An Unexpected Ending to This Year’s Section of the Florida Trail

I was in high spirits as I left Lake Marian Paradise Resort, after a restful zero day, fun talks with my next door neighbor in the little motel and my son’s win at Daytona.

Most of the hiking had me back in the wide expanses of saw palmettos and tall, long-needled pines, which I enjoy.


This little guy, a long needled pine, has big dreams of growing up like papa. He probably will.


Saw palmettos are low like bushes. For some reason, these represent the Florida trail to me.


Cabbage palms, or sabal palmettos, can actually grow much taller than saw palmettos, up to 40 feet, but their foliage resembles saw palmettos.


I was told by a new Floridian friend one way to  tell the difference between the two palms: the elongated, inverted v-shaped stem at the base of each leaf of the cabbage palm. They’re named this because some folks eat this heart of the leaf either raw, like cabbage, or cooked with meat seasoning. Hearts of palm come from the upper section of the trunk of this tree.


It’s obvious, from the center of its leaf, that this isn’t a cabbage palm, but a saw palmetto. Why do I care? Because I appreciate learning more about all this unique foliage I’m immersed in. And I have a very lot of time to think about anything and everything.


I really hiking through  that landscape, but at some point you search for other things to think about.  I always find something.

You seldom known what waits for you, unless you’re following the Far Out app on your phone nonstop. In this stretch of deep sand and hot sun, I truly felt like I was on the Sahara. Just guessing, haven’t been there. Yet.


A busy road walk was also part of this day’s picture, which I knew I’d experience more of in this section of Florida.

If I have to walk it, you have to look at it. That’s the deal.


Hello to this big guy, as I neared my night’s lodging place. I’m always happy to see more, at more than an arm’s distance of course.


I was now beginning a long stretch of nights camping. This night was at a camp site surrounded by my favorites, saw palmettos,  under sprinklings of trees. It had been a camp on this animal conservancy property, but is now maintained by the Florida Trail Association for its hikers.

A pavilion with picnic tables and gallons of water were very much appreciated. I was alone again, which continued the rest of the trip, but I’m totally comfortable with this. This sounds a bit odd, but I don’t feel alone. I’m with me.



Yet, I was surprised to find myself starting to count down my days till heading home.  I’m still enjoying the trail and the people I meet, but as the end of a trail or a running race comes into sight, I’m ready to get there. I don’t know how folks  hike trails like the AT for 6 months in one go.  I miss being with my husband.  After 50 years together, he has kinda grown on me.

The highlights of the next day weren’t  the surroundings so much as the people I met.

The first was a young man who explained his several days on the trail as a time to pray for his 5 week old son.

Shortly before his son was conceived, he had an intense spiritual experience in church in which he strongly physically felt the presence of St. Joseph, who told him that his son was on his way and that the saint would play a large part in his life.  Little Joseph was born 10 months later.  This young father is training for some level of being a Franciscan and was praying on this walk in the woods from a 14th century prayer book translated from Latin.  I listened, spellbound.  A real true, modern day pilgrim.  Before we left, he held my hands and prayed for me most sincerely.  So very touching.  And then we went our separate ways, not sharing any contact information. Didn’t need it.

At the end of the day, I came to Jane Green camp, where a group of trail maintainers  had set up camp for the past three weeks.

They were building two fantastic bridges over rivers  known to have alligators, as do most bodies of water in Florida.

I especially enjoyed the time I spent with Eugene, one of the volunteers, but forgot to take his photo.  He really enjoys the time with fellow workers, being in nature and giving back.  He inspired me to volunteer with Ohio’s Buckeye Trail crews in the future, although I’m certainly not a bridge builder!  He said there’s work appropriate for everyone.

One thing he really enjoys is building benches to place along the trail for hikers.  I greatly appreciated several of them during sunny stretches on a road, often with a cache of gallons of water for hikers under a lone tree.

He also has a lidded jar on one armrest in which he asks hikers to place the stickers found on their clothes that are the seeds of the invasive Caesar’s weed, which he spends a lot of time pulling up at camp sites.

Another of Eugene’s creations, a lidded bench holding gallons of water. It’s somewhat hidden behind electrical boxes. Long distance hikers know about these locations by consulting a spreadsheet on the Facebook page called Florida Trail Trail Angels. We let them know the water levels after we use some, and they restock as needed. Such devotion to helping others!

I got an early start to the next day by 7 am.  I have become accustomed to starting to break camp before sunrise by the light of my headlamp, setting the alarm at 5:45 am. When you go to bed by 8:00, 5:45 is easy.  I knew I had a long road walk ahead of me, 30 miles in all, with one “stealth” camp somewhere around 17 miles.

Just as I left the trail for the road, I had to pass through a gate, on which I saw my name written on a piece of red tape which held down a personal note written on waterproof paper.  The note was from someone who I had talked with the previous day, sharing how much he enjoyed the talk and other kind remarks.  I was so moved by his sentiments and that he had taken the time and effort to leave this for me.  Unfortunately, I forget names like I lose gloves, and can’t put his name to a face.  These encounters and conversations have meant so much to me, as much as the trail certainly.  I emailed him at the address he provided but haven’t heard back.  I hope I read it correctly.  If you read this, Matt, please contact me here, at the very bottom of the blog.

It just shows what a ripple effect we can have with what we say and do with others.  Our conversation moved him, and I’ll always cherish his note.

The first road, just a couple of miles, was super busy.  Not fun but necessary.  We were being basically herded around and between great expanses of land owned by a huge cattle and citrus company.  No services or clean water were available at all for us, so we sure depended on the generosity of those who hide the water for us.

Again, here’s the deal: I post the photo and you say, “Wow, you have to be patient to do this!” Yes.


Here’s where I’m at.

The first person I met was young, lanky “Tarzan” who is doing the trail southbound.  He started up north about when I did in the south and has covered more than twice the distance I have.  Go figure,  but it makes sense.  Sorry I didn’t get his photo. He’s one of the few things or people on this trail I haven’t taken a photo of, him and Eugene, the bench maker, and Matt, the note writer.

Happily, the next paved road was much less trafficked, which meant faster going on the asphalt rather than on uneven grass and weeds beside the road.  But it can be very wearing on the feet and legs.

Sometimes the highlight of the hour is when there’s a curve in the road.

A Trail Angel I hadn’t yet met pulled over in his  pickup and had a fantastic offering of goodies in his cooler.  I passed on the chips, etc, but jumped on his offer of ice cold water and fruit, stuffing my pockets like a squirrel does his cheeks.

He has only been helping hikers the past 2 weeks, the time when the bubble of thru-hikers usually pass through his area.  He gave me his card and insisted I could call him if I had any needs at all.  Foreshadowing here.

At loooong last, I came to an intersection of roads where others had said there were good stealth campsites behind trees, away from the view, but not the noise, of the traffic of this new road. All camping was strictly forbidden on the previous road all day long, when on the property of the cattle and citrus company.  Exploring behind a tangled web of jungle for the promised grassy area, I only found weeds, stickers and vines, one of which trapped my right foot and sent me sprawling.  This has happened before, so I got up and thought no more of it.  More foreshadowing.

I finally found a way through the jungle and found a very small space under a low palm tree where I could just fit my tent.

Traffic whizzed by just behind those trees.


The view out my front door. Trust me, I didn’t venture in there.

This was truly stealth camping. I felt like I was really in a jungle, but wasn’t worried.  It was actually fun to break away from established campsites.   No bodies of water nearby, so no alligators.  Didn’t see any snakes, checking carefully around and under the log I sat on during dinner.  I called Bill and told him exactly what mile marker I was at.  Then I zipped myself into my tent as the sun set and the bugs began to attack, as is their habit at that hour.  All this with the soundtrack of cars and trucks whizzing past me just 15-20 yards away on the other side of a shield of low palms and scrub brush.  Little did they know who lurked  in the woods tonight!

Of course, when leaving the next foggy morning, garbed in my bright orange on the new, busy road


I soon saw all the great camping spots under clusters of live oak trees on mown grass.  If only I had walked 10 minutes further….oh well, I had my jungle experience and lived to tell about it.


17 miles on this road and then a busy 4 lane divided highway took their toll.

Remember, I walk it. You look at it.

A very interesting incident happened when I decided to stop to eat my lunch and air out my dew laden tent beside the entry drive of the water treatment facility.  After propping my wet tent over the light post and  putting a few things on a ledge under the sign, I sat a short distance behind the sign in some shade, resting and eating.


When returning to close up shop, I was confused to find seven one dollar bills partially tucked under my belongings.


Certainly not mine, I had my wallet on me.  Then I remembered seeing a truck driver sitting in his truck in the drive several minutes while I set out my tent and then sat behind the sign .  He must have thought I was homeless.  At first, I was amused, since we backpackers sometimes refer to ourselves as hiker trash and certainly look (and smell) the part.  But then I was very moved by how kind he was, quietly helping someone anonymously who he thought was in need.  Many people are still displaced because of this fall’s Hurricane Ian.  This quiet act of kindness gave me much food for thought the rest of the afternoon.

This last day on the trail (what????) continued mostly on the road.  I was concerned about my knee and about whether my final 2 day supply of food would make it in time to Christmas, the little town I would be camping at the next night.

Second act of kindness I experienced:  Batt6, yesterday’s trail Angel with the fruit, had remembered my voiced concerns about the arrival food shipment.  He intentionally brought to me this afternoon 4 baked potatoes, which he had heard me mention a craving for, a bag of sugar snap peas, fruit bars and more. So amazing!  I almost asked him to drive me to the next town, given my knee, but I don’t ride the trail , I walk it.


On I went, entering Tosohatchee, a natural area, where I was treated to more water to wade in, actually cooling, and finally my camp. By now I was using one shortened hiking pile as a cane to move about, so I used the dried, stiff center/stem of a large palm leaf as the second pole for my tent.

I then made my decision and called Batt6 and asked him if he could come get me at my tent site in the morning, since a grassy dirt road ran near it.  He didn’t hesitate for a second.   This retired firefighter of 30 years was born to help others.  He said if I still needed extraction in the morning, he’d be there at first light.  What a guy.  And he came.  He walked from his truck into camp on one trail, but I went out the other.  When he saw the dry spot from my tent,

he knew this was the place, called me, and I returned

and we slowly walked together to his white truck, always the color of the good guy’s steed.

Batt6 took hours out of his day doing this for me. I couldn’t have walked the 10 miles to little Christmas.  It is time to go home. My knee deserves respect.  After delivering me to my Orlando airport hotel, he returned home to help two other hikers he had housed the previous night.  A big heart, that’s for sure.  I wish him all the best in his upcoming thru-hike of the AT. He’ll do great, and he deserves to now be on the receiving end of trail magic.


So that’s where it stands now, folks, I’m going home 3 days earlier than planned.  The altered schedule doesn’t concern me, it’s that the pain is in the same spot where I had meniscus surgery last spring.  Has it been torn again or is it just very, very irritated because of the added weight of extra water, and added food and miles of walking on pavement?  I’ll give it time at home with ice and Aleve and then we’ll see what the good doctor says.

This first third of the FT has been an extraordinary experience, even with all my silly whining about road walks.  I’ve been in such amazing, varied environments and met some awesome people, both on trail and off. This is the sixth time I’ve returned home injured after a long distance backpacking trek, and I’ve had countless injuries during my previous marathon and triathlon years.  They all eventually healed. This one will heal.


I am grateful.


I’ll be back.















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Comments 21

  • Roz : Feb 3rd

    What an incredible read! Your writing style brings the reader right onto the trail with you. I wish you speedy healing for your knee. To all the trail angels that helped Ruth, thank you!!

    • Ruth Morley : Feb 3rd

      Roz, what a kind affirmation to read first thing in the morning, as I prepare for my flight home. It warms my heart. Thank you.

  • Shocktop : Feb 3rd

    Sounds like a good call, three days is not a big deal vs taking care of yourself. Thank you as always for the trip! But could you please include more alligator pics next time?? Happy Trails

    • Ruth Morley : Feb 3rd

      Shocktop, I looked forward to hearing from you after this post. Yes, 3 days shorter is nothing. It was merely an arbitrary date chosen anyway. And the knee will heal. So be it. And you cracked me up with your request for more alligator photos. I want them too! I must have had too much of that special hiker trash fragrance.

  • Julia Kinlaw : Feb 3rd

    We will welcome you home to heal and listen to your tales of caring people on the trail. Thanks for the optimistic outlook of humanity..

    • Ruth Morley : Feb 3rd

      Thank you, Julia, for continuing to follow my journey. I certainly didn’t appreciate this quite literally twist in my trek, but it is what it is. It’ll heal. However, I just arrived back in Cincy, and I’m not appreciate being in weather 60 degrees colder!

  • Michael Charles McNamara : Feb 4th

    Like reading your entries.

    I biked from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando five years ago. Stayed at Tosohatchee for three nights. Beautiful place.

    Thanks for reminding me I need to hit the road again.

    • Ruth Morley : Feb 4th

      Glad to have you on board, Michael. Yes, the Tiger Branch campsite was in a lovely location. It was bittersweet for me, though, knowing it was my unexpected final night on the trail.

      Ft Lauderdale to Orlando, nice distance! I’m curious, was there a designated route that you followed?

  • Ruth Morley : Feb 4th

    Michael Charles MacNamara: I’m sorry, I accidentally erased your comment. I’m very glad you enjoy my posts.

    That must have been some ride, from Ft Lauderdale to Orlando! I’m wondering if you followed a specific cycling route.

  • Karen : Feb 6th

    What an adventure! I have loved reading your posts, thank you so much for bringing us along . Sorry you weren’t able to complete the trip as planned, but it sounds like that was part of the adventure in a way. I could never have imagined all that goes into making these hikes happen – the immense planning, the food and the trail angels. I can’t wait for your next trip! Many wishes for a speedy knee recovery.

    • Ruth Morley : Feb 6th

      Karen, thank you for following this adventure. It means a lot to me to have others interested in it. You’re right, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it, but I enjoy that part of the process. My next post will be about the organization that it takes to keep it all together. Again, part of the fun!

  • Greg : Feb 6th

    This was lovely. Thank you for sharing your journey and good luck on your next section.

    • Ruth Morley : Feb 7th

      And what a lovely comment, Greg. I appreciate it.

  • Carol Olausen : Apr 8th

    What an incredible adventure in such a different place from the AT. Thanks for inspiring us to always keep moving forward for the beauty that’s undoubtably ahead!

    • Ruth Morley : Apr 8th

      Carol, thanks so much for checking in on my FT journey. This first section was eye opening. I was constantly amazed by the huge variety of landscapes and environments our nation has within its borders. I’m already looking forward to resuming this tropical journey next January, from that very campsite I left.

  • Liz Byrom : Apr 10th

    Ruth you are amazing! My husband and I want to hike the AT and the Camino the moment we retire. We both try to eat wfpb and it can be challenging when you travel. I just watched your interview with Chef AJ and you’re truly inspirational!! Write the book, many people will buy it.

    • Ruth Morley : Apr 11th

      Liz, I hope I posted my reply to your comment correctly, so that you get notified of it. If you get this but not the comment, return to my Trek post and you’ll see it. Happy trails!

  • Ruth Morley : Apr 11th

    Liz, I truly appreciate your kind words and support. It was so fun to be on Chef AJ’s live YouTube program! I found her to be very warm and gracious during the few minutes of setting up before the broadcast. At this time, we have me slotted for another session in mid-July, during which I’ll show the contents of my backpack and show how I prepare a couple of trail foods in my dehydrator. It should be fun!

    What exciting plans you and your husband have! I encourage you to start learning more about each of those trails in depth. FB groups are a great way to engage in discussions with others who have done these trails or are planning to, like you. Also, keep in
    mind the importance of keeping your gear lightweight and minimalist. Your knees will most assuredly thank you.

    Let me know how those plans are going, via my FB page Heart-Healthy Hiking. I’m excited for you!

  • Lisa T : May 12th

    Hi Ruth! I just listened to your interview with Rip Esselstyn on the Plantstrong Podcast. I was so inspired by your story and I found myself in tears asking the Universe to bring someone like you into my life. I have always wanted to hike but I am not comfortable going into the woods/trails by myself. Thus, I usually have a surly crew with me that can’t wait to leave. I would love your advice on how to begin and how to become comfortable being on my own in the woods. PS: Your commitment to a Plantstrong diet while hiking is beyond exciting – I have been intrigued by the Excalibur for 10 years but now am inspired to take another look! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with all of us and being that ambassador for WFPB eating and Hiking!

    • Ruth Morley : Jul 13th

      Lisa, I apologize for not seeing your comment on my blog till now. I understand your frustration of wanting to hike but not having the right companions with you. Have you considered checking out Meet Up for hiking groups? Is there a neighborhood site online? If there’s a park or trail that you have in mind, but are timid about trying it alone, how about driving there and just sitting by your car to get comfortable. If you feel ready after awhile, just take a short walk out and back. Hiking poles might make you feel safer on the trail, not only for your walking but also as a self protection device. Several times I have taken a spray can of pepper spray in my pocket. One baby step at a time. It will make you proud of yourself! And thank you for your kind words about being an ambassador for WFPB eating. That’s one of my goals! I’ll be on Chef AJ’s YouTube channel on Monday, 7/17, 2:00 Eastern time, doing a demo of dehydrating. Check it out anytime. Again, thanks for your comment.


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