December 31

Last day of 2017. It’s always an interesting time looking back over the past year and thinking about what has happened. It would be easy to say that 2017 has been the best year of my life. But honestly every year since I have gotten sober has been the best year of my life. I would be a fool to believe that the trend will continue. Life happens. At least now I know how to handle the bad things when they happen instead of drinking to numb those feelings. I only had about 9 miles to paddle today to Camp Lulu Key where I was meeting up with fellow Paddlers to celebrate the new year. I took my time packing up. I posted a few updates to social media knowing service would be limited to remind people that today was the last day to get tax deductible donations in for 2017. It’s also the last day to donate to count towards our private donor matching. A few minutes into my paddle I got a few messages saying the link didn’t work. I didn’t have enough service to get internet to update it. I needed to be on solid ground but was about 2.5 miles from the nearest beach that was on my way. It seemed like it took forever. I finally made it and got updated. Now I was later than expected and finally got on the key where I was meeting the group. I didn’t know where exactly they were camping but figured I would paddle around till I found them. I figured they would be camping on the gulf side so I went for it. When I paddled around the corner I saw a group of people on the beach staring at me. Well they were actually watching the sun set but I like to think they were watching for me!  I paddled towards them and one of the angels came down to meet me. It was shallow so I dragged my boat over. When I got close enough to shore, my boat wasn’t going anywhere so in left it in the water and went up to meet the crew. They sure were having a Key West style sunset watching party. The island used to be inhabited by a hermit who lived there alone for years and a few people each year to come there to celebrate his life. It continues to grow each year. The semi circle focused around a fire pit and pair of fishing boots that the hermit used to wear. They offered me several beers and food. I obviously took them up on the food. I was even given a grand announcement of my arrival. We got a picture with me and the 3 Paddlers who were there that have completed the 1,515 mile Circlenavigational Trail of Florida. That was 3 of the 23 people in the world who have paddled the trail around Florida. As the final sun was setting on 2017 I kept thinking I should probably move my boat so not to obstruct the view. After about the 5th person asked someone to take a picture and said “ get the sunset and the boat in the background” I decided to leave it. After a big cheer when the sun finally set, I paddled around to the other side of the island where my group had set up camp. I got to setting up my spot and they cooked up dinner.  Steak, mashed potatoes, greens and several deserts. We ate, laughed, and told trail stories. Around 9 we headed back over to the sunset spot and waited for the firework show. One of the guys had driven to Alabama to get the good fireworks. We ooo’ed and ahh’ed as they shot fireworks over the water. After the grand finale we returned to the outside of the island for more storytelling tillmidnight. It was another hour before we finally called it a night. I dusted the sand off my feet and climbed into my tent that I have called home for most of the year, one last time in 2017. I think it’s easy to say that 2017 was a good year. 


December 30


That empty island I went to bed on started getting visitors real early. I heard a family walking around with a kid who must have never seen a sea shell. “MOM, look at this” then repeat screaming every 15 seconds for 20 minutes. Slowly packing up I got the call for breakfast. Literally a “ca-cah” from my new friends from last night. They had told me last night they would give me a sign in the morning when it was ready. Eggs, sausage, bagels, and pound cake. The island kept filling up and I realized I needed to get going. We said our goodbyes after the island had been invaded and became a party spot. I had forgotten it was Saturday coming up on a holiday so the water was crazy. My 2 miles to Marco Island turned into 4 with a wrong turn but I finally made it to the restaurant I was going to get lunch. I planned on stopping there so I could fill my water because it was pretty much the last chance before going into ten thousand islanders national wildlife refuge. It was a full house but I found a sliver in between boats to tie off. I walked through the crowded restaurant to the hostess station. I figured there was gonna be a long wait to get a table for 1 and the bar was packed. I decided I would just get some thing to go even though it would be tough to eat sitting in my boat with all the traffic. Luckily when I got to the bar to order, a spot opened.  I squeezed in and got to do something I always wanted to do when I use to spend half my life on a bar stool. I used the purse hooks. But I hung my life jacket on it. I tried to explain and apologize to all the fancy rich people for my smell. As I was waiting for my food I started getting really uncomfortable with all the people. It’s something that I experienced after hiking the Appalachian Trail and it got me thinking about “readjusting” to the real world then I finish. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. I scarfed down my food and got out of there as quickly as possible. I left so quickly that I forgot to get water. I saw that there was a small fishing village about 2 miles away that was the absolute last spot, so after fighting boat traffic I finally arrived. The two restaurants in the town were deserted. The town looked rough. I have to assume that it was hit hard by the hurricanes due to the half destroyed buildings and plethora of blue tarp roofs. I paddled around and found a marina. I tied up and climbed up onto the dock and asked some guys if I could use their hose. They were super nice and helped me out. When I climbed back over the rail and down to the dock where my boat was, a guy came flying up on a boat. He awkwardly stared at me while pulling next to where I had tied up. I said hello and asked if I could help. He snapped and said can you untie the boat. I untied the front line and went to the back. Before I could get it all the way off, he started pulling away towing the boat. I got it free. The front of the towing boat started getting pulled over my kayak that was still tied up. The guy just kept pulling harder and my poor boat was getting stretched and started going under. My life flashed before my eyes. Thinking that I’m this close to the end and my boat gets destroyed by some angry man trying to tow a boat all because I was helping him out. They finally broke free. The charter boat captain who gave me the water came over and asked what that was about. I feel like if things escalated more he was gonna let that guy have it. I asked about a campsite that I had found on the map and he confirmed that there was a big sand bar so I took of into the sunset. It was a good feeling paddling away down the channel towards the open Gulf as the sun set. After having been walked over by people twice today, it was nice paddling into the calm wilderness. I beached and climbed up on the long sand bar while the final glow of the day was fading away. A good song came on and I had a little dance party by myself since there was not a person or sign of civilization in sight. 

December 29


The challenge is on. With paddling through Naples I had to put in a long day to get to a place to camp. After an early fog I got out at a decent time. I weaved my way through the back channels before hitting Wiggins Pass to cut out to the ocean.  Both sides of the pass were packed with people and boats. I could see where the channel met the ocean and the water was rough. The last thing I wanted to do was flip over, not just because of the danger, but because of all the people watching. I pulled ashore and scouted out the best line to take.  It was on the opposite side close to shore. I was going to have to drag my boat across a small sand bar but it was the best bet. I went for it and made it under the close supervision of some silent spectators. Then it was a long way down the coast passing thousands of beach goers and tall buildings. It was relatively calm out past the break. The maps had suggested staying at a hotel halfway through but with it being a weekend and holiday week I figured it was full or way out of my price range. Plus I was just getting back from time off and was willing to put in the miles. When I cut back into the channel it was tricky again. I caught a wave and rode it for a while until I paddled past a large yacht. It had to easily be a million dollar boat. The people were actually having a Congo line with one hand and drinks in the other. They invited me up to join them. I could tell they weren’t serious. If I was still drinking I would have made sure they knew that I had paddled across the country and I would have been leading that Congo line in no time. I just kept going and turned off down another channel towards where I could camp. A steady flow of boats were coming towards me heading back to Naples as the sun went down. I could see two boats tied together ahead and others going slow past them. One of the boats yelled at me “slow down, it’s the cops up there”. I said I was gonna make a run for it and head to Cuba. He was joking about my speed but not about the cops. My heart sped up even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Old habits. I was concerned that I didn’t have the proper lighting to be paddling at night. When I got closer I could see they were busy. They had the driver of the other boat over on the police boat. And he had one of their life jackets on. Spending enough time on the water I know that’s the international sign for “you're busted". I am assuming that he was getting a DUI. I just kept going as quickly as I could. I made sure to let all the rest of the boats know that the cops were ahead to not speed. The boats slowly stopped coming and the sky turned black. I could tell that I was pretty far away from anything by the lack of lights.  A light caught the corner of my eye from a ways back. It looked like a boat but with way too many lights. If it was a boat it would have caught up to me but it was just hanging out behind me. I was getting very curious as to what it was. I would paddle a few strokes then hold off to let it catch up. When I got close enough that I could make out what it was, I thought I was going crazy. It was a reindeer pulling a sleigh. Well it was Christmas lights of a reindeer on the front of a boat. After I shook the confusion, it made perfect sense. I had always wondered as a kid if Santa took a vacation after working so hard to make and deliver presents and now I knew the answer. He was headed to Marco Island. I sat in amazement as he paddled by. I only had a few more miles to the beach that allowed camping but I still couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I pulled up on the point of the deserted beach to camp under a wide sky of stars. I could see a circle of chairs but no people. It was a little odd but I figured they were just left there. After I got set up I walked the beach and saw their tents. I figured they were already in bed. I thought 8 was early to go to bed but who am I to judge. When I got in my tent trying to be quiet I saw a fire kick up and people. I went over to just let them know I was camped over there and to apologize for camping so close but I had run out of island. They said they were over on another boat having dinner. They invited me over and we hung out for quite a while. One of the guys was a private pilot and the other a coast guard member and their girlfriends. They were childhood friends and back in town for the holidays. We had a big fire and they invited me over for breakfast in the morning. It was a long day of paddling and as great as it would be to have the island all to my self tonight, I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to share it with. 

December 28

Today was all about Ohio. One part of being glad I’m down south away from the single digit weather. And the second part almost every person I met happened to be from Ohio. I paddled across the bay to Ft Myers Beach and tucked behind the island. The personal boat traffic was crazy. It was everything from kayaks to pirate ships. That’s right, literally pirate ships. Allegedly it’s the #1 tourist attraction in the area and judging by the good time the crew was having I couldn’t argue with that. I started talking with 2 kayakers and they were from Cleveland. I pulled into a marina to head to the grocery store and when I was parking my boat the dock attendant said he was from Ohio. Then he told me I couldn’t park there and had to move to the other side of the marina. I paddled around to where he told me to park and as I was pulling up a lady came up and asked me if it was true?  I politely replied “why yes, I am the best looking person out here”. She didn’t deny it but asked if I really paddled from Ohio. Then asked if she could take my picture.  I was an instant celebrity. I busted through the crowd and hit the store. I ran into at least 4 people with Ohio shirts on. On my way back I got talking to some of the people working at the marina store with accents from down under. Super nice people. I could have chatted with them all day but had to get going to meet some more friends from Ohio for dinner. When I got to the last restaurant before a long stretch of wilderness I pulled up at sunset. I was meeting one of my oldest college friends and her parents but was early. The place was nicer than it looked online and I felt really out of place. But once they arrived none of that mattered. They are probably one of the nicest and funniest families I know. I’m sure the entire restaurant was trying to figure us out but we didn’t care. My sides hurt from laughing so hard. We said our goodbyes and I paddled off into the night. I only had 2 miles to go to the campsite. My mind is still blown at how many Ohio people I ran into today. 


December 27

20.2 miles. Blistering sun. An osprey flying over carrying a fish. Dolphins. A Rouge wave. Being offered beers 3 times. Paddling through sunset and into dark. And a guy telling me to keep doing what I’m doing because I’m doing what people wish they could. It’s safe to say that things are back to normal on the water!

December 26

Christmas is over and it’s time to get back to work. 4:45 came early. I grabbed one final shower and my parents and I hopped in the car and headed over the mountains to Asheville to catch my flight. After our goodbyes it was time to run the gantlet of getting through security. I know to allow extra time because they always pull my bags aside. I don’t know if it’s profiling because of the beard or all the batteries that I am carrying. After TSA pulled all my stuff out and did several explosives tests, I was free to go. Except for my jar of peanut butter. Guess they were hungry. I left the cold and landed in Punta Gorda, FL and the adventure started. I turned on my Uber app and there wasn’t a single driver registered. There were several the night before when I checked so it had me worried. I debated getting a taxi but I knew it would be 3x as expensive. When I finally decided a taxi was better than nothing, they were all gone. I tried the Uber app again and had a ride in 5 minutes. When we got to Boca Grande my boat was waiting for me, well taken care of. I loaded up and said thanks to the few who watched her and pushed off. It felt good to be back on the water. My boat seemed light and fast. I had gotten rid of some extra gear I hadn’t used in a while before I left. I paddled out of the channel and into the bay. It was a light chop but I was excited for the challenge. There were tons of pleasure boaters out as I figured there would be all week being sandwiched between the holidays. I had a few conversations before I found a camp spot. It wasn’t the best but I got my tent up before getting eaten by bugs. When I climbed in my tent I wanted to reorganize my gear but instead passed out right away. When I woke up it was pitch dark. I only paddled 7.5 miles but with the early morning and travel I was exhausted. It felt normal to be back in my tent under the stars, but more importantly out of the cold weather up north. 


December 13

Another full day of driving. Even though I am in the car with my dad, my mind is still in its own world. I have enjoyed the warm winter temperatures and beautiful beach views of Florida. I keep thinking that maybe I am meant to be living at the beach. But as each mile passes, the mountains are getting bigger. The snow is getting deeper. As I stare out the window as we drive through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia it reminds me of my roots and how much I love the Appalachian Mountains. There is just something about the beauty of the snow and trees in the winter that captures my heart. Well not so much the cold that comes with the snow but there is no better place in the spring, summer, or fall. We finally made it to Ohio and I was bum rushed by my niece and nephew.  They quickly moved out of the way when my brothers dog got his chance to show his love for me. I’m not sure who was more excited to see me, the kids or the dog. No matter how great of an adventure I am on, the feeling of family definitely out ways that 100%.   


December 12

We dropped my mom off at the airport and Dad and I started heading north. 17 hrs of driving with out traffic. This could be the most challenging part of the entire trip. I haven’t been in a car for this long, let alone with another person for this long in over half a year. After about 2 hours Dad and I had solved all the world’s problems and then some.  Most of the time I just stared out the window at the change of scenery. We made it to South Carolina for the night. It continued to get colder the farther north we got. I know it’s December but it’s definitely a cold snap all over the country. And it’s only gonna get colder tomorrow when we head north. 


December 11

Waking up in a bed is always nice. Well different might be a more appropriate word. I have become accustomed to sleeping in my tent and almost feel more comfortable in my 6x8 tent than I do in a civilized room. After a big breakfast we headed over to the retirement home to visit my grandpa. It’s always great to see him but has become harder throughout the years the older he gets. He is 94. I can’t imagine living to see 94. Then again the way I was living I wasn’t sure I would ever see 30. For a 94 year old he was sitting there listening to a live band tapping his hands to the beat. I definitely didn’t get my musical talent from him as I can’t keep the beat to any song. He is definitely different from the last time I saw him. He just looks tired, which is understandable. We hung out for a while and it got me thinking about how you only get one life to live. While he has lived a long life, if feels like mine is just getting started over. And I plan on making the most of it and think that I’m off to a good start. After we left, my mom and I went to do some shopping. Of course we headed to the outdoor store since I don’t really know where else to shop. I chatted for a while with them about camping spots coming through Naples and found out that the options are limited. I’m gonna have some long days when I return to paddling. We decided to head to the outlets to continue shopping. This was a mistake. I have always hated shopping. And not knowing what I need clothes for didn’t make it any easier. I definitely need a new pair of jeans, exspecally since I’m returning to the frozen tundra of Ohio. I tried a few pairs on but finally decided that I wasn’t going to buy some just to buy something. After a short meltdown I decided to just call it quits on buying clothes till after my trip when I know what I will need clothes for. Since I don’t know where I will be living or what I will be doing, it made the most sense.  


December 10

It was now or never. I rolled up the legs on my pants, kept on my fleece, put my raincoat on to stop the wind, stocking cap on and said a prayer. I cut behind the island towards the channel towards Boca Grande. I got caught in a few shallows but pushed through and made it to the free flowing shallows. Instantly I could tell I was out of my element. Passing boats that were more expensive than any house I have ever stayed in. I pulled up to the marina but the docks were higher than I could possibly climb out of my boat and reach. I continued on around till I saw a little ramp and pulled up. There were 3 guys working on a small boat in a boat yard. I asked them if I could leave my boat and go talk to the marina. They were cool and said no problem. When I walked out of the boat yard, I saw a well groomed croquet field. I don’t think I have ever seen one of those but knew I was in a wealthy area. Having to walk around a resort to get to the marina took me about 3/4 a mile but finally went in the office to set up a place to store my boat. The lady working told me the manager was off today and I would need to talk to him. She gave me his card. I asked if he would answer if I called and she said tomorrow. That didn’t help me at all. I figured that she had her finger on the silent alarm button just based off the way I looked. I walked out not knowing what to do. My only option was to go back to the boat yard and ask those guys if I could store it there. I figured that maybe if I offered them a few hundred dollars cash they might give in. I walked back up to them and told them I was paddling from Ohio to Key West. Before I could get anything out, one of them said to the other “I *explicit* told you”. I looked at them and they explained that they figured I had traveled far by the way I was geared out. They explained that people come in all the time and brag about paddling from 5 miles away like they just paddled in from Cuba. We got a good laugh and I asked if I could pay them to leave my boat and they refused the money. They had me put it on an old boat trailer. I was able to put it upside down and store my gear underneath it. As I waited for my dad to pick me up I continued to talk with the guys. They were the crew of a boat that was bought for $700K and had $2 million put into it. Their job was to maintain it and take people on trips. Something I could definitely get into. They gave me some advice on where to head in the Everglades and even said they were going to be down there after the new year when I planned on paddling through. I couldn’t have lucked out any better by being rejected at the marina. Even after 6 months of traveling it blows my mind how things work out. My dad showed up and we took off. He said it best explaining how nice of an area it was. “They charged me $6 just to get on the island." We headed to the hotel in Naples and I was able to get a shower. It felt great knowing that I was on a break and stress free for a little while. Now the next side journey had started; spending a few days in town before heading back to Ohio to get my truck to start bringing it south as part of my exit strategy for ending my trip. 


December 9


I woke up to rain beating on my shaking tent and it confirmed my decision that I was probably stuck on this island all day. Without putting in any miles today meant that making it to Sanibel in the next few days where I had been offered a place to store my boat was probably out of the picture. I stayed in my sleeping bag all day and tried to come up with a new plan of exit. Running scenarios one after another watching the weather. I saw a marina about 5 miles away in Boca Grande that would have to work. I decided instead of calling them to ask, I figured I would have better luck showing up, looking like a popsicle, and giving them my sob story. Either way I have to get off this island tomorrow. 

December 8

I was able to get out of the hotel early and paddle back to the main route. The temperature has really dropped and the wind picked up. I made it to one of the islands paddlers are allowed to camp on and pulled up on the north side to get out of the wind. I explored to find a good place to set up camp. I wasn’t happy with the options and figured there was a possibility I was going t be stranded 2 Days here.   It could be miserable. I saw there was another island 3 miles south that I could camp on and debated going for it. I finally decided it was now or never and shoved off. Probably one of the top mistakes of the trip. The wind was blasting me in the face, which meant the water was splashing me in the face as well. My entire body was soaked. I was going about a mile an hour. My hands were numb. I couldn’t feel my feet at all. After 2 hrs of paddling the feeling of concern had set in about an hour ago. I could see the beach and felt like every stroke I was getting further away. After just under 3 hrs I made it. I found a spot out of the wind and was much happier with my decision even though during the paddle I second and third guessed it along the way. I got a fire going as quickly as possible and changed out of my wet clothes putting on every dry piece of clothing I had. I couldn’t feel my hands and fumbled putting up my tent. I finally got it up and climbed right in my sleeping bag. Being afraid that I would freeze to death or more likely blow away if I went outside to pee I just held it and prayed that my tent didn’t collapse in the middle of the night. 


December 7

The route the guide books say, had me staying at a hotel tonight but when I looked it up it was $200 a night and they didn’t do one night. I went looking for another place and with the help of google earth I found one that looked like I could paddle up to it. It was a mile and a half out of the way but for $50 I could make it work. I paddled through the intercoastal getting passed by some nice boaters who would slow down and others who obviously owned the waterway. I took a break and called my dad to let him know my plan since I knew he was in the area heading to Naples to meet my mom. He didn’t answer which I thought was weird since he would have been in the car and his phone would have rang over the Bluetooth. I kept going out of the canal into a large bay. After a while my dad called back. When I answered he said look to your left. It took me a while but I finally spotted him. He had been driving around trying to find me. He sure did. I was about a mile off shore. I had a better view of the shore than him and said to meet me at a bridge a little further down. He couldn’t see the bridge and had gotten back in the car and drove further down. I found a marina with a restaurant a little further down and we met up there. We had lunch and caught up but I had to get moving to try and get to the hotel by dark. I was meeting them in a few days to take a break for Christmas so we would have plenty of time to catch up later. While we were eating lunch I got a call from a Florida number. I didn’t know the number but figured I probably should answer it. It was a doctor from Sanibel Island who was a friend of the guy I met twice back around Longboat. He said his friend told him I might need a place to store my boat and that he would be able to help out. I was floored. I told him I would keep in touch but that would probably work out. I continued on till I turned off the main course and headed up the back waters to where the hotel was. It was a lot tighter than it looked on the map. It was dark by this point so navigating was kind of difficult. I finally made it and was able to find a gap in the mangroves to pull my boat out of the water. I chained it up to some palm trees and grabbed the luggage cart. It felt kind of weird loading all my kayak gear on a luggage cart but made it easier than taking multiple trips.

December 6


Paddled in the intercostal fighting a current and wind all day. The wind is blowing from the south and there is no end in sight. Everyone has been warning me about the “cold front” that is moving in this week. It’s supposed to get down in the 40s. Even though I have been living in Ohio where 40 is a heat wave in December, mix in wind and waves that is a recipe for disaster. Getting wet and staying wet at that temperature is a sure call for hypothermia. Not something I signed up for while paddling in Florida. I can wear extra clothing to help prevent it but with head winds, paddling is next to impossible. The next week is definitely going to be a challenge. When pulling into Venice I stopped at a restaurant to use a flush toilet before heading to my campsite. It was a tiki bar on the water but the bathroom was in the nice restaurant so I got some looks walking through. I stopped at the tiki bar for a coke and heard 2 couples talking about RVing. They were discussing if the campgrounds in the Keys were open. I of course ease dropped trying to get some information. I have been trying to decide if paddling to the keys is an option. Reports are that most of the keys were hit badly but Key West is restored because it’s a money maker. I didn’t get any real answers and took off to Snake Island to camp. It’s right in the middle of Venice. When I pulled up it was empty. I walked over to the other side where there were several people hanging out. I asked if I was allowed to camp on the island. They said I would have to ask the mayor. And he just so happened to be there. He said I had to file for a permit, and it took about 3 weeks for approval. I was concerned at first but then replied with “ok, so how much cash?”  They said I got the point and I realized I had walked up on the community of the Snake Island Republic. It’s a group of locals who go out to the island and hang out at sunset. We chatted for a while before I went and set up camp. I was definitely jealous of the “community” that they have. With being nomadic for the past 6 months, having a group of friends around is definitely something I miss.

December 5


By far the earliest I have been up the entire trip. I was packed up and ready to paddle before the sun was up. I had to wait for the sun to rise to see the water conditions to decide if I was going to take the ocean or the bay. At first light I decided to take the side which was my first choice. I had forgotten how beautiful this key is. While there are houses and hotels, none of it is tacky. I continued down seeing only a few people on the beach. I actually counted them, 100 in the 10 miles of beach front. That included about 30 at the resort at the south end of the island. Another reason I love this island. It was like a paddle down memory lane. I finally paddled up to the resort where I used to work. I was the Recreation Manager. Or as my friends called it The Director of Fun. I was responsible for the beach, pool, water sports, and kids program. The resort has since closed and fallen into disrepair. It was once the number 1 beach and tennis resort in the world. President George W Bush was staying there when the 9/11 attacks happened. It was hard to see what used to be a thriving resort, fenced off and rotting. The only part you could see were the parts I was responsible for. The place where I spent a majority of my time while living in Florida. The pool that I got licensed to operate and fought day in and day out to keep spotless now growing 5 foot weeds in dark slimy water. The palm leaf tiki hut that I shared a beer with celebrities under now just stick frames.  A beach where I once led an egg toss of 200 plus people completely empty. It was a surreal feeling. I instantly wanted to start cleaning. I would have never thoughIi would see it look like that in my entire life. But then again I never though I could or would be able to live my life with out drinking. After several pictures and even more head shakes I climbed back to my boat and paddled on down the beach in silence. I reached the end of the island and turned inland. I pulled off at the New Pass Bait shop to talk to my old bait shrimp dealer. When I pulled up I heard some one yell my name. I should have been alarmed but by now nothing really surprises me. It was a guy who was sitting next to me yesterday eating after I crossed the bay. He definitetly knew all the hot spots around the islands since we kept running into each other. I went in and caught up with the shrimp man as I always do when I’m in the area. I didn’t stay long as I was meeting a friend next door for lunch. I paddled over to the restaurant and tied up, taking prime dock space up and pissing off people in $100,000 boats but I figured I earned it. It was great catching up with a like minded person who kept reminding me to enjoy the journey and just go with the flow. I think the waiter might have been getting upset as we were taking the table up for too long but we weren’t going anywhere. I wish I could have stayed longer but I needed to get going to find a campsite as the map made them look far and few in between. I cut through the bay paddling under the Ringling Bridge right next to the Sarasota skyline till I got to a narrow channel. It took me a while of paddling around to find a break in the mangroves and dry land to set up. Luckily I saw a perfect spot to set up. The bugs were back and I’m pretty sure you aren’t  supposed to camp there but it was tucked back far enough that no one would bother me.

December 4


Probably haven’t been this anxious or hyped for a paddle since going through Baton Rouge on the Mississippi.  Crossing the Tampa Bay you hear horror stories. People tell you to hit it fast and keep your head on a swivel. They also say to not cross it unless it’s perfectly flat early in the morning. That was the plan. I had about 3 miles till I hit the actual bay crossing. It was a little choppy for those 3 miles but I figured it had to do with the barrier island so I pushed on. When I hit the edge of Fort Desoto I had to make the decision. It was still a little choppy across the bay but I figured it was now or never.  I floated out and when my watch chimed 10 am I hit play and blasted Hells Bells and dug in. It wasn’t terrible but definitely tougher than I would have liked.  I found the rhythm of the waves and paddled into them.  It took me off course and I had to correct often. For about 3 of the 6 Miles I was rolling up and down over the waves. When I would be at the bottom of the set, the waves would pull be taller than my flag pole on both sides and I was completely blinded. I had scoped out the channel before I took off to make sure no tankers or cruise ships where coming in or out. Luckily I had checked because I was blinded when I was in the bottom of the wave set and could only see a wall of water. I finally got my eyes locked on the Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island and headed for it. The last mile the waves kicked out to a small chop and guided me in. It was an interesting moment paddling up to the restaurant that was the first place I went when I moved down here 11 years ago. I had gotten drunk there several times. I pulled up on shore and walked the long pier to the restaurant. It was like walking a plank. I got some food and was ready to take off when I heard back from my best friend from the islands that he would be there in an hour. I sat on my boat and answered tons of questions. I felt like a tourist attraction but didn’t mind at all. My buddy arrived and we went to eat again. I thought about eating again but I just ate up the conversation. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have friends from my drinking days that are still just as strong to this day. No matter how much time passes it seems just like yesterday. I had to get moving to cover the miles to where I planned on camping. And if I wanted to get there by sunset it was going to be a push. The sun was out and high. I was sweating and realized that it’s December. But a cold front is moving in. I made it to the Cortez bridge and docked and ran up to the Circle K to grab some drinks. I used to frequent the Circle K regularly. (I will stop referencing all the places I used to drink to save time.). I paddled the last two miles around Anna Maria and made the turn into the gulf as the sun was about to set. I went under the draw bridge and landed on the north end of Longboat Key. The key that I called Home for 2 years. A place that still holds a huge part of my heart. A place where my addiction and isolation took off. The north end know as Beer Can Island is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Not just because of sentimental reasons. There are dear trees sticking out into the water that look like something out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The sunset was amazing. It was like the key was welcoming me back and congratulating me for so many different things. A few people were spread out over the key watching the sunset and slowly starting to leave. I hung around and scouted out a place to set up my hammock after it got dark so no one knew I was there. I found a nice spot tucked away behind a natural shelter some one made and hid my boat and loaded my gear into the shelter to hide it from sight. I could hear a guy and girl a little ways down the beach having a good time. I decided to go over and just let them know I was hanging out over here (no pun intended) incase they saw a light they didn’t freak out. I’m guessing they won’t even remember they saw me in the morning but no judgement since that used to be me.

There are several “milestone” locations on this trip, reaching the Ohio, the Mississippi, New Orleans, Florida line, Tampa Bay, but they don’t compare to reaching Longboat. I’m not even sure if where ever I finish will compare to what it means to me personally to get here. It only took several years of addiction and 2,690 mile to get back here.

December 3


All great things must come to an end. But not right away. We loaded my boat in my buddy’s truck and threw his paddle board in on top along with beach day gear. We headed to Saint Pete Beach and set up the tent and claimed our spot. Then headed back to where he picked me up and got dropped off. His wife and kids went back to the beach and we started paddling towards them. Our other friends met us there. It’s always nice having someone to paddle with. We had a few miles before we cut out into the ocean. We did our best to find the crew on the beach. Finally we saw his son running towards us on the beach. He hopped in the front of my boat for the last 50 yards. It was my first passenger!  We pulled our boats up on the beach and enjoyed a lazy Sunday at the beach. It was just like old times. But eventually everyone started leaving one by one and it was time for me to continue my journey. We said our final goodbyes and I paddled off south and they went back to there lives. I only had a few miles to the north end of the Tampa Bay crossing. I found a nice spot and set up camp as the sun was setting. I laid in my tent reflecting on the whole weekend. Getting to go out Friday night, have a lazy Saturday morning and a Sunday beach day. All the things I used to do with my good friends. But this time I didn’t have to drink and I could still enjoy it, if not more. It’s always hard leaving friends after an amazing weekend together. It made me realize how lonely it can really get out here. It probably didn’t help that I watched as the large cruise ships took off out to sea. They were lit up and even though I couldn’t hear a thing other than the waves crashing on the shore, the sound of the passengers laughing and having a good time rang out.  I know in the end I will appreciate it but it doesn’t mean it makes it any easier in the moment.

December 2


Probably my favorite day of the trip so far. Waking up in a house with friends spread out all over just like old times was amazing. We had a monstrous breakfast and sat in the back yard soaking up the sun drinking mimosas. Well none for me but it was really like a flash back to the “good old days” when I lived down here. We sat around telling stories and talking about plans for the day. We should do this, we should do that, well I need to go home first. Let’s meet up later. Having been a part of this conversation I knew we probably wouldn’t meet up later so I was just enjoying the time spent together. We finally split ways and went about the day. The rest of the day was spent going to the grocery and watching my friends' sons hockey practice. It was a little weird watching hockey in Florida but still a great time. We ended the day grilling steaks and watching football. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the day than with good friends.

December 1

Only a few miles to get to my extract point is sometimes harder to judge than 20 Miles. I dilly dallied long enough and got on the water. I made it to the boat ramp right before noon as I had planned. My college fraternity brother was there a few minutes after and we loaded my boat in his truck and were off to Tampa. It was like transporting back in time.  Crossing bridges over the water, many I have done hundreds of times, many of them I probably don’t remember. I used to live on the south side of the Tampa Bay and drive the hour over several times a month to hang out with my old college crew that had relocated down here after school. It felt just the same except I wasn’t intoxicated. We got to his house where his wife and kid were waiting. Another one of my college friends. We caught up and got lunch and waited for their other kid to get off the bus. The last time I lived down here I probably would have avoided hanging out simply because I couldn’t do what I wanted around kids. A short time later two more college friends came over. The band was officially back together. The 5 college friends who had lived down here 10 years ago were back together finally. Time hadn’t skipped a beat. We played cards like we used to. Except we were playing Uno this time with little kids but it was just as intense and trash talk was flowing. The kids went to grandmas and we continued to party. We walked down to the “strip” on the island. It was the same island we used to party on every weekend. Sure enough when we walked by the first restaurant I saw someone I knew. Another person from college in Ohio who had moved down here. We stared at each other for a while before we realized what was going on. I remember giving her advice on Tampa in a Bar in Columbus right before she moved down here. She was just as shocked as I was and told me that she had been following along online and now I was here. We continued on to a bar and parked the crew on the patio for drinks and appetizers. The stories were flowing heavier than drinks. Not drinking wasn’t a problem, I was just enjoying the moment. Before we closed out and walked back I walked to the 7-11 to get some drinks for the morning. That was an interesting experience. I used to stumble into that 7-11 at all hours. Even though it’s been years, my muscle memory kicked in and I walked straight to the back to the beer section.  It was an eye opening situation but quickly made a turn and was back on course to what I was looking for. I went back to meet my friends and we started the walk back to their house. We were strung out over a block talking and walking. Getting time to talk to each other one on one. Normally I wouldn’t remember these conversations but I will keep these memories with me forever. We got back and hung out in the back yard drinking and telling stories till 2 AM. I finally went to bed and they stayed up solving the world’s problems. I didn’t need to dream tonight because I was living in one today.

November 30

Life is all about timing. And that was the case today. I had about 17 miles planned through the beaches of Tampa.  I had looked up different gas stations and restaurants to stop at to get some snacks before I get off tomorrow to meet friends for the weekend. I figured I would just paddle for a bit then see where I should stop. I made it about 5 miles to Clearwater and decided I could stop at a Walgreens for snacks and hit a water side restaurant later in the day. I had been to Clearwater several times. One of the most memorable non-memorable times was my epic spring break road trip my second senior year of college. I don’t think this town has ever recovered. I tried to find a place to dock to run up to Walgreens for 5 minutes. I asked at a jet ski rental place and the guy rudely told me the only place was a restaurant dock. I paddled back and tied up. The dock had a gate that wouldn’t let me in unless it was unlocked electronically. The signs posted everywhere said that you needed to have a time stamped receipt from the restaurant to get back to your boat. I was a little worried and confused about how this was going to work. While I was standing there 2 tattooed guys came up on a boat and one of them called the number to open the gate. We made small talk about my trip and the gate still hadn’t open. A yacht pulled up with about 6 people on it. We had 9 people and a dog standing there looking at this gate. The guy called again and they buzzed us in. We all walked towards the restaurant and I figured I should probably buy something to get back to my boat. Since I haven’t used a washing machine in a month or showered in a week I decided I should probably sit outside. The two guys with the dog were outside too and one of them told me to join them. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I thought about politely declining and lying saying I had some online work to do or something but I agreed to join them. They were asking more questions about my trip and then one of them asked why I would do something like this. I told him I had been wrapped up in drugs and alcohol and finally got my life back and decided to do it. Then the guy said he had been sober for 22 years. My jaw dropped. The conversation and everything about the whole situation changed. It was like I was back in Columbus hanging with friends except for a lot better weather. We were done eating and I realized I needed to get back on the water to make some miles. Our waitress hadn’t been back in a while and one of the guys said he had taken care of the check. We left and it was like parting ways with old friends. I hit the store and got back on the water. I checked my phone and had gotten a Facebook message from the one guy saying it was nice meeting me and to keep it up. A little bit later I got a text from the sober guy saying he was sorry he didn’t think of it earlier but if I wanted I could stop at his place that I was passing in a few miles to shower, do laundry, sleep in a bed. I thought about it but wanted to get in a few more miles and with getting all that tomorrow I respectfully declined but was very appreciative. I made it to my island campsite at sunset and was still amazed about my day. If one little thing had changed, I would have never have met those guys. If the hurricane hadn’t have pushed me off the water for so long. If I had started my trip in Montana instead of Ohio. If I had not taken a day off a few weeks ago. If I had camped on one island further last night. If I would have left camp 5 minutes earlier or one minute later this morning. If that idiot in the big boat would have slowed down and didn’t cause me to stop as he threw wake at me. If the jet ski guy would have let me dock there. If I would have decided to sit inside instead of outside. So many things could have changed the opportunity to meet those guys but they didn’t. And now I have an amazing experience and new friends that I didn’t have when I started the day. The adventure gods work in mysterious ways that I don’t understand but when things like this happen I definitely don’t question them.