Because you will be isolated in remote and unfamiliar places, and be without a vehicle, your interactions with strangers have an unusually threatening edge to them. While thru-hiking exercise a few common sense precautions such as:
Family members often ask about homeless people on the Trail. This is always strange, since the question assumes the woods are filled with vagrants and besides, homeless people are not inherently dangerous. Regardless, here are the places you are most likely to meet a homeless person:
North of Ocala the Florida Trail passes within a few miles of Starke and soon after the trail goes through the town of Lake Butler. Two large state prisons are located in a rural area between these two towns, Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution. Both prisons house death row inmates and other violent criminals. When prisoners are released, they often end up lingering in one of these towns with little money and nowhere else to go.
We have never heard reports of ex-cons on the Trail itself (a possible benefit of the Trail's invisibility) but you might run into one while in town. We want to emphasize that there has never been an incident between an ex-con and a hiker, but nevertheless we recommend taking a few precautions so that you remain inconspicuous and safe:
Every February Ocala National Forest experiences a huge influx of of neo-hippies who call themselves the Rainbow Family of Living light. Exact numbers are hard to determine because the "Rainbow Gathering" is not formally organized or managed, but at least a thousand people or more arrive every year. They cluster into informal camps and hang around for 2-4 weeks with people constantly coming and going.
You might run into a few Rainbows, but Ocala NF is a big place and their camps are usually far away from the Trail itself. While they use a lot of drugs, Rainbows are mostly harmless. They are a strange bunch, however. For example, they believe they are fulfilling an ancient Native American prophecy — a strange claim on its face (they themselves are not Native American), but made stranger still because there is no prophecy.
The PCT is pretty 420 friendly. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Washington & Oregon, and legal for medical use in California. The Florida Trail is not the PCT. Marijuana is very much illegal in Florida, and due to decades of drug tracking in the state, the war on drugs is in full swing.
Theft from hikers is a crime of opportunity. No one sets out in the morning with the goal of stealing a digital camera from a hiker's backpack, but if the opportunity arises, unscrupulous people seize it. While hiking the Appalachian Trail we met hikers who were robbed. We even had things stolen from us.
The bottom line is, never leave your backpack out of site and you won't give someone the opportunity to steal from you. We have seen a lot of backpacks left outside storefronts. Don't do it.
You may get pushback from a manager committed to their corporate anti-shoplifting policy who will say something like, "We don't allow backpacks inside the store/restaurant/etc. Would you please leave it outside?" Be rude (see above) and tell them you will not. Explain you are hiking the trail and do not have a car, that your pack doesn't leave your sight, and you absolutely will not leave it outside. Would they ask a woman to leave her large purse outside? Of course not.
Hitchhiking is a part of trail culture on the FT and every other National Scenic Trail. We have hitchhiked into town many times and have yet to be disappointed or scared. Some drivers have turned out to be a little weird at most, but aren’t we all.
In their guidebook, authors Friend and Keatley claim it is impossible to hitch in Florida, and that drivers may assume you are homeless. That is simply not true. Hitching a ride might take a little longer than on the AT or PCT, but it will happen. The folks who will pick you up tend to be either hikers, hunters, boaters, government wildlife biologists, environmental scientists, farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, or locals who know the trail, so they are typically excited to meet you and help out.
That said, there is always risk from accepting a ride from a stranger. If you will be hiking alone and are uncomfortable hitching, there is good news. Unlike the AT and PCT, the Florida Trail winds within a mile or two of most towns. You can easily walk in without the need to hitch. Additional tips and options include:
How to get picked up in the first place?
No. If the reasons why you shouldn't carry a gun aren't already self evident, then we probably can't convince you otherwise, but let's give it a try:
The risk of accident alone when carrying a gun, to yourself and others, is not worth it. Additionally, all evidence shows that rather than making you safer, the presence of a gun increases the likelihood that you will be killed. Security guards have their guns taken from them at alarming rates, and you run a similar risk of having your own gun turned on you.
Male hikers are not asked if they carry a gun as often as women. Why? Perhaps it is because the NRA and others claim guns are great equalizers between men and women. In a 2013 speech, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre said, “the one thing a violent rapist deserves to face is a good woman with a gun.” It's a powerful soundbite, but no scientific study has ever demonstrated that the risk of becoming victim to a crime, any crime, is decreased by gun ownership. In fact, study after study has shown that owning a gun makes women in particular more likely to become victims of gun violence. The Atlantic examined this unique and overlooked danger to women, and the myth of guns providing self-defense has been covered recently by the Guardian and The Los Angles Times.