Trek 2 (Cont'd)
Admittedly, I've been avoiding this post. I haven't been sure how to write it. I'm not even sure now. I've started it over several times, but it hasn't come out right. It felt like I was trying to cover it up, gloss it over, water it down. I'm not going to do that now. I was depressed. I was feeling down. I had too many doubts, and I no longer felt sure of myself. The truth is, I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. It's been a while since I started sweating while writing, so I guess this is the right way to go about it. I'm going to be completely honest.
Day 6 (Cont'd)
After wrapping up the previous post at the McDonald's, having sat there for far too long, I was ready to set off. I barely made it across the street before noticing the DragonWagon was dragging a little on one side, pulling slightly unevenly. I looked back to see a completely deflated tire on one side. Well, they did last longer than the smaller original ones did. I looked at it closer after pulling over and noticed the tread seemed fine, just the inner tube had deflated. I tried pumping up the tire, but it stayed deflated, wouldn't keep any air pressure. The inner tube must have been punctured. Okay, time to change the tire then, but I'd never changed a bicycle tire before. Nothing like a good old trial-by-fire. I had to somehow suspend the wagon in the air so the tire could spin freely, so I ended up using my foldable shovel. Lifting awkwardly with one hand, and with the other trying to balance the load on top of the shovel, I somehow managed to set the wagon up for repair. I used my the screw driver from my multitool to pry off one side of the tread from the rim, and then removed the tube from inside. I found it had a little hole on what looked like the seam where the two ends met. It didn't look like anything had perforated it, so it may have just been stress from the load that burst it open. I checked the inside of the tread to be sure there wasn't anything where the hole was, ready to damage the next tube. Seemed fine. I set in one of my two back up tubes, then struggled to get the tread back on. As I was attempting to lock in the last section of tread, which of course turned out to be the hardest part, a guy on a bicycle asked me if I was okay. I looked up to see him riding a sleek white bicycle. I told him I was fine, just working on replacing a flat, and asked if he knew where a local bike shop might be. He said he didn't know, but that he had some spare change if I needed it. I respectfully declined his offer, but thanked him for it. I finished reapplying the tread, inflated the wheel, then awkwardly lifted the wagon to remove the shovel from underneath. All was well again.
I reached Scott's house a few hours after fixing the flat. I got there while he and his wife were putting up their Christmas lights. They had a beautiful home, I'd been there once before. It used to be an old nurse's dormitory to an old hospital down the road, which they'd been refurbishing for some time. When I last visited they had most of their doors down, and were in the process of sanding and staining them. They had come a long way since then. All of their doors were up, the place was fully furnished, and it seemed they had only the kitchen left to do. Their home was pristine, the furniture flawless, and I was not. I carried on me a week's worth of the outdoors. I carried a stench of rain, sweat, and dirt. I was filthy, and couldn't have felt more out of place. They welcomed me warmly into their home, but I felt like an intruder. They couldn't have been better hosts, and I did my best to be a good guest, but I absolutely felt like I didn't belong. They invited me into the living room, on a gorgeous couch made of a material I could not recognize, much less name. I considered sitting on the floor instead of the really nice couch, but decided against it, thinking doing so might make them uncomfortable. I tried to sit on as little of the couch as possible. After a conversation of what I was doing, and what they'd been up to, I went to take a shower.
After what seemed like an eternity in the hot water, I grabbed my bag of clothes out of my rucksack, and found to my complete horror that all my clean clothes were soaked. They had been soaked from the rain a few days back, and even though I had hung them out to dry, they had somehow become completely wet again. Whether there was still dampness in the rucksack, or something else had been the cause, there they sat, drenched. I was absolutely embarrassed. I may have stood in that bathroom too long, willing my clothes to not be wet. I hung up some of the clothes around the bathroom, hoping they would dry by morning, and was forced to get back into the clothes I'd been wearing. Correction, I was not forced, I forced myself. I could have, at any moment, come to them to explain the situation and ask to use their washer and dryer. I should have done that. At one point they even offered it, but for some reason I had said, "No thanks, I'll be okay." This was a stupid response. The correct response would have been, "Thanks, that'd be great." Was it pride? Was it the pure embarrassment of the situation? It may have been that they had been so kind to offer me a place to stay, that I felt I was asking too much of them already. Maybe it was a combination of all of these. I have put myself in these situations throughout my life, and have yet to learn from them.
This began a spiraling series of doubts in regard to my little "adventure." This is when I really began thinking about what the hell I was doing with myself, and how I could have brought this upon my friends. The voice in my head was ringing loudly and constant, "You see? This is why you can't do this. You don't belong in a nice place like this, with wonderful people like them. They have worked so hard on this house and here you are bringing in the filth. If they'd known this is how you would've shown up, they probably would never have offered to let you in. You are disgusting, and you need to leave this place. Leave these great people alone. You should have checked your bag before getting close, you should have made sure your stuff was clean, you should not even have come here. You should have never left on this ridiculous journey. This is all for naught. How could you do this to them? They've been so kind and all you're doing is intruding on their home, dirtying up the place. You don't belong here." I walked out of the room they were letting me stay in for the night, in the same clothes I'd come in with. I did my best not to let them see how out of place I felt, but I have a feeling they sensed something was wrong.
We went out to dinner with a couple of their friends, but I had already eaten just before arriving to their house, so I didn't order anything. Instead, I ordered a water since I felt parched from my walk, but I think they took this as me not having enough money to pay for what I actually wanted. They took it upon themselves to order extra appetizers which they vehemently shared with me, and took to ordering pitchers of beer for the second half of the night, and pouring me a cup along with theirs. I was humbled, and did my best to be as thankful as I could. The voice in my head, however, didn't let up on the situation.
All in all, it was a great night. We had fun, we talked, we laughed, and there was even some karaoke involved. I did my best to shake the negative feelings, and just enjoy the night, enjoy my time with friends.
My body woke me up at 6 in the morning, as I'd been used to on the road. I listened for anyone else who might be up, but heard nothing. I thought I might as well sleep for another hour or so, and get up when I hear someone get up. I woke up again at 7:30, but still heard nothing. We'd been out pretty late the previous night, and maybe they weren't early risers on a weekend. I decided I should get up in another hour, maybe start drawing in the living room. The next time I woke up, though, it was well past 11, and I heard them both in the kitchen. Shit. I hadn't meant to sleep that long at all. I wondered how long they'd been up. I felt like an ass for sleeping in like that. I went out to find them both in the kitchen, drinking their coffee. They cooked a delicious breakfast that morning, after which I asked to see Scott's recording studio. He's in a couple of bands, and records for some other musicians as well. After admiring his facilities, I decided I needed to head out. I hadn't made it clear how long I'd be staying, so I think it took them by surprise that I was leaving after only one night. Maybe it was relief. They had been nothing but gracious and kind hosts, but I didn't feel like I was being the best guest. I decided it was better if I went. I couldn't shake the negative feelings I'd been feeling the night before. That afternoon, I packed my wet bag of clothes back into my rucksack, loaded up the DragonWagon, and set out.
As I walked down the road, the voice in my head echoed with every step, "Dirty. Gross. Unwelcome. Intrusion. Burden. Quit. Stop." I stopped at a Subway for a sandwich, and ate in sitting on the grass behind the building. I felt more at home sitting outside, sitting on the ground. It felt right. After finishing my dinner, I saw the sun was close to setting, so it was time to find a place to camp. I shouldn't have left their house so late in the afternoon, it had given me little time to find a decent place. I found some trees behind a bank, but it was too visible, and too close to the road. I kept going, and as I was coming to a construction zone with a dirt driveway, a car pulled over right in front of me. It was Scott. He rolled down his passenger window, and was holding out what looked like a long stick with something yellow attached to the end of it. It was my walking stick. I hadn't realized I'd forgotten it at their place He drove out to get it to me, and had attached a yellow bag of M&M's to the end. He said he'd driven quite a distance down looking for me, and had turned around when he decided there was no way I could've walked so far in so little time. He must have driven past when I was eating behind the Subway. I thanked him profusely, and apologized for being such an idiot. Like I said, they were really kind.
After Scott drove off, and I walked past the construction site, the next lot I came to was overgrown, seemingly abandoned, with an old "for sale" sign out front. It had tire tracks indented down the center of the tall grassy area, which led to a thick formation of trees. I decided to go in. Halfway down the path I found a less treaded upon track which cut to the left, so I turned into it. It lead me far from the road, to a section littered with old trash that seemed like it had been there for years, untouched. I set up my camp among the trees where the litter hadn't reached. I didn't go to sleep right away, though. My mind was racing that night. The doubts were building. The voice was loud. The depression was setting in.
"Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove? You are just a burden on people. You have nothing to gain from this. Stop being childish. Go back to what you were doing before, and stop all of this nonsense. He had to drive out to get you your stupid stick. He was kind enough to give you candy with it. Do you understand what an inconvenience it must have been for him when he couldn't even find you, and ended up driving who knows how far down the road? There you were eating your stupid sandwich while he was looking for you, because you couldn't remember to pack your stupid stick. You need to quit all of this, and stop inconveniencing people."
I did not sleep well that night.
I didn't want to get up. I didn't want to do anything. The doubts were heavy. As the sun rose over the trees, my tent start heating up, but still I didn't move. The only thing that made me finally get up was the desperate need for the bathroom. I decided to get dressed, and head out to the road to find Burger King or McDonalds. I didn't feel like breaking down the camp, didn't want to pull the wagon, and didn't feel like traveling, so I thought I'd stay another night. The location was well enough into the woods that no one would happen by my tent, so off I went, leaving the tent up with the tarp over it. I went out to the road, and found a Taco Bell nearby. I used their bathroom and their wifi. I thought the best thing to do right now was to wash my wet clothes, and make sure it was all dry before doing anything else. I looked up the nearest laundry place, and found one just a couple of blocks away. I went back to the encampment, and gathered up every piece of clothing I had. It was time to wash.
I got to the coin laundry, and picked out a washer closest to the bench I was going to sit at. A small Asian looking lady asked me if she could use that machine, since it was right next to the other one she was already filling. I didn't mind letting her have it, so I obliged. "You'd be better off with that smaller washers down there, anyways. Your load isn't that big." I thanked her for her advice, and did just that. It was still within view of the bench, so it worked just fine for me. I loaded it up, and sat down to draw while I waited. The old lady sat next to me, and we got to chatting while I drew. Her name was Jackie, and she was living with her mother since her husband had passed away. She had three kids, whom I later found out she had adopted. She was putting one of them through college, raising another, while the third was in the Marines. She mentioned she only used these washers to clean her mother's sheets, since they're so large. When we got to talking about my situation, I think my doubts and depression was coming through clearly. She obviously felt sorry for me, and seemed to think my situation was more desperate than it was. She seemed very concerned for my well being. "Aren't you scared?" This question hit me hard on this day. Telling her I wasn't scared was more to convince myself than her. I think she meant to ask "Aren't you scared that you'll get hurt or worse?" but on this day I took it as "Aren't you scared that you're making the wrong decisions? Aren't you scared that you've completely fucked up?" As we chatted a while longer, she glanced over at my washer and informed me I hadn't used enough detergent, and insisted on giving me a few of her dryer sheets to help with dryer. She even told me if she wasn't so busy, she would've driven me to Ocala. She was a very nice woman, and very kind. I wished her the best with her family as I left the coin laundry, and thanked her for her help.
When I got back to my tent, I got a hint of the fear I should've been feeling, the fear that Jackie had asked about. The tarp covering my tent had been pulled back, and a note had been taped to my tent: "DO NOT STAY THERE. LEAVE TODAY." I took a look around, wondering if whoever had left the note was watching from somewhere in the trees. Was it someone who was staying around here? Were they marking their territory, upset I'd treaded on their precious spot? Or was it someone who owned the place, angry someone had trespassed? Maybe a construction worker from the lot next to this one, giving a kind warning? I didn't know, and at that point it wasn't important. I needed to pack up and leave. I took the note off my tent, and stuck it to the tree I was next to. I put everything away as quickly as I could. I considered how lucky I was that whoever found my camp was kind enough to leave a warning, not just take or destroy everything. Before leaving I wrote a response on the note, "OKAY, THANKS. SORRY ABOUT THAT." I was really thankful all they did was leave the note.
I moved on until I got to a town called DeLeon. I found a heavily wooded area there, and went deep, deep into the tree line. I broke through some heavy spider webs, which assured me no one had been through here in a long time. I set up camp, still kicking myself for having left the tent up at the previous site. My mind was still not at ease that night. My doubts still weighed on me.
I set out early in the morning, shaken by the discovery of my camp the previous day. I didn't want that to reoccur, so I moved before the sun came up. I thought it highly unlikely anyone would find me this far into the trees, but I didn't care. I was in no mood for it. I broke down the camp, and hit the road just as the sunlight hit.
I walked for several miles, stopping a couple of times to draw some monkeys my sister had requested for her Etsy shop. I walked the bicycle lane on the road, since there were no sidewalks that far out from town. I always walk against traffic so I can see them coming. I had to veer off into the grass a few times due to negligent drivers drifting into my lane. This happened quite a bit on this road. It really surprised me just how many people are either not paying any attention, or are giving all of their attention to their phones while traveling at high speeds. I reflected on how often I was guilty of it. How important was it for me to send a text that could've taken my attention for the most crucial of seconds? Why was it so necessary for me to look up that one piece of information I was curious about in at that specific time? I surprised a couple of people as I walked, when I saw their eyes lazily leave their screens to look up, suddenly seeing a person walking on the road. One woman swerved a bit out of shock as she passed by me. I wondered if I might one day cause an accident just for being there.
I eventually made it to SR 40, and after a quick lunch at the gas station Subway, and making sure my water tanks were filled as far as they could be, I started heading west. I was heading into the Ocala National Forest, which spanned about 40 miles. I wasn't taking risks. I soon came across a sign, warning of bears for the next 30 miles. Something new to look forward to.
I walked several miles without stopping. I had some energy to burn off. I was still conflicted, still with doubt. I hadn't yet shaken off the voice in my head. "Quit. Stop now." I walked past a couple of places I could've stopped for dinner, but couldn't bring my body to stop. My mind was racing. One pizza place advertised "free wifi," which surprised me this far out in the middle of nowhere. Sold, you have my attention. I locked up the DragonWagon in their parking lot, behind some bushes and went in for their "world famous pizza." Their connection took a few times to work, and it was slow, but it was enough to tell the family I where I was, and how long it would be before my next contact. It even managed to send the picture of monkeys to my sister, to see if they were what she needed. The pizza was, in fact, delicious. After almost draining my batteries due to the slow connection and lack of outlets, I set off, close to sunset, in search for a place to camp.
Not far down the road I found another patch of woods. The sun was setting, so I couldn't get too picky. I went in, a picked a patch of grass off the path, nestled between some thorn bushes that put up a bit of a fight. After a few tears in the tarp and my skin, the camp was set up. I lay in my tent, bummed out. I wasn't tired, despite all the walking I'd done. I was restless. I was unfocussed. I tossed and turned, but nothing came of it. I decided I needed to draw. I remembered seeing a restaurant close to the tree line, so I figured I'd go there to draw for a while. That should take my mind off things, and let off some steam. I got dressed, wrestled through some of the thorn bushes, and headed over. With my flashlight I caught a shiny reflection off one of the trees near my tent. I walked up to see what it was. It was a metallic sign posted to the trunk, reading "Bearing Tree." I thought back to the sign that said "Bears 30 miles," and wondered if I'd walked into some sort of bear reserve or something. I had no idea what a bearing tree was. That left me unnerved for a while as I walked to the restaurant.
*I now know, after a little research, that a bearing tree shows that there is a boundary marker nearby. That meant there was a marker showing the boundary of a property buried somewhere near that tree.*
The restaurant was a small place, with a bar and a few tables behind a wall. It seemed a few regular locals were hanging out, and only one waitress was working both bar and tables. I decided to take a small table in the corner, with some decent lighting, away from people. I didn't feel much like interacting with anyone that night. I noticed they were running some sort of special for $1 beers, so I ordered one. I didn't get any food since I'd had the pizza not too long before. I huddled over my sketch book and started drawing. The waitress chatted with a couple of her regulars, sitting at their tables, catching them up on her Thanksgiving dinner she'd cooked the previous week. Everyone seemed calm and friendly. The place had a very soothing atmosphere. After a couple of hours of drawing, I felt better, more relaxed. I finished my drawing and asked for the bill. When the waitress came by to give me the check, she noticed my drawing for the first time, since I wasn't huddled over it anymore. She laughed out loud when she saw it, "Did you jus' draw that jus' now? I thought you were doin' paperwork. I told mah friend over there, here you were, drinkin' beer and doin' some kinda paperwork. Do ya mind if I jus' show this to her?" She took my book over to the bar where a few of the locals were sitting together, and they laughed when she told them what I'd been doing. They seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, complimented me on it, and one even suggested I could do children's coloring books. This boosted my spirits more than I can say. I'd been so down for the past few days that this really affected me in a positive way. It wasn't receiving compliments that hit me, it was that people who had been quiet and calm for the couple of hours I'd been there, were suddenly laughing out loud and conversing excitedly after seeing what I'd done. We got into a short discussion of how a couple of them used to draw, and they wished they hadn't quit. I encouraged them to take it up again, telling them it's done wonders for me. I hope they do. I hope they at least try it once. This small, seemingly meaningless interaction with these people made my day. I felt positive again, refocused.
I walked with a spring in my step for most of the day. I rarely stopped since I felt motivated, positive. I charged forward, and found myself taking the uphills almost at a jog. Nothing was breaking my pace. Nothing was stopping me. Towards the afternoon, I walked by a lake with a sign that showed it was for swimming. I almost stopped in for a swim, after all my walking, but for some reason I didn't want to break my stride. I had a good pace going, and didn't feel like stopping. A few miles later I wished I had stopped. A quick swim would've been nice, refreshing. I decided if I came across any other swimming holes, I'd stop in for a quick dip. As luck would have it, a few more miles down the road, I came to Juniper Springs. My heart leapt nostalgically. This was a spot my friends and I had driven out to a few times while we were in high school. My family and I had even stopped in once. It was a beautiful place to swim. I decided not to miss out on this opportunity, so I went in.
I walked up to the guard shack at the entrance, and looked over their pricing. $5 to go in, $21 to camp. As I spoke to the red headed girl in the guard shack about the pricing, she suddenly looked back at my wagon, "Actually, I can't even charge you, you don't have a car. We charge for people to park their vehicles, and they put the ticket in the dash. No one will bother you with this thing. So, you can come in for free, and if you were to camp on the Florida Scenic Trail, it would be free, too." I thanked her graciously for her help, and walked in. I pulled my wagon right up to the spring, locked it up to a nearby bench, and went into the water. The water was freezing, but divine. It was crystal clear and full of tiny fish. If I didn't keep moving, the little fish would swarm me, nibbling at my skin, mouths too small to bite. Also, if I didn't keep moving, I froze. I swam around for a long while, enjoying the small patches of sunlight that cut through the gaps in the trees. There were a few people scattered about the spring. One family seemed to be British, another American, and a third German. Everyone seemed to be keeping to themselves, enjoying the spring between themselves.
As I swam to the opposite side of the spring, trying to maintain my body heat up, I heard a woman ask, "So are you on a spirit quest?" I looked around to find a couple of women sitting on the wall by the water, presumably speaking to me. I couldn't get a good look at them, since I'd taken my glasses off to go swimming. They were two blurry figures who seemed to be facing me. "I guess you could say that." I explained briefly what I was up to, and we got to talking for a couple of minutes. I was swimming in my underwear, so didn't feel much like stepping out to continue the conversation, but staying in the water in one spot was really cold. I stayed in anyways, moving my arms and legs as much as I could. We talked for a short while before the lady who had started the conversation left, but the second woman remained. It became clear very quickly that she just wanted to speak, since her conversation didn't leave many opportunities for me to respond. She told me of her life in the country, her time in California, her home in Canada, her stint in Mexico, the health insurance in Canada, the injustice of Native Americans of her decent (I can't remember what tribe she claimed to belong to, but they'd apparently been excluded from several benefits the other tribes receive). By this point the cold water was beginning to be torture. Several times she said her goodbyes and had made to leave, but just continued talking. At one point she turned to a couple of gentlemen who had sat down nearby and seamlessly aimed her conversation at them. I took this as my opportunity for escape. I swam back to my side of the spring, got out and dried off, trying to warm up again.
I'd went back to the DragonWagon to put my clothes back on, as another woman walked up to me. She had been on the other side of the water, the German family. She confessed her curiosity, and we got to chatting about what I was doing. She seemed like a very nice lady, and I enjoyed speaking with her. She and her husband had also been traveling for some time, but just recently settled down. After answering a few of her questions, she returned to her family. I was getting a few things put away in the wagon, when she returned with a small child, her son. She told me he had a few questions himself, which he asked her in German. She would translate the question to me, I would answer, and she would tell him in German what I'd said. He seemed excited, but shy. I pulled out one of my sketchbooks, and showed him a few of my dragon pictures. As I was showing him I asked her if he liked dragons, "Oh he is a boy like any other. Dragons, dinosaurs, you name it." As they started walking away, having seemingly satisfied their curiosity, she turned back and invited me over to their campsite for dinner and drinks later.
I hadn't planned on staying at Juniper Springs. I figured I would go in for a quick swim and get a few more miles in before sunset. I debated for a while whether I should stick to my plan, or stay instead. I decided to take the opportunity to spend time with this family. After all, a big part of my journey is to meet new people. One of my goals is to not be as introverted as I have been. This was a good step for me in the right direction. I walked back out past the guard shack, to the Florida Scenic Trail the girl had told me about. I found a clearing big enough for my tent, and set up my camp. I put on the cleanest clothes I had, and used maybe too much deodorant. I didn't want another repeat of the depression I had a few days prior. I wanted to be clean and presentable. I wished I could bring some offering to the table, though. A bottle of wine would have been swell, that seemed like a thing to bring to a dinner one was invited to. I had nothing to bring, nothing to offer in return for their kindness. That's when it hit me, "Dragons, dinosaurs, you name it." I just so happened to have a print of one of my dinosaurs. It could make a decent offering for her son, who seemed to like the dragons. I put the print in my bag, and I set off to meet them at their RV spot. As I walked over to their place, however, I realized I never asked her her name. I didn't know whose camp I was heading into. What if she wasn't there, and it was just her husband? What would I say to him? I wondered if I should just turn around, tuck tail and run. I decided to keep going. Meet new people. Have new experiences. Don't shut down.
I reached their RV plot to find the three of them having dinner already. She told me I'd gotten there just in time. I sat down with them, and finally managed to formally make our introductions. Her name was Caty, her son was William, and her husband, whom I was just meeting for the first time, was Oliver. We drank, we talked, we ate, we had a great time. William, who was 4 or 5 years old, kept switching back and forth between speaking German and English. After he finished his dinner, he seemed to become restless about not getting to his routine time of TV viewing. He apparently didn't watch much normally, but it was habit to watch after dinner. He seemed to be too young to fully grasp the concept of being out in nature. I thought this to be as good a time as any, "I have a gift for you William, I heard you like dinosaurs." Caty spoke excitedly to him in German, presumably reiterating what I was saying. He looked eagerly at me as I pulled out the small print of the dinosaur I'd brought for him. I hadn't expected such a great reaction, he loved it. He completely seemed to have forgotten about the existence of television as he ran around the campsite, playing with the picture of the dinosaur as if it were a toy. It roared, it flew, it ate, it destroyed cities. I was amazed what an effect it had on him, and how happy he was with it. After some conversations with Oliver and Caty, William returned to the table making some requests of his parents in German. They translated that he wanted to cut the blank parts of the paper around the dinosaur, which he named Terry the T-Rex, to make it more lifelike. It was fascinating to see how meticulously he instructed his mother in the appropriate way to cut around the outlines, all in German. Once this was done, he continued to play with it as we continued talking.
I stayed with them for about 3 hours, talking about travels, people, the differences between countries, adventure, and nature. We played a couple of games with William, where we were to pretend to be dinosaurs, dragons, and racecars. His parents had to remind him a few times that I couldn't understand German, so he'd explain in English instead. I guess that meant he was warming to me. After a while he had wound down, but refused to go to bed, not wanting to miss anything that was happening with the grownups. He fell asleep outside, on a hammock next to the table we were sitting at, cuddling Terry the T-Rex. This was, by far, one of the best, if not the best night of my journey so far. This connection I made with this wonderful family was priceless. I was so glad I decided to stay, and brave the meeting with strangers. I was so thankful they allowed me to join them. I went back to my tent happier than I'd been in a long while.
I awoke to a very foggy morning. I couldn't see the guard shack from the entrance to the trail, which was just a few feet away. Packing up the camp was dirty work, since the trail was all sand and dirt, and the foggy morning had dampened everything. As I tried to fold the tarp into its place, it tracked dirt, which mixed into mud as I rolled it. The bottom of the tent was completely covered in dirt and sand, so I got it all over my pants as I rolled it up to put it away. Everything ended up with dirt on it, stuck to the moisture. I quickly learned, that in the future, I'd have to avoid dirt patches for camping in. I set off into the foggy road, with a slightly soar left ankle from all the nonstop walking the previous couple of days. I paid extra attention to oncoming traffic, since the fog hid them until they were only a few yards away.
Several miles up the road, I couldn't ignore my ankle anymore. I had to stop to try to ice it, get some of the swelling down. I tried stretching the Achilles Tendon, but to no avail. It was time to break open the first aid kit for the first time. I'd combined two different kits into one, so I had a fair variety of supplies, including two different ice packs. All I had to do was break the contents inside the pack, and it should have gotten cold. I pulled one out, crushed it, and waited. Nothing. I folded it, nothing. I read the instructions more carefully, followed the little diagram as well as I could, to no result. I smooshed everything inside the pack with my fingers and thumbs, but still got nothing. Must have broken while in the kit, or maybe expired? Maybe it was a dud. I pulled out my second ice pack, read the instructions a couple of times, and crushed the contents. This time something happened. It went from being warm, to being not-so-warm. Great, good thing I brought these along for emergencies. Still, the not-so-warm ice pack was cooler than my ankle, so I pulled a bandana out of my pack, and used it to tie the pack tightly to my ankle. If nothing else, it served to put pressure on it with some liquid padding. It seemed to be helping. I sat around for a bit, drawing, trying to get my mind off of it. The thoughts of serious injury in the middle of the woods admittedly started creeping in my mind.
I continued on after some rest, and found that the pressure on my ankle was helping quite a bit. There was no cooling from the ice pack, but the cushioning was comforting. I walked a couple of miles up the road, and saw a car pull over onto the grass ahead. A woman got out of the driver's seat and went to the back door, rummaging through something. As I got closer, she emerged from the car, and looked up at me, and started walking in my direction. When she got within earshot I asked, "Are you okay? Do you need help?" She kept walking towards me, and as she got closer she asked, "Would you like a sandwich?" Not at all what I was expecting. She took me quite by surprise. I told her I was fine, but thanked her for her kindness. "I just saw you walking there with all that stuff, and it gave ME an appetite. I already made the sandwich, and I have Dr. Pepper." She told me she was on her way to work at the hospital with her mother, who was in the passenger's seat. I accepted the offer of a sandwich, which she gave me two of, but politely turned down the soda. I thanked them both for their kindness as they drove off, honking their horn when they passed. There are truly some selfless people in this world, and they continue to surprise me.
A few miles later, I came to a small town, and stopped at a small restaurant that served burgers and hotdogs. I sat down for a decent meal, and took advantage of the table to draw for a while. After my break, since the sun was getting low, I began to get ready to set off again. As I was adjusting a few things into the DragonWagon, a kid on a bike stopped next to me. I had a hard time understanding his thick southern accent, but by the sound of it, he was trying to sell me pot. I guess I fit the profile. I thanked him for the curbside offer, and after a few words, he sped off in the opposite direction. I set off again.
As I walked, and the sun was setting, I couldn't decide on a good spot to turn into to set up camp. I was losing light, and there were too many farms around, too much private property. I finally saw a place just before a curve in the road ahead, but didn't want to be seen turning into it, since the tree line was really close to the road. I waited for a moment when there were no cars coming, and turned in. I wasn't exactly sure if this was a good spot or not, but I didn't have much time to be picky. There was a seedling patch to one side of the trees, and a farm to the other, where I heard a dog start barking as I walked in. Every step I took crunched loudly on the ground covered with dry leaves. I stopped moving when I heard the barking getting louder and louder. Was the dog running towards me? Could it hear me? Was it actually barking at me? I sat down and waited for about 20 minutes, as the sun was setting and the darkness set in, before I decided the dog was just barking. It may have gotten louder, but it wasn't getting closer. I set up camp in the dark as the mosquitoes started feasting, and the dog continued to bark. My tent and tarp both smelled from the mud they'd tracked from the foggy morning, and the dog continued to bark. I settled in for an early night, and the dog barked for two more hours. Finally, it stopped barking, and I got some sleep.
I got up early in the morning to make sure there weren't any curious dogs that may have been let loose. When I didn't hear any barking, I did my best to clean off the now dried dirt off the tarp and tent by dragging them across the thick layer of dry leaves on the ground. It seemed to work quite effectively to scrape off the sand and dirt that had been stuck on from the moisture. I packed up, and set off up the curve, taking note that my ankle was not hurting anymore.
Several miles up the road, I got to a bridge. I really don't like bridges. The bike lane was narrow, and the climb was steep. This meant I would have a hard climb, drivers would get little time to see me over the road, and I would have nowhere to go if they happened to veer into my lane. I decided my best course of action was to go with the flow of traffic, instead of against it. I crossed to the opposite side of the road when there were no cars coming, but nearly fell when I tripped on my own pant legs. That would've been great. I was glad no one was around to see the awkward recuperation from it. As I climbed the incline of the bridge, I got to look over the ledge at the beautiful view of a stream cutting through the woods. As the bridge climbed higher, it passed over another body of water that came to an end along the tree line, trapping green plants along the edges. The bridge scaled well above the trees, giving a beautiful view of the canopy. As I reached the peak, I noticed how many pieces of broken glass and dislodged metal were littered along the bike lane. Having such a narrow space to travel, and with cars and trucks whizzing by, I had no way of avoiding the debris. I took the downhill at a near trot since the angle was so extreme.
As I came to the end of the bridge, I saw a car pulled over ahead. I wondered how long it'd been there since I hadn't seen it pull over. A dark haired woman emerged from it and started walking in my direction, with something strapped over her shoulder. Again, I waited until she was within earshot, and asked, "Are you okay? Do you need any help?" She shook her head and said, "No, I'm fine. Mind if I walk with you for a bit?" I was, again, surprised by the response. "Sure, if you'd like." She told me she'd seen me walking the previous day, and again today, and asked me what I was doing. I explained a little bit of what my journey was, and she seemed intrigued. I noticed it was a camera strapped over her shoulder when she explained she worked for a magazine. She told me they were doing a special issue which might fit my adventure, and asked permission to take some pictures and ask some questions. I humbly obliged. We spoke for a while, she took some pictures of the DragonWagon and some of my drawings, we exchanged contact information. Before she got back in her car, she said, "I'm glad I decided to wait for you at the bottom of a bridge." I was flattered and humbled.
After she left I crossed back to the opposite side of the road, so I would be facing oncoming traffic again. I noticed as I was crossing, though, that the load on the wagon was a little off, so I stopped in the grass on the other side to adjust it. As I was hooking up the last bungee cord, a jeep pulled right up to my wagon on the grass. A tough looking man came out, and walked up to me. I stayed close to my walking stick. "Are you here for the gathering?" Being the nerd that I am, the first thing that popped into my mind was Magic: The Gathering, a card game. Then I thought cult. Then I imagined robed figures standing around a virgin sacrifice. Next I wondered if it was some kind of local code for drugs or something. I responded, "Umm... I don't know of any gathering, so I guess not?" He laughed. "I thought you were here for the Rainbow Family gathering, what with your bandana and wagon and all." He explained that every year, hippies from all around got together at different national forests around the world, calling themselves the Rainbow Family. They joined together to celebrate peace and nature and the like. Apparently there was a gathering in the Ocala National Forest around February, but people often started showing up as early as December. I told him I hadn't ever heard of it, but it definitely sounded like something I might look into. He gave me a couple of websites to check out, and even gave me his own email, in case I was in the area and needed any help or a ride, said his name was Ron. I thanked him as he drove off.
I made sure my pack was secure, and started walking up the street. I didn't get a quarter mile from the bridge before I realized I had a flat tire. This was my last replacement tube, so I'd have to stop somewhere to fix or replace the punctured ones. It didn't take me long to replace the tube, since I'd figured out how to do it the previous time. After fixing it, I started walking again, but didn't get a hundred feet before noticing the other tire was now flat. Fucking shit, come on. Best I could figure, all the debris on the bridge I couldn't avoid must have done a real number on my tires. I was now out of replacements. As I was evaluating my situation, a thick bearded man on a motorized bicycle pulled up and stopped. "You with the Rainbow Family?" Okay, that was weird, it had barely been an hour since I was asked the same question. We spoke about the gathering, he told me he'd been involved with them for years. He mentioned how they were all really kind, really giving, and since he was part of the cleanup crew, he got to keep a lot of equipment that was left behind every year. I eventually asked him if there was anywhere nearby I could fix my tire, and he mentioned a Walmart just a couple of miles up the road. I thanked him for his help, and asked him his name. "My name is Ron." What the hell?? Two Ron's within one hour, and both asking about the Rainbow Family I'd never heard of before? Creepy.
I continued on up the road the couple of miles to the Walmart. I reached a Burger King just outside of it, and decided to go in for some food first. I contacted the family for the first time in a few days of walking through the forest, letting them know I was alive and well, despite a few hiccups along the way. I found I was in Silver Springs, just outside of Ocala, and that I had just passed my turn. The road I passed was CR 35, but on the map it read as 58th Ave. Thanks for that one Apple Maps. When I finished communicating with everyone, I went to throw my trash away.
There was a couple sitting at the table by the trashcan, and as I walked by, the man said, "You must be here for the Rainbow Gathering." You have got to be kidding me. "No, but you're the third person to say that to me today. At this point I'm starting to think I might as well be." I spoke for a little while with the couple, who were homeless. We talked about the Rainbow Family for a little while. They were telling me their experiences with it, and what they knew about it. I introduced myself, and I shamefully forgot the girl's name, because the man introduced himself as "Ron." No fucking way. I meet three complete strangers on the same day, they all ask me about these Rainbow people, and they're all fucking named Ron??? I can't write this down in a blog and expect anyone to believe me. "Ron" must be some kind of code name. That must be it. If you ever ask anyone about the Rainbow Family, it must be a rule of some kind that you have to refer to yourself as Ron. There's no other explanation for it. It must be something like "Friends of Dorothy."
After my non-credible experience at the Burger King, I went to the Walmart to get replacement tubes for my tires. I fixed the tire, and set off down the road I'd passed. I reached David's house just as night fell, and thus ended my second trek.