Monday, November 12, 2007

I'm exhausted, and I haven't even started yet!

As many of you know, I thru-hike the Appalachian Trail back in 2003, from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine. What a grand adventure! You can read all about it in my Great Adventures if you're interested. Some people have told me I'm quite amusing and that they're a lot of fun to read. =) I've even started turning them into a book, but it's only about half done at this point. Still a lot more work to do before it'll be published.

I started working on Atlas Quest a few months after finishing this great odyssey, and have continued working on the website ever since. It started as a small project to get back into the groove of things--I hadn't worked for two years and my programming skills were rusty. Then I was going to get a 9 to 5 job, work at it for a couple of years saving up lots of money, and if things went really well, get laid off again so I could thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. =)

Except I never stopped working on Atlas Quest, and I never did get that 9 to 5 job. Which leaves me with a quandary--how can I get myself laid off?!

The trail is calling me, though. I miss the trail. I started my hike on April 16, 2003. That was the day I saw my first white blaze, and I stood at the summit of Springer Mountain. I remember the weather--sunny and warm, and by sunset, the breeze became chilly. I'll always remember that day. Every April in particular, I feel the pull of the trail. And every April 16th, I imagine all those poor, foolish souls that hiked up to Springer Mountain with the intent to keep on walking for another 2,176 miles.

I have no desire to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail again--been there, done that. But I want to thru-hike other trails, and I set a goal to do the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008--five years after my Appalachian Trail hike.

But the responsibility of running Atlas Quest is something of a quandary for me. For the most part, the website is pretty stable as long as I don't muck around with it. Things go wrong when I start adding new features and making changes.

I decided to bag the Pacific Crest Trail for now. It's so remote, I'd have a difficult time checking up on Atlas Quest regularly, and if something DID go terribly wrong, I'd have a hard time getting off the trail and into civilization to do something about it. But the trail is still calling me....

And so I decided to thru-hike the Florida Trail instead. From Key West to Pensacola. About 1,300 miles, across alligator infested swamps and no mountains to scale. =) I figured it would take me about three months and take me through a huge swath of Florida I've never seen or explored. Start on January 1st, and end sometime near the end of March or early April.

Half the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, it would only take me out of action for three months instead of six. And the Florida Trail is in a much more populated area of the country. I could check up on the site much more regularly (I'm hoping for at least two times per week, rather than the once every week I would have expected on the Pacific Crest Trail). And if something does go wrong and I need to jump into action, the trail is never far from civilization. There's even quite a number of letterboxers in the area who would likely kidnap me from the trail just to get AQ running again if it came to that. ;o)

I just added a new webmaster, so there are now three of us. Both of them would prefer to stay under the radar for now, although I suspect many of you can probably guess at who one of them is. Hopefully they won't have to do much while I'm off hiking, but at least there will be two people around who can restart the server as necessary. They won't be adding new features or anything like that--just making sure the site stays up and running and monitoring the site.

So I'm trying to get all my affairs in order before hitting the Florida Trail. The "paperwork." Some of it quite literally is paperwork. I need to acquire permits, fill out forms, and blah. Not really fun. I'm getting rid of my car--I won't have need of it in Florida and it'll just cost me money to leave it sitting in my mom's driveway the whole time. Atlas Quest is the sticking point, though. I can't just up and carry a computer with me the whole way, but in case of some Atlas Quest emergency, I want to have my development system with me!

So I've figured out a way to put the entire development system on a flash drive. It's very slick. I plug the 2 gig flash drive into a USB port, and my entire development system is available. I can actually run the entire website off this flash drive! It's pretty freaking cool! So I'll be carrying that with me. Technology today is amazing!

The Florida Trail Association puts out a magazine called Footprint. The last copy I received mentioned that 12 people thru-hiked the Florida Trail last year. Twelve! Over 2,000 people attempt the Appalachian Trail each year, and hundreds make it. Not even a baker's dozen pulled off the Florida Trail, though. I'd be in a rare group indeed if I make it. =)

I don't really know much about the Florida Trail, and there's not nearly as much literature about it as you can readily find about the Appalachian Trail. But there is one book, by a Mr. M. J. Eberhart (a.k.a. Nimblewill Nomad), who thru-hiked the Eastern Continental Trail from Key West, along the Florida Trail, to the Appalachian Trail, and finally the International Appalachian Trail deep into Canada. Even AT thru-hikers such as myself think he's crazy. ;o) But it covers his travels in Florida and it's the only book I could find with a detailed description of his trip through Florida, so I ordered it and started reading it several days ago.

It's not an especially impressive book, and in good conscious, it's not something I'd recommend for most people. He uses way too many exclamation points, and if you cut out every sentence where he thanks a hiker, trail angel, trail maintainer, or God, I think there might be three pages left to read. =)

There is a connector trail between the end of the Florida Trail and the start of the Appalachian Trail, however, and I never really gave it much thought. It runs through Alabama and Georgia, and from what I heard, is mostly a bunch of road walking. Not exactly exciting stuff.

Except... it connects to Springer Mountain. Where I started my first thru-hike, back on April 16, 2003. It hit me yesterday afternoon--I have to do this section. It would complete my Appalachian Trail hike. It would add another 500+ miles to my hike, and I figure I'd arrive at Springer Mountain sometime in mid-April if all went well.

Wouldn't it be ironic if I arrived at Springer Mountain on April 16, 2008? Five years to the day I started my AT thru-hike. Five years to the day I last stood on Springer Mountain? It would be prime thru-hiking season as well. I could see those fresh-faced hikers, aching, blistered feet, carrying those 60+ pounds packs up the Approach Trail. I'd be ending my hike, lean but strong, with a beard after not shaving for over four months.

And darn it, I want to be on Springer Mountain April 16, 2008. I don't just have an end point, but also an end date. Maybe Mark can pick me up and bring me back down to Atlanta, and I can take the train back to San Luis. =) That was the route I took to Springer Mountain in 2003--Amtrak from San Luis to Atlanta, and Mark driving me up to Amicalola Falls.

I can't think of a better way to end a hike. =)

The Springer Mountain finish is only an idea I got yesterday, though. I'd been planning to end at Pensacola, Florida, but I need to start doing a bit more research about that connection trail between the Florida and Appalachian Trails.

My hike just got 550 miles longer, and all I did was read a book.

The trail is calling me, though.

Key West to Springer Mountain, January 1-April 16, 2008. That's my goal.

-- Ryan

PS. If anyone is going to the Microsoft Annual Shareholder meeting at 8:00am in the Seattle Convention Center tomorrow morning, keep your eyes peeled for me! =)


Anonymous said...

Go, fight, win!

Anonymous said...

You can do it, Ryan! How I wish I could! If you need anything at all while you're here, just let us know.

Three Hearts

Anonymous said...

I am inspired, amazed, and impressed. I need to go read that other book *scratches chin, trying to think of book*. I bet I could get laid off too!!

Anonymous said...

I don't know about Mark, but I'm sure we could get an impromptu gathering together to meet you at Springer Mtn and take you wherever you want to go!


Lisa said...

Cool about the work on your book!

Who is your publisher?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure exactly what the trail is through florida, i have never heard of it, but i've hiked a little on the AT(thru GA last spring break, didn't make it the whole way but it was our first long range hike) and i can tell you the terrain is very different, a lot less up and down mountains thats for sure. Anyways would you be albe to upload a map of where you are hiking? Through what parks etc. it would be amazing if we could plant some boxes in anticipation of you coming, and of course if we could join you for a camp out one night and feed you some grub that you arn't carying that would be amazing!

Anyways that you want to arrive in springer mountain the same day you left is a bit amazing to be honest, and yes it is fun to see all the starting hikers! its a weird heartning, almost ironic concept.

Anyways Best of luck to you in your planning, your book and of course your hike!

StarSAELS said...

Anonymous said...

Good luck Ryan!! I know I have told you before how I admire you for thru-hiking the AT....and you can do this one too! Such different terrain, scenery, flora and fauna...I know it will be mentally and physically rewarding!
A tip of the hat to you...and all the best of luck! :)
Kya Redfern

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of the Florida trail. Good travels to you and I'll see you at Springer, God willing and the creek don't rise. :-)

Knit Wit

Kaaren said...

Ugh, our portion of the trail is BORING. You will actually be walking through elementary school, near strip malls and in some places, by I-4. We by no means have the prettiest part. David knows a lot more of it than I do.


Debbie St.Amand said...

Don't forget to let us Florida boxers know what you need. I'm sure there are a lot of us who'd be willing to help you along your way!


Ryan said...

My book doesn't have a publisher yet... I figured I'd finish writing it before I looked around for a publisher. =) And if I can't get any publisher interested in it, I'll self-publish it and sell it through Atlas Quest!

As for the route of the trail, check out the FTA website at

If you click on the 'About the Trail' link, there's a small map of the route the trail follows through Florida.

And strip malls are FUN to hike through. Resuppling is EASY, and the lunches are FANTASTIC! ;o)

Stacy Christian said...

I looked at the FTA site and got tired just looking at the map of the trail.
But I'm curious to know why only 12 people completed the FT last year?

StarSAELS said...

The other 8 hikers succumbed to mosquitos, venomous snakes, gators... and Mickey Mouse

Anonymous said...

If the Alabama to Georgia extension is mostly roads, maybe consider a bicycle.

Eidolon said...

hmm... I did a little searching on the FT-AT connector since I had never heard of it specifically. What I found is road walking from FL to Montgomery, then hiking on the Pinhoti over to GA and the Benton MacKaye to Springer but is there a different route that you found?

Ryan said...

I haven't really researched the connector trail between Florida and Springer Mountain, so I don't really know where it goes! =) I need to get some maps of the area and do more research. Or get chadams to do it for me. ;o)

Eidolon said...

OK, I was mostly curious b/c when I looked at that route you actually walk further north on the Pinhoti to meet up with the Benton MacKaye. Then you work your way what is probably a couple of days SOUTH to get to Springer on the BM, which seemed silly if there was a more direct route. Maybe I will big out trail books and see if there is something coming up through western GA too...

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

ude, I'd be honored to give you a lift anywhere you needed to help you do your Great Adventure(s). It was a feat of amazing timing the first go round to make it Springer (me w/o a driver's license and all), so why can't this work too? Just let me know brother, and I will be there with some form of transpo: car, stolen Marta bus, turbo yak, a "borrowed" golf cart from StarSaels, something!

I big you happy travels and poignant wordcraft.

Your nutty friend,
PS-Remind me to tell you about how I accidentally got on the Marta bus to the Women's Correctional Prison and got to meet all the work-release "ladies".