September 25, 2017
Hiking Lake Okeechobee

The Big O Hike runs from Nov. 23 - Dec. 11, 2013

John Keatley and Sandra Friend

John Keatley and Sandra Friend

Lake Okeechobee scenic trail

Lake Okeechobee scenic trail

Florida Lifestyle

Hiking Florida

Sandra Friend and John Keatley have documented Florida's great hiking trails.

| 9/13/2013

Sandra Friend / John Keatley
(aka “Navigator” and “JK”)
Travel authorities / authors / hiking experts / Orlando

Sandra Friend and John Keatley spend their lives hiking, camping, backpacking and exploring the outdoors from their vintage VW camper. Their mission: To connect the public with the great outdoors by way of their books, blogs and articles.

Sandra launched to provide hikers (and potential hikers) with information she couldn’t fit into her guidebooks, including the “Hiker’s Guide to the Sunshine State” (available in bookstores around Florida and on In collaboration with Keatley, the award-winning travel writer is wrapping up a self-published guide to the 1,400-mile statewide Florida Trail, the National Scenic Trail in Florida. “We’ve built a strong following online because we hike the trails ourselves and provide detailed information about them,” she says.

This year, the two are coordinating the Big O Hike — where, coincidentally, they first met seven years ago — for the first time as volunteers for the Florida Trail Association. “It’s most definitely a bonding experience for participants,” Friend says. “The trek involves nine days of hiking around Lake Okeechobee during Thanksgiving week, with base camps at commercial campgrounds. This is the 22nd year for the event, which draws more than 200 people for the kickoff and 50 or more walking the entire 109 miles around the lake.”

Choose your path: “Meetup (social networking website) is by far the best place to find group hikes, especially ones with a social component. You can find this information coordinated under,” says Friend. “Many local chapters of the Florida Trail Association announce their activities on Meetup, and they are also an excellent place to find guided hikes:”

When to go: Florida’s prime hiking season is October through April. The bugs aren’t so bad; temperatures are cooler; and there’s not much rain. “We’re flip-flopped from the rest of the country in this aspect,” she says. “February is always the best month for backpacking, with the coolest temperatures.”

Newbies: has more than 1,500 pages of information on Florida’s trails, along with gear lists, reviews and tips on how to hike Florida. The planning section of the website provides background on Florida-specific concerns for hikers as well as general information about hiking and backpacking. There’s also a forum to ask questions and share advice.

Big O Hike - Nov. 23-Dec. 1

The nine-day trek runs around Lake Okeechobee. This year, departure is 9 a.m. Nov. 23 — you can walk just a portion of it on day one, which is known as doing the “wimp walk” — or join for any part of the event, since no rules apply. Two campgrounds along the way serve as base camps, but again, if you can’t handle rooming with Mother Nature, you’re free to stay in a motel. All the details and information are available online via the downloadable 20th Anniversary Official Big O Hike Guide at

Tags: Lifestyle, Travel & Tourism

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  • Breaking News: Nova Southeastern University calls $200 million commitment from Patel Family 'transformational'

    Today, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) announces the largest philanthropic gift in its history from Tampa-area cardiologist Dr. Kiran C. Patel and his wife, pediatrician Dr. Pallavi Patel. The commitment from the Patel Family Foundation includes a $50 million gift and an additional $150 million for real estate and facilities. The money will be used to expand the university's programs in osteopathic medicine and health care sciences, and also to develop a new 27-acre campus for NSU in Clearwater, Fla. The Patels are renowned in Florida for their philanthropy, community service and entrepreneurship.

    “This gift and additional investment will enrich NSU’s ability to educate highly-qualified physicians and health care professionals who understand how the medical disciplines can and must work together. These future leaders will represent the cultural diversity of our region, our nation and our world so that they can better serve their patients and communities,” said NSU President Dr. George Hanbury.

    Their $50 million gift, one of the seven-largest to any Florida university in history, catapults NSU to more than 84% of its goal to raise $250 million by 2020 for its Realizing Potential philanthropic campaign.

    Read more at the news release, here.

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