A long-time trail maintainer and hike leader for the Florida Trail Association, Lori “SwampTromper” Burris has encouraged many women in South Central Florida to take that first step into the wild. She’s actively supported long distance hikers on the Florida Trail and taken many trips on the Florida Trail and Appalachian Trail both solo and with friends, including me. She lives in Port St. Lucie.
AREN’T YOU AFRAID?
That’s the question I hear most when I talk about Long Distance Hiking, especially the hikes that I do alone. The short answer is “no”. I have been lucky enough to encounter bears, panthers, coyotes, wild hogs, rattle snakes, coral snakes and many other less intimidating critters, and I have always felt awe, never fear. It’s difficult to explain the connection that I feel to the natural world after a couple of weeks out in the woods alone. I often hike with others, but the hikes that I enjoy most are those I take alone.
One memorable hike on the Appalachian Trail started at Standing Bear Farm in Tennessee with 6 hikers for the first 10 miles, 4 hikers for the next 70 miles, 3 for the next 30 miles, and then only me for the next 201 miles. I met many interesting people on the trail, but generally stealth camped away from shelters. My first day out alone was a 2300’ climb in 98° heat and I was feeling bit sorry for myself till I came across a gorgeous timber rattler. I let the snake bask in the middle of the trail seemingly forever, till I became impatient and scooted it gently with my hiking pole. Must be that he was accustomed to me by then and wasn’t a bit threatened by my prodding. I was plenty tired by the time I picked a secluded spot to put up my tent and, as I usually do, fell asleep by about 8PM.
I was fortunate on this hike, to have a couple of friends day hiking the same stretch, using my car and theirs. I didn’t see them every day, but enjoyed them popping up in front of me from time to time. On those days, I would come to a road crossing and my vehicle would magically be there with resupply and usually some goody or another from them. On July 4th I found red white and blue cupcakes, some apple juice and a small American flag. The juice went to Sun Ray who was running the trail and happened upon me as I was eating a cupcake. He was both hungry and thirsty and hurriedly finished the cupcakes and washed them down with the apple juice, then he disappeared. I hiked with the flag for a couple of days, and left it hanging at Overmountain Shelter. A fitting place, I thought, in light of the Overmountain Men and their contribution to the Revolutionary War.
Hiking alone I have a simple routine of pitching a tent and packing it up again in the morning. There are no conversations, no decisions, simply me and all that I hear, smell, feel and see around me. I notice the snail on the tree and the ants in the leaf litter. I hear the birds both in the canopy and in the brush; I’ve come to know many by their song. I notice the patterns in the waving of the leaves, the smell of the distant rain, of the moist ground, the blossoms. I am part of it all. Then I walk. My mind is not working out problems, not rehashing yesterday’s developments, not planning or making lists. I just walk. I am at peace.