Getting Our Feet Wet on the Ocean to Lake Trail
What do two bored 2022 Appalachian Trail hopeful thru-hikers do in the months leading up to their attempt? Go on a mini thru hike where it’s warm!
My hiking partner and I decided to ditch the northeast and head south for a quick backpacking trip before our AT attempt in March. We settled on the Ocean to Lake trail in Florida because it was a short trail, easy to travel to, and we could relax at the beach after the hike for a mini-vacation. Looking for everything you need to know about the Ocean to Lake Trail? Check out Jupiter’s comprehensive write-up about the trail.
If you want to see more photos from the trail, watch the O2L story highlight on my Instagram!
To see everything I brought, look through my LighterPack for the O2L trail. This is not exactly what I’ll be bringing on the Appalachian Trail, since the weather will be wildly different to start.
I left my apartment at 5:30 am to get to Boston Logan Airport (my amazing roommate drove me), checked my bag, and took off at 7:30. I landed at about 11:15 and my hiking partner landed at about 11:45. We haven’t seen each other since college so it was so nice to reunite! We picked up our bags and took a Lyft to Tequesta Palms Inn, which I would highly recommend. It’s a simple motel in walking distance to everything we needed and the manager, Cindy, was amazing. We had my gracious family friends come pick up our bags with flight clothes and beach gear for after our trip, and they even offered to drop us off at the trailhead the next morning. We were so thankful for their kindness, and it was so nice to catch up. It calmed our nerves a bit to know we had a reliable ride to our trailhead and a contact nearby if anything went wrong.
All of the locals today profusely apologized for the unseasonably cold weather, which was actually in the high 40s when we arrived. Us northerners thought it was funny, but a bit annoying that it almost reached the historical low from our research.
Needless to say, we did not sleep well as both of us were a bundle of nerves. I can only imagine how nervous I’ll be the night before the AT!
My family friends picked us up at 10 am from the Inn to drive to the LOST/NENA trailhead, which was about 45 minutes away. Aaaaaand off we went! I started to feel better once we started walking, shaking off the nerves a bit. We walked the first 3.5 miles, all on a hot and sunny dirt road around farmland and took a break at the entrance to DuPuis. We ate some food and put on our blaze orange for hunting season. I had an everything bagel with cream cheese, which was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever eaten because I was just not hungry, and I love bagels.
At around 5 miles in, we turned down one of the many unmarked dirt roads by accident and had to backtrack to the trail, but it wasn’t too bad. We made it to Loop 4 campsite (mile 8.6) at 3:15, 4 hours after we started and decided not to push on to the next site. It was nice to just set up camp and relax on our first day. The weather was great and we didn’t see anyone out on trail, probably because it’s a Tuesday and considered to be very cold by the Floridians.
One lesson I learned is how difficult it is to eat on trail. I was just not hungry, which was definitely a mix of nerves and from hiking all day. It’s hard to convince my body to eat while “working out,” and especially difficult to sit down and eat a real meal in the middle of a big mile day. I choked down that bagel during our first break and had to force feed myself at camp too. I definitely have way too much food with a full 5-day resupply and with more water than needed on the AT. With that much weight, my shoulders did hurt quite a bit at the end of the day.
It actually got pretty cold (into the 50s) at about 6 pm. After shivering for an hour, we decided to get into our tents at 7 even though we weren’t very tired. I don’t sleep well on or off trail, so I was worried about keeping myself occupied until sunrise a whole 12 hours later without using too much phone battery. We could hear all sorts of animals (mainly packs of coyotes and possibly a pack of wild hogs) and bugs and planes. It all died down around midnight and I drifted off to sleep.
Well, I actually slept in about 2 hour increments and had Christmas music stuck in my head all night. I am a “rotisserie” sleeper and find it so difficult to stay on the inflatable pad all night without slip slidin’ around my tent. However, I was pretty toasty in my 40 degree bag down to about 47, so it’s nice to know that I’ll be comfortable at the temperature rating. I also accidentally brought a random pair of cuddle duds leggings instead of my Uniqlo baselayer leggings and they did great!
I did have a few moments of panic during the night and woke up pretty nauseous, so that sucked. I feel like the first day on trail is always a difficult adjustment.
(a few moments later in the day)
Today was absolutely brutal. We went 15.8 miles to Bowman Island campsite and 80% of the trail was underwater, up to our shins most of the time and thigh-high at some points. We didn’t realize how much more energy we’d have to expend to walk and it really took a toll on our bodies. And when it wasn’t wet, it was ankle-deep mud, which tried to pull our shoes off like quicksand. It was a lot more taxing on our bodies than typical green tunnel mileage.
At the end of the day, I spent 20 minutes getting the mud out of my shoes after the casual swim to camp, and I got eaten alive by mosquitos during this time. We were so exhausted after this day that we both got into our tents at dark and I fell asleep pretty quickly.
Well, I put those same shoes and socks on this morning. Seems useless to put on dry socks when you have to swim out of camp! It was mildly fun putting on wet, sandy, and muddy shoes on my feet at 8 a.m., and I laughed at the absurdity.
For how miserable I felt last night and this morning, I actually felt pretty good when we started hiking. I was able to eat pretty regularly and was happy to be moving again. I was so impressed with how good I felt physically. I didn’t even have the greatest night’s sleep (woke up to a flat sleeping pad and was too tired to fix it), but it seemed like it was enough to be somewhat restorative. The first few miles were very muddy and wet, so we were happy to make it to the youth camp area and walk on some dry land. We also did see a few people on trail this day, all around the Powerline Camp, and chatted with one man who had hiked the trail many times.
We really felt like we were cruising until we were stopped dead by an (at least) 400-lb gator ON TRAIL. It was MASSIVE. I have never seen a gator that big, let alone 10 feet away from me. I totally froze and Ally led the way around it, but when we were about 6 feet away it jumped in the water and I tried to run down the trail. I knew there would be gators but I didn’t expect to see an actual dinosaur.
We wandered through Corbett on high alert after that, but the trails there were more like flooded dirt roads than prime gator habitat, although we did see some small snakes. After that, we made it through the highway walk and promptly bailed from the trail with about 24 miles to go. Unfortunately, Ally’s feet were not doing well and we were bummed that we weren’t able to finish, but we definitely learned a lot.
While I was sad to get off, I will say that the first hot shower and real food after the trip really are special. It might have been the best salad I’ve ever had, just a regular garden salad with ranch!
After showering and eating dinner, I contemplated going back to the spot we got off and finishing the last 24 miles alone. I was pretty sure I could physically do it, but wasn’t so confident mentally in solo travel through wet gator territory.
I decided against finishing the entire trail alone and instead got dropped off at the entrance to Jonathan Dickinson State Park around 11 a.m. I hiked about 4 or 5 miles back to the Ocean to Lake Trail at mile 57.1 and finished up the last bit of trail in JD. This day was…. boring. I at least ran into a couple of hikers and had a nice chat, although they did not like that I was hiking alone. The walk was mostly on beach sand and often went through some wet spots, because what would this trail be without some wet feet? I also chuckled through the last mile or so of the state park, which had the biggest hills of the trail, although probably no higher than like 15 feet. I crossed out of the park and walked along roads for the last few miles, including a wonderful tree-lined sidewalk and a drawbridge walk, all the way until I reached the terminus – Hobe Sound beach. I ate my prepacked sandwich so quickly and we went back to my family friends’ house to get cleaned up and move to our AirBNB for our “vacation.”
I learned a lot on this trip and I’m so glad we went. First, I will definitely be swapping my tent. It was very humid here, just like on the AT, and my tent held onto all of the moisture and just never dried. Because of the wetness, it sagged an awful lot and I just couldn’t get a great pitch. My footbox actually got a little wet the last night on trail because of how much the tent sagged after some short rain during the middle of the night. I bought a DCF tent before the trip but hadn’t set it up yet, so I hope to bring that on the AT.
My 40 degree quilt worked great and kept me toasty at a low of 47. My sleeping pad was fine until it leaked and turned into a flat waterbed, so I’ll need to figure out if it’s a valve issue. Sleep clothes were good, even though I brought the wrong leggings.
We did have a bit of an issue with water filtration because of the silty water, which clogged Ally’s Sawyer almost immediately. I had brought a bandanna as a pre-filter, but it definitely didn’t prevent all of the silt from making it into our dirty water bags. My Katadyn filter was amazing the first two times we filtered, but slowed to a trickle after that. I would highly consider the Katadyn filter for the AT, just because of how quick it was in the beginning.
I made a lot of notes about small gear tweaks that I wish I had, like I definitely wished I had soap in addition to hand sanitizer, and even small things like a bobby pin for my hair would be helpful. I also had not downloaded all of my favorite playlists, which I corrected immediately after getting off trail.
I obviously packed WAY too much food at 7lbs/5 full days and I need to figure out my eating preferences on trail. Cooking/soaking would have used up water when it was scarce and neither of us felt like going through the hassle. I definitely tended towards eating snacks for breakfast and lunch, so I will aim more towards that eating style for the first few weeks on the AT. Poptarts were the best breakfast, by far.
Lastly, I did really enjoy my clothing setup, everything worked great! My legs did get really scratched up from overgrown trail and I did get a ton of bug bites, but I would still recommend shorts for this hike because of the long stretches of water and mud. I did bring 2 sports bras on this trip to test and 1 did pass the test, however not without a downside. My first bra absolutely did not dry after the first night so I switched to the other one. The second one dried very quickly but the strap plus my backpack strap caused some major chafing/tiny blisters on my shoulder. If anyone has a solution for bra straps + shoulder straps digging into skin, I’m all ears.
For my feet, I wore the same injinji socks and Altra LP 4.5s every day and my feet felt great. I had a couple hotspots and put leukotape on them, which actually stayed on throughout our wettest day. I think I will stick to 3 pairs of socks (1 only for sleeping) for the beginning of the AT, even though I only wore two on this trail, because of the cold.
Overall, I feel really good about this trip and how well my body responded to bigger mile days. I feel really confident about my gear, even with some tiny mishaps, and I’ll be much more prepared with my food setup for the AT. Now, to count down the days until the big trip!
Note: My hiking partner Ally is also a Trek Blogger! Read about the trip from her perspective on her blog, coming soon 🙂
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