The Formidable Florida Trail!

What an experience the Florida Trail is!  If a backpacker begins at the southern terminus and heads north (NOBO), they are beginning at what is undoubtedly the most challenging part of the trail’s entire length. This is much like starting the Appalachian Trail by heading SOBO, climbing Maine’s daunting Katahdin on your very first day.

But no complaints from this backpacker. My first four days on this trail were the most unique experience I’ve ever had on foot. But let me back up a bit and share how the two days before my launch transpired.

Thanks to several active Facebook groups pertaining to the FT, I was given a lift by a local hiking fan from the Miami airport to a campground near the trailhead, where a busy group of volunteers hosted a gathering and sendoff for backpackers who intended to hit the trail the first week of January. Most were thru-hikers, intending to cover all 1100 miles in one go, but others like me were long section hikers (370 miles projected for me this year). It was wonderful meeting new people, talking gear and the trail, and camping together in a beautiful, lush setting.

January 4 arrived, my day of departure. With butterflies in my stomach, I hit the trail with three younger hikers I had enjoyed talking with the past two days.

The last time that yellow shirt would ever be this clean.

However, as it goes in long-distance hiking, everyone had their own pace. They soon were dots on the horizon as I followed the conservative pace I prefer, especially when just starting out.  I’d rather hike alone to feel more fully in tune with nature, so I was fine.  In case of any unforeseen medical emergencies in this new, remote environment, I have my Garmin In Reach Mini emergency satellite device.

There were lots of gators in a canal by the visitors’ center, but those were the last I saw till I was completely out of the swamp, and only one tiny black snake wiggling quickly out of my way.  So that should calm the fears of some of my readers.

With greenery around me, it all started innocently enough with a dirt trail, but within the first 15 minutes, it was time to plunge my trail runners into water and mud.

This would become the norm during the majority of time during the next four days, mostly alternating time on dry trail, followed by equal stretches of carefully walking through ankle- to shin-deep water or extremely slimy, sticky mud up to the ankles or, later, higher.

The Everglades is actually a very wide, slow-moving, and mostly shallow river in southern Florida drifting to the southern keys from Lake Okeechobee.  It can take up to a year for this water to reach the gulf, so I was luckily never dealing with currents.

The first day was kind of a training ground, still with plenty of care needed in each step.  What complicated it all and posed the greatest threat were the limestone slabs we were walking on, mostly buried by silt.  In the middle of many of these slabs were holes that could plunge you from ankle-deep water to knee-deep with just one step.  Because of the silt evenly covering it all, you had no idea what you’d be stepping onto or into.

These are some of the limestone slabs not covered with water and silt, which gives you an example of the holes awaiting the hikers.

I learned to spread my hiking poles out wide to the sides to help keep my balance in case I began to plunge into a hole or slip to the side due to the squishy mud.  By the end of my 3 1/2 days in the swamp, I had fallen 11 times!  But I soon learned that Florida’s mud and water provide much softer landings than do NH and ME’s boulders. I kept count of my falls as points and found the waterfalls to be very cooling in the hot January sun.

But the beauty and uniqueness of the trail enchanted me.  My favorites were the occasional cypress strands, groves of sparsely spaced cypress with their wide root bases and bromeliads (air plants) growing out of the trunks.  I felt like I was in a cathedral.

By the end of the first day, a mere seven miles but at a cautious turtle-like pace of just one mile per hour, I was pleased when the dry area called seven-mile camp arrived, my planned overnight.  There I met three other very friendly hikers (happily in my age group) already camped there.

We were amazed and so appreciative that volunteer trail crews hauled the materials out there to assemble a picnic table. We considered that a much higher priority at this point than an outhouse.

We ladies went to get water from an area called a cypress mound, where taller, leafless cypress trees group in deeper water.  Alligators like these sites, so we stayed in the shallows, carefully scooped out water, and then cleared out. These mounds were to be our water sources the next few days.

The leafless trees in the background look as if they’re on a hill. However it’s just that the trees in the center are in the deepest, best water, so they grow taller . Alligators like to hang out there.  We stay on the outer edges, with shallower water.


It was such a joy to camp out in such a unique environment.  This is the maiden voyage for a new tent, the Durston XMid 1-P, and it was all I had hoped for.  My new sleeping quilt scored high points too.  It’s nice to get the right gear nailed down.

Doing evening yoga by the light of a full moon and waking to a light haze at the base of the tall palm trees was lovely.

I continued hiking on my own but had contact occasionally with the couple, Jiffy Pop and Trail Magic.  The trail started intensifying its mud and walking challenges.  After nine miles, I was happy to come to my next camp, which I shared with the couple again and a young male hiker.

When you need water, you’ll collect it in some unusual places, such as big puddles in ATV roads near camp. With our filters, it was fine.

It’s so fun how long-distance hikers enjoy each other, despite wide ranges of ages and backgrounds.

Day 3 was a doozy!  The afternoon commenced with what would be an eight-mile stretch of nothing but ankle- to thigh-deep water and much more of that slimy brown stuff.

At the end of the day, the end results. Those aren’t swollen ankles, just a buildup of the silt in my socks. I had lost my gaiters at the end of my first day, which helped keep some of it out.

This would all continue till noon the next day.  No dry ground where you could set down your pack for a break or a snack.  You had to really plan ahead.

I was getting nervous as the sun set, and I still hadn’t reached the tiny two-tent-capacity island I was aiming for, aptly named Thank God.  At last!  And thankfully, no one else was using the spots where I had hoped to experience a solo night in the Everglades, but after a couple of hours, I heard sloshing past the break in the bushes that was the entrance.  Those were human noises, I was sure.  Shining my headlamp on the entrance, the splashes returned. Now I had a companion who had missed the entrance while night hiking (oh horror, in my opinion!).  He was very friendly, so I didn’t mind not going solo that night.  In the morning, he told me he had heard a gator crawl up near the tents, pause, and return to Water World.  I regretted sleeping through that sound.

The beautiful view of Big Cypress through the hidden entrance to this tiny haven of dry ground.

The next day continued with more miles of the continuous water and mud, with one lovely dry break that only made the plunge back into the wetness yet more practice in caution and patience, all now at a whopping 1.5 miles per hour, thanks to practice.

But finally, finally, a partially flooded ATV road appeared, which led to a rest stop where the trail crossed under I-75.  Oh joy!

There awaited four wonderful volunteers/trail angels with drinks, snacks, shoe-washing tubs, an electric charging station, and shaded seating.  We FT hikers have amazing support!

Two hours later, I dragged myself away, with their promise that the water and mud were DONE till north of Orlando!!  Not my problem till next January!  During my five easy miles hiking with a thru-hiker on a dirt road, we spotted our first wild gator soaking up the sun on a dirt patch by a culvert that ran under the road. I expect to see many more when walking along levees in the coming days.

We came to our planned-for camp, which turned fun with several more familiar hikers arriving, all from the camping sendoff days ago.

Day five was extremely easy, first on a dirt road that led me through an inauspicious metal gate that marked entry into one of the Seminole nation’s reservations, for which I had secured a permit in advance.

This flat road (Florida, you know), eventually became paved and did challenge the patience in the hot sun with not many changes in the scenery.  But all things pass, especially when the trail’s easy, I had cell service and could finally catch up with my sister.

Lunch in a spot of shade by the little-used road.

My first order of business when getting to the village where I’d stay was to pick up my first food box sent from home at an RV park that accepts mail drops but not the hikers that come with them. I also sent myself fresh hiking shoes and socks to replace the ones trashed by all the Big Cypress threw at them.

The local Baptist church’s pastor is a big supporter of the hikers, though, and we were allowed to camp out in the spacious shaded lawn behind the fellowship hall, even with him being out of town this week.  We have at our disposal a cold shower, bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining hall, wifi, a fire pit, and even a chickee, a traditional Seminole outdoor pavilion roofed with palm fronds. What luxury!

A beautiful example of a chickee at a cemetery I passed on the way. Many native people here have them in their back yards.

At least 20 hikers converged that night with tents and a hammock, and I recognized most of them from the initial sendoff, which has turned out to be such a Godsend.  My favorite couple I had camped with also arrived. Nice to have friends on the trail.

I took a zero day here, as did about half the hikers, to rest our legs and air out our waterlogged prune feet.   But I have to admit that I feel fantastic, as if I hadn’t slogged through gruel for four days.  I give credit to all my advance training and my whole food plant-based way of eating.  It’s amazing how quickly one can recover without all the inflammation that accompanies a diet high in animal products, including dairy and eggs, and added oil, salt, and sugar.  Truly, I feel great!

As always happens, my zero day passed much too quickly.  The highlights were going to the excellent Seminole museum just steps away, with displays showing their life in the past, as well as a beautiful boardwalk explaining plants, animals, and ceremonial grounds.

The women often wore up to 25 pounds of beads around their necks. That’s the weight of my backpack!

We later listened to a local Seminole man who visited our church campsite and talked about his tribe’s history and lifestyle to all of us.  One of the guys here had met him at the store, and he offered to come talk with us, bringing his two children and their pet baby gator!

I never really understood what would eventually happen to the gator, whose jaws were presently taped up tight.  I’m guessing his future wasn’t going to be spent on a pillow in the corner of the kitchen.

And here I now sit in a Sunday school room, reliving my momentous first week on the FT.  I count myself so very fortunate to be doing all of this at age 70, with such complete support from my loyal husband, and having the strength, stamina, and strong desire to have these challenging adventures. I look forward to continuing on to see what else the Florida Trail has in store for me.  See you again in about a week.

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Comments 30

  • Shocktop : Jan 11th

    Thank you for sharing your new trail with the same positivity you brought to the AT. But better you than me, lol! Happy trails!

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Shocktop, what a pleasure for me that you are the first to comment. You’ve followed my whole AT adventure and now you’re going to Florida with me. Thank you!

    • Lindsey Lou on the move : Jan 13th

      Good to meet you Ruth! Thanks for teaching me about dehydrated star energy. Hopefully I can dig up a “hiking” day of recipes in this cash of gems you’ve written for us! Much love.

      • Ruth Morley : Jan 25th

        I highly recommend the website by the Backpacking chef and his 2 books. I learned everything I know from his excellent instructions.

  • Jagdish Mistry : Jan 11th

    Hi Ruth,
    Congratulations on completing your first week of Florida trail. This seems harder than MA.
    Good luck and best wishes for the rest of the trip.

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Hi Jag! I’d stil say southern Maine is harder. But Big Cypress is just a different kind of challenge. Not for the feint of heart! Thank you for checking it out.

  • Myra : Jan 11th

    This was an exciting read, Ruth! Great job, as always, of sharing the challenges while helping us understand the joy your receive from the many rewards the trail provides. Your writing really makes me feel like I am a part of your journey. Thanks!

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Myra, I’m very happy to have you along for the ride.

  • Mary Jo Peairs : Jan 11th

    Ruth, What an adventure! Thank-you so much for sharing. I felt like I was also slogging through the mud when reading your words. Best of luck!

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      MJ, I’m very glad that I was able to convey in words all that I experienced in a way that made you feel you were there. It was crazy but also so very unique and beautiful.

  • Katherine Biederman : Jan 11th

    Enjoy hearing about your adventures and seeing the pictures! Thanks for the inspiration, education and entertainment!

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Katherine, I’m happy that you got so much out of this post.

  • Patricia Taylor : Jan 11th

    Thank You Ruth for inspiring us with your journey. I will be turning 70 next month too and totally plant based two years resulting in having more energy than ever.??????‍♀️

    • Bruce Lewis : Jan 11th

      Great start!! Let us in on your breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus…

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Patricia, how wonderful that you are asp pant-based. It’s amazing how the right kind of food can have so many surprise my benefits. I find I recover very quickly now and am ready for the next day. I follow Dr Caldwell Esselstyn’s plan which is more restrictive but also has the best results, in my opinion. You get back what you put into something.

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Patricia, how great that you too eat pant-based. I follow Dr Caldwell Esselstyn’s plan for preventing and reversing heart disease. It’s amazing how great it makes me feel and how quickly I recover from strenuous endeavors. I’m always ready for the next day on trail!

  • Bruce Lewis : Jan 11th

    Great start!! Let us in on your breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus…

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Bruce, thank you for your interest. I try to pack as much nutrition in as possible. My breakfast is the same thing I eat at home, which has morphed the past three years into a mixing bowl sized mix! I have raw rolled oats, diced bananas (dehydrated, as are the following), riced cauliflower, cubed cooked sweet potatoes, diced zucchini, chickpeas, cinnamon, powdered vanilla. I let this “cold soak” in its lidded plastic jar overnight with water and a small packet of balsamic vinegar. I could eat this three times a day! Lunch is a slightly smaller version of my dinners, which can be sweet potato chili; mixed veggies, rice, beans, and cooked and chopped greens (Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, spinach) and dehydrated salsa and balsamic vinegar; curried veggies with quinoa; whole grain pasta with veggies, black beans, dried and powdered spaghetti sauce. I learned how to dehydrate at and his 2 books.

      I add balsamic to greens and cruciferous veggies per Dr Esselstyn’s directions. Together, these food are dynamic dilators of all our blood vessels, helping the blood flow faster and stronger to our cells/muscles, as well as helping repair the lining of our arteries after the damage the standard American diet inflicts on them. Please check out the documentary “Gamechangers,” about world class athletes who excel on a plant-based way of eating. This convinced me overnight.

  • Elise : Jan 11th

    Hi Ruth! So excited to follow your FT adventures! I’ve always wanted to do that hike. As always, a great read!

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 11th

      Elise, thank you for continuing to follow me. Maybe the FT is in your future in a few years? Train, train, train! It sure paid big dividends for me.

  • Jon : Jan 12th

    Great write up! Looks like a unique adventure.

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 13th

      Unique is the word! But let’s see what follows this crazy water adventure….so far, much milder.

  • Julie Mathis : Jan 14th

    70?!?! HOLY SHMOLY! I’d never know by looking! It’s so awesome to see and hear such vigor from someone 18 years older than me, especially since my own vigor has dramatically waned over the last few years. I’ve been in what feels like a funk to end all funks. And I know how to get out of it but am mired in the muck of junk food and screens. But hey, there’s hope for me yet!! Thank you SO much for giving some details about how you do plant-based. Reading your joyful and honest words and seeing your photos spur my trail-craving heart and muscles. Thank you, Ruth!

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 14th

      Julie, thank you so very much for your comment. It really resonated with me. Around age 50, things really began to change for me physically. I’ve always been slim and very active, but now my body began to ache. I wondered why my body hurt and didn’t want to move well after 8 hours of good sleep in a comfy bed. My right hip always ached. I had trouble getting up off the floor. So discouraging! Everyone attributes these kinds of things to inevitable in the aging process. Ok, maybe at some point, but not in my 50’s! Long story short, the documentary “ Gamechangers” about world class athletes who eat plant-based opened my eyes and c hanged my perceptions of optimal nutrition and health. I now eat only real foods in their most natural, unrefined form, as well as no added salt, oil or sugar. I completely avoid all oil-laden vegan “meat” products, cheeses, dressings, etc. It took time to learn how to do this, but now in my fourth year, I feel completely comfortable with and forever committed to this way of life. It’s not deprivation. Taste buds greatly adjust when not seduced by the added oils, salt and sugar. I enjoy every bite of my food!

      I recommend educating yourself through books, documentaries, podcasts. Books: How Not to Die by Dr Michael Gregor, the China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Phd, The Starch Solution by Dr John McDougall, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, the Ultimate Secret to Weight Loss by Chef AJ, The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn.
      Documentaries: Gamechangers and Forks Over Knives. Podcasts: Plantstrong by Rip Esselstyn, Chef AJ daily on YouTube, the Exam Room by PCRM.

      You can do this! The more you put into it, more results you’ll see. As for me, 100% gives me the ability to do all that I want to do and feel great while doing it!

      Stay in touch.

      • Julie : Jan 31st

        Aww, I’m just now seeing your response. Thanks SO much. I’m taking notes as we speak. I’ve got a 9-day hike planned the first week of April and am gonna dehydrate some nourishment to get ready for that as well as weekend and summertime adventures to follow. I looooove that you advocate grooving on it 100%. I’m not a moderation kind of girl. If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it full-on. Plus, doing so just makes logical sense. Thanks for the time you put in to listing your recommendations. I’m making use of them! (And my hips ache too, when I’m trying to sleep, which I find bothersome and worrisome. They’re gonna thank you as well.)

        • Ruth Morley : Feb 1st

          Julie, it sound like we have many similarities: if we do something, we go all in. I’m so glad that you are motivated to put plants first in your dietary plan. Dr esselstyn, in his book/plan that I follow, has a chapter entitled, “Moderation Kills..” I know many people who find all sorts of justification for indulging in junk food on weekends, vacations, when bored, etc, and then state that eating plant-based just didn’t do much for them. The best results come when you truly commit to something, just like in the rest of life.

  • David Elsbernd : Jan 14th

    Awesome! You are breaking two stereotypes from our earlier decades, that of women or older folks not being appropriate for running around and attempting great adventures. And solo! I remember when my cousin in Iowa had to play 6 on 6 basketball, three on offense and three on defense, because it was considered too strenuous for girls to play full court.

    But … no olive oil?

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 18th

      David, thank you for reading my blog and your comments. Funny, I simply don’t feel “old.” And there are plenty of solo women backpackers out there on the trails. But I’m very happy to represent both the senior population and my fellow women.

      Interesting that you are surprised I don’t eat olive oil. Before I made this switch to whole food plant based eating to reverse heart disease, I too believed that olive oil was healthy for us. There’s certainly enough hype out there supporting that idea. However, all oils add to the plaque buildup in arteries and continue to damage the endothelial lining of the arteries, leading to heart attacks and strokes. We get all the fats we need from whole foods. No need to squeeze out the oil. Curious? Go to Dr Michael Gregor’s and search olive oil. Trust me, countless research (if not funded by the oil industry) supports this.

  • Mary Stewart : Jan 20th

    Have I ever told you that you are amazing???

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 25th

      I don’t know, but it sure feels good to hear you say it now. Thank you. We each are amazing in our own ways. This just happens to be my way.


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