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[ft-l] The Big 360 Hike - Final Update

Days into hike - 34

Latest segments hiked:

Big Scrub to SR 445 at Alexander Springs - 10.1 miles
SR 445 to Clearwater Lake - 11.0 miles

Cumulative miles hiked - 353.7  

Miles to go - 0 !!!!!!! 

Comments:  Our last two hiking days of the Big 360 hike!

We set out on Thursday on a hike that was to be all road walk.  Because Sandy 
had a morning doctor appointment, we couldn't hit the trail until early 
afternoon.  Since we had a 10 mile road walk, we didn't take the challenge 
too seriously, but wound up baking under the hottest part of the day.  This 
sapped our energy and made the 10 miles seem like 15.  But we finally 
struggled up SR 445 where the orange blazes were a welcome sight, but no more 
so than the air conditioned car and the cooler of drinks!  And since I had 
picked up a quarter, a nickel and two pennies on the trail, it had been a 
very profitable day as well!  Those blazes meant that our hike of the western 
corridor was officially complete, and now only an 11 mile segment remained to 
cap this adventure.

A note to the trail coordinators:  About two miles of road walk could be 
eliminated by having the western corridor follow the high voltage utility 
easement that runs from Big Scrub Road to 445.  I'm sure long distance hikers 
would prefer the easement walk. 

Sunday's hike began earlier in the morning to avoid the worst heat of the 
day.  It was exciting to think that we would finally complete this hike we 
conceived over a year earlier.  And this hike would have a new component -- 
company.  Tami Jicha from this List asked to join us and we met her outside 
Alexander Springs where she had been contracted by some mosquitoes to be the 
main course at an all you can eat all night buffet under her new tarp setup. 
It was impressive to see Tami's lightweight gear, including the 1 pound G-4 
backpack.  This is the same pack I expect to use when I hike from Key West to 
Canada in 2003.  And even though Sandy and I only carried daypacks, Tami set 
a very brisk pace carrying a full backpack.  Not bad for someone fairly new 
to our lifestyle.  We are also happy to report that she comes by her trail 
name of "Trail Talker" honestly!  ;-)  Tami lives in nearby Paisley and wants 
it to be known that she'll be happy to trail angel for backpackers in her 
local area.

After the recent days of road walks, it was a real joy to be in the woods 
again.  Even though we've seen over a thousand orange blazes during the hike, 
they were absent during most of the western corridor.  They greeted us 
cheerfully along the trail.  Even more fun was the FT logo some enterprising 
artist had carved into a tree that had fallen across the Trail.  Speaking of 
fallen trees, the section from Juniper to Alexander Springs and about the 
next four miles south have many blowdowns needing removal.

It was wonderful to see the sign at the ranger station informing us that fire 
danger was low.  Most of our hike has been in drought conditions, so it was 
appropriate that we had to slosh through wet trails on our final day of 
hiking.  What was surprising though was how treacherous the boardwalks were.  
Some kind of green algae or moss covered the wet shady parts and made them 
slick as ice.  Not bad when the treadway was level, but very dangerous where 
the boardwalk tilts to one side.  A handrail might be advisable to help the 
hiker prevent a nasty fall.

We were lucky to witness one of the most exciting wildlife encounters of the 
whole trip.  Just to the left of us on the Trail, we watched as a 4 foot 
Black Racer swallowed the last couple of feet of another snake who had the 
misfortune of becoming lunch.  Sandy got a picture of this, so look for it in 
our upcoming slide presentation.

About 5 minutes after the snake episode, we saw a hiker coming toward us on 
the Trail.  As he approached, I recognized none other than our List 
moderator, Jeff Walters, AKA "Prairie Dog."  Jeff brought cold Gatorade for 
all of us, a wonderful treat now that the day was getting hot.  Now we were a 
group of four walking the last three miles of the hike.  How fitting!  To be 
able to share our last few miles with an old friend and a new one.  As I 
reflect on that I find an inescapable symbolism for what is so great about 
hikers and hiking.  That our common passion for hiking makes for quick and 
easy friendships, and yet friendships destined to last a lifetime.  Thanks 
Tami and Jeff for the hike on Sunday and your friendship.  THAT is what it is 
all about!

This hike has covered 10 counties, with over a hundred miles of road walk, 
walking on the left and dancing into the ditch hundreds of times as  cars or 
trucks approach.  We have hiked winding paths through private and public 
lands and containing a rich array of flora and fauna it has been our 
privilege to observe and document.  We've hiked paths well manicured and lost 
the trail in weeds 8 feet tall.  We've hiked hand in hand for over 200 miles 
of this hike.  We've given a lift -- and a meal -- to mosquitoes, ticks and 
chiggers.  We've walked confidently as well as cluelessly.  We'd have been 
lost without the FTA maps -- and we've been lost with them.  We've had plenty 
of assistance from our knowledgeable hiking friends, giving us updates on new 
trail development which makes maps outdated so quickly with such a young and 
dynamic thru-trail such as ours.  Its youth is its beauty and its curse, 
beauty because there is adventure and excitement with the uncertainty of 
route and trail condition.  The curse is for the small but dedicated staff of 
the FTA and the hundreds of volunteers in all our chapters who have to deal 
with this Trail's growing pains.  We hope you all have thick skin and can 
accept the criticism from us hikers of the Trail as it is intended, 
constructively.  Those who do your jobs in the future may have an easier time 
of it, but only you will have the satisfaction that comes from taking the 
dream of a hiking trail the entire length of the state and making it a 
reality.  Thank you!

This concludes our final trip report.

Happy trails,

Solar Bear and Navigator