I graduated with my M.S. in Engineering Geology in May of 2001 to little fanfare. As soon as my thesis defense was complete and they told me I would indeed get my degree I loaded my essentials into my 1983 Suburban and headed south. My lease was up, I had no job, no money, but ultimately, I was born to wander.
As much as I love home, and I do, there are days when I gaze at the horizon and dream of Baja. I think of the things I haven’t seen, tasted or experienced. I wonder what Appalachicola looks like this morning. My wife and I have a map of Baja and talk of the day when we can just get in that same old Suburban and wander off to experience the lonely roads. We discuss the sailboat that we will one day buy and the hut in which we will live in Costa Rica. Right on the beach. With a perfect sand bar break.
That summer in 2001 defined who I am today. I drove to St. George’s Island in Florida, straight through, without stopping, and stayed for nearly a month in a remote campsite. I had to paddle nearly 45 minutes to the so-called bath house. I watched sharks, swam in the bay and worked construction when I needed a little cash. Those were the good days, when the economy was booming and fuel was about a dollar a gallon. Remember those days?
I spent a week in the Everglades, canoeing between elevated camping platforms and was eaten alive by mosquitoes. The alligators were omnipresent and very active in my imagination and I fled with a sigh of relief. Sanibel Island was next, where I pitched my tent in the only trailor park on that overpriced piece of real estate and collected sea shells with the bleach blond (ed?), badly sun-burned retirees. Everyone fished. I was invaded by fire ants who were apparently really angry that I had put my tent on their house. To all of you ants: I apologize. You made me pay.
I then wandered further, out to the Keys, where I experienced a new kind of madness. You meet some truly interesting people camping – there is no privacy when you are living in a tent. Especially in the Keys. Nowhere to hide. You are what you are and by this point I had realized that a lot of human trappings are just that, trappings. Who needs pants when you have surf shorts? Three tee shirts are plenty. Underwear is highly over-rated. Air conditioning is for the weak. $20 was a virtual fortune. I had dove into an alternate universe. I wasn’t homeless, exactly. I was on an adventure.
I called my Mom from a pay phone just outside of Miami to explain that I was working on a fishing boat and that I would be there to see (sea?) them at some point. She cried. I am the oldest of seven and all my Mom really ever wanted was for us to just live nearby and wander in and out of her house every day. She also taught me to read before I can remember, taught me to cook before I was in school and instilled in me a love of literature and a fascination for the unknown. She is who I am.
Tired of the drama, I wandered north, passing through Myrtle Beach (sucks) and headed north for the Outer Banks. That is my ultimate destination. The OBX are vulnerable, pressed as far east as nearly any other point in our country, with little to protect them from the mighty Atlantic. I found a cheap campsite and made it my home. My girlfriend had declared me crazy in Pensacola and flew home, which was fine by me. She was excess baggage. She was not capable of adventure.
I decided that I was in love with my wife on an adventure. I told her of my campground in the OBX not long after we first met. We decided to go – just like that. The problem was, there was a hurricane. That particular fall, when Laura and I embarked on our first adventure, there were multiple hurricanes hammering the east coast. We went anyway. We camped in a single-wall tent for a week. In the rain. She surfed, every day. She didn’t wash her hair. We cooked in a scooped out pit in the sand. We slathered on sunscreen when it wasn’t raining. She befriended a stray dog and found a secluded surf spot. We had a complete blast.
Sometimes, life gets in the way of adventure. But, this year, we are going to find our adventures. We will live it to the max and enjoy every minute. We probably won’t make it to Baja, but I am charging the batteries on my old truck anyway and he is happy that I am finally paying him attention. It’s been too long.