Updated: Jan 30, 2020

January 28, 2020

Much has been left unsaid up until this point, mainly due to the constraints of time and the effort I put forth into a new life direction. Up until now, I identified as mandog, being that of harmony between man and his mutt, and thereby also containing a spirited connection with man and his god. I still continue to wear this name, but the dog I associated myself with, has been relinquished to a home outside my own. A very raw and contemplative time for me, but I used these emotions as a spring board to vault myself into a life unknown. One that expects nothing and has carefully positioned itself along the razors edge between destitution and a life filled with innumerable and immeasurable riches.

To explain myself, I had made the decision to leave my apartment, edit and condense my belongings into a small storage space and customize a vehicle for long-term travel and livability. The intention to travel full-time came at a cost. I left a permanent position of scuba instructor and captain, and also a very rich and fulfilling life in Florida wrought with friends and good memories. I still retain those connections, but the decision to uproot had to be stringent enough that I would be forced from spaces of comfort and out into a realm of risk, where chance and intuition would then become my primary forms of currency.

This space that I am in, one that is also undergoing the emotional pangs of being separated from a pet I adored and found a very deep connection to, has allowed a new chance to rediscover what calls to me. From very early on, I knew that I had connections to water and made sure I always put myself in close proximity to it. I also learned that I have a bit of pilgrim inside me, one that couldn’t help but to notice or think beyond the apparent horizons. Some call it the travel-bug, others say its a constant sense of discovery. I just liken it to my fascination with the world, and it speaks to me most when I am in motion and deep inside a journey.

This particular journey was to reconnect with the great states of the US and do so as many before me have done. That being, to explore the great American Southwest. Iconic vistas, native cultures and a space large enough to do healing without the constraints of feeling like I must be someplace else. The desert is a great place for that. No feeling has been more humbling than standing before a great ocean, or looking up into the broad expanse of a sky, or driving for a hundred miles through an open desert. The sense that you are small, in something much, much larger. I revel in that opportunity to be so small.

I had a place in mind to chart myself towards: Santa Fe, New Mexico. A board member from the project was kind enough to open up his desert home to me, and from there I would begin my pilgrimage around the southwest. What I didn’t realize, was how expansive this area was. To truly take it in, not just collect the patches of a hundred different landmarks, but to soak deep into the earth like the fallen snow I’m currently surrounded by. It meant that I had to narrow my focus. Seeing as I was in New Mexico and it offered a lot of what I was after, I chose to spend the majority of my time here.

As many of the readers know, I not only write, but also document the story in other various forms, such as video and still photography. This requires a lot of patience to work through a great deal of fascinating imagery, editing through weeks worth of footage, maintain a cutting edge on the latest software and somehow stay present in it all. From the customization of my vehicle to the seven days of travel it took to reach Santa Fe, I had accumulated a lot of footage. I gave myself the tall order of producing five videos and to create a single blog post from the weeks journey it took to get out here. What I thought would take four weeks, took five or six, but in that time I was gazing upon new and fascinating mountains, visiting ancient petroglyph sites, hiking upon great wildernesses and absorbing a desert culture that is much different than what I am accustomed to in the East. This is my first time to the West, short of California, which I think we can all agree has four or five of its own separate and distinct cultures.

In the spring, I do intend on returning to Florida to resume my role as the first mate aboard the research vessel, Stenella. That position is as much of an adventure as any pie in the sky dream I could ever conjure. I so look forward to making my return to that special place and being before the very charismatic, and very attentive eyes of a species that is like no other. In light of that, I still have much traveling to do and will let the story unfold as it may.

Included in here are my journal entries from the stops leading from my homestead in North Carolina out to Santa Fe. Also included are a series of video installments, deemed episodes that accompany the journey as well. I hope you enjoy! Thank you for your patience as I worked through this time of change and please stay tuned, as there is certainly much more to come!

November 01, 2019

Life was coming fast. Faster than I felt comfortable at taking it, but I am also a person who knows how to handle the seas when they are rough, and felt a similar strength to just hold course and all will settle down soon. I purchased a new vehicle that would be my intended conversion project and then began packing editing my belongings. What I felt shouldn’t be discarded, I stuffed into a 5x7’ uhaul trailer and during a steamy, Florida rainfall, left behind the life I knew for something unknown. The irony of it all was, that exactly two years ago I had been trailering my belongings down from Virginia after spending a year backpacking in South America. Then too, I was fearful and uncertain of my future. Thankfully, both times my family was unquestionably supportive and took me in as I determined where I would go next. A simple thank you seems deficient in all the many attempts I've had at, “figuring it out,” but none the less, I hold them in my heart every step of the way.

I present to you.. Episode 01. “Leaving Florida”

Nov. 02 - Dec. 14, 2019

Lake Norman, NORTH CAROLINA (Mooresville // I-77)

Miles traveled: 675 // Elevation: 800 ft

I spent the entirety of this time outfitting a vehicle for living. It was the accumulation of countless hours of research and preparation, now fully immersed in the application of those ideas. The packages were arriving at almost a daily rate, as I thought and contemplated on how everything would go together. I had seen many examples of these conversions online, but I felt not to many were invested in it full-time. Mine had to go the distance.

I present to you.. Episode 02. “The Buildout”

Before I left North Carolina, I had a great opportunity to soak up the sun with my mom and nephew at a nearby landmark, Stone Mountain. One of my favorite blessings in life is being able to return to the eroded and rugged mountains of the Appalachias during the fall time. Sometimes I think I’ve never seen fall colors, quite like the times spent here at home.

I present to you.. a bonus episode. “Stone Mountain”

Now Begins the Great Journey West

Fleshers of Fairview Health Center, NORTH CAROLINA (Asheville // HWY 74)

Day 01 // Miles traveled: 127 // Elevation: 2800 ft

Beginning with a short drive out to see my grandmother, I camped within the parking lot of her nursing home. We played cards late into the night, and then I wheeled her to her room before saying goodnight. We made plans to meet again in the morning and in these hours, she shared with me some of her own memories kept from a long history of time spent on the road. She couldn’t remember all of the details, mostly concerning who would have driven the car, but I am always at peace in knowing I am not alone in this desire to seek out new places.

Cordell Hull Lake Horse Trail, TENNESSEE (Granville // Nashville Highway)

Day 02 // Miles traveled: 250 // Elevation: 475 ft

Incoming weather forced the sky into stacked bands of clouds stretching themselves out in linear succession. After the sun had set and I sat camped within a bend of the Cumberland River, the winds began to tear through the valley and shook the truck with a tenacious disturbance. It was evident that a forceful weather system was encroaching upon what otherwise would be, a peaceful night along the river.

Beneath a blanket, I laid with my head out the back of the opened tailgate and watched as the illuminated and glowing moon seemingly had a magnetism that was drawing all of the sky’s clouds towards it. Finally, after it became totally immersed, I pulled myself into the shelter to fall asleep to the sounds of the shaking winds and calls of scattering geese. In the dead of night, I was suddenly awakened by the pounding rains atop the shell. Once arriving, they would not cease until I had crossed three more state lines.

That day, I had crossed over from Eastern Time into what’s referred to as, Slow Time or CTS. As my plans got flooded by the driving rains, I was limited for what I could do or go, as most my activities revolve around being outdoors. I woke up early to get changed and during a brief lull, made it back into the driver seat so I could make my escape back up the lengthy lake access road and return to an area that had cell reception. Pitted against a weather system that stretched all the way from Tennessee to Ohio, I was forced to return to the drawing boards to investigate a new option for where I would travel to. It was guaranteed that no matter where I intended to go, I would be stuck in this relentless rain and undoubtedly find it to be quite chilly.

The rains lightened some, making travel possible and without complication. I had decided on moving directly north into Kentucky to visit Mammoth Caves. It was certainly on my list of to-see things in the area, and coincidentally, spelunking is actually quite a good rainy day outdoor activity! It was less than a hundred miles away, which was perfect to get a good day of underground exploration in. I’m sure I’d be enamored by the entire adventure, so multiple tours would be in order in addition to scouting out the next night’s campsite.

I stopped at a local diner and enjoyed a breakfast egg wrap. It’s since been a staple of my morning and lunch-time eats. As I drove through Tennessee and soon there after, Kentucky hillsides, I started to notice how the surrounding lands were not only hilly, but also pockmarked by these many small depressions. These “holes” were saturated and overflowing with the amount of rain that had been coming down. All alongside the road, the feeder creeks and streams were flowing with a rapid pace.

As I would come to later understand in my informative day at the caves, was that these water systems would all eventually lead into the Green River and thus the underground water table that extends all through Central Kentucky and the primary source of erosion upon this three hundred million year old cave.

These observed depressions in the hills were the primary culprit behind the landscape’s underground dissolution through a process called karst erosion, or the seepage of water down through the surface layers and inevitably eroding the limestone comprised sub-surface layers. Below a sandstone and shale cap, there exists ancient limestone beds which, over the course of millions of years, are dissolved by the carbon dioxide enriched water. Over time, the process continues to repeat itself, dropping down further and further into the earth.

Mammoth Caves are over 400 miles long and continues to be surveyed which is contributing to the perpetual growth of that number. The cave system is described to resemble a stack of spaghetti with its older corridors occurring closer to the surface, while the newer levels continue to work their way down deeper. At present, it is comprised of five levels and some areas of the tour take you well beyond two hundred feet below the surface. One tour in particular, the River Styx actually takes you down to the flowing river existing at the bottom. The series of connected rivers flow just as you would imagine a river would on the surface. Due to the amount of rainfall we had encountered today, two different park rangers who accompanied us on our tours stopped the group to comment on the voracity and sounds of the river flow. It was to a degree they had never experienced before. It was likely that the River Styx tour would not be available the next day due to flooding. In one particularly odd moment, while seated in the Great Relief hall (which aptly follows Fat Mans Misery), they pointed out in front of us a depth gauge marked with red and orange tape. The marks, one being as recent as 2004, were a solid twenty feet above where we were sitting, and right around this time was when the second ranger had stopped us to listen to the rapid flow of the river Styx which could be heard down a corridor to our rear. The notion of the water reaching an unprecedented height of over 100 vertical feet from its current position was disturbing to say the least.

Mammoth has 26 different known entrances, some natural and some man made and it was officially designated a State Park in 1961. Considering the span of all the caves, it required the state to purchase 53,000 acres of land. With all that land, it still left portions of the caves outside the parks boundary.

I remember while walking back with one of the rangers, a newly acquainted friend and I were bending his ear with regards to various subjects surrounding the park and the caves themselves. One of which, is did they go down and scope out the tour areas beforehand. He said nope! The tour guides (which I think rely upon volunteers) simply venture in and discover it for themselves. If the water is too high to continue, they turn around and make due with what portions of the tour they can explore. One thing they will evaluate beforehand is any freezing moisture from within the caves. If too much moisture gets into the entrance of the caves and the temperatures drop below freezing, it could spell disaster for anyone inside. As the moisture seeps into the cracks and fissures of the cavern walls and then freezes, the expanding molecules can break apart rocks with explosive force.

This ranger in particular, also described in detail his time spent volunteering with the geological survey teams that go into the far reaches of the caves, often the lower and more wet parts. Since they are exploring the newly discovered areas, it can be sometimes a multi-hour hike just to reach the survey site. And from there they will then go on to spend another series of hours crawling on their bellies through wet, freezing passageways or standing up to their waists in frigid river water while holding out survey lines as other persons on the team took notes or made sketches from the area. Many volunteers would simply become too hypothermic along the way in to continue and would be forced to turn back while the rest soldiered on. All of this information made me to feel as if I had entered into some sort of come at your own peril adventure park.

If you’re interested in learning more about the caves, I invite you to check out this cool, reader that contains a lot of information on the associated geology and park history. Click for Map Journal

Upon exiting the contently dry and relatively warm cave, we were all forced back into the intolerable and cold, driving rains and we also had a 0.8 mile uphill walk back to the visitors center. I had completed two tours now and this was the last one for the day. I said my goodbyes and thank you’s to the park ranger and tour guide and exchanged numbers with the new acquaintance I had made. There were no campsites available within the park, but by the the recommendation of one of the rangers, an off-site location was nearby and could be used.

My friend from the cave and I still regularly exchange stories from the road. He has a very cool and active website that not only lists and tells about various nationals parks, but also includes a lot of motivational information that is infectious in its nature.

His site can be found here at: HuntChallenges

Houchin’s Ferry Campground, KENTUCKY (Brownsville)

Day 03 // Miles traveled: 85 // Elevation: 400 ft // 33º (first snow)

It was located just outside the park’s boundary in a tiny, little town by the name of Brownsville. I was hungry and it was of course raining. I did a quick scout of the site while there was still some marginal daylight before returning to the town to hopefully find something worthwhile to eat. I googled the area and came up with about four options: pizza, a Dairy Queen, a barbecue place or a Mexican restaurant. I chose the pizza option, which unfortunately happened to be inside a gas station. It also happened to be a dry county, which meant I couldn’t even lounge there with a cerveza. I ordered some cheese sticks and a small veggie pizza. It was of course all kinds of complicated and they kept running around the corner to tell me they were out of this and that but could do this and this for me. I said sure to anything they said and continued to type away at the day’s activities. It was as close to a “lounge” as I was going to get, but I was just thankful to be out of the rains.

Of course this gas station would be a county landmark and also be the hub of activity for the town. I got a lot of opportunities to check out and peer into the looks and lives of these rural Kentuckians. Nearly all commented on the weather with grimace. Some discussed their marital problems while at the register and others dashed too and fro still adorning the day’s hunting garb.

One gentleman, purchasing a series of lotto tickets came over to talk to me. He said, “You look like you’ve been traveling, I hope not on foot.” I told him about my adventures in the caves and he went on to tell me about Floyd Collins, the late great cave explorer who’s tomb had been exhibited within the cave. In 1925, during one of Collin’s cave explorations he had become stuck in a narrow passageway inside Sands Cave. Despite being 150 feet from the entrance he could not free himself. He had knocked over his lantern and was now in total darkness. The next day, after not returning, he was discovered but was unable to be removed still. He was given crackers and waited an entire week while a rescue plan was conceived. In that time, a cave in had occurred and the team deemed it unsafe to go in after him. They dug a shaft in from a different location but when they had made it to his body, he had already died from exposure. He was buried in situ, but later his family thought this was too uncouth for him to remain there and had his remains exhumed. After the sale of the Crystal Cave, where Collins had been re-buried at, the new owners dug up his grave, and put his body into a glass-topped coffin re-displaying his remains inside the cave. A leg of his was stolen, and they later moved the coffin to a undisclosed location, chaining it to the floor of the cave. In 1961 after becoming a national park, the park services by request of the family removed his remains and placed him appropriately within Mammoth Cave’s Baptist cemetery.

Beyond this gruesome, and lamentably humorous tale, the gas station patron then switched subjects to give me the run down on all four restaurants to choose from. In mentioning of the Mexican restaurant he proceeded to describe the size of their portions with his hands and then aptly patted his rather rotund belly as if saying he had one of their meals in him already. He then asked me if I knew where the fastest internet speeds in the US were. I of course didn’t, so he mentioned a factory outside Lexington that Apple has recently sent a splurge of money towards. Apparently all of Apple’s devices are using glass manufactured from the Corning plant there in Harrodsburg. I’ve no idea what this has to do with internet speeds, but apparently to this Brownsville native 20 mb is fast.

I finished my cheese sticks, threw away most all of the veggie pizza and then made my way back into the rain to wind down into the valley for another night of freezing cold, riverside camping. I would certainly enjoy it a lot more if I could get out and explore, but alas, I was confined to my blanketed refuge and forced to tightly wrap myself into a cocoon to await the morning when I could depart.

Big Lake Wildlife Management Area, ARKANSAS (Manila)

Day 04 // Miles traveled: 235 // Elevation: 200 ft // 25º

“The Path is new, The World is free” -Whiskey Shivers