Friday, February 28, 2014
Old abandoned phone booth, some kind of green donor box*, overflowing trash can, R2D2 air compressor, inexplicable concrete cube, $5.47 smokes and huge three-month-old hard-as-rock snow piles can only mean one thing.
Back in Jerkwater, baby! Broke, sunburned, and looking forward to ten more inches of snow predicted for Sunday.
*That green clothing donation box in Jerkwater is like putting a tip jar in a homeless shelter.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
By mid-Monday morning all the locals had left, leaving me with the place to myself and a few park rangers who wave to me like I’m an inhabitant of the neighborhood.
The area I now inhabit is not the flat, sandy tropical place one might expect of Florida. The terrain is hilly with a mix of tall pines and hardwoods, more like The Smoky Mountains. The park’s only redeeming features are its hiking trails and an old plantation house the CCC dismantled and moved across the Apalachicola River back in the thirties, (as one who’s worked in the construction trade a long time, I find that incredible). With only one radio station, no TV reception and little else to do, I started hiking small sections of the trails at a time walking through the flat bottom land with its palmettos, swamps and standing water, then climbing the steep switchbacks, crawling uphill using tree roots for steps.
Sputnik, with terrier blood coursing through her veins, is a bundle of pent-up energy. She not only requires, but demands she get vigorous exercise every day. I could walk thirty miles with her and it would do her no good, she needs more than that or she drives me nuts. At my last stop I started to let her run beside my bicycle on lead. No matter how fast I rode, she always wanted to go faster, tongue lolling to the side, straining against her collar like a sled dog. I would finally quit pedaling and let her tow me along. She pulls way harder than should be physically possible for her twenty-four pounds. Fearing her neck would become bruised I bought her a harness to fulfill her insatiable need for strenuous activity. Since there are few places to ride the bike at this park, I decided to hook her to my belt with a d-ring and adopt her talent as a beast of burden to the hiking trails.
Yesterday, we walked about seven miles including the western loop of the Torreya trail, up and down steep hills, through longleaf pines and thick wooded jungle, (this place must be hell in the summer with heat and mosquitoes). I ran out of my two quarts of water and the hills kicked my old, flatlander ass. Today my legs and back are sore despite the fact that Sputnik towed me up the steepest hills, fulfilling her role, much like the Sherpa guide who short-ropes rich women up Everest. All in the name of vanity, so they can go home and tell all their rich friends they’ve summited.
Today I pack up once again, and move westward.
Monday, February 17, 2014
This place ain’t so bad when the sun comes out. Still a little chilly with highs in the sixties, but who am I to complain when the Midwest still suffers through single digits? Had the whole place virtually to myself during the week, some days I didn’t even see a park ranger. I spoke not a word for nearly three days as I find myself withdrawing deeper into my self-imposed exile. When I finally did meet a guy and his wife, come down from Virginia trailing his Russian sidecar rig to escape the cold, my voice cracked from lack of use when I tried to speak to them.
On the weekends however, my sleepy little hideaway transforms itself, filling up with locals. Raucous kids, hillbillies, ill-mannered dogs, hillbillies, loud shitty music screeching out of tinny speakers and hillbillies. I retreated deeper into my little sanctuary and endured. I’ve plenty of time to read and just finished, once again, Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant Border Trilogy. Incredible.
The park is known for its fifteen miles of trails. I’ve hiked a little using a broom handle as an improvised walking stick, may explore them further this week. Today I plan the one-hundred mile round trip to the nearest Wal-Mart. I need supplies, namely a proper hiking stick, beer and some toenail clippers.
The excitement never ends.
Friday, February 14, 2014
It was with some sadness I left the riverbank along the coast, but the hounds of discontent were nipping at my heels telling me it's time to move on. So move on I did, in a complete deluge, the little camper hydroplaning its way behind me like a drunken water-skier. Arrived at my desolate campsite near the Georgia / Alabama border. Thirty- eight degrees and in a steady rain, I set up my rig on a pathetic, soggy campsite, crawled inside, soaked and dispirited. Turned the heater up to 11 and shook off the shivers. Times like these I figure this beats the hell out of two wheels and a tent.
My smartphone screen has developed a noticeable wiggle and my toenails have become as the talons of a winged creature from Greek mythology. Sputnik affects a Pavlovian response when she senses the proximity to a state park entrance, sitting up tall in the saddle, ears erect and expectant.
I'm in the absolute center of nowhere. Fifty miles to the nearest Wal-Mart, I'm out of supplies and Central Standard Time is kicking my ass.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Woke this morning to the patter of rain drizzling on the camper top, first grey light of dawn oozing through shaded windowglass. I lay there, warm and fetal. Slowly the sky brightened, sounds of birdcalls and a full bladder prompting me to emerge from my cotton and polyester womb.
I was fortunate enough to duck some ice and snow, leaving the panhandle for a quick sojourn into Southwest Florida, with its sunshine and near-perpetual warmth. That warmth comes with a price, however. Orlando and southward, with Mickey Mouse’s vicious rodent teeth smiling from the balconies of empty condos, and campgrounds filled to capacity with pale-skinned snowbirds, lined up like tin-canned pickled herrings in their $250,000 mega-campers. Come south for the sun, yet living in the white trash squalor in what could pass for a Tennessee trailer park. I lived among them only long enough to move on and visit the Sea Captain and his longsuffering wife who spends her afternoons on the Widow’s Walk waiting for the ancient mariner’s return from the sea.
I’m now back in the Panhandle, laid back and less crowded. Don’t need 80 degree days and I’ll take the 40 degree nights. Feels like home.
The more time I spend “away” the more the lines used to define the concept of “home” become blurred. Is it that place back in Jerkwater with its possessions and complications, property taxes and phone calls? Or is it the space I’m currently occupying? Right now, the sandy soil of the Ochlockonee River feels like “home.”
Modern Man, with our appetite for material things and compulsion to run the pointless hamster wheel of “success” become trapped behind walls of our own construction. Deadlines, bills and commitments are subtle, but cruel masters. Don’t know what it will take to finally shake the deadening life of tedium I’ve chosen for myself back “home,” but I could get used to a life of wandering aimlessly. Like Merle Haggard says, I could “die along the highway and rot away, like some old high wire pole.” Meanwhile I could spend my days feeling the liquidity of Time ebbing and flowing pleasantly behind me as I scatter my coffee grounds into the palmettoes.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Monday, February 3, 2014
Parking in the driveway of long time friends Chuck and Donna. Chuck is a salty, badass old sea captain, who has made his living, usually on the sea, captaining commercial fishing boats in the Great Northwest and as a Reserve Police SCUBA diver, recovering bodies. Donna is his child bride, whom I figure, he must have won in a card game in some distant port. Chuck's first bike was a '41 Knuck with a bad carb, bought for fifty bucks. He still rides an old Honda, even well into his eighties.
The weather has been a little warmer here in Southwest Florida, but raining pretty much non-stop. Just hanging out on the covered porch eating, drinking beer and lying to each other. We did go out to see Chuck's boat, which he's been working on, docked about five minutes from his place. I know nothing about boats but it's pretty cool. A 44 ft. motor yacht, built in the 1980's. The interior is all teak wood with brass and glass barometers and shit on the main living area and galley. The best part is down in the engine room, bilge pumps and motor oil, where are crammed two 300 gallon fuel tanks, hydraulic pumps and twin 325 HP turbo-diesels. When he fires those bad mother@#kers up, King Neptune trembles and mermaids quiver in delight.