My experience living out of a small car with a fellow traveler for weeks on the road …
In my last post I mentioned a fella who I met at a gathering in the woods. Kyle was a real introspective soul who had dealt with unfortunate circumstances in life and took to the road to start fresh. He traveled the west coast, backpacked Hawaii, and was just beginning his journey on the east coast when our paths crossed. For those of you following along, you may remember that my van was still with a mechanic a few hours south of the gathering I was attending. So the cat and I took up residence in Kyle’s two door Ford Focus for a few weeks. It was a tight squeeze to say the least. After one night of attempting to sleep all three in the car we decided to stick to hiding out in the woods where we could comfortably pitch a tent- as comfortable as you can be on a cold winter night.
From the gathering in Ocala National Forest we headed to Daytona. He had found an abandoned house here with a large lot of land around it. The floors were covered in broken glass so we had to stick to our tent outside, but the property was a delight. There was a pier over-looking a lake that steamed up with heavy fog if you woke up early enough in the morning to witness its beauty. We would wake up and endure the cold to have breakfast overlooking this mystical view.
We wandered the house and the chicken coops and found some real antique knick-knacks such as pieces of an old wooden coca-cola crate. It truly felt like we had dropped off Earth and into our own little world on this forgotten plot of land. Due to our child like souls, and the notion that nobody could find us here, we found ourselves running around and playing like kids once again. A truly liberating feeling. I would be picking twigs and leaves out of my dreadlocks for days after that.
After packing up we headed into the city- Daytona Beach. It is exactly what you would expect it to be: colorful, fun, and full of beachy vibes. We walked around a large shopping center built around a plaza which hosted a live artist pumping out Marley tunes. We stopped in the middle of the plaza to spin around and dance and then I hopped on Kyle’s back as we ran out chasing the birds off the shore and out over the ocean. We strolled through the shops and the arcade, stopping to get some legendary taffy. There were over 200 flavors to choose from. (Do NOT choose beer flavored taffy. ) We even hopped on a sling shot that threw us 350 feet into the air and upside down. Words cannot do justice for the view of the city and shoreline from up there.
After a quick stop in Homosassa Springs for a surprise party for a friend I met earlier on the road, we headed out to Cape Canaveral to see the new Space X Falcon 9 rocket launch. We arrived in town and headed out to a bridge with a view of the space station. Five minutes after the expected launch time it was announced that the rocket launch would be delayed until the next morning. It looked like we had some time to kill. We hiked The Enchanted Forest where we saw a giant turtle and an armadillo and made a visit to Cocoa Beach.
In the morning we headed back to the bridge for the rocket launch. A days worth of anticipation, and literally a half second of rocket viewing. I swear, had you blinked at the wrong time you would have missed it. There was a red flash the size of a small lightning strike in the sky. And then it was over.
“Wait, was that it?” “Really? What a let down!”
People were shocked and laughing all around us. It seems everyone in the crowd had the same expectation we did…. to see a huge rocket with roaring flames shooting out of the back go flying up into the sky. A red flash. But hey, at least the crowd bonded as we all laughed at ourselves for having such animated expectations.
One cool thing about the launch however was about two minutes later a very low rumble, sensed more through vibration than through sounds, came rolling through. Light truly does travel much faster than sound.
The day came to pick up the van and so we traveled back down south again. After racing down the highway for five hours we finally arrived in St. Petersburg only to learn that there was a problem with the van and it wouldn’t be ready for another day. We took the opportunity to get some delicious street food and back up north we went. After stopping at some antique shops we decided to head out to an island to set up camp for the night. Sleeping in the tent that night we heard something splashing in the water maybe twenty feet from our heads. Way too big to be anything other than a bear or an alligator. We lied in silence as we drifted off to sleep, curious if we’d awake the next morning.
Sure enough we awoke the next morning and found bear tracks all along the path. We are very lucky it was not interested in the smell of the domesticated kitty we had sleeping in the tent with us. Looking for more adventure with large mammals, we decided to head out to Crystal River for the day where there are an abundance of springs (where manatees are found in the cold season). It is technically illegal to jump into the spring waters without boating your way into the channel first, but with the help of a local we found an abandoned boat dock out of view of the committees who guard the waters. It was about an hour swim into the channel where we were told manatees tend to congregate. Under bridges and around curves and bends, we swam and swam, taking turns between using the goggles to view the rocky ground we were swimming over and being on alligator watch. We finally entered the channel and it was like entering a fairy tale world. Brightly aqua colored crystal clear water dug deep down below land surrounded with natural stone walls, dropped right in the middle of a tropical forest. There were tour groups in the area and we sure did get some dirty looks for intruding for free, but as we told the tour guide who gave us an attitude about being in the water at the same time as people who paid to be there “The land is open and free, it belongs to no one, and fortunately for us we were smart enough to take advantage of that fact”. Disgruntled and powerless he made a face at us and walked away.
Laughing, I dipped under water, and that’s when I saw it. A giant manatee, ten feet from me. It was exhilarating to be that close to such a giant creature. However I felt no fear like I expected I would. It was the chillest animal I have ever encountered. It just kind of bobbed there looking around at all the people staring at it in awe. It must think we were pretty strange creatures ourselves.
Unfortunately due to the amount of people in the water the manatee did not approach us. That’s the problem with these tour groups. They exploit public land and wild animals against their will. They ruin the ability to have a truly free experience- financially yes, but more importantly a free-will experience. If a single person enters the water, a manatee will come up and roll over so you can pet its belly. It will come hug you. They are friendly creatures. But the tour groups bring four groups of thirty people out seven days a week. They are exhausting these animals, and then wonder why they are showing such high stress levels these days. Not to mention it is a much more memorable experience to hop in the water on your own and swim out and find a wild animal. The tourism industry needs to find its limits.
Anywho, a sick manatee was found in the water and everyone was asked to evacuate so it could safely be rescued. We had to attempt to navigate the town back to where we had hopped in an hour back. This would be a good time to mention that I left my bathing suit in the van and had jumped into the water in shorts and a bra….that sure mad for a fun walk back through the neighborhood.
After some lunch we headed to plant city to check out the country’s largest Dinosaur World. It was Jurassic Park come to life. This is definitely a kiddie attraction but as we are both children at heart we had a blast and we honestly learned a lot. Even for an adult, I recommend checking it out.
I got word that the van was ready and so ended my time living in Kyle’s car. It was an adventure to say the least.