Eastern Continental Trail: Here I Come

Hey there Trek readers. My name is Owen and I plan to hike the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT) this year, including the AT and Florida Trail. I’ve been writing for The Trek for almost two years now and am thrilled to be joining the blogger ranks as well.

On my past thru-hikes, I’ve maintained a daily blog at HikeforDays.com. I plan to do the same during the ECT and will also post my thoughts here on The Trek. If you are interested in my previous hikes of the CDT, PCT, Sierra High Route, Tour du Mont Blanc, and others, please feel free to poke around over there. Otherwise, sit back and wait for the posts to start flowing. My first, introducing the ECT, is below. I’m honored to have you along for the ride.

Introducing the ECT

It is time. The next adventure is here. With great enthusiasm and moderate trepidation, I am absolutely delighted to announce the next chapter in the HomeSpice saga. From the Alps to the Continental Divide, from Mount Hood to the High Sierra, from pizza to burrito and back again, SpiceRack and I now turn our gaze eastward.

Next on the list is the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT). This unofficial route is a mishmash of many, famous and not, and parallels the Atlantic Ocean from the southern tip of Florida all the way north to someplace in Canada (Cape Gaspé) that I’d never heard of before. Notably, it includes the entirety of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Florida Trail (FT). Many roads and shorter trails connect the two through the deep south, and the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) takes over where the AT drops the ball in Maine, carrying it across the border and deep into Quebec. Although final mileage numbers vary depending on the source, the ECT falls somewhere between 4,400 and 5,000 miles. That’s a lot.

That’s the ECT. Photo source.

Why the ECT?

That’s a really great question, and honestly, I’ve had to sell myself hard on getting juiced up for this long walk. The East Coast is not my home, not my jam. I don’t get it. The people, the culture, the mountains, the environments, the animals, and the humidity are all foreign to me. Not that I’ve explored in person. My perceptions, gathered at a distance, warn me that Appalachia is a strange place with more people and trees, and fewer views and switchbacks, than I care to see. I like open, empty spaces, tall peaks, desert, altitude, horizons, and solitude. And even after many moons, or maybe years, of convincing myself that this next step is one worth taking, my reasons for doing so are mixed and muddled.

White blazes mark the AT. Hopefully it doesn’t snow too much.

Obviously and without question, there is the ego factor. PCT in 2015, CDT in 2019… What comes next? The AT, duh. The prospect of putting a bow on my own Triple Crown holds an irresistible gravity, and, as the saying goes, you either hike one, or you hike all three. However, I’ve attempted to resist being seduced by this force alone. Maybe I’m just masking the truth when I tell myself (and my mom) that I’m hiking for more noble reasons, but I’m pretty good at seeing through my BS these days. A shot at the Triple Crown is dope, for sure, but there’s more motivating me to slog for thousands of miles through a knee-deep quagmire of sludge, mud, and Lyme disease than ego alone.

The way I see it, the AT must have something going for it just by virtue of how popular it is. I’m curious to see what all the hype is about. I am eager to get schooled by the weather. I want to be humbled by the lack of switchbacks. Hiking through towns and across highways every few days sounds tiring and like an affront to my views of what makes a great backpacking experience. But what do I know? I’m an American and this is America, although it’s not my America. I think that it’s high time I immerse myself in something that I don’t understand. Time to learn what makes the mountains and the people on the other side of the country tick.

Appalachia. An America I do not understand.

Those same forces pulling me to the AT also motivate me to expand the scope of this journey. Building on the 2,200 miles of Appalachian Trail, the full ECT promises the same sweet satisfaction and uncomfortable awakening, only more so. The PCT and CDT groomed me to look from border to border, so it seemed natural to seek similarly logical termini. Looking at a map, it’s easy to see why I’m drawn to walk between the southernmost point of the U.S. and a voluptuous bulge on the other side of the continent.

Considering the ego, even as much as I like to minimize my vanity, the ECT is an objectively cool prize that will probably make me feel cooler (justifiably) than most people for at least a few years, should I successfully claim it. As far as learning how the other side of America lives, I hear that Florida is home to the strangest people in the Union. And nothing about this whole endeavor scares me more than an encounter with a gun-toting, good ol’ boy in the rural southeast. I suspect that that fear might be irrational, a notion I can’t confirm until I go see for myself. On the flip side, I can’t wait to meet some friendly Canadians in their natural habitat. Who knows, maybe they’ll flip the script and turn out to be huge a-holes. As the great Smashmouth once said, “you never know if you don’t go.”

The Strategy

SpiceRack and I are partnering up to make the ECT a wild flip-flop yoyo. I’m starting in Georgia and hiking the AT north, then across the border to Cape Gaspé, Quebec. Hopefully the timeline works out that SpiceRack can join me for those IAT miles before she turns south to hike the AT SOBO. When she reaches Springer Mountain in the fall, I pick up where I started, and we hike south together to the tip of Florida. Sounds simple, right?

Why not hike from tip to tail?

There are many good reasons for doing it this way. To name a few, I like the unfolding of summer of a NOBO thru-hike, SpiceRack prefers to ride the autumnal color show wave that SOBOs enjoy. Finishing in Florida together feels like the right way to wind it all down, similar to the ludicrously pleasant final few weeks of our CDT in New Mexico. Originally, I was stoked to hike south to north in one continuous NOBO push, starting at the end of 2021. However, the closer it gets and the more I think about it, the better this loosey-goosey remix looks.

The Van

Introducing Blackbird. A really big van.

If you’re looking for an explanation for the delayed start, there is one thing that sticks out like a gorilla in roller skates. Meet Blackbird, a really big van that SpiceRack and I converted into a home on wheels with ample help from friends and family. The buildout process was more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive than we were expecting. The result is also more awesome, more beautiful, and more fulfilling than I could have imagined. We are thrilled. A few months later than we expected, but home is here and it feels just like it should, like home.

Looks like home.

Blackbird is a major enabler for our ECT. While one of us hikes, the other can show up intermittently along the way. We each get oodles of solo hiking, but also skip the sickening emptiness and awkward distance that accompanies being apart for months at a time. Elaborate fantasies of lasagna and roasted vegetables will leap from fiction to reality. Perhaps more importantly, our dog Tango gets to live at home and be continuously showered with the love he deserves. He’s such a good boy.

Warm laundry day.

So SpiceRack and Tango will show up from time to time as I hike north. Then Tango and I will partner up to track SpiceRack’s progress south. This support will undoubtedly alter the thru-hike experience, and we will be careful not to smother one another. So much of what makes a long thru-hike great is linked to living out of a backpack and not going home every week. Preserving this feeling is important to us. If we strike the right balance, Blackbird enables the best of both worlds. And maybe, just maybe, more frequent showers.

Nerves

I’m nervous. As I sit here in the airport terminal, awaiting the start of my journey, I feel mild sickness of unease in my gut. No, it’s not COVID, nor is it the pile of cookies and croissant toast I’ve been stuffing in an effort to pack on some weight. The feeling is nervous excitement. I’ve felt it before.

It’s happening. Deep breath.

How easy it would be to say no. To crawl back to the comforts of home. With so many uncertainties and questions ahead, my instincts tell me to turn and run. Weather, Lyme disease, guns, maniacs, injury, they all freak me out. But I’ve been here before. I’ve felt this feeling and I take comfort in knowing from past experience that it all melts away with the first steps on the trail. I like hiking. I’m good at hiking. It’s going to be alright.

Ready to Rock

My gear is dialed in, though my early start date has me carrying a few extra pounds of winter gear that I’d rather not schlep. My clothes have been professionally treated with bug repellent to keep those tiny ticks away. I feel fit and ready to walk all day every day. I’m overwhelmingly excited. I’m anxious to take those first steps.

I miss SpiceRack. I miss Tango. But I tell myself that I’ll see them soon enough.

Am I ready? As ready as I’ve ever been or will ever be. It’s just a long walk, after all, and I’ve done this before. For now, that’s good enough for me. Here we go…

Keep an eye out for daily posts. There’s a flood coming.

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Comments 10

  • Vincent DeWitt : Feb 14th

    Hey, Owen,

    I hiked the northern 300 miles of the Florida Trail this fall. Zero problems with rednecks- no. Florida is more like southern GA/AL- chasing this Yankee down the trail and/or roadwalks. Honestly, hardly saw anyone on the trail that time of year. You’ll be good; don’t sweat the politics.

    Lively writing. Good luck on your journey. Maybe see you in CT this summer, where I’ll be a ridge runner employed by AMC second year in a row.

    Happy Trails,

    Vince DeWitt

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Feb 14th

      Thanks for the encouragement, Vince. I expect that all my reservations will prove to be unfounded when I finally touch the trail and meet the people.
      Hope to see you out there. Have a great season!

      Reply
  • Chris : Feb 14th

    Best of luck! Let me know when your in Sylacauga, AL and I’ll take y’all out for a meal. It’s near the southern terminus of the Pinhoti trail, about 15 miles from it.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Feb 14th

      Thanks for the offer, Chris! I’ll take you up on that if the miles and months are kind. See you in the fall.

      Reply
  • Russ1663 : Feb 15th

    Best of trail luck to you, Spicerack and Tango. Blackbird is impressive. Will keep track as I wander about the AT, you will love the greenage.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Feb 15th

      Thank you! I can’t wait to get overtaken by a wave of Spring. Have fun out there.

      Reply
  • Zach : Feb 15th

    Yea buddy! The van looks incredible. Couldn’t be more excited for you guys.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Feb 15th

      Heeeyyyyy, the big man. Thanks, Badger!

      Reply
  • thetentman : Feb 15th

    Good luck.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Feb 15th

      Thanks!

      Reply

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