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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Commission and DragonWagon Modification

My First Commissioned Work

              For the past week and a half I've been spending time reconnecting with friends. It's been so rewarding to spend the time to go around meeting up face to face. This is something I've been missing for some time. This is something I see happening less and less. I've been so involved with my job that this is something I've not taken the time to do. I want to do it more.

              My friend, Croix, urged me to put some of my drawings up at an artsy tea shop she works at. I was hesitant at first, but agreed. I tried to be excited about it, but there was a deep fear holding my confidence hostage. Putting it up on a wall was serious business. It was ACTUAL business. This would be me putting a price on my work, and showing the world what I'd done. At least the limited world of this tea shop. As I spread my pieces across the bar, wondering which ones to put up, one of their customers started looking at them. He commented on the style of one of my dragons, and appreciated the detail of it. I felt abashed, my throat dried up instantly, and I was unsure how to comport myself. I thanked him humbly, then he whipped out his phone to show me pictures of his snake. He was the owner of a boa constrictor named Chanda. She was beautiful. She had amazing patterns, and a change in colors at the tip of her tail. He was telling me more and more about her, until, out of nowhere, I found myself telling him I could draw her for him if he'd liked. "Who said that? Where did that come from? What are you doing to yourself?" piped in the familiar voice in my head. His eyes lit up, and he said he'd love to have a drawing of her in that same style.

              Shit. Okay. The pressure immediately set in. The weight of what I had committed myself to clung on to my shoulders and didn't let go. I was going to try to draw someone's pet, a creature they see on a daily basis, an animal with unique patterns, shape, and features. The way he described her, he'd be able to recognize her from a lineup of identical snakes, and I offered to illustrate her likeness. "Idiot. Now you've done it. Now you're committed. Now you're asking some poor unsuspecting person to give you money for your impending failure." The size of the piece was larger than any I'd worked on before, the subject matter was one I hadn't done before, I didn't know the client, and he wanted it in color which I don't do well. "You're going to fuck up. This is when you find out this was all wrong. You don't know what you're doing." As I'm writing this, Queen's "Under Pressure" is aptly playing at the tea shop. Appropriate.

              The process of drawing Chanda was grueling. I enjoyed doing it, but the voice was ever present throughout the process. "That's not what she looks like. Those patterns are wrong. That's not even the right color. He's going to hate it. He's actually going to be offended by this. If you think he's going to look at this and see his snake you're disillusioned." The color did seem impossible to match from the photos, and no matter how many angles of her he sent, the patterns seemed impossible to discern. It was an emotional rollercoaster. I felt pride in the work, but the voice kept pointing out all the things that were wrong in comparison to the actual photos. As a whole, after looking at the final product, I liked it. I thought it looked good, I just didn't think it matched her color. The style was right, the color was off. The photos showed her being more pale than I could show, more yellow, more white, more brown.

              The time of truth had arrived, and I set up a meeting with him. I walked the 2.2 miles from my friends' place to the tea shop where I was meeting him, which was more than enough time for the voice to give me an earful. It bashed my confidence lower with every step I took closer to the meeting. "He's going to hate it. He's going to hate it. He's going to ask for his money back. He's going to hate it. He'll say it's terrible. He's going to hate it." I waited at the tea shop for him, with the broken record in my head repeating incessantly. Finally he arrived.

              He brought Chanda with him. He transported her in a bucket, where she curled up snuggly. He pulled her out and I got to see her majestic scales, muscular body, and her beautiful patterns. She was stunning. After staring at her pictures for hours, seeing her full "gestalt," as he'd put it, was overwhelming. He started pointing out unique parts of her pattern he really liked, and they were ones I'd noticed and included in the drawing. He showed me the distinct coloring of her eyes, and it was something I'd drawn into her picture. The more he proudly displayed and described her, the more confidence was dripping back into me. He handed her to me, and I felt her weight, her strength. She was a little nervous about being handled by a stranger, but I really liked her. After a minute of her squirming out of my hold, desperately trying to get back to him, I handed her back. I mustered my courage, and brought out the drawing.

              He seemed to really like it. He liked the color, the style, and the overall layout. It had been based on his favorite photo of her, where she's slithering toward the camera. In the photo, her tail hadn't been showing its intricate change in color and different patterns, so I'd changed her positioning slightly in the drawing to display it proudly. He was really pleased with the piece, and I was relieved with his reaction to it. Joy. Relief. Success.

              I've now successfully completed my first commissioned work. This is the first time I've been paid to draw something. Someone paid for my efforts, and were pleased by them. I gave him a representation of an animal he loved. This is it. This is what I'd hoped for every time I felt depressed at work, thinking I was doing the wrong thing. I'm still sitting at the tea shop after our meeting, and not sure what to do with myself. I feel pride, happiness, fear, confidence, hope. I could do this. Maybe people could want me to do this for them. Maybe I could get by, doing this. Maybe. Thank you, Croix, for pushing me to put up my work pubicly. Thank you, Rip, for giving me the opportunity to draw Chanda for you.

The DragonWagon 2.0

              After all the breakdowns the DragonWagon took in the first trek, a few modifications needed to be made. The current design was not up to the task. I needed a different set up, different wheels. I conversed with Papi, and we brainstormed on what we should do with it. We decided it would be best to bring it back to his garage, and work on it there. He picked me up in Orlando, and we started loading the decrepit wagon into his car. This felt like it went against what I'd set out to do, but I needed to get this right, so I could continue on. I swallowed my pride, and loaded the rest of my stuff. We met up with a guy we found online who was selling some parts we needed, so the trip back to Palm Bay happened to go through the same route I'd walked up.

              Irony did not miss the mark on this hour long drive through my one week path. I pointed out to him the places I'd remembered sleeping, eating, breaking down. It seemed like a bad joke to pass it all so quickly, cheapening my experience so soon after it'd happened. Too easy, too quick. It occurred to me that the number of experiences we miss out on for driving our cars are innumerable. The number of sights we miss, the connections never made, the challenges never overcome are immeasurable.

              Papi and I worked on the DragonWagon as we had the first time, laughing, arguing, butting heads, but, overall, enjoying the challenges of the project while working together. These may be some of the best times I've spent with my dad. I've treasured these times immensely. I was glad I'd agreed to come back to his place to modify the wagon.

              A disassembled tricycle, different hardware, and many nuts and bolts later, the DragonWagon is ready to ride again. Hopefully this time it'll last longer than 30 miles in 3 days before she breaks down again. Hopefully now grass and other terrain other than asphalt won't be like dragging a rock, digging a trench as it moves. Trek #2 will be from Orlando to Ocala, roughly 75-85 miles, so about the same distance as the first. We'll see how it goes this time.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Days 6 & 7

Day 6

              I laid in the motel bed a little too long. I'd hit the snooze button because the sun didn't beat down on me today to make me get up. I didn't have a tent to break down, or a load to pack to head out. My DragonWagon was still wheels-up in the living area of the room, and my belongings strewn about haphazardly. I felt a lingering twinge of depression that I wasn't outside. The room was stuffy without a working AC unit, but I didn't mind that, I just missed the breeze outdoors. It was time to get up, time to get moving. I stalled a little longer, then got up.

              The previous night, Papi and I had strategized which wheels were good, which needed what replacements, and which he should take with him so I didn't carry extra weight. I had ordered two new wheels and two replacement inner tubes, so we adjusted accordingly. We switched out the bad rim with a good one, and he took the two wheels that were basically destroyed. This left me with two good wheels, two deflated wheels, and the two new wheels that I'd ordered. That means I'd change the inner tubes on the two deflated ones, and end up with 6 total wheels, for the next emergency. All seemed well.

              I took the two deflated tires with me to get them fixed, and hoped the new ones had arrived on time. Joe, the mechanic, had told me they would arrive 8:30-9:00am, which worked out well since I needed to check out of the room by 11:00am to avoid any fees. When I got to the tire shop with my two deflated wheels, I was overjoyed to find out the wheels and inner tubes had indeed arrived. This was great news. My stomach plummeted, however, when I saw that the two new wheels were just the treads. No rims, no ball bearings, no inner tubes included. Damn. Somehow, ordering two wheels and two EXTRA inner tubes meant two tire treads and only two inner tubes. This complicated things. I left my two deflated tires with Joe to get the tubes replaced, and decided my best bet was to get the worse looking treads replaced as well. Since the two wheels the sheriff had given me were newer (or rather older but less used), I decided to keep their treads on, and replace the two originals. I ran back to the motel room and grabbed the older tire, and decided, while we're at it, might as well grab the other one to make sure it was inflated enough.

              I ran back to the tire shop with the last two wheels, then Joe and I had a little confusing back-and-forth about which tread went where, what tube was getting replaced, and what tire just needed some air. It was a confusing exchange for both of us, and my time was starting to tick away. He finally got to work on them all. He gathered some tools, and started to work on his shop floor, one wheel at a time. I watched him struggle trying to get the two sides of the rims to meet just right, so I offered him an extra pair of hands to keep them together while he bolted them. He said he had it. This frustrated me a little more than I'd care to admit, because it would've been much easier for two people to do it. He struggled at it for a while, and it was slow work. He may have been more used to working on car and truck tires. These were microscopic in comparison. He eventually got to the last tire and could not manage to get the pieces together. He tried again and again and again, and I could see his own frustration mounting as much as my own. That's when other customers arrived, needing to rent a trailer, a big ticket item. He set his tools down and went to assist them. He was on my last wheel, and he left to help his customers who seemed to know him by name.

              I am not one for confrontations. I am not one to complain about petty things. I don't tend to get angry with unfair treatment. I was, however, disappointed and frustrated. This is something I could just do myself at this point. I had to fight the urge to get in there and finish the job and be on my way. The temptation was great. I had a small urge to say something along the lines of, "would you mind just doing the last tire real quick so I could go, please?" but I didn't. Something about being the outsider in a Southern town, amongst people who know each other, made me think that it would only hurt my situation. I was patient. I waited. Joe helped them get their trailer hooked up, got their necessary cables, and was ringing them up as another customer pulled in. This customer was looking to buy a tire for his pickup truck, another big ticket item. Joe finished with the first customers, then went over to the new one to see the specifications of his truck. It was now 10:05am, which meant I had less than an hour to get this wheel done, put them back on the wagon, pack up, and get keys turned in. My patience, at this point, was irrelevant. When Joe walked back from the truck to the shop, where I was standing, to see if he had the necessary parts, I managed to say, "hey, Joe, I gotta check out of the motel by 11, so..." He assured me it would be okay, then went to speak to his other customer. Another customer was just pulling in, and my nerves were tingling. He spoke briefly with them, then came back to my tire, finished it up, and rung me up. Relief. The bill, though, was not what I had expected. Since the new tires were only treads, they had required labor to apply, which was an extra charge. Also, he charged extra for not only assembling the tires, but disassembling as well. I had no time or patience to argue. I paid and was on my way, grumbling as I tried to carry the four tires and two extra, slightly worn treads.

              I reached the room around 10:40 and had no time to waste. I did my best to put the wheels back on the wagon, flipped it right side up, and started to restock it with all the stuff I'd set around the room. After much sweating and several spot checks, I was out of the room at 11:05. Luckily the lady at the front desk didn't seem to notice (or maybe didn't mind) my tardiness.

              Thus, I was on my way again.

              At this point, I was in St Cloud, an actual town, civilization. This was both exhilarating and nerve wracking. I had been out in the boonies for a few days, where everything was slow and expansive. Here, everything was compact and rushed. A lot more car traffic, and a lot more places of business (especially more places of business, since I'd just come from having none around). I had not walked far before I made it to Narcoosee road, where I needed to turn right to go North, to Orlando. The feeling was unparalleled. I was HERE. I thought it would be miles and miles more before reaching this point, but I had almost made it here yesterday. Had it not been for my complete wheel breakdown the day before I would have made it. This was an amazing feeling, and I no longer cared about all the crap I had just undergone. My pace slightly quickened, and I found myself humming triumphant songs aloud as I walked.

              This was amazing. I thought I had been set back so much with all the obstacles I had encountered, that I would be on this road for a long time to come. I turned to go North, and the sun was now at my back, no longer burning just my left side. I could almost feel the heat waves pushing me forward. Success. Triumph. North.

              I walked several miles, then stopped under the shade of a large tree in a grassy area, and drew. I didn't feel much like reading, so I just drew, and was really happy with what I was accomplishing. I walked a few more miles, and stopped for a quick meal out of my pack, then drew some more. Greatness. Awesomeness. Happiness.

              I kept walking into the afternoon and evening, and it was time to find a place to camp out. Suddenly, it became increasingly obvious that this was not going to be as simple as it had been out in the country. Out there I just had to find a place far enough off the road so that I wouldn't get run over in the dark. It was about finding a place out of sight so no one would get too curious and come looking. Here, however, it was more compact with many, many more businesses and residential areas. No woods, no hills to hide behind, no bridges to duck around. I came up to a neighborhood that was under construction, and was very tempted to sneak in there for the night, but past experiences in my life lead me away from that decision. Too many early workers, too much heavy machinery, too many cops patrolling, and too many other people who may be considering the same thing I was. I pressed on.

              I finally came upon a fancy looking gated community with a golf course. I thought how funny it would be to set up camp on the 18th hole. That's when I saw it. At the entrance to the community was a large sign advertising their new homes, golf course, and security. All around the sign were freshly shaped hedges, and a wooden fence that spanned along the sidewalk I was on. Behind the sign, however, there was no fence, no hedges, just grass. The opening led to a lake that separated the road from golf course. I quickly drug the DragonWagon around those bushes, and ducked behind them. This little nook was perfect. There were chest high hedges on three sides of me blocking me from the road and the entrance to the community, and on the other side was the large lake with the golf course across from it, and there were big trees perfectly in line to block the gate guard from view. I sat there for a while, apprehensive about pulling anything out or setting anything up, since I'd just pulled in from a busy intersection and was sure someone would report a suspicious looking character pulling a wagon behind some bushes. After an hour of paranoia, I decided I was okay. I continued to draw. After the second hour I pulled out just my sleeping bag, since it was starting to get chilly, and I was in plain sight of the golf course. Once the sun had finally set and the darkness took over, I decided it was okay to set up my tent, and I slept under the stars, surrounded by bushes, with a beautiful view of their lake and lit up fountain.

Day 7

              I kept waking up throughout the night, nervous I would be found out in my ritzy camp site. By the time 5:30am rolled around, I decided to pack up and head out, to avoid the sunrise exposing my location. The temperature was a lot colder a in the dark as I walked up the side walk, and the wind was picking up quite a bit. I kept moving at a brisk pace to keep the blood flowing and stay warm. I walked a few miles up the road, sharing the sidewalk with all manner of runners and power walkers, seeing groups of cyclists on the roads, until I came across my first McDonalds that offered free wifi. Finally, I could communicate to friends that I was alive and well. I pulled the DragonWagon off onto the grass by the sidewalk, and dug out my laptop, taking all the stuff that was in the way and dumping it around me. It must have been a confusing sight to see a guy who looked like a hobo with his stuff strewn about the grassy area, on his laptop. Several of the walkers and joggers who were going by gave me a range of confused looks, and one almost ran into the guy running next to him because he did a double take looking at me. Regardless, I sent messages to family, posted on Facebook, and attempted to upload the blog I'd written at the motel. The winds picked up, and the temperature noticeably dropped. Facebook worked fine, but I couldn't get any other websites to open. It was getting colder. I checked a map long enough to see I was roughly 15 miles from my friends' house I was heading to, which I estimated would take me until the following day to reach. The cold got sharper, so I gave up, packed it all up, and started moving to get the blood flowing again. Sitting still for those few minutes didn't do me any favors.

              The wind was getting unbearable, and the sun was just breaking through the sky, but not through the trees. It was still dark, and getting colder. I decided that walking was not going to warm me up enough to make up for wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I stopped to dig out warmer clothes. I didn't think I'd need them for a long time into the journey, so they were buried accordingly. I had to pull out a serious amount of obstacles to get to them. Being in such a populated area, with cyclists, runners, and the like, I couldn't go change anywhere, so I just slipped the pants over my shorts, and threw on a sweater. This was a bit of a hint at what it could feel like in a winter situation, which was a cause for worry and relief, simultaneously. I thought about how much colder it could get and how I wasn't sure how well I would deal with it, but, on the other hand, it was a welcome break from the dead heat.

              Crossing under the 417 before the sunrise was exhilarating. Finally a landmark I recognized! Roads I knew! While it gave me a rush to know I'd made it this far, it also took away from the experience of being out in the middle of nowhere, a place I didn't know. I started to recognize what was about to come up, and it took away the mystery of the adventure. It was a strange battle of feelings in my mind over whether this was good or bad, but I kept moving. I walked and stopped to draw, walked and stopped to eat then draw, walked and walked. I'd crossed under the 528, then crossed over the 408, and before I knew it, I'd reached East Colonial SR50. I turned onto 50, hit Dean rd, and turned North again. This was it. I was on the final stretch, and it was shorter than I imagined it.

              I reached my friends' neighborhood by 5:30pm and was astonished at my accomplishment. That meant I had walked about 15 miles over the span of 12 hours, totaling 75 miles in 7 days. That's insane. I would've never imagined I could do that. I would have never known. I might never have believed. Pulling my wagon along I saw their second floor windows open, letting in the cool breeze that seemed so welcome to them, and I yelled their names from outside. Their door burst open, and I finished my first trek by hugging my dear friends.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Days 1-5

The Night Before

              No sleep. Maybe slept a max of one hour, but anxiety, nerves, excitement, reluctance, and self doubt gripped me for most of the night. It felt like the best thing and the worst thing to do all at the same time.

              When I was packing my belongings in my apartment a few months prior I had come across an old notebook I had kept since I was in about middle school. It is one of those zip-up notebooks that used to have the three rings on the inside to keep notebook paper in, neatly organized. I had, a long time ago, done away with said rings, and by now was packed to the rim with old pages from school. This had been a collection of notes I had taken from middle school through college, but, more specifically, the ones I had doodled on.

              Since I was young I had made a pact with each of my teachers (all in my own mind, of course) that everything within the margins was their territory. I would write the notes they beckoned, and put down the answers to their quizzes, but everything outside the margins, where the three holes were, was MY territory. This is where I let my imagination go when teachers rambled on about this or that. This was where I spent the most ink. This is where I had my fun. If the teachers weren't keeping my full attention, I was outside the margins, in places where creatures that have never existed lived. This was my escape during the long school hours I was made to attend. From time to time I fully commandeered entire pages I deemed unnecessary for school use.

              I had not looked in this notebook in years, only opening it to add another year's worth of notes, quizzes, tests, worksheets, and handouts. So when I was about to put it into a box, I opened it. It made me so happy that I won't waste time trying to describe the feelings in words. It came as an affirmation, a nod from my past selves, a hand shake from all of my selves from middle school to college for having saved these. It had only been three years since I'd graduated from college, but somewhere around 10-15 years worth of doodles lived here. It was like sitting in those classrooms again, with those teachers in front of me. I was reminded of great times, terrible experiences, and everything in between. This notebook, to me, is priceless and definitive of who I am meant to be.

              I spent most of that night photographing many of those doodles. I hope to be brave enough, one day, to share them. I hope that I can use them to thank those teachers somehow, to show them that I (hopefully) was not just wasting time in their classes, but becoming who I was meant to be. I hope that if anything comes of these doodles, I can give back to education, to teachers. Their patience with me must have been beyond infinite.

              By 5am I was finally finished photographing them, and turned out the light. The last time I remember looking at the clock it said 6:30am, and I was still wide awake.

              My alarm went off at 10am, and it was time to get up and finish final preparations. I had a wonderful salad lunch with my parents, before setting off by 2pm.

              Thus the adventure began...
Day 1
              I started by calling this Day 0 since it was halfway through the day before I started, but it quickly became too confusing to say "Day 0, Night 1," then, "Day 1, Night 1- No wait, Night 2," and I am a simple man, so no time for that nonsense.

              Last minute preparations were underway as I packed the last of the stuff I was using at my parents' house, taking my last shower, having my "last meal." Both my parents were beyond supportive, they were amazing. Mum helped me psychologically, preparing my mind with various questions and curiosities. These were integral for my inner fortitude to begin my journey. Several things she asked me about I had not quite thought through until I had to put them to words, this prepared me. My dad, here on out referred to as Papi, helped me in a more physical sense, in building my wagon (the DragonWagon), putting together the load, and hooking up a solar panel and battery to keep my camera going. Both of these aspects were essential, and without this balance, I may never have begun. I cannot thank my parents enough for all they've done and do for me.

              So, Day 1 started at 2pm. Everything was packed and ready, everything was prepared. Mum and Papi were there with me for the "launch." We said our goodbyes since we weren't sure exactly when (and morbidly but unmentioned, if) we would see each other again. I might've made it to the end of the road then turned around and come right back. As I started the first few steps of the journey I found myself feeling silly. Here I am with a funny hat, funny looking shoes, camelbak, and a wagon strapped to my hip resembling some sort of ox, and I am about to be seen in public. The wagon, stacked to chest height with an assemblage of random necessities, had a solar panel on top making it look like a Mars Rover catastrophe. I was suddenly and almost overwhelmingly embarrassed as I passed the first of the neighboring houses, although no one else was there to witness. I turned around as I continued walking to bravely wave at my parents, who stood there side by side in a picturesque moment of love, and it gave me courage. This is it. This is the beginning. I got to the end of the block and as I turned the corner, realizing this was the first busy public street, I stopped the wagon. I took a few steps backward so I could see my parents' house again, and there they were, still watching. I took off my hat and raised it to them in salute. They waved back. This gave me the last ounce of strength I needed, I knew I was not going to quit.

              It is an awkward feeling to do something in public that is so far out of the norm. It feels foreign and unfamiliar. Pulling my little wagon along the sidewalk felt strange, but not as strange as the speed in which I got used to it. It took much less time than I thought to "become one" with my wagon. I wondered what I looked like to all the people driving by, their gazes following me as they passed. My answer came quicker than I was ready for.

              Sheradon. I think he said his name was Sheradon, maybe Sheldon. I had repeated "Sheradon" back to him to make sure, and he said yes. Either it was a miscommunication all around, or pity he gave me by not correcting me, or his actual name. Less than an hour into my walk, only two or three miles away from the house, I saw a car, that had driven past me, turn around. This PT Cruiser stopped in a driveway on the other side of the road, and a teenage looking kid got out. He crossed the road to my side, then went back to the car, then crossed to my side again. He walked in my direction, on the same sidewalk, while the car still sat there. I had just turned on my camera a couple of minutes before to get some super exciting footage of my walking, but I am so glad I did. This kid, dressed in his Sunday best, tie, long sleeved purple button up shirt, clean black slacks, walked committedly towards me. He had a paper bag in his hands. As we got close enough we said hello to each other, and to my complete surprise he offered me his food, the paper bag. I'll have to refer back to the video to see exactly how the encounter went down, because to be completely honest I was taken absolutely by surprise. (Again, I am beginning to sweat while I write this. This was a very special moment for me) I didn't know how to react. I thanked him and said it wasn't necessary, but he insisted, and gave me $5 as well, right out of his wallet. I thanked him, then he turned away. I called back to him before he crossed the street, and asked his name. I repeated it back to him to be sure I heard him right, told him mine and shook his hand. I thanked the lady in the car, still waiting across the street, as Sheradon got back in.

              Less than an hour into my journey I had been given a bag of nuggets and $5, but that was not what I really received. What I actually received was kindness, hope. Sheradon showed me a side of the world of strangers that I have rarely seen and am not accustomed to. He saw a person dragging all of his belongings with him on the road, decided he needed help, and helped. I cannot express how touched I am by this. I thought, in a moment, that I should refuse his gesture, that I didn't need it, but I didn't want that to be the reaction that this kind of service deserved. I didn't want this kid to go home thinking "I'll never try giving people anything again if they're just going to refuse it." I hope he goes through life knowing that this is the right way of doing things, that even little acts of kindness can be huge. This was huge. As I ate the nuggets, continuing my walk, I felt a regret creeping up on me. I really, truly wished I had given him something, anything in return. What could I have given? It dawned on me. A drawing. A page out of my sketch book. A finished, original piece. "Whoa buddy!" came the ever present negative voice in my head, "what would he want with that shit? It's not worth anything, it's not good, and he probably wouldn't want it anyways." I fight this voice on a daily basis. This is the voice that kept me at my job for three years too long. This is the voice I am working on muting. I wanted to give him a piece of me in return, no matter the value of it, because it would have been better than nothing.

              This moment, I felt, was extremely important, and very influential on my trip.

              Before having set off I had glanced on Google Maps to see where the first place was I should stop and roughly what lay between Palm Bay and Orlando. A whole lot of farms, nothing, farms, and a town. I decided then not to pour over the map for long, and let the adventure be what it was going to be, other than deciding where to make first camp. I had seen a canal on the map that crossed over US192, and decided it wasn't too close or that far from I-95. Well outside the outskirts of Palm Bay/Melbourne. I am amazed I made it. I thought for sure, while looking at that map, that I would never walk 11 miles, but I did, somehow. I walked for 5 or 6 hours straight, only stepping in for 5 minutes at Mum's school, knowing she had an event, and to shake hands with her principle whom I had spoken with about this journey. It was an attest to my power of will and determination in my journey, even though every step I took was echoed by the voice saying, "stop," and "go back." Every step.

              My mother drove out to meet me about a mile before I stopped. She couldn't help herself, and I was glad for it. She drove out to make sure I was ok, to tell me how proud she was, that she couldn't believe I was doing it, and, just maybe, to give me a way out. I thanked her, hugged her, kissed her, and went on. This was very important to me. I had to do this.

Night 1

              While I was amazed I made my destination, I didn't make it there before sunset. I have found the sun has been setting by about 7pm which means that I must have made it there about 8pm, in darkness. I got to the bridge that crossed over the canal, and my skin, which had been cooking under the sun for a better part of the afternoon, was still sweaty but now freezing. I barely felt the cold since my muscles were so warm, but I knew I had to get my tent up quick, and stabilize my temperature, lest I get sick on day one. That would have been embarrassing.

              I decided not to cross the bridge tonight since there was a seemingly perfect little spot next to it to camp in. I was hidden from the cars by the concrete wall of the bridge, and protected from them running me over in the dark by the metal railing connected to the wall. There was a slight downhill from the road, so I was well out of sight, and there was an electric pole I could set up next to. Perfect.

              Not perfect. Far from perfect. Since it was dark, I had to use my flashlight to see, and as soon as the light went on, mosquitoes from a mile radius were on full alert. I was, after all, setting up next to a canal, AKA mosquito breeding grounds. They COVERED me. I was swiping swarms from my ankles, that merely relocated to my wrists, which then found my face, neck, and eventually got desperate enough to bite through my clothes. I would smack my arm and kill only the five slowest ones at a time. I had to pull the DragonWagon through the grass on what suddenly seemed like a 90 degree slope, straight down. The wagon rolled over four or five times, each time somehow getting exponentially heavier. When trying to get smart, and turning it uphill to roll it upwards, it rolled onto its back wheels (the heavier four gallon water jug being in the back) popping relentless wheelie after wheelie, digging the rear deeper and deeper into the grass and dirt. I finally got to my "perfect spot," exhausted and drained of most of my blood (don't forget to keep imagining those mosquitoes, because by this time they are getting worse. They have gotten a taste and told their friends to join the party), but the wagon kept trying to roll down hill or flip sideways. I jammed it up against one of the wires keeping the electric column in tension, and began, finally, to set up the tent. You have never seen such speed, blood and sweat flying in the night air. I was extremely motivated to get this camp site up. Everything was backwards from how I'd planned it, everything was turned around, but I didn't care. I couldn't care, I didn't have enough blood to care.

              Finally, the tent was up, I threw in sleeping bag and other essentials, and I was in, but I was not alone. As soon as I got in my tent I had to start clapping, but not out of celebration. Every time my hand met, the impact killed 10-15 mosquitoes, and I wish I were exaggerating. So many of these bastards made it inside that I spent the first 10 minutes trying to kill them all, and save what little I had left in my veins. My tent was a graveyard. My ankles were bloodied. I had not slept the night before, I was ready for sleep, but sleep would not come too easily.

              My "perfect spot" had another down side, a more literal one. I had set up my tent on a downhill, and it quickly taught me the frictionlessness (sure, it's a word, let's move on) of my tent floor and sleeping bag materials. The yoga mat was not much help. Every 5-10 minutes I had to wiggle my way back up the tent, lest my feet burst through the opposite end. Not only that, but my "perfect spot" was so close to the road that the cars were deafening, and the trucks were surely on a straight path to run me over and kill me. Every time a truck approached, I kid you not, I thought this was it, this was the end. I would die in my silly little tent, with all the mosquitoes I'd killed, under some trucker's tires, on some silly little adventure. The fear was irrationally gripping due to my dazed and exhausted state. I did not sleep. I did not rest. I was tested. It was a trying experience.

              Then the voice set in.

"See, idiot? This was stupid. You never should have done this. You should have stayed home. You never should have left. Why are you doing this? This is dumb. Go home."

              Self doubt is a powerful enemy.

              The real craziness of the situation was settling into my mind as I tossed and turned and slid and wiggled back up. I started thinking about all the reactions people had to me telling them what I was doing, and they varied as much as there are colors, but on this night I was focused on the negative side of the scale. I saw the faces of people looking at me as if there was something broken in me, the people who gave me blank stares, and the people who just didn't know what to say. Everyone who had somehow given my water bucket of confidence a drip of black doubt came to the surface. Then, I started thinking of those who encouraged me, supported me, helped me, or just got completely excited about what I was doing. All the people who said they wished they could go, the people who said they wanted to know more, and the people who asked questions. They were filters for my water bucket. They helped at night. Thank you.

Day 2

              The previous night had done its damage. My ankles and wrists were slightly swollen and covered in dried blood where the mosquitoes had feasted. My clothes and sleeping bag were wet from the morning dew and shotty work I'd done of covering everything. The harness straps on my wagon had broken from all the rollovers it had done. My will power was shaken, but not broken. I had anticipated the straps might break, so I'd brought wire along to mend them. I just hadn't thought that they would break on the first day. I patched them up after breaking down the camp, and was ready to head out, but I was tired. There was no way that I could've maintained the pace of the first day, walking 11 miles for 6 hours. I managed to walk for two hours then took an hour break.

              On my breaks I read and drew on my break, and it gave me strength. I walked for another 40 minutes. It obviously hadn't given me that much physical strength, it must have been more psychological or metaphorical. I rested for two hours, I read, I drew. I walked for another hour, and this was it for the day. It was about 5pm and I was already setting up camp. I slept. I slept a beautiful sleep until dawn, and I was rested.

              I noticed, eerily enough, that whenever I walked past a field of cows, no matter what they were doing, they would all stop and stare at me. They would follow me with their gaze until I was quite a distance away. Strange feeling.

Day 3

              This day was a good day. I picked up a good rhythm, walking one hour and resting two, managing three walks per day. I roughly estimated it was about 3 miles each walk, so it could have been 9 miles for the day. This made me feel good, determined. I was feeling great about it all, until a worry started to fall heavier and heavier on my mind... I was running low on water. I had had such confidence with my 4 gallon water tank that I didn't worry about running out before I needed to refill, but I hadn't come across anything other than vast farm lands for the last couple of days. I couldn't be sure how far ahead the next town was, since my map research only went as far as the canal, and glancing over the farmlands. I didn't take studious notes of how many miles between A and B, then B and C, with alternates D, E, and F. I had thought I'd let the journey take care of itself. Once I had to start tipping the tank to refill my camelbak I began thinking of alternatives. I could go into one of the massive farmlands, hope there is a house, hope there are people in that house, hope that they're willing to allow me some water. I could wave down a car and ask them to give me a ride, but leave the DragonWagon behind? I could hide it, or give the driver the water tank and some money, and hope they'd be willing to do it, and not drive off with it... I could... I could... It was endless guessing and second guessing, assuming and conjecturing, despairing and self assuring.

              I found myself becoming a detective. I analyzed the trash on the ground as I walked by it, gathering what clues I could. Other than busted tire treads and roadkill, there were several items of McDonalds breakfast containers. "People don't tend to hang on to those for long before eating them and throwing the trash out the window. That shit's nasty when it's cold. It couldn't take them longer than ten minutes to eat a McMuffin. That half eaten bagel still looks fresh, as do these three well dispersed banana peels."
              I hadn't come across any cross roads the past couple of days, but today I crossed three. They, however, were not paved roads, but gravel. This meant I was still in farmland. No signs to speak of, and it was getting late. I would get an early start in the morning, to try and beat the heat of the sun.

Day 4

              After a decent sleep I woke up early and set off. I was determined to get somewhere today. I kept a brisk pace and charged forward. I looked for more clues. I found more McDonalds trash, must be getting close. I saw another gravel crossroad. I started to see what looked more like houses than barns, with smaller properties that were less and less like farms. I came across another crossroad, and, yes, this one was paved, but with no painted lines on it. I'm getting closer. The house numbers were now plastered on mailboxes by the road, and they were descending from the 9900's. Closer now. My first paved road WITH lines. Hope. Finally, after another paved road with lines, and house numbers descending to the 8000's, my very first "Reduce Speed Ahead" sign. I knew this was it. I'd made it. A town.

              The town of Holopaw seemed to consist of a Citgo gas station, where I managed to refill my water and buy some more canned food, and a restaurant, called "Restaurant." I found nothing else within eyesight of this "town." The Citgo and the restaurant, called "Restaurant," were on either side of a major intersection of 441 and 192. I rolled on over from the gas station to the restaurant, which had a sign out on the road, reading, "Restaurant. Holopaw Produce. Fresh Fruit & Vegetables." I was very excited, since I hadn't had either since the trip started. I rolled to the front door to find quaint little tables outside, one occupied by two ladies. I greeted them as friendly as I could, trying somehow to not look like a stray vagrant, uncoupled myself from my wagon, and started toward the door.

              "Watcha look'n fur, h'ny?" asked one of the ladies sitting outside. I mentioned the sign saying fruits and vegetables, and that I hoped to get some. "Aw, that's an awwld sign, h'ny, we don't sell that no mo'." I was slightly amused and taken aback, and did my best to politely ask if they were open for business. I might have offended one of them, or just ruined their pre-rush smoke break, but they mentioned they had a menu inside on the table. I had a delicious breakfast, the Holopaw Omelet, which would apparently "take a minute, since it's gawt everth'n 'n th' kitchen." This was a well appreciated meal, since all my previous ones had come from cans. I thanked them, and asked them if there was anything on the road between here and St Cloud. There apparently was, and it gave me hope. I set off again.

              The DragonWagon was now refilled with water and food, and it showed. It lagged behind me and made me realize how much easier it had been while I was dwindling the water supply. I now had somewhat mixed feelings about filling it to the rim. The sudden addition of weight must have taken its toll on the wheels, because on my first break from walking I found one of the front wheels had worn through the tread and was getting down to the threads, starting to fray. I decided the only thing I could do right now was to rotate it to the other side, and hope it lasted. I enjoyed the rest of my break, drawing and reading, then set off again.

              Not long after, I start to hear a "whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr" from one of the wheels. I tried glancing behind me, not seeing anything, until I started to feel the wagon really lagging, almost pulling me to a stop. This had suddenly become a much harder pull than before, and it wasn't the water weight we'd put on. I pull over and check the wheels, and there it was, staring me flat in the face. One of my rear tires was completely deflated, and its ball bearings were busted. The rim was scraping against the axel. I was dead in the water.

              I'd thought the wheels might eventually wear down, but I hadn't expected one to be completely bald and the other to break down all together within the first 4 days. This was a brand new wagon bought especially for this trip. I turned the wagon on its side and started disassembling the busted wheel. There was nothing I could do, all the ball bearings were gone and lost, the piece that held them together shredded. I was wheels up on the side of the road. I might have to quit this trip. I might have to go back home. I figured I could flag someone down and use their phone to get help, or try to find some tire place or mechanic shop around, but I'd have to somehow hide the DragonWagon so no one would pilfer it. Just as the possible solutions and gloomy ends were battling it out in my head, a Sheriff pulls up.

              Well, at least I would get to sleep in a cot, possibly get a decent meal. I wondered if, when he arrested me, he would just leave my wagon out here, try to fit it in his car to take with us, or just have some Sheriff van or truck come to take it away. I dreaded the process of having to inventory the whole load as they checked it in, and threw me in jail. I guessed this would make for a decent story, something to laugh about when it was all over.

              The officer walked up to me and asked me if I was ok, so I told him I was, but that I seemed to have broken down. I still had the wheel and multitool in hand, so as not to seem threatening or be mistaken as a weapon, I set them both down on the side-tipped wagon. He walked up to me and the DragonWagon and asked what I was doing. I explained vaguely that I was walking to Orlando. He asked me, "where you comin' from?" I said I'd been walking since Palm Bay. "Shiiiit." I laughed at his reaction. "That's a helluva walk, where you headin'?" I told him I had a few friends in Orlando willing to put me up for a while, then maybe Ocala, and that I have a sister in Philadelphia. "Aw, hell naw, you're not walkin' to Philly." I told him it didn't seem like it at this point. I began asking him if there were any tire shops or mechanics around. He didn't seem to think there were any, but he offered to check for me and come back to let me know. At this point I was blown away. How had I gone from thinking I was going to get arrested, to having a Sherriff officer drive around town looking for a tire shop for me? This was unreal.

              The officer asked for my ID, ran it, offered me water (had it been the day prior I would've jumped on the offer), then came back with a ticket notebook. He assured me this wasn't "a thing," he just had to report that he'd seen me, and take my description. He asked for the usual, social, address, eye color, tattoos, scars, if I was homeless, if I was in a gang, etc. Then he started to write down what I was wearing, and as he looked down at my shoes he asked, "what the hell are those?" For the entire trip thus far I'd been wearing Adidas Adipures (sounds so fucking fancy), the shoes that cover each toe individually. I explained to him how great they'd been so far, and that they hadn't given me any blisters at all this whole trip (I really am impressed by that), but that I had my army boots in the pack just in case these broke down as well.

              Once he had finished writing up his ticket, he took another look at my poor wagon. He stared a little longer at the wheel I'd dismantled, then moved the multitool I'd set on it to get a better look. "Y'know, I think I have these wheels." I may have blurted out, "shut the fuck up." I asked him what he would have had them for, and he mentioned he'd gotten them for his lawn mower, but it had been too heavy for them. He started debating aloud, saying it might just be easier to drive home and grab them,  see if they fit, rather than driving around for a mechanic shop. I expressed how grateful I would be, and off he went, telling me to "sit tight." I couldn't believe it. He came back about an hour later with two extra wheels that fit perfectly, and I was incredulous. He dropped them off, said, "have fun, good luck," and drove off before I could think of a better thank you. I replaced the busted wheel and the fraying one with these two new ones, and marveled at the conditions of the situation. This officer is the only person who had pulled over this whole trip to see if I needed help, other than Sheradon, and just so happened to have an exact match for my wheels. I really had to stop and think about that for a while. Amazing. Thank you Sheriff McCue, I hope I read your name tag right.

              I continued onward with renewed hope and fresh fervor. This had been a challenging day, but it turned out for the best. I now had four tires rolling, and two that I could mix and match parts with in case of an emergency, only I didn't realize how quickly that emergency would come. Not long after replacing wheels, only a few miles down the road, that dreaded "whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr" returned along with the leg burning lag of the wagon. There was no way. This was too soon. I look back to see it plain as day, one of the new tires the officer had given me had lost all its air in just a few miles. I did the best I could to haul the dead weight to a safe spot where I could set up camp, work on switching it out in the morning. I was done with this day. So I drew, well into the night.

Day 5

              I woke up early, but refused to get out of bed. I kept looking at the wheels, which were eye level with me laying in my tent, with pure resentment. I didn't want to get out of bed, have to break down the camp, and change a tire, and hope the frayed one would make it. I was tired and I hadn't slept well. I lay there, awake, for an extra hour and a half before getting up. I broke down the camp, brushed my teeth, had breakfast, read a little bit, drew a little bit, all in procrastination and defiance of the wheel problem. Eventually I did it. Instead of strapping the two torn up tires under the wagon like I had done the first time, I strapped them on the top, maybe so the world could see their shame. I was now back to having the frayed tire teetering on the brink of destruction. I pressed forward.

              On my second walk of the day I passed by a Cozy Bear Cove Inn and Bar. It seemed quaint, next to some grocery food store. I considered stopping in, but decided against it, considering I had recently replenished, and I should press on to hopefully find some tire place. I'd gone a little while past it, when, much to no one's surprise, the frayed wheel went flat. That's right, "whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr." I decided maybe it was a good idea to go back to the Cozy Bear Cove Inn, see if they had any vacancies, and hopefully someone would know where I could have a Viking burial for my damned tires, or just a place I could get them fixed. It was not an easy haul. The DragonWagon fought me the whole way. It fought me hard. I felt like I'd pulled it for miles by the time I reached the inn again. The bartender was nice enough, but couldn't offer me a room, they had no vacancy. She did, however, inform me that there was a place just up the hill, past the Serpentarium called the Colonial Motel, and that there may be a tire place next to it. Hope and dismay were swelling inside me, fighting it out for territory. I set off again.

              "Whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr-whirrr" It was getting harder and harder to pull this thing, I thought it damn near impossible, until finally, the whole wagon rolled over onto its side. I thought maybe I'd gotten too close to the shoulder of the road, where the flat tire was, but as I came around to flip it back over, I found the nasty truth. The back wheel on the same side must have taken too much stress from the front one being flat, that it too had wasted through the tread, and had completely deflated. I flipped that wagon over like a football player hitting a dummy sled, somehow cutting my leg in the process without noticing. It was much heavier. I got it back onto the road and pulled it with a vengeance until I reached the motel.

              I managed to snag the last room, drug the wagon in, and immediately went for the bathroom. Shit and shower were priority number one. I'd only gone once in the woods, where I learned how not to dig my shit hole, and had had no shower the whole trip. It was time. This was when I found out my leg was bloody and dry. I assumed it must have been from when I flipped the cart. The adrenaline had been flowing strongly.

              I took my time disassembling the tires, and checking their conditions. I had spotted the tire place about a block or two away from the motel, so I strung up the wheels, and set off. I managed to order a couple of full replacements, and a couple of inner tubes, which should get me to Orlando. After that I'll have to figure out an alternative method of load transportation.

              I walked back to the Cozy Bear Cove Inn and Bar, and ordered a couple of beers and a hearty meal. It tasted like undaunted success. I made friendly conversation with the bartender and a couple of patrons, and had a few laughs. Once I was finished I put in a call from the bar phone to my parents, and left them a message saying that I was alive, about where I was, and what had happened to my wheels. I'd also said that I wouldn't be reachable at this number, and that the motel had no phone. After that I came back to the room, and started writing this whole mess down.

              My parents, however, being the concerned and loving people they are, employed their detective skills to finding me. They had called the number back, spoke with the bartender who happened to know where I was staying from our conversation, drove over to the motel, found out what room I was staying in, and treated me with a surprising rat-tat-tat on my door. I was completely surprised and overjoyed. I explained my whole ordeal to them, and my solutions. They explained their whole process of finding me. Apparently the bartender knew exactly to whom they were referring over the phone "Aw, you mean the walker?"

              Mum and Papi offered to take me home to fix the DragonWagon, but, though I was tempted, I declined. I want to finish this trek to Orlando, then reevaluate the wagon. I have come about 50 miles on foot, and have about 20 more to go. I am almost finished with my first goal, and I can't quit now.