Back around the time we started planning our Florida Trail hike, we received an invitation to attend the wedding of Steve’s friend AJ, an Appalachian Trail friend from 2015. As luck would have it, though AJ is from Boston area, his bride is from Florida, so the wedding was in Florida! As we started our route planning and mileage assessment, we could see that we would easily be able to attend their wedding in Longwood, but we wouldn’t quite be able to walk right in, which would be super cool!
With our beginning mileage set low to minimize chance of injury, we would be right around the Lake Okeechobee region at wedding time. The plan was to take the East route around the lake and have Steve’s parents, Tom and Sue, pick us up to bring us to the coast to catch transportation North to the wedding. More or less, that’s what transpired, with a few tweaks to work around the multiple construction sections on the East side. Luckily, we had a wonderful trail angel, Betty, who drove us where we needed to stay on trail as much as possible to stay within our plan.
Once on the coast with the parents, we got to “spend time” with them as we completed chores like laundry, showering, groceries, shoe shopping, etc. Thanks for making the boring part better, Sue & Tom! Chores before fun! We got a bit of relaxing time in before they dropped us off bright and early to take the bus North to Orlando.
Another of Steve’s AT friends, Pat, was flying in with his partner for the wedding festivities. They met us at REI, where we finally(!!!) got my new trail shoes and I finally got to meet the infamous Zen and his partner Nancy. Pat & Steve talk on the phone multiple times a week, which helps keep their long distance relationship very close in friendship.
We were all very excited to spend the weekend together: them reminiscing, us getting to know each other officially, rather than just in the background of their phone conversations, ha! We stayed at a beautiful Air B&B, taking full advantage of the pool & hot tub, before spending Saturday celebrating Dejavu’s marital union.
It was a very small & beautiful ceremony at a Catholic Church and then lunch at a delicious Italian restaurant, followed with a more casual get together at a brewery in the evening.
It was really great to see the guys have a great time reminiscing about their hike, which seemed to play a big part in AJ & Noelle’s early relationship, showing their commitment to each other while apart, leading to this wedding! Another great aspect was that a friend of Dejavu from his Maine section of trail, Freestyle, also attended the wedding. And even though Steve & Pat never met him on trail, the 4 of them could all unite over their unique trail experiences as “hickers” and create a new friendship.
The following weekend had us back off trail and in the greater Orlando region for a different celebration. This annual event is called Billy Goat Day, named for the life-long, long-distance hiker, Billy Goat, who has tens of thousands of miles to his feet. The initial concept 11 years ago was for the FT Thru Hikers Association (not to be confused the Florida Trail Association) wanted another event similar to the comradary of the Kick Off event I had mentioned before at the beginning of the hiking season.
Billy Goat’s birthday happens to fall at a convenient time of the season where thru hikers are spaced out, but not too far that they can be scooped up by trail angels to attend the event for a night or two without losing too much time on trail. We managed to find a round about way of making it to the festivities, with lots of support from FTthru-hikes on Facebook. The group volunteers work hard to help coordinate hikers with nearby angels.
We made it to and from BGD with the help of Crystal, Sue & Tom (surprise, we’re back!), Sandra & John, and Lori – thank you all so much! It was a great experience! Crystal made sure we were well taken care of in Okeechobee with some ailing feet. Then we actually had some down time (no chores) to spend with Tom & Sue before we headed North to Titusville, where John & Sandy picked us up & ferried us to the park on their way to a speaking engagement at REI (where I had just bought my lovely shoes the week before). Beautiful timing and beautiful people, all around! It was really great to have a couple hours to sit and visit with Sandy & John in their home, earning a personalized autograph from the authors of the guide book I’ve been toting along.
We arrived to Lake Mills Park Friday afternoon, along with some other hikers who were trickling in, so we had a nice small group of about 10 to 12 hikers staying at the park that night. It was nice to have that group dynamic, see how everyone’s doing, and just enjoy each other’s company, which is a very rare thing in this solitary environment that is the Florida Trail.
The next morning, a fellow hiker, Pat, whipped up pancakes for everyone on the grill. Then as the morning progressed, we made our way over to the pavilion where we found many, many, many more trail volunteers, friends, and hikers. The grills were fired up, potluck dishes were brought out, and hikers, trail angels, and volunteers all mingled around, developing friendships, and putting faces to names that we’ve seen on social media.
After everyone had eaten, Chris, the president of FT thruhike, introduced some very well known hikers in the community, as well as the excellent volunteer board members, and loving trail angels. We all sang Happy Birthday to Billy Goat and took the annual group photo – which is quite the task nowadays. We’re estimating up to 150 attendees this year!
It was so great to connect with people who all have a common interest, even though we’re all connected to it in a different way. Some have hiked before, some are currently hiking, some just love to be outdoors, others enjoy helping others along on their adventures, and others maintain the trail alongside the Florida Trail Association. It’s just great to see so much love for a common activity, bringing strangers of all demographics together. Thank you to the FT thru hike Association for another wonderful event! Now, we’re back on trail heading North, fingers crossed we can keep sauntering ahead.
Thanks to those on Facebook I borrowed photos from. You guys did a much better job at capturing the scene!