Matt's 2021 Hiking Plans - Florida Trail / Appalachian Trail / Eastern Continental Trail

  • Updated: December 22, 2020
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

Hey all! 

I spent last summer hiking the 2,653+ mile Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico to Canada. It was often difficult, sometimes miserable, and ever since finishing I've found myself really missing the constant feelings of progress and accomplishment.

So what's next?

Like a lot of people I found it hard adjusting to life back in civilization. Post Trail Depression is a thing everyone seems to get after a big thru hike and this year we all came back to a world a world still partially locked down due to COVID-19. 

My girlfriend and I live in a conversion van when we're around SoCal and it was great to get back to our little minimalist residence on wheels. At least until they shut the campgrounds down on us again due to large surge in COVID cases.

Similarly I tried to take advantage of every opportunity to dive the local beaches. Because nothing wakes you up better than pulling on a damp sandy 7mm wetsuit when it's 48 degrees out and spending two hours underwater blowing bubbles.

Unfortunately mass reunions with friends weren't an option due to social distancing rules and even basic things like getting a shower or just finding a place to plug in a laptop and work became increasingly difficult as more restrictions were put into place. 

And of course the fire season wasn't quite done with me. I made it back to OC just in time to ride out a bit windstorm which then triggered a fire that resulted in a chunk of Orange County being evacuated all the way down to the 5 freeway! And then we did it all again a few weeks later.
Normally I spend January to May hanging around Orange County since I have commitments to the Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course and Advanced Mountaineering Programs. But at least for Spring of 2021 those will still be on hiatus.

So for the first time since I took WTC in 2008 I don't have to be local for those months and I was eager to find a suitably epic way to spend the time.

Enter the Florida Trail. It's relatively unknown amongst my hiking circles but it runs 1,100 ish miles across Florida and has a northbound hiking season of January to March. Perfect!

I mean it also has some road walks, waist deep swamps, and the occasional potentially angry alligator but hey, sounds like an adventure right?

Originally I was just looking for something to keep me occupied for a few months before my girlfriend and I left for our summer international diving plans. I won a return dive boat trip to Komodo in June and then I planned to find someplace to do my dive instructor / Jen's divemaster where we could then roll right into a few months of actual work to build experience.

But it really doesn't look like the pandemic situation will blow over quickly enough for that to make sense. I could find someplace for us to do our classes but without a the usual supply of dive tourists I worry we wouldn't be able to find work afterwards. So better to just hold off on those plans until at least next year.

Plan B was always to do another big hike and ever since the PCT became a reality I've wanted to do the Triple Crown. 

The Triple Crown of hiking means that you've done the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Of the three the PCT was of course my highest priority just because it was my local trail. After that the more difficult and remote aspects of the CDT really appeal to me but I figure it's best to save that for the epic finish. So that leaves Appalachian Trail up next!

The Appalachian Trail is the oldest of the three trails but it's always stood out a bit to me because unlike the other two it doesn't actually cross the entire country. Seems a shame to *only* do a section of the east coast... 

Enter the Eastern Continental Trail! It combines the Florida Trail, Appalachian Trail, and more into one long route that stretches from Key West Florida up to Canada and beyond! 

I'd already been debating starting the Florida Trail in Key West instead of Big Cypress so I could say I walked the entire state. That meant instead of starting off in a cool wilderness swamp I'd spend the first week or so walking along a busy road having to find places to stealth camp at night. But hey, more adventure!

So my goal for 2021 is to start down at Key West and hopefully make it to Cap Gaspe by the time I have to head back to Orange County for my class in October. That would be about 4,900 miles assuming I can do it all. In addition to the usual challenges there are questions around timing the hunting season up in Quebec and of course I can't be sure if the canadian border will even be open by the time I get there. 

(For the record the International Appalachian Trail extends past Cap Gaspe and it might be cool to go further if time and weather allow. Though with the new extensions in Europe and Africa a lot of that seems more suited to shorter individual hikes)

I have a flight booked to Key West on December 28th after which I'll hopefully be posting a steady stream of updates between here, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  So stay tuned!

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  1. All the best to you--for wide, safe passage on your upcoming ECT trek...

  2. Buen Camino, amigo! You’ll see some interesting parts of my home state of Florida warming up for the long trek.