Impromptu Camping Trip

blackbird marsh trail
The Blackbird Marsh Trail connects to the Florida Trail.

Our midweek camping trip at the beach was the perfect impromptu escape. Luckily the National Seashore had a cancelation and we were able to make a last-minute reservation on our favorite camping loop near the Gulf of Mexico.

The weather was almost perfect—seventies in the day, sixties at night—but the wind was incredible. Our tent almost took off several times while we pitched it, and the rainfly stood up like a parachute. We finally got everything secured and set off for a two-hour hike on the Florida Trail. We usually hike 4+ hours, but my wife is still in recovery from a hoverboard accident and two hours on her feet was a major victory.

armadillo florida trail
Armadillos are common along the National Seashore section of the Florida Trail.

At the turtle bridge near the northern terminus of the Florida Trail, we saw one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen—a large snake swimming across the water. The snake was incredibly fluid and silent along the top of the water, and as city-dwellers, we were mind-blown.

We finished our hike and made lunch, and my back suddenly started to hurt. Pain shot down my right leg almost to my foot. I worried I’d have a sleepless night, but decided to put my shoes back on and go for a trail run. It doesn’t make sense within normal parameters, but often a run makes my back feel much better, almost like the pounding helps return everything to where it’s supposed to be.

The wind was so stiff that I sometimes felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, but it was a great 45-minute run. I saw a thru-hiker finishing his walk and a mile or so later I was charged by an armadillo who didn’t realize I was on the trail. He took off to root through the remnants of a fallen tree before we played a full game of chicken, and it was fun to watch his short legs propel his oval body toward me.

Running through the campground proved no less entertaining. It’s normal to see dogs tied up at campsites, but someone in a truck camper had their cat tied to their rig. The cat was quite fat and seemed immensely happy. He wore a collar with a bell and was attached to the camper by a harness and retractable leash. I love random animal sightings while running.

altra intuition
My Altra Intuitions got in some good trail miles.

When I got back to our tent, my back pain had greatly receded and was down to a dull ache. I did a few more exercises from my core routine (I’d done the others earlier) and stretched a few key muscles, and even after cooling down my back pain stayed very low. I am a wholehearted believer in using exercise as a weapon against chronic pain.

I cooked fresh salmon, dill, and white quinoa for dinner (we eat healthily even while camping!) and we got into our tent at eight o’clock because bugs were eating up our ankles. I hesitantly stretched out on my camping mattress and was pleasantly surprised to find all the radiating pain completely gone from my leg and even the centralized pain in my back was barely there. The wind blew so hard all night that we thought the tent might collapse, but we both got some sleep and awoke to the sounds of Gulf waves crashing on a beautiful morning.

Hiking

I love to hike. Getting outside and walking for hours is one of my favorite ways to clear my mind and put aside worries about chronic pain, money, and whatever else is bothering me. My wife and I’ve had some interesting hikes lately, the most recent of which involved hunting season and unhappy rednecks “running dogs” where we wanted to hike. Despite that unpleasantness, we had a great afternoon and even found a tiny cemetery from the 1800s.

No matter what’s going on in my life, I always feel better if I spend time in the woods. We live within a few miles of several sections of the Florida Trail and have seen every mile of it in the panhandle, but we’ve also hiked all over the United States. Both of us were hikers before we met, and I still solo-hike from time to time. Here’re some pictures from some of my latest adventures.

ft pickens florida trail
The view on a clear and sunny day on the Ft. Pickens turtle bridge near the northern terminus of the Florida Trail.

I’ll hike anywhere in any weather. Some of my best memories are from a 2001 Appalachian Trail group hike in miserable rain and cold. I don’t miss the bone-chilling nights, but the memories of that hike are eternal. My chronic health problems make it more difficult to deal with extreme cold now, but I’m still up for almost any adventure. Visiting a much-loved friend in Massachusetts this fall provided some excellent hiking scenery.

fall leaves
I looked up through the trees while hiking a trail in Milton, Massachusetts. The fall foliage was breathtaking.

 

Most people prefer the Gulf side, but I like the sound side at Ft. Pickens inside the National Seashore. I almost never see anyone else out there, and solitude is good for my mental health. I like to be able to sing out loud without witnesses.

sound side ft pickens
The sound side of Ft. Pickens is gorgeous.

Less Pain, More Life

I had the awesome experience of living like a normal, fibromyalgia-free person over the weekend. Two friends and I went overnight backpacking on The Florida Trail, and I’d been a nervous wreck before the trip. In my younger, healthier days, I’d have packed my old backpack full of necessities and luxuries without a lot of thought to total pack weight. Sure, the lighter the better, but there wouldn’t have been scales involved. For this trip, because of the toll fibromyalgia has taken on my body over the years, I used both a luggage scale and a kitchen scale to drop every last unnecessary ounce from my pack weight.

Less pain means more time outdoors.
Less pain means more time outdoors.

While it seems ludicrous to weigh shirts and record their ounces in a notebook, I persisted. I popped off every removable item on my backpack until it was pared down to little more than a giant stuff sack with a hipbelt and shoulder straps. I chose calorically dense, lightweight foods like dried coconut and Chomps grassfed beef jerky. (Yes, I’m still adhering to Whole30 and getting great results.)

The payoff was an overnight trip that exceeded my expectations. The section of the Florida Trail that we hiked was flooded by the recent massive storm that hit this area, and some of the trail was underwater up to my thighs. The hiking was at times hot, hard, and challenging, and despite carrying 16 pounds in my backpack, I had an almost otherworldly awesome time.

Maybe it was the diet—Whole30 is powerful medicine. Maybe it was my determination—I haven’t given up from pain when many times it seemed like the best option. Maybe it was the friendship— support is a great thing. Realistically, it was probably all three. Without clean eating habits, strong willpower, and love, I’d probably have been home in bed or dead.

When I think about my incredible weekend hike, it’s hard to imagine that at times I’m in misery, homebound and unable to stand my own body. We walked roughly 16 miles, maybe a few more—a feat that would be challenging to somebody who doesn’t have fibromyalgia. Before the trip, I was terrified that I’d end up in so much pain that I couldn’t complete the hike, and worst of all, become a burden on my friends. The confidence I got from an almost pain-free experience in the wilderness is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Fibromyalgia so often tells us we can’t, but this weekend, I told my body yes, we can.

Going vegan was a great decision that began to improve my painful fibromyalgia symptoms, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. A clean diet isn’t a cure-all. But for me, changing my eating habits to follow Whole30 principals and paying closer attention to how food effects my body has been better than any prescription drug.