1,100 miles: Discovering Florida’s hidden trail

There’s a dirt trail that starts on the fringe of the Everglades and stretches the length of Florida. It’s a footpath, really, that runs under swamps and over roots, along rivers, and through the barren, still remains of wildfires.

Dozens of hikers head to the trail’s start every year, a small plaque engraved in stone behind a visitor’s center on U.S. 41 halfway between Naples and Miami. Few of them make it to the end, to the northern terminus 1,100 miles away, among the faded brick ruins of a long abandoned military fort off Pensacola Beach.

The trail avoids the coasts, for the most part. To walk all of it is to walk deep into the wild heart of Florida, deeper into an obsession.

Gretchen Matt came from Spokane to hike it. She had already hiked longer, steeper trails. She finished the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine, and the Pacific Crest Trail, 2,659 miles from Mexico to Canada.

But it’s the Florida Trail that had been on her mind since college in St. Petersburg. It’s the Florida Trail that a prominent hiker she knows tried to tackle this year, quitting after just the first week.

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