered the sea floor, and the underwater plant life danced with the tides. An occasional snorkeler, or a jetski would blow by me. I used the bridges as a place to hang out freely away from the suns rays. Only once finding some other homeless guy with the same idea.

I’ve been told many times of how dangerous the 7 mile bridge would be to walk, as you can’t really escape it besides jumping overboard. Fortunately I found the opposite to be true! I thought it was great, the shoulder very wide to walk in, and all the cars very respectful. I’d smile real wide at the cops, in jest, and ultimately it felt much shorter than 7 miles. It’s pretty wild how all of these little islands are connected by this one string of asphalt.

One of the Islands is known for it’s wild deer. The street lined with very tall black fences, to keep them safe from the fast paced human traffic, and hustle of the day to day life. I arrived after dark, looking for a place to rest, and maybe a gas station for some bonus dinner snacks. Approaching the fence I was instantly startled by a very small deer frozen in time just across the looking glass, on the other side of the chain link. Frantically reaching for my phone to take a photo, the battery too low I scrambled for my extra battery to attempt charging it quick. Both me and the cute animal now totally still. It confused, me, charging. By the time I got to where I could turn on the flash it ran away. After finding some delicious trash at a convenience store, I layed down in the bushes near by. Forever aware of the possibility that someone else may already be there. Falling asleep I heard someone approaching me from a dark corner of this spot. Not sure what to do I briefly flashed my light. Hoping it wasn’t human. Me just as startled, it was a key deer a few feet away from me. Frozen. Cute little guys. Fortunately this one didn’t bother me again for the rest of the night. While in New Brunswick thousands of miles prior a deer wouldn’t leave me alone to the point in which I had to get up and walk a mile or two for a new place to rest.

The end came quick. Suddenly I was on Key West. One day early. I dilly dallied. Sitting around, watching fighter jets from a near by Airforce instillation.  Talking to house boat owners. Shouting at cyclists. Typical things. I made my way past mile marker 5, 4, 3, and at mm2 I came across a beautiful view of the bay, just in time for sunset. My final sunset of the trail, and it was fantastic. I hesitated to disappear into the bushes across the street. After darkness fell I ran, and instantly, as always, was gone. Huddled in some tall grass.

The next morning I was greeted by my friend Michael who wanted to walk the last 3 miles with me. With haste in each step we moved. The last miles of a long journey. 4,800 miles from Cap Gaspe, Quebec to Key West, Florida. It was good to see him after so long. I’ve very much missed my friends during my time away. I have very few, but those that are around, are the best I could ask for. Magnificent colors breach the horizon. Sunrise was approaching. Only briefly once stopping to look, it was time I finally finished this thing. Had Mike not been there I likely would have ran. I would have finished a day prior. But I am happy we could talk, and catch up during these final steps. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve spent this entire trip alone. In Canada I only ran into a couple other hikers, who were all going a different direction than me. On the Appalachian Trail I’d meet a lot of folks, but never spend more than a day with anyone. My pace was beginning to quicken. 30 miles in a day was extremely common, and I’d often get in 40 or more. Most aren’t like that. I would catch up to folks who started months before me. Each face was new, and I liked that. I feel I met everyone. Some tried to keep up, but its not all rhymes and good times behind this door. In Alabama I only ran into one other thru hiker, he had heard of me. Unfortunatly we met in the middle of a roadwalk, and after chatting briefly, parted our ways. When I got to Florida, folks were hunting me down like a game of Where’s Waldo. I’d get 2 or 3 messages a day asking for where I was. I never knew, and because I was averaging 40 miles a day at this point, I never had the energy to respond, or figure it out. This may sound lonely, and it was, but at the same time it was a beautiful experience. I would do it again. However I don’t discount how much I’d like a hiking partner either. At times when I did run into a hiker I was often starved for attention, and instantly would dump out every thought I had been having for weeks onto them. I’d do it all again.

Reaching the southern most tip of the United states was normal. It felt normal. Like it was meant to be. I got in front of those taking their photos, and stood with it. The end of a long walk. My mom, and friend Bob were there waiting for me. The sun still not yet fully risen I had a warm back drop, and a warm welcoming.

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People often say to me, describing this hike as, “the trip of a life time.” To be honest, this is just a beginning.

Coming home, I’ve been eating a lot, but I think most importantly I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do next. I long considered settling down and getting a job, but it didn’t feel right. I’ve decided to follow my heart, and continue walking. There is no other option besides following your heart. If you want to do something, go do it.

As a first thru hike, I’m happy with this. I’m happy with what I’ve done. Some may wince at a few of my decisions, and that’s fine. You’d have to be there. Despite the general consensus, I had loads of fun, but maybe my fun is different from yours. If I wanted to be comfortable all the time, I would have stayed home.

I’d really like to take a moment to thank some folks who have really helped me stay on course during this hike. My Mom and Dad for their constant support. My Grandparents for tracking my ever movement, and story. I recieved great joy from the happyness it brought them to watch. My Uncle Rob and his infinite kindness, and constant encouragement even when my ideas are far from conventional. Sandra Friend and John Keatley for being awesome, and all of the Florida hiking community. My friend Wayne, who questions me in all the right ways. Someone has to. All of my friends back home, who would send me nice messages, or not, but just knowing they were there with me in spirit. Even if it was Christian telling me to slow down, I appreciated it. All of those who have followed along on this blog, I promise I’m not done yet, but I thank you for all of your support. I hope to continue doing things that may catch your attention. Thank you all. For everything.

And as always a big thanks to Pa’lantePacks, John and Andy, for believing in me.

From sitting in Maine at a hostel, watching a television show about Key West, and tearing up, I made it. We knew I would.

This all started when I voiced to a friend that I wanted to thru hike the Florida Trail, and he joked about how I should start in Key West. Thanks, Chris. Look what you made me do.

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Here’s to all hearts of that cold, lonesome track, To the life of the wanderlust…free. To all who have gone and have never come back, Here’s a tribute to you and to me.

Jupiter

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8 thoughts on “Goodbye my friend, and thank you for everything

  1. Congratulations Jupiter! Thank you for sharing your journey with us and the rest of the world. The dreamers, rebels, “slackers” (by society’s standards) crazies and gentle mature lovers thank you. Next time, just make sure to wear an orange vest while hiking in FL during hunting season. That way we won’t annoy you as much! Lol!!

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  2. I laughed out loud a lot while reading this. Thanks for sharing your journey and helping me along this road walk as I near the end of my own journey. Have fun planning the next one, I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Cheers!

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  3. I avoid reading hiking blogs these days because it gives me an ache in my heart for what I’m now missing but I gobbled this up. If you ever find the time to put your hike into a book, please do.

    Happy Trails!

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  4. Amazing blog. You have a unique perspective and have collected a lifetime’s worth of stories. It’s interesting how thru hiking can put you in shoes that aren’t too different than homeless folks (wandering around as the sun sets looking for a place where you can sleep without getting hassled). I’m not surprised it was Alabama where you faced hostility– can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if you were black.

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