Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trek 2 - Days 6-12

Trek 2 (Cont'd)

              Admittedly, I've been avoiding this post. I haven't been sure how to write it. I'm not even sure now. I've started it over several times, but it hasn't come out right. It felt like I was trying to cover it up, gloss it over, water it down. I'm not going to do that now. I was depressed. I was feeling down. I had too many doubts, and I no longer felt sure of myself. The truth is, I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. It's been a while since I started sweating while writing, so I guess this is the right way to go about it. I'm going to be completely honest.

Day 6 (Cont'd)

              After wrapping up the previous post at the McDonald's, having sat there for far too long, I was ready to set off. I barely made it across the street before noticing the DragonWagon was dragging a little on one side, pulling slightly unevenly. I looked back to see a completely deflated tire on one side. Well, they did last longer than the smaller original ones did. I looked at it closer after pulling over and noticed the tread seemed fine, just the inner tube had deflated. I tried pumping up the tire, but it stayed deflated, wouldn't keep any air pressure. The inner tube must have been punctured. Okay, time to change the tire then, but I'd never changed a bicycle tire before. Nothing like a good old trial-by-fire. I had to somehow suspend the wagon in the air so the tire could spin freely, so I ended up using my foldable shovel. Lifting awkwardly with one hand, and with the other trying to balance the load on top of the shovel, I somehow managed to set the wagon up for repair. I used my the screw driver from my multitool to pry off one side of the tread from the rim, and then removed the tube from inside. I found it had a little hole on what looked like the seam where the two ends met. It didn't look like anything had perforated it, so it may have just been stress from the load that burst it open. I checked the inside of the tread to be sure there wasn't anything where the hole was, ready to damage the next tube. Seemed fine. I set in one of my two back up tubes, then struggled to get the tread back on. As I was attempting to lock in the last section of tread, which of course turned out to be the hardest part, a guy on a bicycle asked me if I was okay. I looked up to see him riding a sleek white bicycle. I told him I was fine, just working on replacing a flat, and asked if he knew where a local bike shop might be. He said he didn't know, but that he had some spare change if I needed it. I respectfully declined his offer, but thanked him for it. I finished reapplying the tread, inflated the wheel, then awkwardly lifted the wagon to remove the shovel from underneath. All was well again.

               I reached Scott's house a few hours after fixing the flat. I got there while he and his wife were putting up their Christmas lights. They had a beautiful home, I'd been there once before. It used to be an old nurse's dormitory to an old hospital down the road, which they'd been refurbishing for some time. When I last visited they had most of their doors down, and were in the process of sanding and staining them. They had come a long way since then. All of their doors were up, the place was fully furnished, and it seemed they had only the kitchen left to do. Their home was pristine, the furniture flawless, and I was not. I carried on me a week's worth of the outdoors. I carried a stench of rain, sweat, and dirt. I was filthy, and couldn't have felt more out of place. They welcomed me warmly into their home, but I felt like an intruder. They couldn't have been better hosts, and I did my best to be a good guest, but I absolutely felt like I didn't belong. They invited me into the living room, on a gorgeous couch made of a material I could not recognize, much less name. I considered sitting on the floor instead of the really nice couch, but decided against it, thinking doing so might make them uncomfortable.  I tried to sit on as little of the couch as possible. After a conversation of what I was doing, and what they'd been up to, I went to take a shower.

              After what seemed like an eternity in the hot water, I grabbed my bag of clothes out of my rucksack, and found to my complete horror that all my clean clothes were soaked. They had been soaked from the rain a few days back, and even though I had hung them out to dry, they had somehow become completely wet again. Whether there was still dampness in the rucksack, or something else had been the cause, there they sat, drenched. I was absolutely embarrassed. I may have stood in that bathroom too long, willing my clothes to not be wet. I hung up some of the clothes around the bathroom, hoping they would dry by morning, and was forced to get back into the clothes I'd been wearing. Correction, I was not forced, I forced myself. I could have, at any moment, come to them to explain the situation and ask to use their washer and dryer. I should have done that. At one point they even offered it, but for some reason I had said, "No thanks, I'll be okay." This was a stupid response. The correct response would have been, "Thanks, that'd be great." Was it pride? Was it the pure embarrassment of the situation? It may have been that they had been so kind to offer me a place to stay, that I felt I was asking too much of them already. Maybe it was a combination of all of these. I have put myself in these situations throughout my life, and have yet to learn from them.

              This began a spiraling series of doubts in regard to my little "adventure." This is when I really began thinking about what the hell I was doing with myself, and how I could have brought this upon my friends. The voice in my head was ringing loudly and constant, "You see? This is why you can't do this. You don't belong in a nice place like this, with wonderful people like them. They have worked so hard on this house and here you are bringing in the filth. If they'd known this is how you would've shown up, they probably would never have offered to let you in. You are disgusting, and you need to leave this place. Leave these great people alone. You should have checked your bag before getting close, you should have made sure your stuff was clean, you should not even have come here. You should have never left on this ridiculous journey. This is all for naught. How could you do this to them? They've been so kind and all you're doing is intruding on their home, dirtying up the place. You don't belong here." I walked out of the room they were letting me stay in for the night, in the same clothes I'd come in with. I did my best not to let them see how out of place I felt, but I have a feeling they sensed something was wrong.

              We went out to dinner with a couple of their friends, but I had already eaten just before arriving to their house, so I didn't order anything. Instead, I ordered a water since I felt parched from my walk, but I think they took this as me not having enough money to pay for what I actually wanted. They took it upon themselves to order extra appetizers which they vehemently shared with me, and took to ordering pitchers of beer for the second half of the night, and pouring me a cup along with theirs. I was humbled, and did my best to be as thankful as I could. The voice in my head, however, didn't let up on the situation.

              All in all, it was a great night. We had fun, we talked, we laughed, and there was even some karaoke involved. I did my best to shake the negative feelings, and just enjoy the night, enjoy my time with friends.

Day 7

              My body woke me up at 6 in the morning, as I'd been used to on the road. I listened for anyone else who might be up, but heard nothing. I thought I might as well sleep for another hour or so, and get up when I hear someone get up. I woke up again at 7:30, but still heard nothing. We'd been out pretty late the previous night, and maybe they weren't early risers on a weekend. I decided I should get up in another hour, maybe start drawing in the living room. The next time I woke up, though, it was well past 11, and I heard them both in the kitchen. Shit. I hadn't meant to sleep that long at all. I wondered how long they'd been up. I felt like an ass for sleeping in like that. I went out to find them both in the kitchen, drinking their coffee. They cooked a delicious breakfast that morning, after which I asked to see Scott's recording studio. He's in a couple of bands, and records for some other musicians as well. After admiring his facilities, I decided I needed to head out. I hadn't made it clear how long I'd be staying, so I think it took them by surprise that I was leaving after only one night. Maybe it was relief. They had been nothing but gracious and kind hosts, but I didn't feel like I was being the best guest. I decided it was better if I went. I couldn't shake the negative feelings I'd been feeling the night before. That afternoon, I packed my wet bag of clothes back into my rucksack, loaded up the DragonWagon, and set out.

              As I walked down the road, the voice in my head echoed with every step, "Dirty. Gross. Unwelcome. Intrusion. Burden. Quit. Stop." I stopped at a Subway for a sandwich, and ate in sitting on the grass behind the building. I felt more at home sitting outside, sitting on the ground. It felt right. After finishing my dinner, I saw the sun was close to setting, so it was time to find a place to camp. I shouldn't have left their house so late in the afternoon, it had given me little time to find a decent place. I found some trees behind a bank, but it was too visible, and too close to the road. I kept going, and as I was coming to a construction zone with a dirt driveway, a car pulled over right in front of me. It was Scott. He rolled down his passenger window, and was holding out what looked like a long stick with something yellow attached to the end of it. It was my walking stick. I hadn't realized I'd forgotten it at their place He drove out to get it to me, and had attached a yellow bag of M&M's to the end. He said he'd driven quite a distance down looking for me, and had turned around when he decided there was no way I could've walked so far in so little time. He must have driven past when I was eating behind the Subway. I thanked him profusely, and apologized for being such an idiot. Like I said, they were really kind.

              After Scott drove off, and I walked past the construction site, the next lot I came to was overgrown, seemingly abandoned, with an old "for sale" sign out front. It had tire tracks indented down the center of the tall grassy area, which led to a thick formation of trees. I decided to go in. Halfway down the path I found a less treaded upon track which cut to the left, so I turned into it. It lead me far from the road, to a section littered with old trash that seemed like it had been there for years, untouched. I set up my camp among the trees where the litter hadn't reached. I didn't go to sleep right away, though. My mind was racing that night. The doubts were building. The voice was loud. The depression was setting in.

              "Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove? You are just a burden on people. You have nothing to gain from this. Stop being childish. Go back to what you were doing before, and stop all of this nonsense. He had to drive out to get you your stupid stick. He was kind enough to give you candy with it. Do you understand what an inconvenience it must have been for him when he couldn't even find you, and ended up driving who knows how far down the road? There you were eating your stupid sandwich while he was looking for you, because you couldn't remember to pack your stupid stick. You need to quit all of this, and stop inconveniencing people."

              I did not sleep well that night.

Day 8

              I didn't want to get up. I didn't want to do anything. The doubts were heavy. As the sun rose over the trees, my tent start heating up, but still I didn't move. The only thing that made me finally get up was the desperate need for the bathroom. I decided to get dressed, and head out to the road to find Burger King or McDonalds. I didn't feel like breaking down the camp, didn't want to pull the wagon, and didn't feel like traveling, so I thought I'd stay another night. The location was well enough into the woods that no one would happen by my tent, so off I went, leaving the tent up with the tarp over it. I went out to the road, and found a Taco Bell nearby. I used their bathroom and their wifi. I thought the best thing to do right now was to wash my wet clothes, and make sure it was all dry before doing anything else. I looked up the nearest laundry place, and found one just a couple of blocks away. I went back to the encampment, and gathered up every piece of clothing I had. It was time to wash.

              I got to the coin laundry, and picked out a washer closest to the bench I was going to sit at. A small Asian looking lady asked me if she could use that machine, since it was right next to the other one she was already filling. I didn't mind letting her have it, so I obliged. "You'd be better off with that smaller washers down there, anyways. Your load isn't that big." I thanked her for her advice, and did just that. It was still within view of the bench, so it worked just fine for me. I loaded it up, and sat down to draw while I waited. The old lady sat next to me, and we got to chatting while I drew. Her name was Jackie, and she was living with her mother since her husband had passed away. She had three kids, whom I later found out she had adopted. She was putting one of them through college, raising another, while the third was in the Marines. She mentioned she only used these washers to clean her mother's sheets, since they're so large. When we got to talking about my situation, I think my doubts and depression was coming through clearly. She obviously felt sorry for me, and seemed to think my situation was more desperate than it was. She seemed very concerned for my well being. "Aren't you scared?" This question hit me hard on this day. Telling her I wasn't scared was more to convince myself than her. I think she meant to ask "Aren't you scared that you'll get hurt or worse?" but on this day I took it as "Aren't you scared that you're making the wrong decisions? Aren't you scared that you've completely fucked up?" As we chatted a while longer, she glanced over at my washer and informed me I hadn't used enough detergent, and insisted on giving me a few of her dryer sheets to help with dryer. She even told me if she wasn't so busy, she would've driven me to Ocala. She was a very nice woman, and very kind. I wished her the best with her family as I left the coin laundry, and thanked her for her help.

              When I got back to my tent, I got a hint of the fear I should've been feeling, the fear that Jackie had asked about. The tarp covering my tent had been pulled back, and a note had been taped to my tent: "DO NOT STAY THERE. LEAVE TODAY." I took a look around, wondering if whoever had left the note was watching from somewhere in the trees. Was it someone who was staying around here? Were they marking their territory, upset I'd treaded on their precious spot? Or was it someone who owned the place, angry someone had trespassed? Maybe a construction worker from the lot next to this one, giving a kind warning? I didn't know, and at that point it wasn't important. I needed to pack up and leave. I took the note off my tent, and stuck it to the tree I was next to. I put everything away as quickly as I could. I considered how lucky I was that whoever found my camp was kind enough to leave a warning, not just take or destroy everything. Before leaving I wrote a response on the note, "OKAY, THANKS. SORRY ABOUT THAT." I was really thankful all they did was leave the note.

              I moved on until I got to a town called DeLeon. I found a heavily wooded area there, and went deep, deep into the tree line. I broke through some heavy spider webs, which assured me no one had been through here in a long time. I set up camp, still kicking myself for having left the tent up at the previous site. My mind was still not at ease that night. My doubts still weighed on me.

Day 9

              I set out early in the morning, shaken by the discovery of my camp the previous day. I didn't want that to reoccur, so I moved before the sun came up. I thought it highly unlikely anyone would find me this far into the trees, but I didn't care. I was in no mood for it. I broke down the camp, and hit the road just as the sunlight hit.

              I walked for several miles, stopping a couple of times to draw some monkeys my sister had requested for her Etsy shop. I walked the bicycle lane on the road, since there were no sidewalks that far out from town. I always walk against traffic so I can see them coming. I had to veer off into the grass a few times due to negligent drivers drifting into my lane. This happened quite a bit on this road. It really surprised me just how many people are either not paying any attention, or are giving all of their attention to their phones while traveling at high speeds. I reflected on how often I was guilty of it. How important was it for me to send a text that could've taken my attention for the most crucial of seconds? Why was it so necessary for me to look up that one piece of information I was curious about in at that specific time? I surprised a couple of people as I walked, when I saw their eyes lazily leave their screens to look up, suddenly seeing a person walking on the road. One woman swerved a bit out of shock as she passed by me. I wondered if I might one day cause an accident just for being there.

              I eventually made it to SR 40, and after a quick lunch at the gas station Subway, and making sure my water tanks were filled as far as they could be, I started heading west. I was heading into the Ocala National Forest, which spanned about 40 miles. I wasn't taking risks. I soon came across a sign, warning of bears for the next 30 miles. Something new to look forward to.

              I walked several miles without stopping. I had some energy to burn off. I was still conflicted, still with doubt. I hadn't yet shaken off the voice in my head. "Quit. Stop now." I walked past a couple of places I could've stopped for dinner, but couldn't bring my body to stop. My mind was racing. One pizza place advertised "free wifi," which surprised me this far out in the middle of nowhere. Sold, you have my attention. I locked up the DragonWagon in their parking lot, behind some bushes and went in for their "world famous pizza." Their connection took a few times to work, and it was slow, but it was enough to tell the family I where I was, and how long it would be before my next contact. It even managed to send the picture of monkeys to my sister, to see if they were what she needed. The pizza was, in fact, delicious. After almost draining my batteries due to the slow connection and lack of outlets, I set off, close to sunset, in search for a place to camp.

              Not far down the road I found another patch of woods. The sun was setting, so I couldn't get too picky. I went in, a picked a patch of grass off the path, nestled between some thorn bushes that put up a bit of a fight. After a few tears in the tarp and my skin, the camp was set up. I lay in my tent, bummed out. I wasn't tired, despite all the walking I'd done. I was restless. I was unfocussed. I tossed and turned, but nothing came of it. I decided I needed to draw. I remembered seeing a restaurant close to the tree line, so I figured I'd go there to draw for a while. That should take my mind off things, and let off some steam. I got dressed, wrestled through some of the thorn bushes, and headed over. With my flashlight I caught a shiny reflection off one of the trees near my tent. I walked up to see what it was. It was a metallic sign posted to the trunk, reading "Bearing Tree." I thought back to the sign that said "Bears 30 miles," and wondered if I'd walked into some sort of bear reserve or something. I had no idea what a bearing tree was. That left me unnerved for a while as I walked to the restaurant.

*I now know, after a little research, that a bearing tree shows that there is a boundary marker nearby. That meant there was a marker showing the boundary of a property buried somewhere near that tree.*

              The restaurant was a small place, with a bar and a few tables behind a wall. It seemed a few regular locals were hanging out, and only one waitress was working both bar and tables. I decided to take a small table in the corner, with some decent lighting, away from people. I didn't feel much like interacting with anyone that night. I noticed they were running some sort of special for $1 beers, so I ordered one. I didn't get any food since I'd had the pizza not too long before. I huddled over my sketch book and started drawing. The waitress chatted with a couple of her regulars, sitting at their tables, catching them up on her Thanksgiving dinner she'd cooked the previous week. Everyone seemed calm and friendly. The place had a very soothing atmosphere. After a couple of hours of drawing, I felt better, more relaxed. I finished my drawing and asked for the bill. When the waitress came by to give me the check, she noticed my drawing for the first time, since I wasn't huddled over it anymore. She laughed out loud when she saw it, "Did you jus' draw that jus' now? I thought you were doin' paperwork. I told mah friend over there, here you were, drinkin' beer and doin' some kinda paperwork. Do ya mind if I jus' show this to her?" She took my book over to the bar where a few of the locals were sitting together, and they laughed when she told them what I'd been doing. They seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, complimented me on it, and one even suggested I could do children's coloring books. This boosted my spirits more than I can say. I'd been so down for the past few days that this really affected me in a positive way. It wasn't receiving compliments that hit me, it was that people who had been quiet and calm for the couple of hours I'd been there, were suddenly laughing out loud and conversing excitedly after seeing what I'd done. We got into a short discussion of how a couple of them used to draw, and they wished they hadn't quit. I encouraged them to take it up again, telling them it's done wonders for me. I hope they do. I hope they at least try it once. This small, seemingly meaningless interaction with these people made my day. I felt positive again, refocused.

Day 10

              I walked with a spring in my step for most of the day. I rarely stopped since I felt motivated, positive. I charged forward, and found myself taking the uphills almost at a jog. Nothing was breaking my pace. Nothing was stopping me. Towards the afternoon, I walked by a lake with a sign that showed it was for swimming. I almost stopped in for a swim, after all my walking, but for some reason I didn't want to break my stride. I had a good pace going, and didn't feel like stopping. A few miles later I wished I had stopped. A quick swim would've been nice, refreshing. I decided if I came across any other swimming holes, I'd stop in for a quick dip. As luck would have it, a few more miles down the road, I came to Juniper Springs. My heart leapt nostalgically. This was a spot my friends and I had driven out to a few times while we were in high school. My family and I had even stopped in once. It was a beautiful place to swim. I decided not to miss out on this opportunity, so I went in.

              I walked up to the guard shack at the entrance, and looked over their pricing. $5 to go in, $21 to camp. As I spoke to the red headed girl in the guard shack about the pricing, she suddenly looked back at my wagon, "Actually, I can't even charge you, you don't have a car. We charge for people to park their vehicles, and they put the ticket in the dash. No one will bother you with this thing. So, you can come in for free, and if you were to camp on the Florida Scenic Trail, it would be free, too." I thanked her graciously for her help, and walked in. I pulled my wagon right up to the spring, locked it up to a nearby bench, and went into the water. The water was freezing, but divine. It was crystal clear and full of tiny fish. If I didn't keep moving, the little fish would swarm me, nibbling at my skin, mouths too small to bite. Also, if I didn't keep moving, I froze. I swam around for a long while, enjoying the small patches of sunlight that cut through the gaps in the trees. There were a few people scattered about the spring. One family seemed to be British, another American, and a third German. Everyone seemed to be keeping to themselves, enjoying the spring between themselves.

              As I swam to the opposite side of the spring, trying to maintain my body heat up, I heard a woman ask, "So are you on a spirit quest?" I looked around to find a couple of women sitting on the wall by the water, presumably speaking to me. I couldn't get a good look at them, since I'd taken my glasses off to go swimming. They were two blurry figures who seemed to be facing me. "I guess you could say that." I explained briefly what I was up to, and we got to talking for a couple of minutes. I was swimming in my underwear, so didn't feel much like stepping out to continue the conversation, but staying in the water in one spot was really cold. I stayed in anyways, moving my arms and legs as much as I could. We talked for a short while before the lady who had started the conversation left, but the second woman remained. It became clear very quickly that she just wanted to speak, since her conversation didn't leave many opportunities for me to respond. She told me of her life in the country, her time in California, her home in Canada, her stint in Mexico, the health insurance in Canada, the injustice of Native Americans of her decent (I can't remember what tribe she claimed to belong to, but they'd apparently been excluded from several benefits the other tribes receive). By this point the cold water was beginning to be torture. Several times she said her goodbyes and had made to leave, but just continued talking. At one point she turned to a couple of gentlemen who had sat down nearby and seamlessly aimed her conversation at them. I took this as my opportunity for escape. I swam back to my side of the spring, got out and dried off, trying to warm up again.

              I'd went back to the DragonWagon to put my clothes back on, as another woman walked up to me. She had been on the other side of the water, the German family. She confessed her curiosity, and we got to chatting about what I was doing. She seemed like a very nice lady, and I enjoyed speaking with her. She and her husband had also been traveling for some time, but just recently settled down. After answering a few of her questions, she returned to her family. I was getting a few things put away in the wagon, when she returned with a small child, her son. She told me he had a few questions himself, which he asked her in German. She would translate the question to me, I would answer, and she would tell him in German what I'd said. He seemed excited, but shy. I pulled out one of my sketchbooks, and showed him a few of my dragon pictures. As I was showing him I asked her if he liked dragons, "Oh he is a boy like any other. Dragons, dinosaurs, you name it." As they started walking away, having seemingly satisfied their curiosity, she turned back and invited me over to their campsite for dinner and drinks later.

              I hadn't planned on staying at Juniper Springs. I figured I would go in for a quick swim and get a few more miles in before sunset. I debated for a while whether I should stick to my plan, or stay instead. I decided to take the opportunity to spend time with this family. After all, a big part of my journey is to meet new people. One of my goals is to not be as introverted as I have been. This was a good step for me in the right direction. I walked back out past the guard shack, to the Florida Scenic Trail the girl had told me about. I found a clearing big enough for my tent, and set up my camp. I put on the cleanest clothes I had, and used maybe too much deodorant. I didn't want another repeat of the depression I had a few days prior. I wanted to be clean and presentable. I wished I could bring some offering to the table, though. A bottle of wine would have been swell, that seemed like a thing to bring to a dinner one was invited to. I had nothing to bring, nothing to offer in return for their kindness. That's when it hit me, "Dragons, dinosaurs, you name it." I just so happened to have a print of one of my dinosaurs. It could make a decent offering for her son, who seemed to like the dragons. I put the print in my bag, and I set off to meet them at their RV spot. As I walked over to their place, however, I realized I never asked her her name. I didn't know whose camp I was heading into. What if she wasn't there, and it was just her husband? What would I say to him? I wondered if I should just turn around, tuck tail and run. I decided to keep going. Meet new people. Have new experiences. Don't shut down.

              I reached their RV plot to find the three of them having dinner already. She told me I'd gotten there just in time. I sat down with them, and finally managed to formally make our introductions. Her name was Caty, her son was William, and her husband, whom I was just meeting for the first time, was Oliver. We drank, we talked, we ate, we had a great time. William, who was 4 or 5 years old, kept switching back and forth between speaking German and English. After he finished his dinner, he seemed to become restless about not getting to his routine time of TV viewing. He apparently didn't watch much normally, but it was habit to watch after dinner. He seemed to be too young to fully grasp the concept of being out in nature. I thought this to be as good a time as any, "I have a gift for you William, I heard you like dinosaurs." Caty spoke excitedly to him in German, presumably reiterating what I was saying. He looked eagerly at me as I pulled out the small print of the dinosaur I'd brought for him. I hadn't expected such a great reaction, he loved it. He completely seemed to have forgotten about the existence of television as he ran around the campsite, playing with the picture of the dinosaur as if it were a toy. It roared, it flew, it ate, it destroyed cities. I was amazed what an effect it had on him, and how happy he was with it. After some conversations with Oliver and Caty, William returned to the table making some requests of his parents in German. They translated that he wanted to cut the blank parts of the paper around the dinosaur, which he named Terry the T-Rex, to make it more lifelike. It was fascinating to see how meticulously he instructed his mother in the appropriate way to cut around the outlines, all in German. Once this was done, he continued to play with it as we continued talking.

              I stayed with them for about 3 hours, talking about travels, people, the differences between countries, adventure, and nature. We played a couple of games with William, where we were to pretend to be dinosaurs, dragons, and racecars. His parents had to remind him a few times that I couldn't understand German, so he'd explain in English instead. I guess that meant he was warming to me. After a while he had wound down, but refused to go to bed, not wanting to miss anything that was happening with the grownups. He fell asleep outside, on a hammock next to the table we were sitting at, cuddling Terry the T-Rex. This was, by far, one of the best, if not the best night of my journey so far. This connection I made with this wonderful family was priceless. I was so glad I decided to stay, and brave the meeting with strangers. I was so thankful they allowed me to join them. I went back to my tent happier than I'd been in a long while.

Day 11 

              I awoke to a very foggy morning. I couldn't see the guard shack from the entrance to the trail, which was just a few feet away. Packing up the camp was dirty work, since the trail was all sand and dirt, and the foggy morning had dampened everything. As I tried to fold the tarp into its place, it tracked dirt, which mixed into mud as I rolled it. The bottom of the tent was completely covered in dirt and sand, so I got it all over my pants as I rolled it up to put it away. Everything ended up with dirt on it, stuck to the moisture. I quickly learned, that in the future, I'd have to avoid dirt patches for camping in. I set off into the foggy road, with a slightly soar left ankle from all the nonstop walking the previous couple of days. I paid extra attention to oncoming traffic, since the fog hid them until they were only a few yards away.

              Several miles up the road, I couldn't ignore my ankle anymore. I had to stop to try to ice it, get some of the swelling down. I tried stretching the Achilles Tendon, but to no avail. It was time to break open the first aid kit for the first time. I'd combined two different kits into one, so I had a fair variety of supplies, including two different ice packs. All I had to do was break the contents inside the pack, and it should have gotten cold. I pulled one out, crushed it, and waited. Nothing. I folded it, nothing. I read the instructions more carefully, followed the little diagram as well as I could, to no result. I smooshed  everything inside the pack with my fingers and thumbs, but still got nothing. Must have broken while in the kit, or maybe expired? Maybe it was a dud. I pulled out my second ice pack, read the instructions a couple of times, and crushed the contents. This time something happened. It went from being warm, to being not-so-warm. Great, good thing I brought these along for emergencies. Still, the not-so-warm ice pack was cooler than my ankle, so I pulled a bandana out of my pack, and used it to tie the pack tightly to my ankle. If nothing else, it served to put pressure on it with some liquid padding. It seemed to be helping. I sat around for a bit, drawing, trying to get my mind off of it. The thoughts of serious injury in the middle of the woods admittedly started creeping in my mind.

              I continued on after some rest, and found that the pressure on my ankle was helping quite a bit. There was no cooling from the ice pack, but the cushioning was comforting. I walked a couple of miles up the road, and saw a car pull over onto the grass ahead. A woman got out of the driver's seat and went to the back door, rummaging through something. As I got closer, she emerged from the car, and looked up at me, and started walking in my direction. When she got within earshot I asked, "Are you okay? Do you need help?" She kept walking towards me, and as she got closer she asked, "Would you like a sandwich?" Not at all what I was expecting. She took me quite by surprise. I told her I was fine, but thanked her for her kindness. "I just saw you walking there with all that stuff, and it gave ME an appetite. I already made the sandwich, and I have Dr. Pepper." She told me she was on her way to work at the hospital with her mother, who was in the passenger's seat. I accepted the offer of a sandwich, which she gave me two of, but politely turned down the soda. I thanked them both for their kindness as they drove off, honking their horn when they passed. There are truly some selfless people in this world, and they continue to surprise me.

              A few miles later, I came to a small town, and stopped at a small restaurant that served burgers and hotdogs. I sat down for a decent meal, and took advantage of the table to draw for a while. After my break, since the sun was getting low, I began to get ready to set off again. As I was adjusting a few things into the DragonWagon, a kid on a bike stopped next to me. I had a hard time understanding his thick southern accent, but by the sound of it, he was trying to sell me pot. I guess I fit the profile. I thanked him for the curbside offer, and after a few words, he sped off in the opposite direction. I set off again.

              As I walked, and the sun was setting, I couldn't decide on a good spot to turn into to set up camp. I was losing light, and there were too many farms around, too much private property. I finally saw a place just before a curve in the road ahead, but didn't want to be seen turning into it, since the tree line was really close to the road. I waited for a moment when there were no cars coming, and turned in. I wasn't exactly sure if this was a good spot or not, but I didn't have much time to be picky. There was a seedling patch to one side of the trees, and a farm to the other, where I heard a dog start barking as I walked in. Every step I took crunched loudly on the ground covered with dry leaves. I stopped moving when I heard the barking getting louder and louder. Was the dog running towards me? Could it hear me? Was it actually barking at me? I sat down and waited for about 20 minutes, as the sun was setting and the darkness set in, before I decided the dog was just barking. It may have gotten louder, but it wasn't getting closer. I set up camp in the dark as the mosquitoes started feasting, and the dog continued to bark. My tent and tarp both smelled from the mud they'd tracked from the foggy morning, and the dog continued to bark. I settled in for an early night, and the dog barked for two more hours. Finally, it stopped barking, and I got some sleep.

Day 12

              I got up early in the morning to make sure there weren't any curious dogs that may have been let loose. When I didn't hear any barking, I did my best to clean off the now dried dirt off the tarp and tent by dragging them across the thick layer of dry leaves on the ground. It seemed to work quite effectively to scrape off the sand and dirt that had been stuck on from the moisture. I packed up, and set off up the curve, taking note that my ankle was not hurting anymore.

              Several miles up the road, I got to a bridge. I really don't like bridges. The bike lane was narrow, and the climb was steep. This meant I would have a hard climb, drivers would get little time to see me over the road, and I would have nowhere to go if they happened to veer into my lane. I decided my best course of action was to go with the flow of traffic, instead of against it. I crossed to the opposite side of the road when there were no cars coming, but nearly fell when I tripped on my own pant legs. That would've been great. I was glad no one was around to see the awkward recuperation from it. As I climbed the incline of the bridge, I got to look over the ledge at the beautiful view of a stream cutting through the woods. As the bridge climbed higher, it passed over another body of water that came to an end along the tree line, trapping green plants along the edges. The bridge scaled well above the trees, giving a beautiful view of the canopy. As I reached the peak, I noticed how many pieces of broken glass and dislodged metal were littered along the bike lane. Having such a narrow space to travel, and with cars and trucks whizzing by, I had no way of avoiding the debris. I took the downhill at a near trot since the angle was so extreme.

              As I came to the end of the bridge, I saw a car pulled over ahead. I wondered how long it'd been there since I hadn't seen it pull over. A dark haired woman emerged from it and started walking in my direction, with something strapped over her shoulder. Again, I waited until she was within earshot, and asked, "Are you okay? Do you need any help?" She shook her head and said, "No, I'm fine. Mind if I walk with you for a bit?" I was, again, surprised by the response. "Sure, if you'd like." She told me she'd seen me walking the previous day, and again today, and asked me what I was doing. I explained a little bit of what my journey was, and she seemed intrigued. I noticed it was a camera strapped over her shoulder when she explained she worked for a magazine. She told me they were doing a special issue which might fit my adventure, and asked permission to take some pictures and ask some questions. I humbly obliged. We spoke for a while, she took some pictures of the DragonWagon and some of my drawings, we exchanged contact information. Before she got back in her car, she said, "I'm glad I decided to wait for you at the bottom of a bridge." I was flattered and humbled.

              After she left I crossed back to the opposite side of the road, so I would be facing oncoming traffic again. I noticed as I was crossing, though, that the load on the wagon was a little off, so I stopped in the grass on the other side to adjust it. As I was hooking up the last bungee cord, a jeep pulled right up to my wagon on the grass. A tough looking man came out, and walked up to me. I stayed close to my walking stick. "Are you here for the gathering?" Being the nerd that I am, the first thing that popped into my mind was Magic: The Gathering, a card game. Then I thought cult. Then I imagined robed figures standing around a virgin sacrifice. Next I wondered if it was some kind of local code for drugs or something. I responded, "Umm... I don't know of any gathering, so I guess not?" He laughed. "I thought you were here for the Rainbow Family gathering, what with your bandana and wagon and all." He explained that every year, hippies from all around got together at different national forests around the world, calling themselves the Rainbow Family. They joined together to celebrate peace and nature and the like. Apparently there was a gathering in the Ocala National Forest around February, but people often started showing up as early as December. I told him I hadn't ever heard of it, but it definitely sounded like something I might look into. He gave me a couple of websites to check out, and even gave me his own email, in case I was in the area and needed any help or a ride, said his name was Ron. I thanked him as he drove off.

              I made sure my pack was secure, and started walking up the street. I didn't get a quarter mile from the bridge before I realized I had a flat tire. This was my last replacement tube, so I'd have to stop somewhere to fix or replace the punctured ones. It didn't take me long to replace the tube, since I'd figured out how to do it the previous time. After fixing it, I started walking again, but didn't get a hundred feet before noticing the other tire was now flat. Fucking shit, come on. Best I could figure, all the debris on the bridge I couldn't avoid must have done a real number on my tires. I was now out of replacements. As I was evaluating my situation, a thick bearded man on a motorized bicycle pulled up and stopped. "You with the Rainbow Family?" Okay, that was weird, it had barely been an hour since I was asked the same question. We spoke about the gathering, he told me he'd been involved with them for years. He mentioned how they were all really kind, really giving, and since he was part of the cleanup crew, he got to keep a lot of equipment that was left behind every year. I eventually asked him if there was anywhere nearby I could fix my tire, and he mentioned a Walmart just a couple of miles up the road. I thanked him for his help, and asked him his name. "My name is Ron." What the hell?? Two Ron's within one hour, and both asking about the Rainbow Family I'd never heard of before? Creepy.

              I continued on up the road the couple of miles to the Walmart. I reached a Burger King just outside of it, and decided to go in for some food first. I contacted the family for the first time in a few days of walking through the forest, letting them know I was alive and well, despite a few hiccups along the way. I found I was in Silver Springs, just outside of Ocala, and that I had just passed my turn. The road I passed was CR 35, but on the map it read as 58th Ave. Thanks for that one Apple Maps. When I finished communicating with everyone, I went to throw my trash away.

              There was a couple sitting at the table by the trashcan, and as I walked by, the man said, "You must be here for the Rainbow Gathering." You have got to be kidding me. "No, but you're the third person to say that to me today. At this point I'm starting to think I might as well be." I spoke for a little while with the couple, who were homeless. We talked about the Rainbow Family for a little while. They were telling me their experiences with it, and what they knew about it. I introduced myself, and I shamefully forgot the girl's name, because the man introduced himself as "Ron." No fucking way. I meet three complete strangers  on the same day, they all ask me about these Rainbow people, and they're all fucking named Ron??? I can't write this down in a blog and expect anyone to believe me. "Ron" must be some kind of code name. That must be it. If you ever ask anyone about the Rainbow Family, it must be a rule of some kind that you have to refer to yourself as Ron. There's no other explanation for it. It must be something like "Friends of Dorothy."

              After my non-credible experience at the Burger King, I went to the Walmart to get replacement tubes for my tires. I fixed the tire, and set off down the road I'd passed. I reached David's house just as night fell, and thus ended my second trek.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Trek 2 Days 4-6


              Happy Thanksgiving! I was thankful on this day that it didn't rain, and that the sun came out to heat things up. It was a beautifully clear blue sky. There were no clouds in sight, and the sun was hot and welcoming. I decided it was time to pull out the long pants to replace the cargo shorts I'd been wearing. It was pretty chilly in the shade with the wind blowing slightly. I pulled out my bag of clothes from my rucksack, and my stomach dropped. It was soaked. Everything inside the rucksack was completely soaked with icy cold water, down to the core. All my cold weather clothes were moist and cold, despite having covered it all with the tarp. What good is it for if not to stop water from getting through? I gave the tarp a disapproving look as you would a dog who tore up the trash. What did you do?! Well, this put a damper in my morning. Luckily the sun was shining, so I held off breaking down the tent, and used it, instead, as a clothesline. I hung up the clothes I would wear for the day, and stuffed the rest back into the rucksack. I'd deal with those when I reached some laundry place.

              I sat down on my yoga mat to avoid the cold concrete, and drew for the first time this trek. I sat there in my Batman pajama pants, clothes air drying, in the middle of a field, on a concrete slab, drawing. I was happy. I was content.

              Once my clothes were dry enough I decided it was time to hit up that McDonald's to finish writing and post my blog entry. I broke everything down and rolled out. When I reached the McDonalds, though, I found it was closed. Of course, it was Thanksgiving. People spend time with family on Thanksgiving, and places remain closed. I would have to postpone my posting until another day. On I went.

              I finally hit Highway 17, which headed me north, and I realized this was where I'd calculated 100 miles! I made it to three digits' worth of miles. That felt like a momentous accomplishment worth celebrating. I saw an open Wawa across the street, so I decided a celebratory feast was in order. I got a hoagie and a soup, and celebrated on the curb behind the station. This was a good day.

              I continued north up the road. I didn't go far before I saw a black jeep stopped up ahead, and a man coming out of it. I saw he was holding a black plastic bag as he headed towards the sidewalk I was on. "Would you like a hot turkey dinner?" he asked. I looked around to see whom he was addressing, and realized there was no one around except us. I stammered some kind of thanks, and his girlfriend came out of the jeep to join us. He hurriedly led the conversation, not giving me much of a chance to say anything other than "thanks, I really appreciate this," and before his girlfriend reached us, he was turning to go. He bumped into her for not having seen her, and they both got into their jeep and drove off with a quick "Happy Thanksgiving." His name was Scott, but I never got to talk to the lady. This was another situation I wished I could have said more, done more, but their wonderful gesture was not unappreciated. Having just eaten my Wawa feast, I tied the plastic bag to the DragonWagon, deciding it would make a great dinner.

              I didn't walk two miles more before a guy on a motorized bicycle rode up behind me. I veered off the sidewalk to give him room to pass, but he stopped instead. He asked if I wanted some turkey, to which I declined, telling him I'd only just received some dinner. He insisted in me having it, so I accepted, overwhelmed by the sudden surge of kindness, and before I could say or do more, he rode off in the direction he came from.

              I have to stop at this point, and really appreciate all that's happened on my journey. I have encountered so much unexpected kindness since I've started my adventure, that I'm completely overwhelmed. People have offered me so much help, assistance, meals, money, kindness, and well wishes that I don't know what to do with it all. It's filling me up with such gratitude I may soon explode. From the first kid, Sheradon, who gave me nuggets and $5, to sheriff McCue who offered me new wheels, to the family man who bought my breakfast, to Scott and the kid on the bike who gave me turkey dinners on Thanksgiving. This is not even mentioning my friends who offered me their couch for a few weeks, and my parents' never ending support. I have some serious karma to pass forward. I have a lot of kindness to give out before I feel balanced again. I am so thankful for each and every one of these people. I hope everyone receives this sort of kindness in their lives. The world is turning out to be a much better place than I'd expected. My faith in humanity is flourishing.

              As I continued walking, carrying two turkey dinners, I came across a homeless man at an intersection, asking for help. I offered him one of the meals I'd been given. He thanked me for it, then said he could really use some cigarettes instead. I told him I unfortunately didn't smoke. I thought for a second I'd give him some cash, but decided not to since he'd be buying cigarettes with it. I was pleased that I gave him a meal, I didn't need to give him smokes. Maybe I should have, just to perpetuate the kindness train, but I felt it a better kindness not to. Maybe I'm wrong.

              As the sun was getting close to setting, I started looking for a decent place to set up camp. The pickings were slim, since I'd reached Sanford and was close to downtown. I kept looking around as the sun got lower and lower, and the wind began to pick up a bit, dropping the temperature. I came to a cluster of trees, and turned in to check it out. There was a sign that said it was city property, and trespassers would be prosecuted. I went in to see if there were any decent hiding spots, but found none. I stopped for a minute to weigh my options. It was about to get dark and cold. I could try to set up here, and dodge the cold, but I'd be in serious risk of being seen. I could try to keep going, but I might not find anything better. I decided I couldn't stay there. I was about to stand up to go, when I heard some rustling behind me. I look at the tree I was sitting against, and there was a squirrel right by me. He stared right at me, still as could be. I slowly pulled out my camera, and he got a little curious about it. People here must feed the squirrels regularly, because he came off the tree and braved the ground right next to me. I held the camera in my hand as he assessed whether it would be good food, or whether he should even reach for it. This was a fun little interaction, I really enjoyed it. He eventually decided this was not food and that I was not worth the interest, so he scampered off back into the tree. I rolled on.

              I continued up the road, until I came to some railroad tracks. I looked down one direction that looked too cluttered with buildings, then down the other direction, which looked like it had some residential areas. I looked at a building down the second direction that looked like an old abandoned warehouse. Seemed like the best option at this point, so I followed the tracks toward it. When I reached it I found it had a truck yard in the back, with a big opening in the fence. I passed through, I went to the corner. It was completely empty. The courtyard was fenced in all around, and there was overgrowth breaking through the concrete in several places. This place had been deserted for a long while. I checked to make sure no one else had gotten the same idea I had of making this a temporary home. Once my perimeter check was successful, I quickly set up camp as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. I quietly thanked Scott and his girlfriend for the delicious meal I ate that night.

              The courtyard was bare, so it did little to block any wind as it came in bursts. Inside my tent, the gusts inflated the tarp, which bellowed every time. It was a cold and periodically loud night. Every time the wind blew in, rustling and inflating the tarp, I woke up abruptly. At one point I couldn't sleep because the gusts had come too often, so I got up and looked at the sky. It was beautiful and clear. I looked at the stars for a while as I walked around the courtyard, and really appreciated the beauty of it all. What a grand adventure this had been turning out to be.


              My fingers were a bit numb this morning as I rolled up my sleeping bag. It hadn't been as cold as the previous night, but the bursts of wind were not forgiving. I was a bit clumsy in breaking down the camp, and periodically had to stop to warm up my hands in my pockets. It was a bit of a cold start, and a bit sluggish. I considered avoiding concrete camping in the future, at least when the weather is cold. After I packed everything up, I headed out through the railroad tracks, back to the road.
              I did a lot of constant walking this day. With the wind blowing consistently, I had little motivation to stop. I walked through Sanford, I passed a large lake that the road wound around, and then I came to a bridge. This looked like one of those bridges that interstates have, with the concrete walls, and the two lanes split individually. I didn't want to get on it only to find there was no lane I could use, then be blocked in with speeding cars by the concrete walls, so I looked for an alternate route. I saw a little side road that had a much smaller, older looking bridge at the end of it. It must have been the bridge that was used before this new fancy one had been built. The smaller bridge seemed to have the large iron girder structure on the sides, and was probably not used as much. I decided this was my better option. I took the small side road, which led to a park. I reached the small bridge, then realized why it seemed so much smaller. It only went halfway across the water, then seemed to be cut off. I got a little closer to get a better view. There was a sign at the entrance to the bridge saying something about it being a memorial bridge. They'd apparently cut out the other half to allow bigger boats to go by. Damn. I turned around back up the side road, heading to the bigger bridge. I tried to find any alternate route, but it seemed this bridge was the only one around. I went up it.

              It was a hard push up the incline of the bridge, and my legs burned from having taken no breaks that day. Thankfully the side lane was as wide as a car, so I stuck close to the side wall, as far from traffic as I could be. I saw the smaller bridge off to the side, much lower down than the one I'd gone up. I reached the peak of the bridge and looked out at the lake. The view was magnificent. There was some other large bridge a couple of miles away, and the sun was reflecting beautifully off the water. It was a great sight, well worth the climb. The decline of the bridge was fun, with the DragonWagon pushing me from behind, trying to go faster than I allowed it. I was at a jog from the weight of it. I got to the bottom of the bridge and found I'd made it to DeBary "The River City."

              After several more miles, and a few rumbles from my stomach, I came across the 4B's breakfast place. This was the only restaurant I'd found for a long while, so I decided to stop in. I rolled the wagon around back, and hid it behind the dumpster, between some trees. I walked into the restaurant, and was really relieved to find that they'd put the heater on inside. I ordered a hot chocolate, and enjoyed some delicious French toast and ham. A few more miles down the road I came across another McDonald's, and decided it was time to post the entry I hadn't been able to at the previous one a couple of days back. It took me a little too long to finish the post about the first three days, so I decided I would set up camp somewhere nearby and finish writing the rest in the morning. I found a perfect little spot behind a plaza full of doctors' offices. There was a hill next to a small lake, with trees and bushes hiding the camp from sight. The bushes also worked to block the wind, so I was particularly pleased with this location after the complications of the two previous nights. As I finished setting up and the sun was setting, I smelled something delicious. I realized I'd only eaten the one time for breakfast, and that I'd been walking all day, but my camp was already set up. I took a look around, and found that as the sunlight was dimming, my tent wasn't visible at all unless you walked right up on it. It was far enough out of the way that it seemed unlikely anyone would wander towards it, so I decided to risk it. This was the first time I would walk away from my set up camp site. It was risky, but I felt pretty confident with my concealed location. It was time for some dinner. Luckily, on my return, my confidence was met with confirmation, as no one seemed to have found my encampment. I got into my tent with a full belly, and was pleasantly surprised to find the inside was relatively warm. I was far enough from traffic that I couldn't hear it, and covered enough by bushes and trees that the wind couldn't reach me. This, so far, had been the most perfect spot to camp.


              It was a beautiful sunrise over the lake in the morning as I broke down the tent. There was still a little chill, but it was nothing compared to what it had been the previous days. By all accounts, this was a great morning with a clear sky. I got myself over to the McDonald's early in the morning, and set up the DragonWagon just outside the window where I would sit and write this post. As I set myself up at the table, a couple of older gentlemen approached me, and started asking me about my trip. One of them, Trevor, was visiting from England, and his friend, whose name I regrettably don't remember hearing, was a US Navy Veteran. They were curious about the wagon, guessing I was prior military due to its organization. They seemed fascinated to hear about my reasoning for my journey, and when I told them I was writing about it, they asked for the blog. If you guys are reading this, thank you for your interest in my adventure and for your donation to my cause. I hope you guys enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.

              I am now just a few miles away from Scott's house, who invited me to spend a night. He used to be a coworker of mine, and is a good friend. I look forward to catching up with him. I'm now all caught up with my blog, and am anxious to see what the next few days have in store for me. Once I leave Scott's place, which is in Deland, I'll be heading to Ocala. The route I've chosen will cut through the Ocala National Forest, so I'm looking forward to that. Here goes Day 6!


Friday, November 28, 2014

Trek 2 Begins

Days of Rest, Friends, Family, and Work

              So much has happened these past few days, it's hard to know where to begin. Commissions have been taking off! I'm about to start working on my fourth one, and couldn't be happier. Anyone else want a drawing done?

              My first commissioner, who had me draw his snake, Chanda, liked it so much he came back to the cafe to buy my prints. He gave me a glowing email detailing how much he liked my drawing style.

"I really love your artistic work, & am proud to now be in possession of a small collection of it (including a custom Commission).  Your perspective on these 'anatomically-correct' Dragons is remarkable.  I see many clever areas where your understanding of real animals such as dogs, cats, horses, lizards, & birds has informed your conceptualization of these mythical creatures.  I also like how you go beyond anatomy & capture the life-force & feelings in the Dragons.  Notions of innocence, playfulness, role-playing, wisdom, patience, & fatigue are evident in your Dragon's rendered dispositions.  You are using the Dragons as a dramatic mechanism to investigate the general sense of life, as living beings encounter each other. 

As you probably already suspect, I realize that the difference between a 'monster' & a 'friend' is almost entirely dependent on the perception of the person considering the status of the subject animal.  Your art achieves the opportunity for the viewer to consider both choices & decide."

              I don't know how to explain the feelings this gives me. I never imagined this much success would fall in my lap so quickly. I may not be a millionaire in cash, but I feel rich. These, plus the other commissions, have given me the confidence and financial standing to continue on my journey. Somehow, my crazy plan is working.

              Spending good  quality time with my friends, Tessa, Croix, and Alex, who put up with me in their living room couch for way too long, was refreshing and re-energizing. Seeing them challenge themselves to achieve their goals has filled me with inspiration. From graduating university, to applying for grad schools, to even auditioning to sing in bands, this group of friends is unstoppable. I wish you guys the best of luck in your upcoming endeavors, and thanks for putting up with this dead fish in your living room for so long.

              I met up with another friend, Ryan, who had been my director for a couple of Orlando Fringe Festival shows, who introduced me to The Artistic Hand, a pottery studio and art gallery. He took me there and I managed to make my very first sculpture (at least since playing with Play-Doh as a kid). Didn't turn out too bad. It felt so good to be surrounded by artists of all levels, working on their craft. I met the studio owner, Del, who was a very generous and kind man. He offered his knowledge, his help, and even some lessons in culture (I learned what Alice's Restaurant was). He even offered to put some of my prints up in his gallery. I can't believe how much support I've received since I began this trip.

              My sister happened to fly down to south Florida for her new job, and we managed to meet up at our parents' for a weekend. Papi picked me up from Orlando so we could all spend a couple of days together the weekend before Thanksgiving. This may very well have served as our own Thanksgiving/Christmas weekend. Who knows where I'll be by then. My sister has been also working on her Etsy shop, where she sells custom painted wooden stools, custom bracelets and necklaces, and other crafty personalized items. She had four orders to fulfill, so we all pitched in, formed an assembly line, and got to work. We were working on four personalized kids' stools, sanding, painting, laughing. My sister then had the brilliant idea that I should draw on some wood cutouts. I would draw them and she would paint them. They turned out great. She is such a good painter. We'll be doing more of this in the coming future, so if you like these, please check out her store: .

              Since my sister was in town, she brought my nephews in, too. We got to spend some time together and play some games. The main game was pulling the DragonWagon down the hill, with them on it. Papi had used the small wheels we'd disassembled from the original DragonWagon to make a garden wagon for the house. He reassembled the wheels onto a plywood base, and refashioned the handle to its original function. The kids had a blast, and so did I.

              Once I was back in Orlando, it was clear that I was ready to take on the second step of my journey. I was so pumped up for the adventure, I even came up with a logo I hope to soon incorporate in my works. I may even turn it into a business card/letterhead. For now, baby steps.



              I got too comfortable at my friends' place, my stuff was all over the place. I'd spent too much time there, and it took a while to get all my belongings back into the DragonWagon. Their apartment was on the second floor, so this consisted of lugging the wagon down the stairs before loading it up. This took a few steps. Lucky for me, Alex had offered to help me, otherwise I'd really been putting the new wheels to the test. After several trips up and down the stairs, filling up water jugs, toting the rucksack, and gathering the last few things I'd dispersed around their home, I was ready to go. This would be the first time the new DragonWagon would have the full load on it, so it was a real trial-by-fire. After some minor adjustments with the belt harness, and some redistribution of the water jugs, I was all set. I was on my way. I was planning on swinging by the cafe one more time to say goodbye to everyone, so Alex got in his car and went ahead. He slowed his car down as he was passing me, rolled down his window, and asked, "Why do I feel like an asshole right now?" I laughed as he sped away.

              The cafe was only two and a half miles away, and I'd made the trip many times in the days I'd been staying with them. This time was a little different, since I was pulling the DragonWagon along. It was a different feel, a new rhythm. Where the original design had four wheels with moving joints that allowed it to flex, this one had only two wheels and no moving joints. Every push, pull, and jolt translated straight through the structure and to my hips. It did give me more direct control of the wagon, but at the same time presented some more interesting challenges in movement response. After about a mile, though, I fell into rhythm with it, and it was a breeze. The larger wheels were a huge difference in a positive way. I no longer felt all the little bumps and pebbles, and the tiniest obstacles were no longer complete obstructions. Veering off into the grass to dodge on comers was no longer a massive sacrifice. The DragonWagon has evolved.

              I made it to Natura Coffee and Tea in minimal time, and sat down with my friends for one last goodbye. Croix, who was just finishing her shift there, introduced me to a guy at the bar who had recently done a walk of his own. He'd gone from Orlando to Savanah (if I remember correctly), and managed it in 3 weeks. Shit! That's nuts. He said the most he'd walked in a day was 45 miles. That's a bit much... Definitely humbled my amazing achievement of 15 miles in a day... He had also used a wagon, but was doing the trek for an independent study in human nature. Before I could ask more about it, he tended back to his friend at the bar, and the conversation was over. I turned to my own friends, and wondered when would be the next time I'd see them. We've been on so many adventures together that it made me wonder what adventures of their own they were heading into now. Where would we all be if we were to meet again? I have faith we'll cross paths in the future. I'm curious what the circumstances will be.

              We all headed out of the cafe together, and hugged our last goodbye. I went to strap myself into the DragonWagon as we were saying our farewells, a scene fitting to a movie, until I realized the harness was too loose. One of the bolts holding the harness had snapped its head right off. Shit, really? I went less than three miles, I sang the praises of the new structure, we did our epic goodbye scene, and my shit's broken? Great. No, this isn't embarrassing at all. They offered to drive me to Home Depot, offered their help by guarding the wagon while I went, but I declined. This was indicative that the next adventure had begun. What would this trek be without challenges akin to the wheel fiascos of the first one? I assured them I'd be fine, that I would make it to the nearest Home Depot on my own. After spending so much time in their home, I couldn't help but feel that I'd become an imposition, despite their claims to the contrary. It was time I became my own burden once more. I turned the DragonWagon around, and started clumsily pushing it ahead of myself.

              The journey to the Home Depot was an interesting one, wrought with minor challenges. The main challenge, of course, was finding the best ways of pushing or pulling the wagon. Pushing it meant micromanaging its direction. The slightest veering to one side or the other meant running into bushes, falling off the path, or unintentionally scaring on comers out of the way. Pulling it meant the constant occurrence of the larger wheels catching the heel of my feet and pulling off the back of my shoes (in middle school we used to call this, "giving someone a 'flat tire.'" Irony).

              After a few miles, I'd reached the Home Depot, with only minimally sore arms and scraped heels. I hid the DragonWagon in the bushes behind the store and locked it up. Completely inconspicuous. I was hoping to get stronger bolts to replace the broken one, and have a back up or two for when the second bolt would inevitably snap, but they didn't carry them. I was hoping for grade 8 bolts, but they only carried grade 5, which was what the original ones were. This didn't help much. I bought 8 of them for good measure, and hoped I'd reach an Ace Hardware along the way. I grabbed some dinner at a nearby Chipotle and ate it outside a Buffalo Wild Wing that offered free wifi, as I communicated to my family that I was heading out and spending the night outside a Home Depot.

              I replaced the bolt to the harness, set up my camp in the bushes, and tucked in for an early night. There was a light "pitter-patter" on my tent walls as I drifted to sleep to the sounds of traffic nearby.

Day 2

              I broke down camp in the morning, and headed out. The Home Depot had been in the opposite direction than my destination, so I was retracing my steps from the previous afternoon, only this time the DragonWagon wasn't biting at my heels. I looked back at my tarp I'd used at night to cover the tent, and saw that it was dripping a surprising amount of water. So much for the "pitter-patter." I glanced back a couple of times to see it still draining in the first couple of miles. I found it slightly odd, but my attention was quickly diverted as the skies split open to let the Niagara Falls come down.

              This is what I'd been simultaneously dreading and hoping for all at once. I dreaded the rain because I didn't know just how waterproof the wagon was, with my laptop and drawings inside, but I welcomed it at the same time, because I love the rain. The downpour was so sudden and so intense, that whatever shortcomings the wagon had with being waterproof, there was no turning back now. With this resolution I could bathe in the glory of the downfall with no regrets, and I loved it. A big truck hit a puddle at the shoulder of the road with the perfect timing to shower me completely, and I found it hilarious. What a great feeling of release. Freedom. It was gross road water, sure, but it was instantly washed away by the broken dam in the sky.

              Then came the familiar abruptness of reality behind me. It hadn't yet been three miles from the Home Depot by the time the brand new bolt I'd replaced bent and gradually snapped, bending the other bolt which then took the full weight of the wagon. It would soon snap, too, but it was surprising it hadn't already. I easily removed the broken one, but couldn't fit its replacement in the same hole, since the other remaining one was bent, skewing the holes. Keep in mind, the skies are still torn open, and there is a constant flow of water falling. It was easier to see without my glasses at this point, which is really saying something. I ended up stripping two bolts trying to fit them into the skewed holes before I figured out I should loosen the bent one. This was no easy task, since the bend was at the most inconvenient spot. Don't forget that rain. I finally get the bent bolt loose, get the new bolt in the skewed hole, and tighten the bent bolt back. The raining continued to fall as I set off again. It was only a half mile before the bent bolt snapped, and I fought to replace it. This time I had the common sense (and prior knowledge) to loosen the other bolt before trying to fit the new one in. Genius. I made my way again through the rain, still enjoying its splendor.

              By the time I'd finally reached an Ace Hardware, the two last bolts had loosened and bent, and I was doing the best I could holding the parts together to take the stress off the hardware. The rain was kind enough to keep me company all the way through. I got the new, stronger bolts, and enthusiastically replaced the inferior ones. I purchased a few replacements for possible future complications.

              There was a Popeye's in the same plaza as the Ace, and as I passed by I saw chickens roaming their parking lot, pecking at the ground. If only you knew, chickens, if only you knew. I continued up the street, and realized I'd reached Oviedo. I was only a few steps away from my destination, The Artistic Hand. I was going there to drop off those prints Del said he could put in his gallery, and be on my way up to Deland. I reached his studio, and presented my prints, but they were not up to par.

              I'd never sold anything in a gallery before, so I was a little oblivious to any common practices in doing so. I figured it would be as easy as putting them up in Natura, a couple of tacks to hold them up and a price tag with a title. This was not the case here. I was slightly embarrassed when Del showed me the other artists' works, with hard backings and framed in matting, all in a slick plastic sleeve fit to size. This was a professional gallery after all, and my presentation would be below standard, not to mention the dangers of customers handling said prints, and potentially damaging them.

              After some failed attempts at trying to matt the prints on my own, I decided to try a picture framing store I'd passed on the way to Ace. I set out as the sun began to set and the rain began to let up. By the time I got there, however, they'd been closed for thirty minutes. Damn. They would open again at 10:15am. What a specific time to open... Okay, no problem. I decided to stop by the Popeye's for some quick dinner, and wondered about those chickens again. I wondered if they knew what they were pecking at on the ground around the restaurant. I headed back to the Artistic Hand to glaze the little sculpture I'd made when Ryan brought me. When I got there, Ryan and his girlfriend were there, working on their projects. We worked until around 9 until it was well past time for me to set up my camp for the night. I'd completely violated my "always set up camp before nightfall" rule.

              I took the DragonWagon back to an empty lot I'd found on the way back from Popeye's and tried to sleep to the deafening sounds of water pellets constantly pounding the tent all night. I missed the "pitter-patter."

Day 3

              The rain continued through to the morning, and presented a new challenge to breaking camp. I had to do it all under the tarp, lest I pack puddles of water with my tent, soak my sleeping bag, and saturate my belongings with dampness. It took some real mental power of will to get out of the warm sleeping bag, and start the process of packing everything up while crouched under the tarp. The real motivation I had was the lull in the rain intensity that gave me the best chance to keep everything relatively dry. Being so close to the ground, I got a good view of the load on the wagon, and noticed that the water jug by the tarp was empty. I hadn't used any of them yet, so I was surprised. I looked closer and realized that it didn't even have water to the level of the spigot, it was completely empty. Even if the tap had accidentally been pressed, there would at least be a little bit left. I turned it over and found a gash on the bottom. Then it dawned on me. When I'd noticed the tarp dripping a suspicious amount after a mere "pitter-patter" night rain, it wasn't the tarp dripping, it was the water jug leaking. At some point when one of my awesome bolt breakdowns happened, this water jug must have taken some damage. Add it to the list. Thankfully I had three other ones.

              I managed to break down the camp, packed it all under the tarp, and strapped it all down. That's when I realized it was only 5am. I had 5 hours to kill before the picture frame place opened, and the rain was pouring. I decided to walk around Oviedo and take in the sights. This proved to be very difficult, however, since every sidewalk I took came to an abrupt end, and there were few to no bicycle lanes to speak of. That little adventure killed about 30 minutes. I went back to the Ace Hardware where I remembered seeing a bench under an overhang. I spent some time there, watching the chickens at the Popeye's dodge the rain. I watched the darkness of night melt away as the sun rose somewhere behind the rain clouds. I felt the temperature drop drastically. It got cold, and the cold was sharp. The wind picked up. I'm no meteorologist, but sunrise should add some heat to the equation, not have the opposite effect. I demanded a refund on this sunrise.

              Sitting still was no longer an option, so I paced the plaza. I had my raincoat on, but that did nothing for my soaked legs. I realized in these moments that I'd prepared for heat, I'd prepared for cold, and I'd prepared for wet, but I had not prepared for cold and wet. This was a problem. Luckily, the Ace Hardware opens early, and they sell rain suits. I got the heavy duty one. I combined the pants with the coat I was already wearing, and all was good with the world. My pacing was working to maintain a good body temperature with the rain suit bottoms. Crisis averted.

              Around 8:30 I finally decided to head out and find some breakfast. Along the plaza overhang I saw a man sitting on another one of the benches. He asked me what I was pulling, and I told him it was a wagon with my camping gear. We engaged in conversation, but I felt bad because I could barely understand him. I gathered his name was Alfonso, and after I explained my journey to him, he told me that if I'm in town on the first, I should "hit a brotha up." We shook hands and I set off into the rain.

              Across the street from the framing store I was waiting for was a breakfast place, so my decision was an easy one. I chained up the DragonWagon to the bicycle stand outside one of their windows, and got a table facing it. A happy looking couple in the booth across from me asked how far I was going, where I was coming from, etc. We exchanged a couple of pleasantries as another family sat in the opposite table. After looking around the restaurant and noticing all the chicken themed stickers and paintings, and recalling all the chickens I'd seen outside the Popeye's, I asked the couple about them. "Oh, the Oviedo chickens have ALWAYS been here," was as far as the explanation went. Fair enough. Just then a particularly fuzzy-looking white chicken strutted by my window. Point received.

              I took my time with my breakfast, since I was killing time for the store to open and it was still cold out, so the couple was finished and gone halfway through my meal. They wished me well on my travels. A man from the family next to me asked me what I was eating, a country fried steak breakfast, which I highly recommended to him. Unfortunately they'd already ordered, "but there's always another day," he mused. I continued to eat, and just as they were leaving, the same man asked me "is that your rig out there?" pointing at the DragonWagon. I said yes and we engaged in what was now becoming somewhat routine for me, where to, how far, etc. Just as I expected him to ask the next predictable question, however, he caught me off guard, "can I pay for your breakfast?" I was a little speechless. I hadn't expected that at all. I stammered some awkward response, and he took my receipt up to the front with a "good luck on your journey." Thank you family man, the end of that breakfast tasted especially good.

              The store never opened. There were no signs saying they'd be closed the day before Thanksgiving, but they indeed remained closed past their 10:15am time posted. After 10:45 I decided it wasn't worth the wait. It was too cold to stick around waiting for an "if," so I set off. I would have to matt my prints later down the road, outside of holiday time, and ship them to the Artistic Hand. I needed to keep moving to beat the cold.

              At this point I began to have trust issues with sidewalks, because they end so suddenly and abruptly sometimes, that they leave you in some cumbersome predicaments. This was one of those times. As I maneuvered onto the road I had to stop as two police cars raced past, lights and sirens blaring. I looked down the road as they stopped only about a half mile away. I managed to get on the road as a fire truck and an ambulance went to the same location. A few minutes later I arrived on the scene, where a car had skidded into a power line pole, snapping it in half. The ambulance had already left when I passed by. I asked one of the officers if I could be of any help, already knowing the answer. He told me to move along, and to mind the cables in case they happen to come down. I hoped everyone was okay, and thankful I wasn't there as it happened. Although if I had been, maybe I could have helped. Who knows...

              The rain continued to drizzle, and I realized what an inconvenience this was to the act of drawing. I hadn't been able to draw anything the past few days, and that really bummed me out. I was getting the itch.

              Several miles down the road I reached a McDonald's with free wifi. I went inside with laptop and chargers, and got to writing this post. Just as I'd gotten in, though, the clouds parted and the sun came out. Thanks for the timing, irony. I spent a couple of hours with my six-piece nuggets, really milking my sweet tea, writing my blog. The sun started to set, and I cut it short, unable to post it online, lest I lose the light to find a decent camp site to set up in. I figured I'd post it the next day, early in the morning. I remembered passing by an open field with some tree clusters about a mile back, so off I went.

              The field had a couple of concrete patches that may at one point have been roads of some sort, completely decrepit by now. I found a smooth patch behind a few trees, and set up camp. It had just turned dark as I finished setting up, and down went the temperature. I got under the tarp quickly, hoping to dodge the cold, but, slowly, it crept in under the tarp overnight. This was the coldest it had been. If I had to guess, and hopefully not exaggerate, it may have been in the 40's or 30's. It was enough cold that my brain jolted me awake a couple of times, screaming, "DANGER! DANGER!" It didn't help that the sleeping bag I was using was slightly damp from all the rain, and that I'd set up on the cold concrete. I finally decided, in my half asleep daze, that it was time to pull out the cold weather sleeping bag, which also turned out to be wet. I'd been using it as a pillow in its bag, so I switched them, using the warm weather sleeping bag as the pillow instead. Again, my brain alerted me mid-sleep that this was insufficient. I eventually snuggled myself with both sleeping bags, the cold weather one inside the warm weather one, and passed out. When I woke up at one point in the night, I realized my body heat had dried them from the inside out, and I was nice and toasty. I slept well after that.