Fresh Ground Trail Magic’s ECT Hikers

ECT Day 314&315

Day 314: zero day

This morning I was shocked how incredibly early everyone got up. I started to hear the clanging of tent stakes and rolled over to check my watch. It was just after 5:00 a.m.! Hikers are having a super early start today because they know the swamp walking is going to be exhausting. But I didn’t realize people were going to be getting up so early.

I rolled back over and slept for a little while longer. But around 6:30 a.m. I wound up getting up and out of my tent. As I did, I saw Boosted getting up and ready. He had also been woken by all of the campers. The people running the Florida trail kick off were already up preparing breakfast. They did eggs, bacon, sausage, and pancakes. It was a really nice spread and they put a ton of effort into it.

I hung out with Boosted and fed some sausage to Roxy because she’s such a good girl and was begging so much. A little while after that Tripod got up and joined us. It was a nice lazy morning just hanging out. A good number of people had gotten on trail today. I know that Caboose, Lost and Found, Woods, and Sprinkpe all did. It’s too bad that we won’t be seeing them today, but they have to get going on their hike. A lot of other people didn’t hike out today that we can hang with.

Later on in the morning I wound up talking to my mom for a little while which was nice. I had missed a call from her yesterday and never got a chance to call her back. Today I had to get off the phone pretty quick though, because my phone was about to die. I’ll have plenty of time till the next couple of days to give her a call.

Photo of my tent and other hikers’ tents at the Florida Trail kick off. Taken by Ari Hirschman.

In the early afternoon Beer Run arrived with one of his friends. It was nice to see him again! We were hiking together for pretty much the whole first half of the Florida Trail as well as Alabama. Then we just wound up doing our own thing the last couple of weeks. He’s up ahead of me on trail and will be finishing a little before me.

In the afternoon a bunch of us drove into town to get pizza. It wound up being like three or four carload of people which was fun. We all ordered and sat outside this pizza place like a big mob. I sat and ate with Trucker, Boosted, Loins of Arabia, and Trash Panda. It was a nice time hanging out there with everyone.

A bunch of hikers and FTA members getting pizza on the 2nd day of the kick off. Photo taken by Eric Emery.

After we finished up at the pizza place, we headed back to the campground. Just as we got there, Tripod was getting back from the oasis center. He had driven some hikers out earlier this morning and went hiking out with them. He was also there with another hiker, Machine, who I met on the PCT last year. I haven’t seen him since Washington on the PCT! It was so cool to see him again. Nana Man and Gas Monkey had also just arrived. They both also hiked the PCT last year. I think the last time I saw both of them was at trail days.

All of us hung out for hours after that. It was so cool to see so many familiar faces. Those guys are some of my favorite people that I’ve met over the years hiking. So to get them all in one place hanging out was awesome. Nana Man brought all the stuff to make guacamole. We ended up sitting in the grass at a little table and making the guacamole together. It was really fun.

All of us were just hanging out there, drinking a little bit, and laughing for ages. I swear every other minute someone said something ridiculously stupid and everyone just started dying laughing. At one point someone came by and said that they were going to go over to the exhibit to look at the python. There’s a python in the reptile center here that’s apparently the second biggest in captivity. So we decided to have the entire group go over at the same time to check out the snakes.

There were about eight of us heading over together. It was so fun all walking over as a big mob together. The whole experience just brought me back to amazing days on the PCT and AT when you’re with a bunch of friends. It’s definitely such a different experience hiking on trails with tons of other hikers. I’ve had my share of both this year. There were times when I was hiking with tons of other people, maybe just one or two other people, or just liking by myself. All of those experiences definitely have different vibes to them.

A giant turtle at the reptile exhibit nearby the campground.

It was so fun going over to check out the snakes all together. When we got there all the people from Shaw’s hiker hostel were doing the same thing. So there were just tons of hikers. The exhibit had a bunch of different pythons, alligators, and turtles. It was a really good time. I didn’t realize when I’d come the other day that there were actually some big alligators outside in an enclosure too.

A bunch of people hanging at the FT kick off. Taken by Eric Emery.

We hung out there for a while and then eventually went back to the campsite. We wound up just lingering around the campsite for hours, hanging out together and laughing our asses off. I swear we all probably said some of the stupid stuff I’ve ever heard over the course of the night, and it was such a hilarious and good time. Eventually Machine, Beer Run, Boosted, and Roxy, had to head out.  It was so great to see all of them again.

As the evening went on the handful of us who remained spent the rest of the night all hanging out together and having a really good time. The FTA put on another big dinner. I ate a bunch of pasta with meatballs and marinara sauce. In the evening I wound up hanging out with Learning Curve for a while. He’s a really nice and interesting guy. It was cool hearing about the trip he’s taking right now. He is on a silent walk right now with a stroller. And he’s going all the way to the west coast. In so many ways that is incredibly similar to thru-hiking, but also do different! 

Myself and some other hikers getting dinner. Photo taken by Eric Emery.

Everyone wound up staying up pretty late around the fire after that. A bunch of people are going to be hiking out tomorrow. I think we’ll probably be hanging out for one more day. I’m not sure if we’re gonna stay at the campground or go someplace else. But Tripod is staying for one more day and it will be nice to hang out with him.

Sometime after 11:00 p.m. everyone decided to head off to bed. I’m sure it’s going to be another early morning tomorrow. I’ll be sad to see a lot of people go. I’m not sure when I will be seeing most of these people again, but you always know you will be one day.

Day 315: zero day

This morning I was up pretty early. They start preparing breakfast and coffee around 6:00 a.m. I got up just as the sun was coming up and got ready for the day.

By the time I got out of the bathroom and brushed my teeth, I ran into Nana Man and Gas Monkey, who were up eating breakfast. Within the next 20 minutes everybody was up and sitting around a couple picnic tables together. The rest of the hikers here are going to start the Florida Trail today.

I’m probably going to go with Tripod when he drops off Nana Man and Gas Monkey at the oasis center. Then we will probably spend the day hanging out and maybe do some tail magic with Tripod for hikers.

All packed up and ready to leave the Florida trail kick off. It was such a fun couple of days!

Everyone who works for the Florida Trail Association worked together and broke down the group site. We helped bring stuff over to Ari‘s car so that he could get everything packed up. I got all my stuff packed up because I’m not sure exactly where we’re going to be camping tonight. Then the Florida Trail kick off was no more!

Once we were ready to go, we piled into Tripod’s car and headed over to the oasis center. It was fun to walk around again there and see off Nana Man and Gas Monkey. They are beginning their northbound hike up the Florida Trail. Nana Man hiked it last year and he’s doing it again this year just for fun.

Tripod, myself, Night Twig, Trucker, Nana Man, and Gas Monkey (left to right).

A big alligator at the oasis center.

After saying goodbye to the guys, we drove over to I-75 rest area. That’s where the big cypress swamp ends for northbound hikers, or where the big Cypress swamp begins for southbound hikers. There might be some hikers who started yesterday who are going to be making their way out of the swamp today. We figured we would just hang out there with some of other people who are doing trail magic for the Florida Trail.

A couple of big alligators at the oasis center. So many were out sunning today.

When we got there a tent was already set up. Some of the people who had been at the kickoff had come by to hand out snacks and drinks there. They were also going to have a shoe washing station set up. We hung out there for a couple of hours and met a few hikers. There weren’t a lot of people coming out of the swamp at that time though.

The FTA set up at I-75 for Florida trail hikers. They had food and drinks as well as a shoe washing station.

Tripod whipped out his own small table and we made ourselves sandwiches for lunch.

After we had been there for a couple of hours a van pulled into the parking lot. Initially I didn’t realize who it was, but I guess Tripod recognized almost immediately. The guy got out of the car and came over. I was surprised when he knew who I was by name. It turns out this guy was Fresh Ground!

Fresh Ground is a legendary Trail Angel. He has been feeding hikers across the Appalachian Trail for 12 years! In the last few years he has expanded to do trail magic on part of the PCT, CDT, and now the Florida Trail. He said that we are officially the first group that he has done trail magic for down here in Florida.

Fresh Ground van.

Fresh Ground getting set up to feed his first ever group of florida trail hikers.

I sat and watched as he got at up. It was pretty incredible to witness too. That guy knows exactly what he is doing and was really methodical with his set up. It was so awesome to meet him and get to hang out and talk with him. I knew through Caboose that Fresh Ground was going to be driving down and doing some trail magic this week. But I figured because I’m going south that there was no chance I was going to see him. Apparently he was thinking the same thing about seeing me, which is pretty funny.

Trucker and I hanging at Fresh Ground set up.

While we sat there, he got tons of stuff cooking and situated. I made a hot chocolate and he cut up a watermelon for us to have. Then he got hotdogs going with all the fixings. He even heated up chili and had coleslaw. Everything was delicious and I stuffed my face. While we were there, we were contacting Learning Curve. He was still in the area hanging out. He went down to Key Largo this afternoon just to get pie because he really wanted to try it. Then he drove back up and met us at the I-75.

Down in Key Largo, Learning Curve got two different Key Lime pies. They were both voted the number one Key Lime pie down there, so he brought both of them back. All of us did a taste test to see which one we thought was the actual best pie. That was really fun to do, and I was thankful for Learning Curve for grabbing the pies. He had to drive two hours both ways to get them, which was hilarious.

He joined in the fun and we all hung out for hours with Fresh Ground. While we were there eventually Caboose arrived. He was such a champ for making it through the swamp in two days. I know from experience just how tiring it was going through there. He joined and all of us hung out with Fresh Ground until after dark.

Tripod, Learning Curve, myself, and Trucker.

A couple other hikers walked through while we were there with Fresh Ground. One guy’s name was Free. He was in and out really quickly and was clearly moving fast. Another hiker was named Poppy. She’s attempting to do a 35-day Florida Trail hike, which is incredible. That pace is really not far from the FKT pace set by Bopit last year.  It was really nice to meet her. She was clearly a total badass! I’m always wishing that I could be on trail hiking with girls like that. But it seems like we’re always just ships passing in the night.

The parking lot that everyone was hanging out in was by the Florida Trail. But technically it was on fire department property, so we couldn’t camp there. Later on in the evening we all went across the street to the over FT trailhead. Tripod, Learning Curve, and Fresh Ground parked there. Then Trucker, Caboose, another hiker Fred, and I tented nearby.

Following Fresh Ground across the street to where we were all gonna camp for the night.

Once my tent was set up, I went back and hung out with Tripod and Learning Curve for a while. We just talked and laid in the parking lot. Over the last few days, I’ve gotten absolutely ravished by mosquitoes. My legs probably have about 40 or 50 mosquitoes on them. Sitting outside tonight I got even more.

I stayed up until sometime after 8pm and eventually called it a night. Talking to Tripod and Learning Curve was really nice. We went into all kinds of stuff. The whole conversation left me feeling lighter.

Tomorrow morning we’re all going to wake up at first light with Fresh Ground. He’s gonna make everybody breakfast which is so awesome. This was such an incredible surprise today. Fresh Ground is one of those people that I’ve been wanting to meet all year. And just a day or so ago I was talking about how I was wondering when we would finally meet. Now, here we are! This was such a wonderful way to ring in my last week on the Eastern continental trail. I got to meet an absolute trail legend.

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Comments 2

  • Nephi Polder : Jan 9th

    So much eating. I’m jealous.

  • Sheef : Jan 9th

    It’s Fresh Ground. Not Fresh Grounds.


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