I Walked the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

Updated: Jan 16

By Erik Kershner

(Writing this in retrospect, already the days have become hazy. I realize if I want to keep things straight, I’m going to have to keep this journal current. But Writing for even twenty minutes after setting up camp seems like too much to ask. I’m usually pretty mentally and physically wiped out.)

A quick recap for anyone who hasn’t read any of my previous blogs or watched any of my videos or listened to me prattle on and on about my divine ordination, or whatever this is: my name is Erik Kershner, and I have just started walking across America.

On January 6th, I started out from Key West and wandered my way on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and Florida Highway 1 (a National Scenic Highway and All-American Road) up to Key Largo. My companion was Carter, a combination bike trailer/jogger with an 88 lb carrying capacity and large 20-inch wheels that roll like a dream. Carter, a.k.a. “the Diskocart”, will likely accompany me all the way across America. For now, we’ll start with the Florida Keys.

DAY 0 - January 5th, 2021

During the day of the 5th, my mother and I drove from Miami to Key West. Once at the end of the line, we did the touristy thing and went to the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor, ate at Frita’s Cuban Burger Cafe, and took a picture at Mile 0 of the Overseas Highway. But these activities weren’t the official start to my trip across America. It was a great send off day with my mom, but January 5th in Key West was just another Day 0 and I was anxious to get started on Day 1. Also, if I wanted to count those first highway miles, if I wanted to start at the beginning of the road, I would have to walk back to the west side of the key from my campground and touch the southern point! So I did just that.

DAY 1 - January 6th

First mistake made already! I lost my precious! PRECIOUS IS LOST! Ten years ago, I bought a pair of titanium sporks. All my friends made fun of me, but I told them I’d have the last laugh when I was ultra-light on the road across America one day with my titanium spork. Well… Not only have I packed 60+ lbs of gear, water, and food, but I’ve now lost my only ultra-light weight item, my precious titanium spork. I think I left it behind in the rental car when my mom drove off. Oh well. On with the walk.

The first day of my walk across America was an atypical day because I started and stopped in the same place. I camped the night of January 5th in Boyd’s Key West Campground on the east side of Key West. So I woke up on the 6th, Day 1, and started back toward the beginning of the road.

I walked from Boyd’s (on the east side, in the blistering sun) down South Roosevelt Road, took in the sights of all the beaches, took a lot of pictures, and avoided too many touristy things, except… I bought a refreshing coconut and drank it’s water from a straw. And I stood in line for twenty minutes to take a selfie in front of the buoy marking the southernmost point of the US. I recorded a timelapse of tourists like me having their picture made in front of the attraction while I scarfed down a cup of trail mix and chatted with a cyclist. He’d just arrived that day after a long ride down from New Jersey. From Key West, he was immediately headed back up to the panhandle of Florida and then back again until winter is over. His bike, a Surly Long Haul Trucker (a bike I once rode when I didn’t drive for a year), was heavy-laden with panniers. All my camping gear was stashed away at a posh campsite miles away and I was too chicken to tell this gnarly cyclist that I too was crossing America nontraditionally, on foot even! I had only just begun my trip. In fact, though I had been out for a few hours, I was literally SITTING at Mile 0. How could I expect anyone to care about what I planned on doing? I wished him luck, but when the cyclist rode off toward Pensacola, he hardly seemed to hear me.

PHOTO: Taken by Marlene Kershner. That’s me in the pink shirt at Fort Zachary Taylor Beach on Day 0.

I spent the rest of the day gingerly walking back to my campsite. My feet were starting to get sore. My hiking sandals are great for about 5 or 8-mile stretches, but not for any more than that. They have some kind of nonslip texture to the insole that eventually irritates my foot after too many miles. So, I took the Keens off and walked the last three miles to camp barefoot, and far more comfortably. (I haven’t worn them since.) When I got to camp, I treated my right foot for a hot spot, and thought I’d be fine.

I slept like a baby that night.

DAY 1 MILES: 12.5

DAY 2 - January 7th

Day 2 was the first day of my trip on the road with the Diskocart. I had previously tested the bright orange jogger and it rolled nicely. And when I rolled out of Boyd’s Key West Campground, it was as I knew it would be: smooth and easy. An old man at the camp kitchen sink asked me, “You goin’ somewhere?”

“Sure am,” I said. “I’m walking to Washington state.” It was the first time I told a stranger I was walking across America. I was giddy!“I knew you were headed somewhere! You had that look about ‘cha.” He smiled broadly. For some reason, I always expected strangers to be a little more surprised than this guy was. But then again, we were in an RV park/Campground at the end of America; these are the places where the divergent converge, so, expect the unexpected. But then the old man said something I can’t quite figure, “You’re pretty smart for doing this. Good luck out there.”

Now, Walking Across America (capitalized for emphasis) may be a lot of things, but “smart” probably wouldn’t make my list. Adventurous? Yes. Foolhardy? For certain. Dangerous? Absolutely. But I thanked the old man all the same and wished him well and said it looked like a nice day.

The hotspot on my right foot returned less than a mile outside of the campground, so I stopped and applied moleskin to the area. That kept the problem at bay all day.

The sun beat down hard. The sun this close the equator (25° latitude) refracts less, it’s more of a direct shot. No glancing blows of UV, you know? It reached 84°F by 2 PM and I had my first occasion to bust out my solar umbrella. It helped, but only just. Even with sporty sunblock, my face still got red. (It wasn’t until Day 4 that I noticed that the sunblock I packed was only SPF 30! I burned a little for that mistake.)

PHOTO: The last sighting of the selfie stick.

I stealth-camped for the night in Lower Sugar Loaf Key in some kind of abandoned lot, surrounded on two sides by sleepy neighborhoods and on the other two sides by a side-road and Highway 1. I was fairly well concealed by trees, but I waited until dark to set up camp nonetheless. I was worried that maybe someone might wander through walking their dog or something, but nobody did. (I’ve seen fewer than five dogs in ten days. They hardly exist here, it seems.) Feet were okay, just sore. I slept uninterrupted.

DAY 2 MILES: 12.4

DAY 3 - January 8th

I woke up before sunrise. My back aching. I’m still not used to multiple nights in the tent. I’m overweight, so the camp pad provides kind of a rough sleep, not so rough I can’t sleep at all, but I do wake up frequently toward morning.

I tore down in the dark, the tent covered in dew. Over the last few days, the tent hadn’t really had a chance to dry out. I know it takes more than two days for mildew to start growing, but it’s something I’m conscientious of so I spent probably too much time during Day 3 thinking about how I’m going to get that rolled-up tent to dry out.

Storms rolled through south of the keys all morning until noon, but it stayed clear overhead. This kept the temps down and the sun behind clouds. Not surprisingly, the cooler temps and lack of direct sun also sped me on my way and I reached my planned destination for the night (Ramrod Key) by noon. That was about 10 miles.

Now, I started this trip really only wanting to do about ten-mile days to start. I can do ten miles without much problem, but day after day after day, I know it’s going to start taking a toll, so I didn’t really want to ramp up too soon. But me being who I am (the over enthusiastic go-getter who won’t be denied a chance to have a big day worth bragging about) I thought, ‘It’s only noon, I could easily get to Big Pine Key, that’s just four more miles up the road!’

So that’s what I did. And wouldn’t you know it, the sun came out right then. It went from about 72°F to 85°F in an hour. The humidity blew in from the south. The sun baked my face some more and my legs got to feeling prickly. (In fact, my right thigh to this day has an occasional, skin-deep, hot, prickling sensation when walk, and I have no idea what it could be. There is no sign of rash, bruise, or wound. Any ideas?)

PHOTO: Carter (left) and Erik (right)

Anyway, it was during these extra four miles that my feet started hurting worse than before. My entire right forefoot was swallon with blisters and my left foot was developing a blister on the forefoot. All this and I was wearing my trusty Altras, shoes I’ve been wearing for a year already.

(The Altras are mostly broken down as it is, but—and this is just my theory—I have saved my last several pair of well-loved walking shoes, with good life left. When I need a new pair of shoes on the road, I’ll send for the next pair in the resupply box, and then the next. I’ll go through shoes more quickly by only wearing used shoes on this trip, but I’ll never have to worry about breaking in a single pair of shoes and I already know I like all of them! Hopefully this is a good idea.)

Anyway, my feet hurt. It was only Day 3 and I’d already over-extended myself and it happened by simply walking an extra four miles. So small a distance. I should have known from my old days of marathon running and mountain hiking that even just a few extra miles can make a huge difference to the body. But instead of complaining about my pain, I decided to tend to it and move on. In order to do that—to fix my wounded feet and rest my legs—I decided to pay for a room.

I checked into the Big Pine Motel in Big Pine Key. After a long shower, I immediately fell into a 2-hour nap. When I woke up, I took care of my blisters and rubbed my feet with balm. After, I saw to my gear. I unfurled my damp tent and spread it out in the bathroom to dry and organized and repacked untidy corners of Carter. (Carter’s wheel-base is just narrow enough to sneak in through wide doorways!) Then, I did that thing where I wistfully stare into a mirror and wonder if I have what it takes to accomplish my goals. Thankfully, there is no video evidence of this melodrama.

I limped half a mile down the road on two sore feet in search of a pizza. But the pizza joint turned out to be carry-out only. I thought about carrying a large pizza in the dark down the highway, but then decided it wouldn’t be much fun, so I stumbled on blistered feet back the way I came and another half mile farther to Paradise Burgers, which turned out to be well worth the trek. I got a big, mean burger and was treated to a pretty good live band and a lively outdoor crowd dancing to the likes of Brown-Eyed Girl.

DAY 3 MILES: 14.0

DAY 4: January 9th, Zero Day

Day 4 turned out to be my first Zero Day (what long distance hikers call the days they progress zero miles down the road/trail).

By Day 4, I’d already made my share of mistakes. I’d lost my titanium spork, lost my selfie stick (roll your eyes if you like, it was a handy tool to make videos!), and I’d used measly SPF 30 sunblock when I should have been using a reflective astronaut suit. But the mistake that almost made me cry on Day 4 (not kidding) was taking one of the wrong dry sacks to the laundromat. It wasn’t until I hobbled 1/2 mile down the highway that I that I realized I had carried my sleeping bag (gray bag) to the laundromat instead of my second laundry bag of dirty clothes (blue bag). My feet hurt too much to make the round trip a second time in one day, so I had to settle for going back to the hotel and washing the rest of my clothes by hand in the sink and hope they dried out in time for morning go-time. (They didn’t. It was way too humid there and the bathroom had no vent fan. The tent, by the way, had dried out, however. Different kind of fabric!)

After laundry, I went next door to a Winn-Dixie grocery store. I was hungry and wanted to buy every piece of produce in the place. But I ended up buying an Asian sesame salad, a small box of cape gooseberries (look them up!), and sushi. I walked back to the room where I ate, had a nap, made some phone calls, watched Alexander Seling’s lastest YouTube video (he’s walking across America right now, and has been for the last year), ate some more, and sorted my gear… yet again.

PHOTO: Big Pine Motel

I looked ahead on the map and planned to walk the most dangerous stretch of the Overseas Highway, the Seven-Mile Bridge, on Day 5. Ano I would do it with swollen and blistered feet. Rain was in the forecast. ‘So, what could go wrong?’ I thought? I barely slept a wink.


Day 5: January 10th

Day 5 started off slowly. My laundry was still soaked from being hand-wrung the night before. I walked back to the laundromat and dried it out. The laundromat attendant let me in on the truth about vaccines: they’re just 5G nano bots that can give us heart attacks by remote control. It happened to a guy she worked with at her last job. After my clothes were dry, I went to the UPS Store and stupidly tried to mail three premium cigars back to a friend of mine in Kansas City. I learned then that the ATF cares about THREE cigars and won’t allow me to mail them without a distributor’s license. So, the $60 I spent on those cigars were basically for nothing. I wrapped them up and put them back in the Diskocart. I mailed some postcards successfully. Suck it, ATF: can’t touch my postcards.

I made three more stops before I got on the road. I bought KT tape at CVS for my blisters. I taped up and instantly felt like I was walking on new feet. LIke Neil Young says, “I won’t retire, but I might retread.”

Second Stop was the library. Cell service was pretty spotty in Big Pine Key and I had a lot of trouble using Google Earth (my best navigator on this trip so far), but after deleting and redownloading the app on the library’s free WiFi, I was able to look at the miles ahead and make a solid plan. The plan was to make it as far as Bahia Honda Key, Ohio Key, or Missouri Key. Any of these destinations would be a good lay-up for the Seven-Mile Bridge.

Third stop was to buy spare tubes for Carter at Big Pine Bicycle Center. The big wheels are 20x2.125 (which they had in stock) and the front tire is 10x2 (which they did not have in stock). I bought two of the big ‘uns.

Finally, by noon, I got out of town. It was sunny, only whispy clouds in the sky. It was already getting hot and the day would eventually reach 86°F. It was just windy enough, however, that holding the solar umbrella open was difficult to wrestle with. So, in the end, I got tired of my umbrella turning inside out or being pulled out of my hand, so I just dealt with the sun. I had a broad hat and 100 SPF Sport sunblock at this point anyway.

I saw a lot of wildlife on Day 5: Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Cormorants, Racerunners & various skinks (native lizards), green and orange iguanas (invasive). I spent some time down along the shore at the ruins of the the derelict Bahia Honda Rail Bridge.

PHOTO: Cormorants on high-tension tower 84

The Bahia Honda State Park looked beautiful but I didn’t have time to explore due to the setting sun and my reluctance to pay entrance fees to places I don’t plan on sticking around in for long. So, the search for a camping place was on. A long walk down a the highway with no options saw the sun set on me. I ended up at a dead-ended portion of the path alongside the highway. A 3-foot barrier between the trail and the highway stood in the grass and gravel. It was behind that protective wall I made my camp for the night. It was noisy and unsettling to be camped just ten feet from full-speed highway traffic. But I was out of options.

Night walking is always possible, but unless it’s an emergency, I don’t want to be on the highway after sunset. As Chuck Palahniuk says in Fight Club, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate of everyone reaches zero.” I think I’d be shortening that timeline if I walked any significant portion of America’s highways after dark. (I’ll probably end up eating these words)

DAY 5 MILES: 9.7

Day 6: January 11th

At Veteran’s Memorial Park, just on the west side of the Seven-Mile Bridge, I had the pleasure of meeting Gigi and her dog, Zoey. Zoey and I were fast friends and it was remarkable how receiving the affection of a stranger’s dog after spending six days alone raised my spirits so totally. Gigi was also pretty remarkable, in that she took one look at the Diskocart and said, “Are you doing that walk to Washington or something?” She guessed it! Just like that, right out the gate. I asked her how she guessed, and as it turns out, she had a friend who did something similar some years back. She said he met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. I asked for a picture of Gigi and her dog, and then we said good-bye. I never mentioned this blog or my Instagram or my YouTube channel or anything. I think I was still too nervous to talk about my adventure (and my documenting of it) because so there so little is out there yet.

PHOTO: Gigi (human) and Zoey (dog)

About that Seven-Mile Bridge. When my mother and I first drove in, I had had my doubts, but upon seeing the bridge first-hand, I decided that it was possible to walk the whole length with my cart—although pedestrain access is questionable in my mind. I didn’t see a single sign disallowing pedestrians and none of the dozen law enforcement vehicles who passed stopped to say anything, but I’m not sure it’s strictly encouraged either.… At any rate, I had been on the fence as to whether or not I would even bother to attempt it. But it’s a straight shot across, it has at least a 5-foot shoulder the whole way, and visibility is good. BUT. It’s a LONG seven miles. There’s nowhere to rest, nowhere safe to stop, and nowhere for me to dodge if a car wanders out of its lane (except into the open ocean).

A headwind gusted up pretty strongly, so I battened down the hatches, took off my hat, and pushed onto the bridge against traffic. As I headed across at my 3.3-mph fast pace, I made way for several cyclists who rode with traffic toward me, and that made for a few dicey moments, but, in the end, everyone (drivers and cyclists alike) cooperated an nobody got picked off that day!

PHOTO: Seven-Mile Bridge (paralleling the pedestrian fishing bridge that only spans a short distance.)

Once on the other side of the bridge, I found a covered picnic area and took care of my feet (the blister on my left foot had opened up) and had a snack. There I met a retiree named Mitch from Baton Rouge. He was leisurely solo-sailing home along the Gulf Coast and training during the day for a hike on the Appalachian Trail. We got to talking about my endeavor and he speculated that I had more stuff than I probably needed, and I admitted that I probably did, but I’d shake it out as time went on.

I camped near the airport in Marathon that night. I slept like a baby.

DAY 6 MILES: 13.5

Day 7: January 12th

Got off to a very early start on Day 7. I was on the road by 5 AM, but the going was slow. I just couldn’t make myself move very fast. That morning, I’d had to lance, dry, clean, and tape blisters on both feet, but my legs, back, and body were all in excellent condition. In fact, I was surprised that my stamina hadn’t been more of an issue. I was expecting more full-body difficulties in the break-in period.

The road out of Marathon is a long, long, trail off the road, beset upon both sides by trees and power lines. These were the easiest, fastest miles of my 10 days on the Keys. Along this route, I came upon the Curry Hammock State Park Nature Trail. It’s a 1.4 mile off-shoot from the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. The ocean view is middling compared to other views to be had along the trip, but the nature trail itself was a lot of fun to explore. It’s rooty and riddled with lumpy limestone. The trail winds around palms, gumbo limbo, poison woods, and other amazing trees.

PHOTO: Curry Hammock State Park Nature Trail

I found what I thought was my campsite for the night, but for reasons I’ll go into in more detail in the YouTube video, I had to pack up my entire camp after setting everything up. And then, just before sunset, I had to hard-charge another five miles down the road until I found Long Key State Park. The park was closed, but that didn’t matter. Better for me, in fact. I camped outside the front gate within landscaped gumbo-limbos. (The Gumbo Limbo is my favorite tree in the Florida Keys. I’d never heard of them before this trip. I think they’re remarkable.)

DAY 7 MILES: 17.8

Day 8: January 13th

I’d been hauling by buddy Phil’s cigar’s around inside the Diskocart since leaving Key West and I just knew they were going to get ruined eventually. They were quadruple wrapped and completely untouched, so I left them behind on a bench at the Long Key State Park along with a note explaining that they were left behind on purpose because they couldn’t be shipped. I’m sure nobody in their right mind would smoke a cigar they found on a bench, but, hey, I didn’t know what else to do with $60 worth of ‘fine tobacco.’

Two tenths of a mile after pushing out of of the park, Carter got a flat tire. And, right on cue, it started to rain. I changed my first tire in the rain, kind of laughing to myself about it the whole time, thankful I had stopped in Big Pine Key for spare tubes. As soon as I had the tube replaced, the rain stopped.

Day 8 was a good walking day. My feet were okay. My blisters weren’t getting worse (they still bothered me a little, though) and my legs were doing just fine.

Shortly after entering Islamorada (Village of Islands), I met some fellow travelers! Terry and Neal started out from Key West the same day I did, January 6th, right from Mile 0, and are headed up the East Coast. Their ultimate goal is Maine. For now they’re making about 12 miles a day. Pretty incredible, they’ve got two decades on me, at least! Way to go, you guys! Be safe and have a great journey!

PHOTO: Me with Terry (center) and Neal (right)

My day ended in Islamorada (which is a very long village), in an abandoned tennis court.

DAY 8 MILES: 15.3

Day 9: January 14th

Once again, I got off to a very slow start. I found a Publix and charged my phone at an external outlet and sat on a bench outside for two hours. I resorted my cart and relaced my shoes according to my book How to Fix Your Feet. In the chapter for blister prevention, the book recommends a variety of lacing options for foot types. I have a wide forefoot and a narrow heel, so a loose lace at the bottom with a knot in the middle and tighter lacing at the top is supposed to help prevent blisters for my foot type. I’m now two days into this lacing scheme and so far, I like it!

On Windley Key, I stopped for an hour at Fossil Reef Geological State Park. The park boasts three quarries of fossilized corral reef in addition to an easy-access nature walk. The entry fee is only $2.50 and is well-worth it. The rangers at the front desk are enthusiastic about their park and they’ve put together a fantastic guidebook to the quarries and the flora of the region.

PHOTO: Fossil Reef Geological State Park, (pictured: wall of smallest of three quarries)

I stopped later at a farmer’s market and at a bowl of fruit and seeds and honey and sorbet called a Super Hero Bowl. It was refreshing and energizing. Just what I needed to press on through to sunset. One thing’s for sure, this much time on my feet, I could basically walk and ever stop eating!

I camped on the trail again on Day 9, just fifteen feet off the highway behind a bush, right beside the paved trail. I only slept for minutes at a time.

DAY 9 MILES: 14.4

Day 10: January 15th

I finally gave up on sleep around 4 AM. I threw myself from my tent and spent two hours repacking, eating, cleaning and dressing my feet, stretching, and getting ready for my last miles of the Florida Keys on Highway 1.

January 15th is also my brother’s birthday. So in addition to finally getting this blog out, one of my goals for the day was to find a cupcake and a candle and singing him “Happy Birthday” on camera. (EDIT: I never did accomplish this goal, but it’s the thought that counts!)

Key Largo is a long stretch of town. Marinas, resorts, business parks, residential tracks, and restaurants… it’s dense with buidings and population. Traffic is tough; crossing Highway 1 on foot (especially with a cart!) is a serious challenge because there are so few traffic lights and during the day, the traffic is very heavy. I cross-crossed all day looking for Starbucks, two bike shops, pawn shops (tryin to find a place to buy a cheap watch, nobody sells watches anymore!), Waffle House, and grocery stores.

Aside from the miles, I spent Day 10 photographing the sunrise, writing the bulk of this blog and recharging my phone and external battery at Starbucks, resupplying for the trip the mainland, making phone calls, making plans for my transition to the mainland, watching the coming storm (January 16th, Day 11) and looking for a place to camp.

PHOTO: Key Largo at sunrise.

DAY 10 MILES: 10.3

So now I’m getting ready to say goodbye to the opening chapter of my walk across America. It’s so strange for me that I’m back at Key Largo already. It feels like only yesterday that my mother and I drove down through here from Miami. That I could have crossed back through all these islands in just ten days and to have done so on foot, is remarkable to me. I mean, that’s the whole point of this thing, but it somehow surprises me that it’s actually possible!

It’s a strange parallel, but it reminds me of when we built solar ovens in middle school and cooked a hot dog. We spent a week studying the science and building the contraption. I understood solar convection from a theoretical standpoint, thoroughly. But when the oven I built to harness the sun’s rays actually cooked the hot dog, I was blown away! Knowing a thing is possible isn’t the same as making it happen.

Anyway, ten days have gone by since my mother saw me off in Key West. There is no need for her to worry. (Right, mom????)

My cart has held up.

My body has held up.

My mind has held up.

My feet are healing. Sort of.

I am acclimating to life on the road. This is different from anything I’ve ever done, but in a way, it’s a familiar way of life. I’ve always lived on a slightly divergent path, the path that parallels and sometimes splits off from the main highway.



More miles to come.

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