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[ft-l] Hiking and other stuff

The last two weeks have been busy for me.  When I'm not out hiking, my other 
favorite activity is getting together with hikers.  There is no better place 
to do that than the Gathering, the annual meeting of the Appalachian Long 
Distance Hikers Association.  It took two days driving up to the campus of 
Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, but it was well worth the time and effort 
and I spent the wonderful weekend of Oct. 5-7 there.

During the many seminars and slide shows, it became apparent that the Eastern 
Continental Trail is the hottest new destination for long distance hikers.  
This is important for us here in Florida to know because the starting point 
for the ECT is Key West.  There is no doubt in my mind that the FT will be 
seeing an explosion of growth in the next few years.  We better get prepared!

Our friends to the north in Canada have poured fuel to the fire by minting a 
series of medals which were presented at the Gathering to successful hikers 
of the International Appalachian Trail.  The IAT is the final segment of a 
northbound ECT thruhike.  A hiker who starts his/her IAT hike at Katahdin is 
awarded a bronze medal.  Start at Springer Mountain and you get a silver 
medal.  And if you hiked the whole ECT from Key West you get a gold medal.  
The ceremony was very classy with the wife of the French Canadian dignitary 
awarding the medals and kissing each recipient on the cheeks European style.

So, in this unexpected way, our Canadian friends have created a big incentive 
for hikers to come and hike our trails.  I just wanted y'all to see that a 
wave a thruhikers is coming!  All of the seminars dealing with the IAT or the 
ECT were filled to standing room capacity.  It is a huge shame that our 
Florida Trail went unrepresented.  There would have been great interest and 
we could have educated the throngs who will arrive in 6 weeks.

The leaves in New England were at their peak that weekend.  As I headed south 
to visit my Mom in PA the colors faded to green.  Their peak would come after 
I left.  I did get in a short hike while in PA.  Ricketts Glen State Park has 
trails that follow along a stream containing many beautiful waterfalls.  It 
was a wonderful hike with Mom.

On Saturday, Sandy and I headed up to the Long Distance Hikers Committee 
(LDHC) meeting at the Suwannee River Campground.  On the way up, we stopped 
at Flat Island in Leesburg to hike a trail we had never hiked before.  It was 
a beautiful trail, perfect for the backpacking seminars Joan Hobson teaches 
here.  Even the mosquitoes were friendly.  On other trails, the mosquito 
community would send out a welcoming committee, but here at Flat Island, the 
whole community came out in force to offer a raucous welcome.  We were even 
invited to dinner -- no, to BE dinner -- but we had to decline the invitation 
and escape to the Suwannee.

The LDHC meeting was very impressive.  It appears we are finally ready to 
serve the needs of thruhikers.  A thruhikers info packet has been developed 
and crews will be dispatched to blaze and maintain the most neglected parts 
of the Trail.

On Sunday we headed to Merritt Island to hike the three trails there.  If you 
like shorebirds, this is a wonderful place.  We saw ospreys fishing, immature 
bald eagles soaring, a beautiful pink roseate spoonbill, many varieties of 
heron, mullet jumping.  And we saw a snake nearly capture a rat for dinner.

The three trails range from .5 to 5 mile loops with something for everyone.  
The smallest hike goes through a dense hammock of oaks and magnolia.  We saw 
what we think are Gumbo Limbo trees there, a big surprise.  They usually are 
found further south.

Happy trails,

Solar Bear