Weeks 4 & 5 – Sunburnt: Winter in Miami

I used to love the long haul between Colorado and Florida. I’ve driven it over a dozen times, and it used to enchant me. These days, I’ve become a road trip curmudgeon. How do both Texas and Kansas stretch for so long? Why are southerners such awful drivers? And who the hell put KFC at every highway rest stop instead of the clearly superior Popeyes? 

The drive from Boulder to Miami wasn’t romantic. Mcgoo and I caravanned across the country, stopping only to pee or fuel up. We spent the night crammed in our driver’s seats as we attempted to sleep at a rest area right on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. This is what I looked like in the morning:

The reality of a nomadic lifestyle.

Not cute.

Ultimately, the decision to press through and just drive straight down to Miami was an excellent choice. I pulled into my familiar driveway just before midnight on Sunday evening, was greeted by hugs from my ma and a lit up (fake, ugh) Christmas tree, and quickly collapsed into my old bed.

Being in Miami for the holidays is a bit unconventional. The only white Christmas you’ll get is a sandy one, and on Christmas Eve I was out getting sunburnt while kayaking. One thing is universal though: the joy of being with family. My ‘people’ are a bunch of loud, borderline insane Cubans + Mexicans, so things tend to get a little rowdy when we’re all in the same room.

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In other news, if your pops ever asks you to wake up before the sunrise to go kayaking on the bay with him in hopes of catching a huge flock of birds waking up and taking flight–go with him.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but hot damn, what an experience. I was groggy and slow dragging my kayak out to the water, but watching the sun crest the horizon and trigger a wave of seabirds to come flying overheard was one hell of a way to wake up.

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Just before New Years, I took a solo road trip up to Ginnie Springs to shoot a camping video–sponsored by Visit Florida (#LoveFL, y’all!), the state’s tourism board. They let me invite two lady friends along, and it ended up being the perfect two days of snorkeling in crystal clear springs, canoeing down a river, eating steak around a campfire, hunting for crawdads, and reconnecting with two friends I can’t believe I went so long without seeing. But there will be another blog post about this trip on the 14th–stay tuned!

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I made it back down to Miami just in time to head out to Coconut Grove for an Indian feast at Bombay Darbar before hitting the water to watch fireworks from the boat. I had a moment while the boat skimmed along the black sea–I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so present. It was one of those heart-swelling, body tingling, shit-eating grin kinda moments.

My peace was quickly interrupted by honking party boats and my attention quickly turned to whiskey gingers, but the good vibes remained. 2016 is going to be one for the books (or rather, one for the blogs?).

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.