January 24, 2017 – 11 AM – Somewhere in Daytona Beach, Florida

Turns out today is a heckuva lot better than yesterday, although my left knee is giving me some issues. After years of putting it off, I finally made it to a sports physiologist a few months ago and she assured me it's not the knee at all, but tightness, knots, and lack of mobility in the joints, ligaments, and muscles themselves. Basically, the muscles and all the other crap in my leg can't play nice together and slide past one another properly. They're too rigid and too neglected. All work and no play has made them rebel.

The only thing that's ever provided relief is a muscle therapy doohickey device that I can best describe as a nubby, plastic rolling pin. You basically sit down with this thing and go to work on your meat like a it's a wad of pizza dough, flattening all your rebellious parts into submission. In a fit of rage – back when I realized I had to abandon 50% of my gear on the second day of my trip – I left it with [Friend]. Well, damn.

The best I can do now is stop every hour, or so, and force a really good stretch. It's not the same as the doohickey but it's the only way I can take care of my knees without machinery right now. I'm going to need them in tiptop shape.

I arrive in Daytona Beach without a snag. Time for a proper break.

After grabbing some coffee I stop to rest along the waterfront where I luckily find my own little hut and have the place all to myself, save for a couple of crows. We all sit there together and stare at the water.

I should be ecstatic right now. If you could see the gloriousness of this landscape with its crystal-blue sky and light breeze, and the Intracoastal Waterway with its calm, rhythmic rocking and occasional gurgle you might be instantly lifted. But I'm not.

I can't put my finger on why, but I'm uptight. Antsy. Impatient. People travel from all over the world to bask in this sun and I suppose it's positively magnificent for a couple of controlled hours at a time, but I've been in it since 7 this morning and right now all I want is a cool spot in a dark cave.

Is this another case of too much of a good thing?

Then a realization: when I set out to ride this distance I was convinced I could do about 30, 40, maybe 50 miles a day. I've easily done 35 miles before, like a champ, but not with all this obnoxious gear strapped to my bike. These were also times I didn't have to worry about traffic, or the availability of bike lanes, or navigating crumbling sidewalks that eventually just stop. No, in the past I rode in nice places that were made with the cyclist in mind. Not the case now. This is riding in the real world with all its dangers and imperfections that tax the mind and spirit.

Plus, those times I did ride 30 or 40 miles, I did it in one day and then stopped. Not several days, back-to-back, with no time for the body to heal and renew.

Maybe I'm just tired.

Give it time. This is all new. It's only day three. Perhaps I just need to get into the swing of things and I'll start having fun.

Another few minutes pass and I shift my gaze from the water to the inside of my little hut. Some graffiti “artists” have left a couple of messages for us weary travelers. I study the first:

Fuck you

And the other:

I love nobody

The crows engage each other in a weird little bird joust before making a flappy exit. I don't want to rush today, but I certainly don't want to be on the road longer than necessary. I cringe at the thought of forcing enjoyment on myself.

I stop at another private beach area and ceremoniously snap a few photos. Maybe if I share these with everyone back home I'll feel better.

Then it's onto the beach. Crackled sand dunes. A lifeguard tower. Meh.

Time to move on. Obviously this isn't what I want to be doing right now. Last stop of the day is New Smyrna's downtown area and it's totally adorable, but my mood is not lifting, my vigor not awakening. Walk down Canal Street. Lunch at Yellow Dog Eats. Oooh, let me take a photo of my healthy and yummy wrap to show everyone. Snap.

Look at the map. Only 440 miles to go.

I give up. Time to find my host's place and take a load off. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow will feel like an adventure. I'm sure of it.

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January 24, 2017 – Tomoka State Park – Ormond Beach, Florida

Heading to just south of New Smyrna beach tonight and while I'm more grizzled than yesterday, I feel pretty good about today's ride.

Since this trip was designed as an experiment to see if I could travel simply and survive with just a bike and a backpack, I laid some ground rules for myself before taking off.

Rule 1: Absolutely no hotels. Only camping – whether legit or clandestine – is allowed and, more preferable yet, camping at strangers homes. If this were a real survival situation, I'd have to be comfortable asking people I don't know for help and offering my talents in return for their trouble. Better to develop a skill well before you need it, right?

With the internet this is rather easy nowadays, as there's a website specifically geared toward matching up touring cyclists with hosts, kind of like Couchsurfing for bike travelers. I signed up to host others several months ago so I could start building feedback to ensure hosts trusted me and so I wouldn't have any issues securing a yard or spare room in which to crash.

Rule 2: Carry only what's necessary for survival/safety. Even obeying this rule when I set out meant I was riding with a ridiculous amount of stuff. On just my second day out I mailed at least a quarter of my things to family for safekeeping until I returned. I just couldn't take it anymore. (That was the day with all the wind.)

I don't know why I had it in my mind that I'd be like one of those vagabonds in the movies with one tiny, frayed pouch mounted to a stick, flung over my shoulder. It's just not the way it is and the fact that I have to stay warm this time of year added at least 50% more bulk and weight to my rig. Things might have been different if I'd done this trip in the spring or summer. Oh well.

As I'll get into later in this story, “stuff” becomes my arch nemesis. If I thought I was a minimalist before this, it was but a quaint little gesture. I think real, militant minimalists are forged when stuff becomes a source of almost constant grief, frustration, expense, mental suffocation, and physical hinderance.

But I digress.

Since I'd camped my first two nights out, tonight I decide to hit up a member of the cycling host community near my destination. I reach out to roughly three available hosts on the website and get confirmation from one. He says I can camp in his yard and after I do my research, looking into not only his feedback but into those who left him feedback (remember, everybody is a murderer until proven otherwise) I feel pretty confident I'll emerge from his property tomorrow unscathed.

I've couchsurfed only a couple of times in my life, so this was definitely still a new world for me. I feel a little safer knowing I'll be outside and not trapped in a strange man's home should I need to bounce outta there for whatever reason.

Working out all the ways in my head in which this is a relatively safe decision, I recalculate my kind host's Murder Quotient™ and set out for today's adventure.

It's totally gotta be better than yesterday.

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January 24, 2017 – Tomoka State Park – Ormond Beach, Florida

Up with the birds. Dawn is coming in muddy pastel behind the silhouette of oaks and palms. I poke my head out of the safety cocoon and while I certainly don't feel renewed, I'm a heckuva lot better than when I went in.

We were expecting a 50-degree low last night, but even the likelihood of freezing my tuchus off didn't compel me to set up the tent. Around 4am I woke up shivering so I got up and put on every item of clothing I have. Then I squeezed the hammock shut to defend what precious little warm air was trapped inside.

Don't laugh. Sleeping in a hammock in last night's conditions is a big freakin' deal for this extra-warm-blooded South Florida girl. Travel hasn't changed my disdain for cold weather one bit – I still turn into a pumpkin as soon as it drops below 60.

On a positive note, the raccoons of Tomoka have markedly better manners than their Anastasia brethren, so I'm happy to report my campsite was 100% critter-free. That's not to say I slept like a baby; I was up constantly throughout the night. Every rustle and every clatter, every whoosh and every snap sounded the warning bell and started the palpitations. Again, I'm not in a remote place by any stretch of the imagination, but the lizard brain don't care. With only a thin veil of nylon separating warm, vulnerable flesh from the outside world, the lizard perceives every little disturbance as a threat to life.

It's a strange feeling to be afraid when I sleep. Like I said, I camp all the time, but there's something about being alone that dials up the dread. I'm sure, with time, I'll get over it.

Despite being up all night, I feel surprisingly rested.

We have much different weather than yesterday. It's perfect. The sky is clear and there's a light, bike-friendly breeze.

I don't intend for a second to rush to camp tonight. Yesterday I blew through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world on a mad dash to arrive and set up before dark. Today things are going to be different, gosh darnit! I'm going to enjoy, take it slow, and see more.

That's the whole point of this trip.

Only 450 miles to go.

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January 23, 2017 – Highway A1A – Saint Augustine Beach, Florida

No sleep. Two near-death experiences in one night. All things considered I feel pretty good as I peddle out of Anastasia State Park and onto Coastal Highway A1A.

Get comfortable, you're going to be here for a while.

I know it will be cold and windy today, so I'm as mentally prepared as possible. Whatever the case, I can handle it. I'm tough.

Song in my head: Against the Wind by Bob Seger.

I am disgusting, I am a mess, I'm embarrassed of the way I look, but I am free. I'm excited for what today will bring and what I will discover about myself during the next three-plus weeks on beautiful Florida roads.

In no time flat my mood goes from jubilant to slightly grumpy. It's colder than I expected and the wind is piercing. I'm only 15 minutes out and I'm becoming highly uncomfortable.

I have to remind myself: it's just wind.

After I stop and add more layers, I resolve to be patient. Stuff will warm up.

My legs do eventually warm up, but all that other “stuff”? Not so much. My face is numb from being pulverized by frigid bands of beach sand. They are unrelenting and carry an occasional twig, leaf, or other projectile traveling at 30-plus miles per hour, each quite unsuitable for bare skin.

My lungs sting and ache. They are working overtime right now to power me and sixty-seven metric tons of my shit through violent winds and up gentle inclines of sand dunes and short bridges. They can't keep up. The breaths enter cold and leave cold. My poor lungs are as dry and chapped as my lips, which are no-doubt turning blue despite the eventual addition of a wool balaclava to the ensemble.

There are no pretty thoughts.

I have to use every fiber of my concentration to keep my bike from blowing off the road. I look back at my parachute, AKA “tent”.

What a doofus you are! Just get rid of it!

No freakin' way I'm getting rid of that tent. I will suffer now for the ease of popping that mofo open at the end of the day and heaving my tired ass inside seconds later. I have no patience for the setting up or taking down of anything.

A couple of hours later and things haven't improved. I'm wrecked from the insane amount of muscle power it's taking just to maintain a somewhat decent speed. I can't stop. I have to arrive at my campsite before dark. I'm in all black and riding at night on the road into Tomoka State Park is a death wish.

The sand is piling up on the sidewalks of Matanzas Inlet. The wind has been depositing it all night and all morning. The tires on my bike frequently lose their grip due to the immense sideways forces of the wind and I slide around helplessly, again and again, and nearly have a stroke from the adrenaline bursts before regaining control and pushing forward.

A large insect is flung into one of my incisors. I'm startled and gasp, which immediately sends it down into my esophagus.


I pull the bike over so I can hork uncontrollably without killing myself and everyone else on the road.

Maybe it's time for a break? Maybe take some photos?

Since there is a comical amount of shit on my bike I can't just set it on the kickstand. If I do my bike and all my crap will keel over and faceplant right into the soft sand. The sand will get into everything. I quickly lose the desire to take any photos, as it would mean actually getting to my camera in the first place. That would involve unstrapping the monstrosity which is my pack at the moment, and then strapping everything back in while fighting these unbearable winds and sand pellets.

I decide just to stand there and look at the epic lashing the landscape is getting on either side of the road. A few minutes more and feeling far from artsy and inspired, I squeeze out a couple of crappy cell phone photos.

If I weren't so grumpy it would be magnificent. The wind is so strong it's making a monster howl from a nearby drainpipe. The brave birds who do try to fly become little feathered ragdolls.

I guess staying put would be the best bet. Hunker down beneath this bridge and try to stay as positive as possible until this all “blows over”.

But I don't. For some reason I'm terrified of nightfall, even in this gorgeous place. I have to get to camp where there's other people around. I don't know exactly what I'm afraid of out here, but it's something. Any other day I would think sleeping in this place beneath the stars was the most romantic, adventurous thing ever.

But when you're fighting for your life against wind, sun, sand, and insects, it's the last thing you want to add into the mix. No, I must push on.

After another hour or so, the wind mercifully shifts and acts as a propeller for my two-wheeled monstrosity. I relax a little and enjoy the ride. At times it's so strong it feels like I'm on a carnival roller coaster.


Like all good things, it doesn't last forever, and will change back and forth for the remainder of today's ride.

Every time it works against me I curse, scowl, and fantasize about hurling 50% of my crap into the violent waves. I've cycled with a lot of crap before, but never this much crap. And let me tell you, it sucks.

I'll figure out the crap situation later, once I'm at camp and at peace.

A few passers-by in cars give me a concerned look. I give them a look back that's the best I can do at reassuring them. It says: don't worry, I know exactly what I'm doing.

The things is, I have no idea what I'm doing.

Beautiful People

After what seems like an eternity I allow myself a stop. But not just any stop. Only here.

I see it from the road, a scene out of a fairy tale. Red umbrellas and a building bathed in tropical plants. They have coffee and I need it.

It's a family business and I strike up a conversation with the proprietor's daughter. I know I'm notorious for complaining about lack of humanity and depth in many of my interactions out in the world, but I cannot say the same after meeting them.

I learn of love, of loss, of respect for the plants and animals that nurture us. Of the family's commitment to their diners and the farmers who serve them. My hardship today somehow seems silly when I hear their stories.

After one little hour I'm renewed, both in body and mind, and ready to venture on.

Peace At Last

I finally make it off the coast and onto a back road that will lead me to Tomoka's gates. The sun is getting low in the sky and the marshes, live oaks, and wildlife are striking. So pretty they could break your heart and they would've broken mine if I weren't so pissed off, exhausted, hungry, and eager to just collapse.

I take a few ceremonial photos, but ponder not a single pretty thought while marveling at nature's magnificence. I pedal on.

Don't worry. You'll have plenty of time to do all these things when the weather improves. Today is an outlier. Tomorrow will be better. Just get some sleep.

I make it to the entrance during the last seconds of daylight. I don't even have the strength to set up the tent I fought so hard to bring along.

I throw some straps around a couple of pine trees, string up my hammock, and heave my aching, wind-burned, grumpy ass into the nylon cocoon.

The nature at this lovely park doesn't matter to me right now. Neither does meeting my neighbors.

Only sleep does.

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January 23, 2017 – Anastasia State Park – Saint Augustine Beach, Florida

I've never accused anyone of embarrassing me. I'm quite capable of doing it all by my myself, thank you. – Thoughts

I'm nearly packed up, the Beasts of Satan are hibernating, and it's time to ride my green, scaredy-pants ass outta here. I have a reservation at Gamble Rogers State Park tonight, so completing a few short miles today shouldn't be an issue at all.

Today I get to ride along our magnificent A1A Coastal Highway, which I plan on taking all the way to the Florida Keys. White sand, sea oats, muted blues, fair winds, beach bums, retirees, majestic bridges, marshland, free birds...thoughts.

Everything's loaded on the bike and (this is my today self speaking) I look positively ridiculous.

It's a clusterfuck of crimes against physics, mixed with zombie apocalypse, with a spritz of what is this chick doing? Huh...whatever...probably homeless.

Since I refused to buy any fancy cycling gear and vowed to only use what I had on hand, my rig presented thusly:

A cheap, shitty bike. They call them “comfort cruisers”. It's sort of a mountain bike meets beach cruiser. Wide, flat tires. Shocks. 20(?)-something speeds. Rust herpily clinging to every surface not covered in “chrome” finish. At least I sprang for the gel seat.

Atop shitty bike is a, meh, I guess not so shitty rear basket. I use it when I go to the grocery store. It's served me very well thus far; hasn't broken a single pastured egg or rustled a single gallon of raw, happy-cow, monk-blessed milk.

But hilarity always ensues when I'm around, so here we go:

A backpack. As I mentioned before I have no panniers. Fuck that pansy shit. I put all my crap (way, way, way, way way too much crap) in a “backpacker” backpack. You know the ones the kids these days use when they travel around Europe for the sole purpose of getting good Instagram photos? Snug around the hips, carbon fiber chassis, top heavy...cause that's where the weight belongs if you're using one of these packs properly...on a body. A body is not a bike. On a bike, the weight belongs as low to the ground as possible. But not for this rebel! I threw that shit right into the basket and threw an ailing bungee cord over it to “secure the load”. Bwahahahaha!

If you could only see see this setup. The backpack rises like a friggin' three-foot, bulbous tumor out of the innocent little basket. The bike is so heavy it can't even rest on its own kickstand. I have to lean it up against a picnic bench to shoehorn all my crap into it's rotten, tired body.

And, of course, my “tent”. If you're not yet entertained enough about my choice of tent, oh my friend, just sit back and get comfy.

Yes, it folds down nice and flat into a roughly 2-foot diameter disc. It's a pop-up tent after all. But believe me when I tell you that Yours Truly is probably the only soul in the entire universe of God's creation who has ever opted for one of these on a long-distance cycling trip. Ever.

Why? Oh, where do I freakin' begin? Let's just say they're not as small and lightweight as possible – valuable features when you're planning on riding your bike five-hundred-and-fifty freakin' miles – and, as I'd soon discover, they are the arch nemesis of aerodynamicity. In other words, when you are peddling dozens of miles per day, and I'm not a scientist here, it helps bigly not to have a large parachute strapped to the back of your bike.

This is something only a psycho or masochist would do, kids.

There's is no room for my “parachute” on the bike 'cause, of course there's not. So what do I do? I shove the tent down in between the back of my seat and the basket, the disc's face perfectly perpendicular to the 60-mile-per-hour gusts we're experiencing today because of the cold front brought in by the storms last night.

But me? I'm just as derpy as I can be. I look at my rig and experience what it must feel like for a proud parent to look at their loser kid and have absolutely no idea. I smile and point: See everyone? I made that!

Lord Almighty.

And then there's Yours Truly. It's only Day 2 and I look like haggard shit run over by Mad Max. Tactical. Bitch-faced. Black wool from head to toe. Vibram Five Fingers. Determination in my eyes. The struggle is real.

Two park rangers are cleaning up the campsites as I heave my ridiculous ass onto my ridiculous bike.

They laugh at me.

Them: Wow, that's some load you're carrying there. You might wanna put some of that weight down a little lower on your back wheels. It's kinda dangerous the way you're riding.

Um, first of all, shut...up...cute Ranger People. How dare you? This is my system. I'm sorry if you have a problem with it. What? You never seen anyone be different before?

Me: Oh...haha. Yeah, I know. I'm planning on getting everything figured out once I get to Daytona. Thanks! Have a great day!

I pedal the Clampett-mobile's Slow Cousin out of the park and into the beautiful, beachy world.

Haters gonna hate, amirite? Screw em...I'm gonna have a great day!

So what if there's nearly tropical storm force winds out there and I have a parachute strapped to my back? So what if my bike weighs 483 pounds, with all the weight concentrated up top, which to a normal person would signal a dangerous riding situation in which I could lose control very easily and die? So what if I have to employ my recently-out-of-shape ass to hike all this shit up a few bridges in the current conditions?

So what, right?

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January 22, 2017 – Anastasia State Park – Saint Augustine Beach, Florida

I didn't get my head bashed in by a falling branch, so I got that going for me.

The wind is calm enough now for me to crawl back into my sad little tent and when I get back to it, I'm quite pleasantly surprised. No, wait. I feel victorious! Not a scratch. Not a single bungee, rope, stake, or doohickey out of place.

Maybe I know what I'm doing after all!

It's hard to fall asleep. Even though I'm at a busy campground and there's people all around me (all in RV's, mind you, I'm the only asshole in a tent) I'm on high alert.

I'm sure if I had my camping buddy right now I wouldn't notice every crack, creak, pop, and bang. But I don't, so tonight I notice everything, even over the whooshing remnants of the storm.

At around 2am I finally relax a little and doze off.

Now, I don't know how many of you know what it's like to be awakened by a beast sniffing around your face in the middle of the night, so in case there's any doubt: it's terrifying.

My eyes pop open. My heart goes from 0 to 200 in a half-second flat. (That's quite a new experience for me, I must say. Normally in a scary situation my heart rate increases incrementally before it reaches top speed.)

The sound is a combination of snorting and deep, cavernous breaths. I can hear the hot air traveling in and out of the creature's lungs in between short, skipping sniffs.

This indicates I'm dealing with a large creature. I feel panic coming on.

But, it's sniffing? Oh! It must be a dog. You love dogs...keep your shit together and calm down.

I do calm down.

But only until the creature – by this time I realized we were dealing with creature(s), plural – comes back. While I'm still “safely” inside my tent, it's six inches from my face!

(See, this is why you should buy a big girl tent for grown-ups. Not a tent that isn't even really a “tent”, but a toy, in which your head and feet will press up against the walls.)

This time I panic, even after all the self-talk.

You know the ol' fight or flight thingamaboop they teach us in biology? We all know it's true, but what a lot of us don't realize is that we don't control which we will choose. Our higher selves toss up the deuces, run out the back door, and the lizard brain springs into action immediately, like Superman jumping out onto a stage with magestically flowing capes. I'll save you!!!

The lizard chose to fight.

I spring up and start beating on the side of the tent like a lunatic. The creature(s) retreat. I can hear leaves rustle and twigs break as they scurry into the woods.

I start to chuckle – just a little 'cause I'm still drunk on adrenaline – but then I realize the animals I heard running into the woods did not possess the heft of dogs. Wheels start turning. A-ha!

Those were the freakin' raccoons the ranger warned me about! Silly girl.

All this mayhem over some schweet wittle innocent trash-pickers with their wittle furry faces and their cute little wannabe opposable thumbs. Sorry, I think they're cute.

Now I've never been face to face – or, face to mouth – with a raccoon before but those mofos certainly don't sound cute and wittle. Maybe I was just perceiving this 'cause I was scared, but Jesus, when they're that close they sound like beasts of Satan, freshly-escaped from Hell.

Whatever, they're gone. I work up the courage to peek outside. Ziiiiiiiip. Got my flashlight trained on the woods and the whole squad is staring back at me.

You little shits. You're lucky you're so cute.

Sleepy time.

Satan was bored tonight

A couple hours later Satan's Beasts pay me another visit. Once again I wake up to snorting in my ear, once again I bang, once again I'm jolted awake only to nearly faint.

But this time there's scratching. The Beasts want in.

They are emboldened. I look down at my feet and spot my double-bagged trail mix and leftovers.

What do I do? Are they going to break in?! Should I chuck the bags out into the woods as a peace offering? If they do get in, will they go after me? What if they're rabid? What if they rip my face off?! They ARE carnivores, after all!

It's truly hilarious when a supposedly tough, no-fucks-given Miami girl has this kind of inner dialog when dealing with a bunch of adorable counterfeit cats.

I need to protect my pride. I get my game face on.

Oh, heyal naw! Homie don't play dat. You wanna fuck with me, cats? Let's do this!

I decide on a battle plan then and there.

I will lie in wait, silent. The second one of those little fuckers breaches the ripstop nylon they'll be greeted with a face full of pepper spray. I can't take the chance of being trapped in here with a rabid, Satanic, face-eater.

I don't want to attack something so cute, seriously. But if it's between them and me, they're going down!

But, wait, wait, wait a second. Stop. Think about this. Do you really want to start flingin' pepper spray around in this tiny-ass tent? With hardly any ventilation? And even less room? And you had to pull some contortionist moves to get out last time? Wouldn't you just literally be pepper spraying yourself? And then have to struggle, blinded, gagging, and panicked through the tiny door? And that's the best-case scenario. That's if the zipper doesn't jam because you're rushing. Is this really smart?

I'm stuck. The Hounds of Hell on one side and self-immolation on the other.

I just survived a tornado, you little shits! I don't need this!

I'm not throwing the food outside. That's irresponsible camper behavior and I care about the environment, dammit! I'll have to just be brave. Be strong. Take one for the planetary team.

It was a long night.

The beatings on the walls of my shitty tent got more aggressive, and after a couple more visits the Beasts left me alone.

With barely any sleep, a nasty cold front waiting for me outside, and a lot to pack up and figure out, I woke up with the sun to begin Day 2 of my grand “adventure”.

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January 22, 2017 – Anastasia State Park – Saint Augustine Beach, Florida

Today was so fabulous, so normal, so everything I imagined this trip would be. No snags at all, save the unfortunate “chain” of events on the bridge. (Now, that was a great freakin' pun, admit it.)

I ride my bike over the Bridge of Lions and enter Anastasia State Park, where I'll spend my first night. Why the hell am I nervous? I've traveled alone in some pretty sketchy places. It's just camping. You've camped a million damn times! You've slept out on the beach, in a hammock in the swamp, in your car at a rest stop.

Didn't make any sense. I wasn't terrified, but I was definitely scared. Turns out, I wasn't crazy for being so.

I check in with the park ranger.

Ranger: All right, here's your map so can find all the trails, restrooms, and other goodies. Just to let you know, there are raccoons all over the place in our park and they're not afraid of people. We tell people not to feed 'em, but they do it anyway. You should keep all food items inside in closed containers so you don't attract them. should be all set.

Me: Thanks!

Ranger: Oh, one more thing. I don't know if you're aware but we're supposed to get some pretty nasty weather tonight. Since you're in a tent, I would advise going to the restrooms if things get too ugly. It's a concrete structure.

Nasty weather, huh? Nothing this Florida girl ain't seen before.

Not a good start

I'm so freakin' awkward. Really?! I choose NOW to learn to set up a rain fly?! I choose NOW to try and remember all the knots I was supposed to learn when we lived on a damn sailboat?!

I can't just sleep in my hammock tonight. I look at the weather and it is, indeed, going to get pretty ugly.

I'm so nervous I end up over-engineering the shit out of my rain fly. Sixty-seven knots, anchor points, and fasteners. The tent is quadruple-staked to the ground. I would love to say it's a fortress, but I have no damn idea what I'm doing.

I put all my crap inside and settle down to read, even though dusk hasn't yet fallen.

Professional camper, indeed!

After a couple of hours I get really hungry and all I have is trail mix and a few other random things. I had no intention of going back out tonight, but the overwhelming sweetness of all this “food” is unbearable. I need something real for dinner.

All I can find is fast food and it's dark. There's a bunch of shady characters standing outside and sitting inside. Once again I'm atypically scared. I pat my backpack to make sure my firearm is still in the proper “get it out quick” position. Yep. On the way home, the wind picks up.

I can't eat too much. I pack everything up, just like the Ranger said to do. I even double-bag to be super-duper responsible.

Finally some rest. I put my phone on silent and read a book. The rain begins. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a heavy thunderstorm with wind gusts. I poke my head outside to make sure all my knots, stakes, bells, and whistles are holding strong.

I'm jolted out of my book by a piercing siren. I thought my phone was on silent, but it ain't no more. The alert on my screen looks different:

Tornado Warning in Your Area. Take Cover.

Are you fucking kidding me?!!! (And, yes, I say this audibly.)

Pull up some weather app. I plot my shitty-ass, sorry-ass, cheap little tent, with my noob-no-survival-skills ass inside on the Severe Weather map and it looks like this tornado will make touchdown – LIKE BULLSEYE-LEVEL-PRECISION touchdown – on me in just a few short minutes.

Moth-er...fuck-er. I don't need this right now.

I take my phone and peel my ass out of the tent, doing a limbo-contortionist thing cause the rain fly is too tight and too low. I make my way to the restroom building, just as the nice Ranger suggested.

I look back. My shitty little tent is jerking, pulling, and leaning. Looks like a rodeo bull right before they open the pen and dig the spurs in.

I freak out, run back, and peel my ass back in to get my expensive stuff. Yeah, 'cause I just left my laptop (really?! A laptop on a self-discovery trip ya dumb shit?) and professional-grade camera inside. What a dumbass.

Where is everyone?

I sit in the restroom building for over an hour. I'm the only one here.

Did they tell everyone where they're supposed to go? I wonder if they know a tornado is about to kill us all.

But since I'm not motherfuckin' Chicken Little, I stay put and just stare off into the blackness beyond the door.

It's ugly in here. I feel so damn alone. Fluorescent lights assault once freshly-painted cinderblock walls. The washer and dryer, equally zombie-apocalyptic-looking from years of being workhorses for traveler skidmarks.

They've seen some shit. Should prolly just take 'em out back and shoot 'em.

I'm Indian-style on a sad little bench, my head flops onto my hands. I stare at the dirty floor. I can barely hear the howling of the wind outside over the sickening buzz of fluorescent bulbs.

Check the track. We're still probably going to get hit.

I miss him.

You've been my travel buddy for two years you fucking deserter! Why aren't you here right now?!

I shouldn't be mad at him. Why would any sane person choose this over hanging out with friends, watching a football game, and drinking beer in the comfort of a riverfront condo?

Jesus, what the hell is wrong with me?

To waste time I go pee. Walk very slowly back to the sad bench and plop down. The trees are getting quite the shakedown outside. Another 30 minutes.

Fuck this. I'm getting the hell out of here.

I'd rather get blown to Oz right now than listen to another second of these psychosis-inducing fluorescent bulbs.

Outside the world is dangerous, but magical. I stay close to the restrooms, but cautiously venture out to stand beneath the canopy. It's surreal. The branches whip violently, but look absolutely stunning, almost like they're dancing. I think back to the passionate Tango dancers I used to watch in Buenos Aires. The dancers almost appeared to be fighting as the dude whipped and jerked the chick around, their legs interlocking and then gorgeously disentangling before the next round of pasión(!!).

The energy of the wind is intoxicating. I can feel my body picking up little particles of it through the skin. And my hair? I'm most certainly waking up with dreads tomorrow.

But who cares?

The branches creak loudly and repetitively, but not a single one breaks. The sound of the wind screaming would make a fine horror sound sample.

I'm afraid of being knocked out by a falling branch, but don't go back inside because this, right here, has been my metaphor for life ever since I had my epiphany on that beach fifteen years ago:

I might die out here. But that's alright. I'd rather be witness to such beauty, vigor, excitement, and perhaps pain and death than spend another second inside with that fucking washer and dryer.

To be continued...

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Prep is over, time to work. My goal was to ride the entire length of the state of Florida, which means I should have started somewhere just south of Saint Mary's, Georgia. Jacksonville is the best I can do for now. Perhaps I'll ride the remainder when I get back to make up for it.

Since it's late January the weather is divine. Not a cloud in the sky. Temperature makes me want to hug a kitten. Glorious.

Today will take me through downtown and east to the ocean. The stretch of A1A between the two cities is a favorite: gorgeous houses, tall ocean grasses, velvety marshes, and roads that go on forever.

Song in my head: New Day by Celine Dion.

Since it's my first night out, I have no survival skills (yet), and I've never camped alone before, I decide to spend it at Anastasia State park. Love this spot.

The ride is exactly as I'd envisioned. Breathtaking, serene. I manage to have lovely thoughts and look at nature. And, of course I believe that this is how every day traveling by bike will be. I chuckle now at this.

I cross the last bridge into the nation's oldest city, downshifting on my way up the steep stretch of concrete. A loud grinding noise, but nothing I've not heard before. The wheels lock up.

Chain came loose, fell off, and got lodged between the spokes and a plastic guard. No problem, proclaim I, I'm prepared!

I worry not, for I have all the bells and all the whistles. All the tools, and the lubes, and the things to tinker and prod.

I quickly realize this is no ordinary chain situation. I can't seem to dislodge it from its position and it's holding on for dear life. Well, darn. I flip the bike over and begin the surgery. The surgery does not go as planned.

Thirty minutes. Forty five. That chain decided it wasn't coming out. Not for me, not for nobody. Frustration commences. Kid-gloves come off.

After an hour it's settled. I'll cut the *&#$%@ thing off, and take it to the nearest bike shop. Not a good start to my fantastic adventure, but hey, this stuff happens.

Little did I know, one cannot simply cut a bike chain off with a multi-tool. (Insert your favorite meme here.) They're made extremely strong for a reason. They will not be cut. They will not be broken. They will not snap when you hit them repeatedly with blunt objects while pulling, jerking, sweating, and f-bombing.

They will not dislodge for strangers, either. That nice man had to give up after 20 minutes with yours truly on the bridge.

Plan B. Attack the chain guard. Turns out these are not easy to cut either, especially with a tiny pair of scissors. I throw every cutting implement in my arsenal at the sonofabitch. Many f-bombs later, I rip its mangled corpse out of the frame.

The wheels move, but I've destroyed the chain. And probably a lot of other things. Off to the bike shop with me. It's 45 minutes away and I'm hoofin' it.

I realize quickly walking is stupid. I have a thing with wheels! So I hop up on the seat and sort of “row” the bike through the ancient streets. Big foot push, roll. Other foot, roll. I look like a lunatic.

If there's one piece of advice I could give my past self in that moment it would be this: get used to looking like a lunatic.

The nice hipsters at the bike shop fix me up and it's back to the races. I have no time to do anything because I've spent half the day battling the fearsome Chain Lord. It's time to meet a friend for dinner and get my ass to camp.

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I'm a person who desperately wants my life to be interesting, even if that means my life will be stressful. – Journal entry dated January 4, 2017

Of course, I wrote this because I might have been trying to talk myself out of becoming a “homeless” traveler.

I assure you, my crazy ideas are not without serious thought.

I'll spend this week living without electricity (other than that which I need for work). When the sun goes down, the lights stay off. I'm hoping it will improve my sleep, as I keep reading about all the bad stuff “blue light” can do to natural sleep rhythms. We'll see.

First thing's first: outfitting the bike with storage, proper lights, and trying to learn as much as I can about repairing stuff myself. It was a cute thought...I knew I probably wouldn't learn how to fix jack.

Nevertheless, I track down everything I have and might possibly need: tools, a spare tire, and good, lightweight rain gear, as it's still very cold in Northern Florida (according to me, anyway, others may disagree).

I order a “pop-up” tent. A kids play tent. It's a black camo color and has plenty of space for me and my crap.

Since I have no patience for setting up tents, I figure the obnoxious size of this thing – a two-foot diameter disc when folded up – will be worth the time and frustration it will save me. All I have to do is take it out of the cover, unsnap the retaining strap, and toss it out onto the ground. Whoooppp! It springs violently out and up, into a fully formed shelter. Breaking it down takes less than 10 seconds, too. I'll figure out where to put it on the bike later.

I get every article of clothing I can think of in pure wool. I know wool provides the best warmth for the weight, but even better, it stays warm when wet. Wool underlayers. Wool socks. Wool balaclava. I got a huge laugh for that one from a Northerner. Whatever. What is my face gets cold? Guess I'll learn shortly.

I'm not too worried about power or batteries. I'll just have to keep my phone sufficiently charged to make emergency calls, should I need to. GPS will be unnecessary – just get on the bike and ride south. When I can't go any further south, it means I'm there. Simple enough.

Two large water bladders. Camera (maybe I could get some cool shots?). Camping lights. I dunno...what else?

I'll find out when I get on the road, I guess.

I'm not worried about food at all since the east coast of Florida is one big, concrete strip mall. To carry food at all would be a giant waste of space.

There's no way I'm buying anything special, like panniers. I'll throw everything in my large “backpacking” backpack, and that will go in the basket behind the seat, strapped down with an old, barely functional bungee net. I decide not to put a penny into bike equipment until I'm halfway to Key West. That way, if I realize this is a bad decision, I'm not any poorer for it.

What am I looking forward to the most? A month of being alone with my thoughts.

I think of all my past road trips. Just me and the road. Behind the wheel on a long highway. I zone out and think about stuff for hours. Creative ideas come fast and furious. Sometimes I think of all the people I've hurt. I apologize in my mind and hope somehow the apologies travel through space and make it to their recipients. It's a cleansing, relaxing experience. Almost like a mental reboot.

This will be just like that, right?

Knowing what I know now, this naïveté is endearing. This trip would be a reboot, alright. But not in the way I imagined.

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Early January, 2017 – Somewhere in Florida

Fear drives a lot of our actions. And like anything in this world, it can be good and bad at the same time.

The fear we feel when the kids go out to play is good fear. Our fear serves to protect them from things they're not yet aware are dangerous. It keeps them alive.

Some fear, however, is bad. Well, maybe not “bad”...let's just say misunderstood. It causes some of us to lose sleep at night. I suffer from this kind of fear daily.

During my 20's I worked my little lady nuts off and socked away money like it was going out of style. It was the era of Enron and Bernie Madoff, so I didn't dare invest it in the markets. No, instead I let it rot away in savings accounts and real estate. I was married at the time and we both worked hard on our own businesses, lived simply, bought everything with cash and managed to each save quite impressive little nest eggs for ourselves.

Yeah, there were a couple of years where I succumbed to the I earned this! mentality, so I bought some fancy things, lived in a fancy house, and basked in all the dumb shit people do to feel successful. It really wasn't that great.

I quickly grew bored, and maintaining all that shit was a real pain. Not to mention, really expensive. I didn't work so hard to support all that crap. It was like having a brood of full-grown adult kids living with me at home and draining my bank account and will to live.

So slowly and steadily we sold off all the nonsense and rejoined the simple life. The savings now had to go somewhere.

I was so exhausted from “investing” for myself, and furthermore, horrified at the amount of money I'd lost. I'm a terrible investor. Terrible! It would make your head spin if I told you how much money I incinerated because I thought I was smart. Nope, I needed an adult to step in and save me from myself.

Time to join the markets.

Get Your Geek On

Being a childless wanderer means I have a lot more free time than most. A lot of time to read and a lot of time to think. I spend most of this time reading books on sociology, economics, history, and all sorts of topics in between.

I'm fascinated by economics and economic theory. It's like being able to look under society's hood and understand what all those weird little wires, valves, and belts are doing, and how they work together to make the engine run.

Once I got the basics of economics down, I ventured into economic history and all of the crazy stuff that our forefathers went through. The booms and busts, the bubbles, the famines, the regulation, the groundwork for our current financial laws. Good stuff.

There has been and are some really awful people responsible for a lot of money. The life savings of teachers, firefighters, and broken blue collar workers which made its way into their accounts drip by drip over many, many years. Since none of us know much what to do with these savings, we have to sit back and pray that those we entrust to invest it for us are not complete psychopaths.

The good news is, 99% of them are not. They are honest, skilled, educated folks who've studied money and how to grow it and know how to keep their hands out of the cookie jar.

But what if that one little steaming turd gets his hands on your retirement account? Oh man.

It took me a long time to develop trust in fiduciaries and markets. And, honestly, I had no choice...I would have driven myself into the poorhouse. I had to grit my teeth and send my precious little dollars out into the world, hoping they'd return to me someday...and bring friends.

Ever since I did this I've spent a lot of time worrying that my retirement fund would be stolen or disappear in some kind of horrific market event. I would be so, so incredibly screwed.

But what am I supposed to do? There's nothing I can do. I have to sit on this plane and let the pilots do their thing. Worrying all the time won't make a crash less likely, so I try my best not to.

What I fear, and what I'm sure a lot of others fear is not necessarily the loss of money. It's the result of that loss. What we fear is poverty.

I love sharing stories that changed my life here. And this is one of my best. Hope it helps somebody else out there deal with fear...even in a small way.

Getting to the Bottom of Fear

I'm sure we all can recall a handful of moments in our lives that changed the course of our thinking. One of these moments for me was about eight months ago when I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast.

Tim doesn't really have a “schtick”. His topics range from working out, to entrepreneurship, to relationships, to philosophy. He's just a really interesting dude. He's what I call a “macro-thinker”. He's brilliant at looking at a ton of different life themes and being able to weave them all together. I imagine macro thinkers are like winged souls who are able to rise above the world, look down, and see the human condition as a whole.

On this particular day, I believe he was doing some sort of random question show in which listeners ask whatever they want. I had headphones on and was probably cleaning or something, vaguely listening to his voice in the background.

As I recall, this question had something to do with a listener wanting to start a business and being afraid. Afraid that it would blow up and he'd end up in the poorhouse.

Tim's response was so wise and profound, I had to stop, sit down, stare out the window and process it for quite a while.

I'm absolutely paraphrasing here, not quoting him, but it went something like this:

“Ok, so you're afraid. That's cool. Let's think about this for a minute. What are you actually afraid of? Let's assume the absolute worst-case scenario. This business doesn't work, you lose everything. Ok. What does that look like? Again, imagine the most terrible outcome.

Are you homeless? Are you starving? Do you have zero options? Will nobody you know take you in? Will you be unable to procure food and shelter under any circumstance? Will you die in the streets?

My guess is none of these things will happen. Even if you lose every last penny to your name.”

What I gathered from his answer was that we tend to imagine things will be a whole lot worse (or better) than they actually will be. Our brain really doesn't know the difference between “bodily harm” fear and “fear of poverty” fear. It's all the same: nauseatingly uncomfortable.

But what Tim said next was the real gem (again, paraphrasing from memory):

“If you've imagined the worst case scenario and you are still afraid, think about this: try living your fears. If you are afraid of the electricity getting shut off, shut it off yourself. What do you do?”

I followed along with this thought experiment. Perhaps I'd do all the things that required light during the day, when abundant light streams in for free. I could read at night by candlelight, or with the headlight from my bike. I could cook on my camping stove, wash laundry by hand, and leave it to dry outside when the hot sun came back.

No matter which scenario I ran, I was never defeated, destitute or naked.

If I needed to work on my laptop I could go to the library and use their electricity and internet. My work would not have to stop.

Even if I cut myself and needed stitches, perhaps I could work out a trade with the local doctor. I have many valuable skills. I know I could produce something worthy of my medical bill.

I ran what-if? after what-if? and couldn't seem to get to death or nakedness no matter how hard I tried.

The exception was a life-threatening accident requiring hospitalization. That scenario meant death. So a few days later I purchased a cheap, high-deductable medical policy that would cover that and a separate policy that would cover devastating chronic conditions such as cancer, heart attack, or stroke. As long as I could make $74 a month to cover the premiums, and had $7500 in the bank to cover the decuctables, I wouldn't die. I was pretty certain I could find a way to make $74 a month in cash, so a crazy thing happened...I was feeling alright for the first time in years.

This experiment was indeed liberating. But, as a weirdo who's never satisfied, I had to go further.

My January was looking a little barren. (I have a business at the moment that's feast or famine. When the work rains, it pours. Otherwise, crickets. Maybe my clients all conspire to dump work on me at the same time?)

So I'm looking at my calendar and the crazy starts flying. Above all, my biggest fear about poverty is losing the ability to travel like I have for so long. So I'll take Tim's advice:

I will become voluntarily homeless. Additionally, I will travel with only the equipment I currently have to my name: my bicycle and my legs.

If I can do this, I don't have to be afraid anymore.

It's winter in Florida and Key West is calling.

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