Join me for a month-long trip down to sunny Florida and the southeast – if I can figure out how to pack…

After two cross-country climbing trips, one epic seven-week solo trip, and countless excursions around the country, you’d think I’d be a seasoned expert when it comes to packing my bags and gearing up for traveling – but this upcoming trip has me stumped. I’ve grown so accustomed to road tripping that the idea of fitting everything I need in a small suitcase and backpack is befuddling. Not to mention that this will be the first time I’m traveling via airplane in over two years.

In less than 24 hours, I’ll be boarding at plane at Denver International Airport to head south like a migrating goose escaping the cold. My first stop will be a brief layover in Atlanta, then I’ll hop another flight that will leave me in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The plan from there is to scoop drinks on the bay with my dad, then make the short drive home to Miami – to do lots of this:

I’ll be spending the first ten days of my trip in my hometown of Miami, sipping cocktails while tanning by the pool, feasting on real Cuban cuisine, hiking through the Everglades, and catching up on all the sunshine I’ve been missing. After Christmas, Niko will be driving down from Tampa to spend a few nights in Miami before whisking me away to the panhandle. We’ll make a pitstop in Tampa for a night, then it’s off to Tallahassee for two weeks of hanging with hipsters – and copious amounts of time spent at Tally Rock Gym.

Somewhere in all that Floridian exploration, Niko and I hope to find time for a climbing trip somewhere in the southeast. Chattanooga, Alabama, Georgia, who knows.

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Hermit crab parties, mason jar feasts, and kayaking across the bay in Pensacola

During my last brief stint in Tallahassee, I was convinced to extend my stay to witness the homecoming of two darling friends, Jeff and Ryan, who had spent their summer toiling away as river guides in Moab, Utah. I agreed, and naturally, my plans were thrown into the blender of life, which led me to meet them out in Pensacola for a few days of seaside adventuring.

The crew consisted of myself, Niko, Jeff, Ryan, and our lovely host, Dan. We all met Dan during our stay at the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab. A constant explorer traveling the world with permanently tanned skin and a rusty pick-up truck, Dan embodied everything the boys aspire to be. During our adventures together in Utah, which included a wild day of hiking through Arches National Park, Dan extended constant invitations for us to come visit him in Pensacola when we all finally returned to the state of sunshine. None of us ever expected those invitations to come to fruition, but a little luck and three spontaneous hours of driving brought the clan back together on the coast.

This trip’s highlight was the day that Jeff and Niko decided to attempt a five-mile open water trek across the bay. Jeff has an uncanny knack for acquiring free swag, and during his Moab escapades he stumbled upon two virtually free kayaks – that bastard. We loaded those bad boys onto the roof of my Pilot, and headed to the Gulf Islands National Seashore to take a dip in the bay and launch the kayaks out to sea.

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but neither of those kayaks were outfitted with skirts, and the bay waters weren’t exactly calm on this slightly overcast day. Nevertheless, the two adventurers set out from the sand with smiles plastered on their faces, and the remaining three of us retreated back to Dan’s abode on the opposite end of the bay to kill time down at the dock.

The 5 mile trek was supposed to take them about two and a half hours, but the gruesome twosome managed to extend their trip by at least double the time – and 5 extra miles. How did this happen, you ask? Well, first, those knuckleheads managed to get themselves caught in an afternoon sea storm that blew them way off course. The new direction in which they veered guided them towards unknown land, but they beached their kayaks anyways and journeyed onto shore. Upon receiving quizzical glances from this strange place’s inhabitants, they realized the boys realized they had managed to infiltrate a high-security Navy base. Typical.

All the while, Ryan and I were left to ponder their fates as we bode our time waiting on the dock. As the hours melted together, we found a fantastic way to kill the lull of the clock: hermit crab parties. The dirty sandbanks below the dock were laden with hermit crabs, and Rya and I managed to collect a hefty heap of living shells to attend our crustacean celebration. Piled all over each other, the crabs provided excellent entertainment as they scurried towards the end of the dock planks, and promptly plummeted back down to the safety of the sand.

After a few too many hours of waiting for Jeff and Niko to surface on the horizon, the weather began to take on a menacing tone, and Dan decided we should take his dinghy out into the bay to search for our kayakers. A couple hundred yards into the choppy water, we were forced to retreat as the small boat was tossed about in the looming storm. Dan suggested that it might be an appropriate time to call the Coast Guard, and you can bet I got a bit nervous at this point.

Dan unloaded Ryan, myself, and our cooler of snacks back onto the dock, and continued to search for the lost boys while I sat with Ryan to impatiently wait on the shore for an update. Eventually, the three of us were forced to retreat up the street to Dan’s home to prepare for a supper of curried chicken out of mason jar, and a continuation of the waiting game.

Let’s pause from our harrowing kayak adventure to take a moment to bask in the glory of Dan’s saucy hoard of mason jar meals. It was impressive and inspiring. As soon as I return from my big trip, I’m investing in a pressure cooker so I can whip up insane batches of food like this. The curry chicken we devoured for dinner was prepared over a year ago, and it  tasted like it was freshly made that day. Genius – but back to the boys.

After sitting on Dan’s front porch for a bit, I grew restless and dragged Ryan back to the dock with me to wait for Jeff and Niko. As divine timing would have it, we strolled up to the waterfront just as the two waterlogged kayakers beached on the shore. They were sun-beaten, raisin-handed, and pumped on the completion of their epic adventure.

We returned to Dan’s home a reunited foursome, and gorged ourselves on a spicy supper while Jeff and Niko regaled us with tales of bailing out their kayaks with broken plastic cups, losing sight of land during a sudden storm, and pioneering blindly onto a Navy base.

Just another day in the life, I suppose.

Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.

When reflecting on what I’ll miss about my fleeting time in Miami, spending time out on the boat is one of the biggest contenders. Propelling across the bay with nothing but the sun and the air and the salt affords for a true escape from the realities waiting at the dock. Our family boat, unofficially named the Rusty Bucket, is no sprawling yacht — just a cozy vessel for trips to the Upper Keys, and rides up the Miami River.

On this particular excursion, I accompanied my parents on a day trip down to Key Largo for lunch at a local gem, called Alabama Jacks. This joint embodied everything that the Keys represent; it was dirty, salty, full of beer, and offered finger-lickin’ grub all afternoon long. The elder Boue’s were pumped on the idea of chowing down at Alabama Jacks, but I had never experienced it before, so I just sat back and enjoyed the ride down from Matheson Hammock in Miami.

The restaurant sits perched along a bank of Card Sound — basically at the base of the Keys, to give perspective to anyone who has had the pleasure of taking the beautiful drive down through the islands. The wood planks surrounding the establishment are mismatched and sloppily painted; this place has boater dive bar written all over it. We docked the boat along the side of the restaurant, and took the best table at the house in the back corner overlooking the water.


We ordered a combo platter with fried Mahi fingers, piles of conch fritters, crispy crab cakes, french fries smothered in cheese, and homemade potato salad. Served in a messy heap of seafood glory, everything was absolutely delicious. I’m not the biggest fan of oysters, clams, or conch, but the fritters at Alabama Jacks were too outrageous to resist. The conch was perfectly breaded and had an addicting crunch as you munched away. Top it all off with a cold beer, and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.


While I deeply enjoyed my down-home, no-frills experience at Alabama Jacks, I would highly recommend that any visit to the area be taken via watercraft. Whether you roll up in a mega yacht, humble fishing vessel, or even a seaworthy canoe, half of the overall vibe felt at this restaurant is fostered by interaction with the water you sit perched above while getting your fill of seafood and salty air. Driving down to load up on conch fritters would likewise be enjoyable, but traffic and pavement shadow in comparison to a seaside ride.


On the way back to town, we encountered a pod of about six dolphins powering their way up the channel. We spent a few minutes chasing them around so I could get a good shot, and of course during the sole moment of perfectly exposed hind flukes from a dolphin just a few feet from the boat, I had put my camera in my lap to wipe the lens and missed the ideal opportunity. Here’s the next best shot:

Sadly, it will be at least until the next warm season that I’ll have a chance to head out on the boat again. I’ll be leaving on a six week solo trip on September 1, and won’t be back in Miami until the winter – which means no boat for me. In the meantime, I’ll have to get my fill of fresh air up in the mountains.

A weekend in Key West with fireworks, tequila shots, and cotton candy sunsets

After a seven hour haul from Tallahassee, and dumping four years worth of junk into my Miami bedroom, I dove back into my car and cruised down to Key West for a weekend getaway with my best ladies, Brooke and Marisa.

The mini-vacation was exactly what I needed after a rough week. I love a good drive, and the road to Key West is one that cannot be beat. It’s 150 miles along the seaside, over long bridges, and onward through the sunset – which was fantastic on this particular day. I kept missing opportunities to pull over and take some photos, but I finally veered off the road at a beach area and amused some Asian tourists while I hung out of my car snapped shots of the jeweled sky hues.

The next 48 hours after arriving at Marisa’s house on the east side of the island were an absolute blur. I was coaxed out of my break-up shell with too many shots of Patron. I had never tasted it before, and for a lady who can’t take a shot to save her life, I am a big fan of this quality tequila as long as I have salt and lime, of course.

Marisa toured us through a collection of her favorite Key West spots, including Krawl’s little nook of beer heaven, lunch and rum runners at Caroline’s, entertaining live music at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, and my personal favorite, the hole-in-the-wall Cuban eatery that served me a giant helping of crispy bacon at 3:20 AM. Not to mention the lovely Key West sheriff with whom I shared a shot of espresso while I waited for my bacon to cook.

The highlight of the trip was the 4th of July. My entire visit to the island was damped by relentless rain, but it finally let up around 5:00 on the 4th, just in time for a great fireworks display on the beach. I snapped hundreds of pictures during the show in the sky, and have a few surprising captures to share. I got lost from the group while I was taking all these pictures, and at first I kind of freaked out about being separated from the herd. After a few minutes of looking around, I resolved myself to my solitude and started to enjoy this new ‘alone’ thing. It’s really not so bad, especially when you find a delicious crab cake stand – and then see your crew huddled right next to it. Double win.

I see many Key West visits in my future, especially if I end up staying in Miami for a few more months. Old Cutler to Coconut Grove will always be my favorite drive, but the trek through the Keys is a close second.

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On spuds in the dirt, lemons from life, and rediscovering everything you thought you knew.

Well, a lot has changed since my last update on June 17, 2011, and I feel like I owe my readers an explanation before I dive back into the world of travel, photography, and adventure. I’d offer a choice between the long story or the short story, but the long version could fill a book. Here’s the spark notes version:

The last we met, I was living in Tallahassee, freshly graduated and itching to travel with my wonderful beau, Niko. The plan was to stick around Florida until he also graduated and could join me on worldly adventures. I had two jobs (amongst a million side projects), too many options, and about 2,000 photos that needed editing. We’ll use this as the before shot:

Cue the oohs and aws – aren’t we adorable? Ready for the after shot? Both were taken during the same day on my road trip in Death Valley National Park, but I think they provide a pretty damn accurate visual contrast to assist in describing the huge changes in my life. Here’s the after:

So here I am. Suddenly standing very alone in a very big sea of nothing. After almost two years of teamwork, and the most amazing trip of my life, Niko ended our relationship with no warning and a very vague explanation. With no clue and no plan, I packed up as much junk from my Tallahassee condo as I could stuff in my little Scion, and this lady promptly sped 7 hours back home to Miami.

I left and lost everything that was real to me. I scribbled ‘I love you TRG, always’ on my locker at the rock gym, grabbed my climbing shoes and filled up a mason jar with that dirty gym rubber so I could keep it close forever. I said a few goodbyes (and still owe most of you a proper one, I’m sorry!), and now it’s time for a new plan.

So here I am. The boxes and bags that cluttered my room in Miami were overwhelming, so I ditched my hometown to spend 4th of July weekend in Key West with my two closest lady friends. With a little help from tequila, fresh salty air, and Marisa’s no-nonsense attitude, I put on my big girl panties and am ready for a new plan.

So here it is: I put in my two weeks notice at my Tallahassee job, decided to purge myself of everything I left up in my condo (anyone need some furniture?), and I started dreaming of my next big adventure. I left my comfortable recluse shell, and have begun exploring everything and everyone in Miami. I’m mapping out an autumn trip to North Carolina, New York, and the rest of the eastern coast up to Maine.

I’m still trying to find peace without Niko, but eventually I’ll have to come to terms with the fact that we’re all just spuds in the dirt. I’m learning how to roll with the punches, and am enjoying suddenly not having a plan. I’m just going, and it’s been working out so far. I even had the pleasure of being approached by a fan during an open mic event – Lori, you really have no idea how much it meant to me for you to introduce yourself that night, you may have saved the fate of this blog.

Enough rambling. Ha, that was the short version too. Told ya the long one could fill a book. Folks, I am back. No more pity parties, no more sulking in bed – life is calling. I only have my job with LivingSocial now, and my unedited photo count is pushing past 5,000 images. I’m back on my grind, and vow to pleasure your eyes with plenty of photos and daily updates.

And while we’re at it: ADD ME ON TWITTER! @themorningfresh – I’m twitter-tarded, but why not? Keep calm, and carry on my friends.

Road Trip America Day 1 – Five states, three heaping plates of barbeque, one sunrise, and too many cheez-its

As I write you, it’s 9:33 PM on May 9, 2011, and we’re trudging through Texas towards the outskirts of New Mexico after a tasty pit stop at Taco Bueno just outside of Dallas. The bulk of our day has been spent in the Pilot, which has already proven itself to be a worthy road trip vessel.

The morning began with a blur; I was too caught up in my residual freelance work to catch any sleep before our 5:30 AM departure from Tallahassee. Niko promised me bacon for breakfast, but all I got were two soggy hash browns from McDonalds – yuck. Every time we eat fast food, we vow never to touch it again, and yet somehow convenience always sucks us back in. Fortunately, the scenic sights on the road offered an easy distraction from my greasy belly.

Our route today was an exhausting maze. We started west on I-10, meeting Steve at the DeFuniak Springs exit to snag some ropes and draws. After that we popped through Alabama, traversed Mississippi, skirted past Louisiana and rode towards the pink hued sun as it set over Texas. Have I mentioned how amazing this Texas air is right now? It’s warm, but dry, and breezy and cool, but not chilly. It’s perfect.

For this trip, I decided to dedicate myself to two little projects to help preserve thus experience: First, I am diligently tracking our route on the enormous atlas my dad donated to the trip. Our path is brightly highlighted on both state pages and the big country map. Second, each blog post will have a short list of 5 daily experiences (sights, sounds, tastes, random billboard quotes, etc.) – hell, the entire post for some days may just be a list like this.

Here’s your first top 5 of the day:

  1. The crazed wild dog sitting in the thick thistle and wildflower patches between the east and west bound lanes on the interstate in Texas. His patchy-colored fur complimented his wicked eyes that pierced the lanes of traffic in defiance, “yeah, I crossed all those lanes, and I’ll do it again!”
  2. Lunch at Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Que in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Quite possibly the best baked beans I’ve ever had, this place will be getting its own blog post next week!
  3. Niko spotted an enormous 13-foot Santa figurine peeking out of the woods off the interstate in Texas. – Who put him there?
  4. Little fields, patches and sprouts of skinny golden sunflowers and bushy purple blossoms lining the edges of the roadways throughout the southeast. It’s the floral personification of Brooke and I, and it made me miss my roommate terribly.
  5. The quirky cashier from Taco Bueno near Dallas, who chatted up every single customer and walked around the dining area to continue conversations left discarded at the register. She has a bright future in sales if she ever ditches the taco biz.

Next up: We’ll be finishing this first big haul through the tip of New Mexico and up southern Colorado, then we’ll time in Denver with old Tally Rock Gym friends, for a few days of bouldering, microbreweries and delivering the huge wooden wine cellar we drove up from Tallahassee.

Oh, hey – I’M GRADUATING IN FOUR HOURS! Photos and live video galore.

Wow, how did that happen? Fast-forward through four years of Florida State University, and suddenly I have a cap and gown sitting in my room, waiting for my 7:30 graduation ceremony. I spent the morning as usual, munched on bacon and avocado sammies for lunch, and now just four hours away from graduating, I’m totally losing my mind.

My parents are opening up a bottle of prosecco, and while I celebrate, I’ll share a few of my favorite graduation photos that I have taken over the past week. For all my fans (haha) that couldn’t make it to the ceremony, you can watch the Florida State University Commencement Ceremony online! Anyways, enjoy.

Thank you for all the kind words, letters, comments and love. The biggest thank you as I graduate belongs to my parents, the most amazing people on this planet. Without them, I would be no where. I am so blessed. Next time you see me, I’ll have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, baby!

Congratulations to all my fellow graduates, and to the class of 2011. After four years of all-nighters at All Saints, chugging watery beer at The Strip, and having to be on time to class even after the FSU Alert commands you to stay inside – WE DID IT!

Beach Bouldering in South Florida? – It Exists!

Whenever I’m out at a crag up north and am asked by fellow climbers where I’m from, the answer “Florida” always gets sympathetic looks and mumblings about how it must be rough to live without easily accessible climbing.

Well, according to Dead Point Magazine and the legendary Chris Brown of Vertical Ventures – beach bouldering isn’t just a myth in south Florida. Avid climbers can enjoy outdoor Floridian climbing at the Blowing Rocks Preserve, located a little more than an hour north of Miami.

Mark Mercer proves the reality of beach bouldering at Blowing Rocks Preserve in Florida. Photo by: Chris Brown of HighExposures.com

Naturally, there’s a catch – a pretty big one at that. Not only are the rangers in this area known for chasing off climbers, the crag is dangerous and extremely time-sensitive.

Climbing at Blowing Rocks is entirely dependent on the tides; you must get there before the tide begins to rise. Another issue? Sand levels. The exposed rock formations are frequently covered up by thick dunes of sand that make it impossible to reach routes – which are allegedly rated up to V12!

As a Miami native, I feel it is my civil duty to check this place out and give it a shot. Plus, this would make for a sweet photoshoot, as Chris Brown has already proven on his HighExposures blog. Enjoy, Florida kids!

Get your guacamole, hot chocolate and bear beanies at the Pinecrest Farmers Market

For months, my mom kept bragging about the tasty treats she would collect every Sunday morning at the Pinecrest Farmers Market in my hometown of Miami, FL. Finally, over winter break, I was able to join her on one of these early morning excursions to the market at the newly renovated Pinecrest Gardens.

This place has everything you’d expect at a farmers market in a surprisingly small collection of vendors. I headed directly to Anita’s Guacamole stand, which I highly recommend. The fresh avocado tasted like it had just been plucked from the tree. Conveniently, the stand sat next to a Colombian pastry vendor who served me a fabulous empanada – two of my favorite treats within 5 feet of each other? Heaven.

The best find came when we stumbled upon this eccentric woman’s tent filled with felt and knit trinkets. She had rows of creature-inspired beanies, baby elf shoes, felt flowers, coin purses – you name it.

My sister and I fell smitten with the beanies. We tried on bunnies, frogs and pink pigs before Sarah settled on a lion hat and I opted for a golden bear beanie. My selection was a perfect fit for my lifestyle; the heavily padded ‘nose’ that sits directly on my forehead acts as the perfect little helmet for when I’m climbing.

If you are in the South Miami area on a Sunday afternoon, wake up a little early and check out this fabulous market held on the former grounds of Parrot Jungle, which is now known as Pinecrest Gardens. It isn’t huge, but it has everything you need – and a few treats you might not have expected. They had gourmet hot cocoa, eco-friendly soap bars, a wide selection of exotic plants, adorable cupcakes and more. Absolutely worth waking up before noon for.