Getting to point A

PHOTO: Mom took this shot of me at Boyd's Key West Campground. The jumping off spot for my walk across America!

Mom drove me from Tamiami to Key West today. The trip down, only 118 miles from our starting point in Tamiami, took longer than we expected. The scenic

Overseas Highway of Florida is a slow go.

The original plan, I can hardly believe, was for Mom and I to arrive in Tamiami on January 3rd (after bombing down from Kansas City in two days), then drive to Key West on the 4th whereupon I would immediately embark upon my walk across America. Thank goodness we had the time—and the good sense—to take life a little slower than all that.

The drive down was as nice as it was enlightening. I was originally very nervous about three aspects of the beginning section of my walk (Key West -- Miami). 1) Dad told me that Homestead was an industrial park and he worried about me walking through there. Not a bit of it! It’s a very pleasant agricultural community! In fact, as a long time agriculture reporter, my dad would really enjoy a visit to Homestead. 2) The 20-mile road between Key Largo and Homestead looked swampy and dangerous on Google Earth. Not a bit of it! The shoulder is wide and there are fences keeping wildlife at bay. And 3) The viaducts connecting disparate keys looked dangerous to cross. Maybe a bit of it! They are definitely crossable, especially if I time them for early in the morning before south/west-bound traffic picks up from the mainland. A pedestrian trail follows over half the road and some of the bridges have a pedestrian section. Most do not, but they all have decent shoulders and if I am careful and if I make haste, I’m sure I’ll cross safely. Even my mother’s fears were allayed when she saw what I would be dealing with.

Kind of getting ahead of myself, though… Yesterday, Mom and I spent the day shaking down my gear one last time, visiting the beach at Key Biscayne, eating at the Cheesecake Factory, and unsuccessfully trying to hunt down a paper map of Florida.

PHOTO: The lighthouse at Key Biscayne.

One last word on that map: Months ago, I tried ordering a waterproof paper map of Florida from Amazon, but everyone was sold out. I looked all over the internet but literally couldn’t find a single paper map of one of the largest US states for sale. The internet, people! The place where I can order a realistic plastic girlfriend, the place where I commemorate the day my cat at an entire watermelon… that place! I couldn’t find a stinking map of Florida in that place.

I ended up buying an oversized 2020 (2020!) Road Atlas from an Office Max in Sweetwater this morning for $30. It’s more than I need. And it’s huge. But like I told my mother, the best Bibles are enormous.

(So I have my devotionals. My Road Atlas and the book, How to Fix Your Feet. These I will read until the pages fall out. I will absorb them until I can quote them chapter and verse.)

Anyway, the drive to Key West took longer than we thought. Along the way I decided to call ahead and reserve a campsite. Even then, I thought we’d be getting here around 2pm… (It wouldn’t be until 5:30pm that Mom would drop me at my camp site and drive back to our Airbnb in Tamiami!) I’m so happy I made the decision to camp for the night. In fact, while I was on the phone with the reservation office at the Boyd Key West Campground, I decided to stay for two nights. Reason being, the campground is on the east side of Key West. That would mean if I started walking tomorrow morning, I would miss the whole first five miles of America's roads! Obscene!

So tomorrow, after I rearrange some of my gear into the right bags (I’m not yet happy with my organization-— bags within bags within bags), I’m going to pack a day bag and walk back into the city.

Key West is a proper city, by the way. I had no idea. There’s a Home Depot, a Five Guys, and all that nonsense. There’s also kick-ass Cuban cafes, beaches, marinas, old tightly-packed neighborhoods, cigar shops, and feral chickens… but I wasn’t expecting so many people! Mom was surprised too. I guess I’ve never lived in, or really visited, many winter tourist destinations, but there are a lot of people here.

And that brings me to now. It’s dark. It’s just about 9pm. I’ve been writing for about 30 minutes, but I’ve been out of my tent for a little longer than that (I spent fifteen minutes looking for stomach acid pills… that Cuban food, though!) I fell asleep about five times between 7:30 and 8:30 only to be woken up time and again by noisy neighbors. (I know, I know, it’s really early yet.) This campground seems to have a no-music policy, which I can appreciate, almost nothing is worse in a campground than people playing music from their car stereos, but that doesn’t stop people around me from being loud. Even my neighbors on the other side of the fence, an old father and middle-age daughter are loud enough in their conversational tones that I can hear everything they’re saying. (The poor father seems to think they’ve been here before and the daughter keeps saying, “Daddy, this is our first night in Key West ever.” But he insists they’ve been here a long time, and this isn’t the first time besides. It’s kind of a sad conversation to overhear.) My other neighbors are young German men who don’t seem to have ever set up camp before. And now they’re trying to do it in the dark, headlights on in their rental car, they flooded my tent with light. They pumped up an air mattress with a squeaky foot pump for what seemed like an age. There are teen sisters across the way in an RV. Aside from wailing infants, are any humans louder than exuberant teen girls? They’re having a good time at least. Add to all this, the constant hum of traffic from Highway 1 filling the background in irregular fits and starts. Here a car. There a heavy truck. Here another car. There a loud motorcycle.

PHOTO: Palms and the crescent moon.

This seems like a good time to start talking about Erik’s Road Rules (To err is human, to E.R.R. is to walk right!) The following are the first THREE RULES I have been trying to form in my head these last many days:

1. ACCEPT NOISE, DAY AND NIGHT. I will probably be sleeping in noisy environments for the next year. In fact, I joked to Mom today that a year from now, my white noise app is going to be filled with highway traffic, sirens, and screaming hotel neighbors.

2. EMBRACE ALL WEATHER. The weather is part of the experience and I will embrace all kinds. Come rains, come rally! If I allow cold, rain, wind, and all other kinds of “inclement” weather to get under my skin, to dampen my spirits, to ruin my day, there will simply be too many opportunities for disappointment. Besides. Even if the weather is worse than just uncomfortable, even if the weather delays my trip, even if things get really hairy out there, it will always be a good story!

3. NO COFFEE, NO ALCOHOL, NO WEED! For two main reasons: a) I want to fix my stomach this year. For too long have I suffered acid reflux. I need to start eating better and drinking less caustic stuff. And b) as far as the alcohol and weed go, I don’t want to risk getting into a situation where snap judgement will make or break my day, but I’m too drunk or high to make good decisions or talk my way out of a confrontation. I can imagine drinking a bit of whiskey in my tent after a long day and then getting approached by a cop for trespassing in my clandestine campsite. Not a good look, as the kids say. And I think it would be pretty hard to talk my way out of a ticket (or a ride to jail) if they can bust me on trespassing AND public intox. Probably more E.R.R. to come.

It’s a quarter after nine now. The Germans have sorted out their tent and they’re drinking bottled beer and making each other laugh. There are constant crickets and cop sirens in 10-minute intervals. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep until the Germans turn in. But that should be any time, right? Germans are known for only drinking one beer and turning in early. Especially young dudes on holiday, right?

PHOTO: Just a chicken, no reason to get excited.

One last word on the chickens. Colorful chickens populate this entire place. We saw them in the neighborhood in Tamiami too, along with dozens of cats… (Mom wondered just how in the world chickens, their chicks, and outdoor cats seemed to coexist so blissfully)… I asked the camp manager here at Boyd when I checked in what was up with all the chickens everywhere (I saw one big brown and gold rooster dive bomb a convertible from a tree as it drove down the street!) She told me that the area used to be big on cock fighting, but when the government outlawed it, everyone released their chickens into the city. “So now we have chickens,” she said.

One last word on the camp manager here at Boyd. When I checked in, she asked me what kind of vehicle I was driving. I told her I didn’t have a vehicle, that my mother was dropping me off. “So you don’t have a car? Will will you be getting a car? Will you be getting any kind of vehicle at all? How about a scooter or a bike? Nothing? You’re just walking, huh? Well, that’s fine, we’re okay with that here.” I didn’t tell her my whole plan to walk across America, and that I’m starting here in Key West. I’m sure later on down the road I’ll be more willing to discuss it, but I feel like I have to get a few miles under my belt before I can start boasting about what I’m doing. I’ve already posted five YouTube videos about ‘getting ready’ to walk… seems very indulgent to me in a way. It’s easy to want to do a thing, it’s quite another thing to get out and do it.

One last word on wanting and doing. I’m reminded of a quote by Colonel T.E. Lawrence. He said, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” If ever there has been a sentiment defining the man I aspire to be, that would be it.

More miles to come.

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