The first objective of a megahiker, a term that may be prescribed to one who hikes a series of back-to-back thru-hikes, is to stay true to the big dream. There is nothing remotely ordinary about a hike of this scope and, as such, it is easy to become weighed down by the voices of sensibility and practicality. Since the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT) will be my first megahike (stretching some 5,700 miles), there is much anticipation for the fast-approaching start date from Key West, Florida on December 1, 2021.
The first time the idea came to me of walking from the southernmost tip of Key West to the top part of Newfoundland in Canada, I was awake but nonetheless delirious. It was late into the evening and I had little reason to stay up much longer. I was in hiker “dream mode,” thinking about next year’s thru-hike of the Florida Trail (FT) and also the Appalachian Trail (AT). The thought of combining these two long-distance hikes had already been established by this point. Then, in my nocturnal lucubration, I happened upon an illustrative map depicting a mysterious trail that extended across the entire Eastern Seaboard, past Mount Katahdin in Maine via the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), into the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. Of course the megatrail didn’t stop there. This footpath picked up at Prince Edward Island, went across a nice chunk of Nova Scotia, and finally up through Newfoundland to a place called Crow Head.
A hiker lightbulb went off.
The Eastern Continental Trail was sucking me in like the hose of a vacuum cleaner. Any effort on my part to reject the trail’s calling would prove disastrous. My thought life became entrenched with an alligator-to-moose expedition that was simultaneously alluring and daunting. From the southern reaches of Florida to the northernmost point of an island once settled by Vikings, a future epic adventure was being imprinted onto my brain. From what I gather in my pre-hike research, the trail can be a derrière-kicker! But being hard makes it all the more attractive. There are no substantial scenery shortages and the trail offers a sensational experience on a whole new level. The sixteen-state, five province hike has the whole shebang from cottonmouth snakes to peregrine falcons. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (FKOHT), the Florida Trail (FT), the Pinhoti Trail (PT), the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT), the Appalachian Trail (AT), the International Appalachian Trail (IAT)—it’s all there! Throw in some roadwalking (like hundreds of miles of it) to interconnect these trails and there you have an adventure as never before.
The ECT hike, in a size extra-long, generally (if there is a “general”) takes seven to twelve months to complete. From the jungles of south Florida to the island-hopping lands in the north, I am allowing a nine-and-a-half month window. This may seem to be a swift pace to an average hiker but it is not superhuman fast; it’s manageable. Over nine months hiking day after day. Think about that. To provide some perspective, it takes nine months for a baby to develop in the mother’s womb. A whole life is formed in my allotted time of hiking the ECT. Imagine that. That is a long time to be crushing miles but that is the life of a megahiker. What seems outlandish to some is taken quite seriously by the many trail-conquering nomads around the world who wish to complete an end-to-end expedition, even when it penetrates far into another country. Long-distance hikers, despite their disheveled appearance—admittedly a unique breed—are filled with a determination and grit that I find extraordinary.
In one sense, this is not walking at all, it is beyond walking. It is migrating—moving from one region of the earth to another region of the earth. This is what other creatures of the animal kingdom do. Humans have done this of course, as can be read in the history books, but it usually takes centuries. This is not normal and yet it is. Although hiking the ECT is preposterously long and requires impractical steps in life to even consider as a viable possibility, a fresh experience awaits.
A multi-trail hike of this variety presents itself as a monumental opportunity. There is a whole life out there. Time is in short supply.
I don’t want to miss a moment of it.