Tuesday, November 6, 2018

From Swamp Thing To Beach Bum

"I simply can't take it anymore"

That was my quick and dirty answer to everyone when they asked why I was moving out of South Florida and leaving my job as guide in the Everglades. It had, in fact, broken me. 



I knew prior to moving south from Gainesville to Boca Raton that if I was to ever grow tired of anything, it'd be the people. And that's exactly what happened. I actually loved what I did in South Florida. Even though people who are close to me heard me bitch quite a bit about my job, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. From the time I picked my guests up, until the time I dropped them off, it rarely felt like work. The rest of the time, however? I really REALLY didn't enjoy. 

Sure there were some bright spots.

I met some cool people. Got to experience some fun things that aren't offered anywhere else. But for the vast majority of my time in South Florida, I simply didn't like it. West Palm Beach to Homestead is essentially one massive city. The biggest city that I've personally ever been in and after a while it took its toll. Commutes to and from work ranged under 10 miles but took hours. The cost of living was outrageous. And the people? I won't blow smoke up your ass...

The people are shit.

 Like I said, I met some cool people, but for the most part, the people are terrible. And not even one demographic over another. Just the people in general. 

I've read several "studies" and reports about urban living. How it can lead to aggressiveness, poor mental health, etc. Though I won't argue with anything they have to say, I really think it just boils down to this: Too many people, too close together. 

The way I see it, you're allowed to be a terrible person and essentially get away with it there. Say, for example, you're at a bar. You drunkenly decide to completely show your ass. Fight the bouncer, throw drinks on someone, whatever. End of it all, you get kicked out. 

So what?

There's so many people that there's almost ZERO chance that you'll ever run into any of the ones you just pissed off ever again. Try that in small town USA and you'll suddenly find yourself with no friends and a bad name for yourself quite quickly. There's no accountability, and I think that just leads to worse people in general. 

Another thing was that I found it extremely challenging to find people who shared the same interests as me. Aside from beer drinking, the only other hobbies I have revolve around the outdoors. Fishing, kayaking, spearfishing, hunting, etc. But when it came to many of the people I met, the most "outdoorsy" they ever got was laying out on the beach. Many had never even seen an Alligator, despite living in South Florida their entire lives. So what in the world do I have in common with them?

There was one evening after work that I stopped by the bar in Deerfield Beach and sat down to unwind before heading home. It wasn't long before two girls my age sat down right next to me. I introduced myself, told them what I did, and chatted with them for a while before finally one of them, Chelsea, stopped me mid sentence...

"Oh my God...so I have to ask...Would it be weird if I got your number to give to my boyfriend?"

"...umm...what?"

"He's a huge outdoorsman and he's been down here for years and hasn't met anyone who's into what he likes"

Fast forward a week and Chelsea's boyfriend, Shaun and I are spearfishing off of the Pompano Beach pier together and are still friends to this day. 

Yeah I made a few friends, but bottom line, I simply wasn't enjoying living there. At one point I actually managed to get so stressed I successfully gave myself Shingles (listen to Terry Bradshaw, it sucks).

Yeah dude. Live around the ancients long enough and you catch that kinda shit. 

 I needed to make a change. ASAP. 

As luck would have it, I have friends scattered all over the state of Florida. I knew that I didn't want to move back to Gainesville. Yes the town is great, but I'm not in school anymore nor am I 21. Unlike most people from Pensacola, I'm still avoiding moving BACK, so that was a pass too. My sister lives in Jacksonville, and that region was a place I'd yet to spend much time in, so why not? I began looking for places and it just so happened that one of my best friends Kiersten was looking for a roommate in a beach house in Saint Augustine. For cheap. 

Put me in coach. 

So I quit my job, led a couple of friends through the Wilderness Waterway one last time (at least I keep telling myself one last time), packed everything up in the truck, and drove myself up to Saint Augustine Beach. 

A 3 story beach house that overlooked the ocean sounded infinitely better than pretty much anything I'd encountered in South Florida, so I was ecstatic. In order for the house to be so cheap, however, it meant living with 4 other people. 

I originally had my reservations, but it didn't take much time for me to fall in love with the beach life and not mind living with 4 others at all. I shared a bathroom and kitchen with a guy named Richard, and we happened to take over the 3rd floor of the house which meant every morning we awoke to a sunrise directly over the ocean. It also took almost no time for all of us to become very close friends. Myself, Richard, Kiersten, and the other two roommates, Casey and Brad, became almost inseparable during our time at this beach house. Days were spent lounging (as I had no job yet), evenings were spent walking the coquina littered beach with beers, and nights were spent partying as often as possible. Eventually (and drunkenly) we decided to name the house/group Casa De Pantelones based off of a painting on the wall that said "Ain't No Party Like A No Pants Party" (yes our name was wrong, I told you we were drunk). 










The whole "moving across the state with no job" thing worried me at times, but thanks to years of seasonal work, I've learned to not be one to fret too much about employment. I'd eventually find -something-. Even if it meant scrubbing toilets with that 5 year college degree. Money is money, after all. 

What I wasn't expecting, however, was to be browsing craigslist one morning and discover an opening for a Kayak/Naturalist Guide right there on Saint Augustine beach. Not to sound full of myself, but I was a shoe in for the position, and it was quickly my full time job. A fact that my mother, upon hearing of said position, and always worrying about my future, simply responded with a sigh and, 

"You always manage to land on your feet...don't you?'

And so I spiraled into a life that I can only describe as being a massive beach bum. I didn't surf, but I kayaked every day. I showed people manatees and dolphins, talked about ecological change, and actually kinda used that degree that I got. I wrapped up work around 2pm at the latest, and I went back to Casa De Pantelones to party on the beach with my friends. Every. Single. Day. Days that I didn't work, I jogged on the beach in the morning, went kayak fishing, and celebrated that I had a day "off". There was a few week period that I didn't even bother wearing shoes. Barefoot, sweat stained, mildly hungover, and sunburned was how I existed. And to be perfectly honest...



I loved it. Who wouldn't?

It's during this time that I began to write my book. I was the proud new owner of more time than I knew what to do with, so why not be somewhat productive? Also, for those those of you who follow my snapchat, this was also the time when I unexpectedly made a best friend in the form of a cat named Jimmy. 

As a lifelong rule, I've disliked cats. Jim, however, was an exception. Maybe it was his three legs, his orange charm, or my incessant need to draw on his missing arm using phone filters. Regardless, he remains one of my favorite animals to this day, and if you miss him, there's always this instagram profile that I may or may not have shamelessly made for him: 




Then came the day that our asshole, massive piece of shit, lint licking, mom-please don't-read-these-cusswords landlord decided to cancel our lease 8 months early to instead rent to some of his friends and take our entire security deposit. Casa De Pantelones was no more. 

An easy solution would be to find another house, right? In theory, yes. But in practicality (and against equal opportunity housing laws) no one was willing to rent to 5 different adults who were unrelated and not married. The rental market in Saint Augustine is garbage. If it isn't snowbirds who'd rather rent vacation homes than monthly residences, it's bottom feeders like Phil Martocci (see previous "landlord") who renege on lease agreements. So in the long run, we couldn't find a place all together and had to split, just a few months after I'd settled into a new town. 

I soon moved into a different house on the beach with Brad and Richard, while Kiersten and Casey found an apartment together a few miles away. Sadly, life on the beach was nothing more than a shadow of what it used to be. Was it still fun? Absolutely. Was I still a beach bum? Pretty much. I did pick up a second job as a salesman pushing Citrus, Pecans, Fireworks, and Wine (like I said, money is money). But my initial life and introduction to Saint Augustine was long gone. Looking back, it was one of the most memorable, enjoyable, and fleeting few months I've ever experienced. I quickly found myself in a gated old folks community on the wrong side of A1A. We were the youngest in the neighborhood by around 40 years and between nosy seniors and the homeowners association, my time there was VASTLY different than my time in the previous home (those stories are for another post). 

My time in Saint Augustine was infinitely better than the time spent in South Florida, but much like my life in Casa De Pantelones, I would soon find it too, to be fleeting. After all, one can only be a beach bum for so long. 



Wednesday, October 31, 2018

WTF Happened to The Flying Kayak?

Well, that's a good question I suppose. Extremely long story short?



I wrote a book!

Of course there is much MUCH more to it that just that. But as far as why I haven't hardly written anything on this blog, that about sums it up. I hate to admit it but I've never been much of a multi-tasker. Sort of a one track mind kinda guy and though I've had a TON to write about, I felt extremely unproductive if I attempted to write a blog post while knowing I had an unfinished book that I should've been working on.

As far as anything else that hindered be from writing on here...well...Life. I know that excuse gets thrown around a ton, but hey, it's a real excuse used by pretty much everyone eventually. I got super busy with life itself. What free time I did have, I spent it hunting or fishing rather than -writing- about hunting or fishing. And at the end of the day, if you're reading this, I know you'd make that same choice as well.

Work, moves, changing jobs, big moves, etc. All of it obviously got in the way of me writing. Couple that in with my attempt to switch the entire site over to WordPress so that I could get rid of the blogspot caption in the URL and I just got frustrated with the whole thing. I liked that I could get my website to look exactly like I wanted it, but Christ almighty I know nothing about search engine optimization. When I took the site down from blogger I dropped from thousands of page views per month to about 3 page views per month. Many months went without anything at all. And in my mind, I figured if no one's reading it anyways, I might as well start pounding out a book.

If you notice now, you'll see that I've salvaged everything and switched it back to blogger. Templates are still a nightmare and I hate dealing with HTML code, but it is what it is. Most of my pictures from previous posts got lost during the transition so if you scroll through archived posts, there probably won't be any pictures. I still have them somewhere on my computer, but it'll take a long rainy day for me to find them all and add them appropriately through the pages. Font colors and themes are still wonky, and I realize they can be hard to read at times, so please expect some changes over the coming weeks while I gouge my eyeballs from their sockets work calmly on HTML code.

I do, in fact, have a bunch to write about so I'm extremely excited to get back after it.

As for the book. Well its about my kayaking trips through the Everglades Wilderness Waterway. It isn't a guide by any means, so please don't expect that. It's simply a story. One that you'd expect to hear around a campfire or over a beer. It's been published through Amazon and is available both in Paperback as well as EBook format. It can be found here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1726675483/

Any reviews or sharing are greatly appreciated!

Expect some new stories very soon, my apologies for the extremely long hiatus, and thanks for stopping in!

Monday, October 1, 2018

It's The Freakin' Weekend


The obnoxious ring tone of your alarm jerks you awake. For a moment, you simply lay there before realizing how strange it is that at some moment in the past, you purposefully chose an alarm style. You tried different tones and jingles, wondering whether or not it actually had the 'umph' to get you out of bed. But after a few minute of searching, you finally found it.

This is the one. This is the alarm tone I will grow to hate. Time to ruin this jingle forever.

It's 6:00am on a Monday morning and it's time to go do that thing. That thing that so many of us do every week: Work.

Whether you enjoy your job or not, very rarely is anyone super stoked to be woken from a nice slumber, only to realize it's not the weekend anymore. Alas, you've got five more days of this and another four rude awakenings before you can cut loose again. But at that moment, you merely stare at the ceiling and mentally prepare for what's going to be another long work week.

Though you may work in an office, you're an outdoorsman at heart. The only thing that makes your coworker, Janet's insufferable stories around the water cooler even somewhat tolerable is the anticipation of hitting the woods on the weekend. It's archery season, and chasing that big buck has been on your mind for almost a year now. The national forest you grew up hunting is just an hour outside of town, and the only thing standing between you and that tree stand you've picked out are five days of conference calls, emails, and TPS reports. The woods are calling.

By Friday afternoon you're completely exhausted. It's been a hell of a work week, but the one thing that's gotten you by is the thought of Saturday morning. The crisp, cool Autumn air, the smell of the trees, and the anticipation of seeing deer has been on your mind since Monday morning. And so when you finally clock out for the week, you can barely contain your excitement. Tomorrow's the big day and you race home to make sure everything's ready.

It's odd that the alarm that you absolutely loathed on Monday morning is now a welcomed friend Saturday morning at 4:00am. With a groggy mixture of excitement and anticipation, you get dressed and head out to the woods. The drive is actually kind of nice. Unlike the commute to work every morning, the roads are fairly empty at this ungodly hour. Who in their right mind would be up this early on the weekend anyway?

Soon you reach the cut off road for the national forest and turn down an old, bumpy dirt road. A few moments later a pair of headlights turn onto the same dirt road a few hundred yards behind you.

Hmm...Must be another hunter

With the excitement of getting to your stand beginning to creep up, you speed up a little bit as you head down the road. Soon, your headlights begin to pick up clouds of dust, and it isn't long before taillights appear in front. The wire cable of a tree stand can clearly be seen poking up from behind the tailgate of the truck in front, and it's obvious this hunter is on the way to his spot as well.

Eventually you turn off the road onto another and lose sight of the other two trucks. Not far up ahead is where you'll park and walk in. It's an area that you -thought- was relatively secluded. So it comes as a surprise when you round the corner only to find a truck parked where you were planning. Your headlights shine on the hunter as he's getting everything ready to walk into the woods.

Damn it

You get out and greet the other hunter. To your relief, he describes where he'll be and it's no where near where you were planning. So with that, you ready yourself, slap the climber on your back and grab your bow before walking down the trail you marked during scouting season.

Once up the tree, you quietly wait as the woods slowly begin to wake up. It's the magic hour. This is what you were waiting for all week. A chance to escape the office. To spend some time in peaceful tranquility, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of every day life. With twilight quickly turning into day, you begin to scan the woods for deer. It doesn't take long before you catch a glimpse of a tail flick, and the body of a doe materializes about eighty yards away. It's a good sign, and in that moment, work and all your weekly troubles have vanished. This is why you're here.

Suddenly you hear the sound of a truck door slamming in the distance. The deer, thankfully, seems to have paid no attention to it. But for a brief second you're reminded that you aren't alone in the woods. About a half hour goes by and the doe you've been watching hasn't moved a whole lot. Out of nowhere, however, she spooks. Tail up, she blows several times before bounding away into the distance.

What the hell?

Then you hear it. The all too familiar crunch crunch of boots. You turn to see another hunter strolling in late to his stand, right down the trail you took to come in. The immediate reaction is surprise. Then anger. Then simply frustration. You wait until he's about sixty yards away before whistling at him. Stopped mid stride, the late hunter looks up at you and raises a hand apologetically before turning around and slinking off the other direction. With a heavy sigh, you lean back in your stand. You're beyond annoyed. The doe you were watching is long gone, and the morning hunt might as well be ruined. You slugged through a brutal work week, and the one thing you were looking forward to beyond everything was to be here in this tree. Away from people, and to have time to yourself. But now? Now it's ruined.

Welcome to the weekend.

-------------------

Over the years, the above scenario has happened to me far too many times. Of course, I don't usually have office jobs, but it's the same concept: I have off on the weekends, I love to hunt/fish, so I go hunting/fishing on the weekends. The problem? EVERYONE ELSE DOES TOO.

I've been a weekend warrior before, so please don't think I'm hating on them. Unfortunately many people have no other options than working that Monday-Friday 9-5. So that means they've no choice but hit the woods or the water on Saturday and Sunday. Weekends end up becoming insane. Hunting and fishing pressure go through the roof as everything is inundated with people trying to get their outdoor fix. But eventually there's a point where it becomes unappealing. We all seek the outdoors for some reason, and often that experience becomes tainted with -far- too much human pressure.

"Why bother going fishing this weekend? There's going to be 8 billion people at the boat launch Saturday morning. I probably won't find a place to park the trailer"

"I guess we can go to the springs, but we're gonna have to wait in line half an hour since it's a pretty day"

"I'd rather not go to the trouble of getting to the tree stand. Someone will assuredly walk in on me"

It applies to almost any outdoor activity you can think of. Too many people end up ruining an good thing. And they don't have to be destroying anything, or trashing it, or being loud, etc. Simply too many people being there end up taking away the experience that many look for.

Hell, I might as well have just stayed at the office. I'd see less people"

For almost two years now, I've been lucky enough to be a guide. Whether it be taking people out in the Everglades to look at Alligators, kayaking to look at Dolphin in St. Augustine, or chasing down Elk in Colorado. I've gotten to see people use our natural resources that have been set aside for just that: Use. And since I've been guiding, I rarely get a weekend off. Ever. It makes sense though, when you think about it. People primarily have off on the weekends. They want a guide and they hire me on their days off. So I'm thrust into these outdoor settings every weekend with everybody and their brother.

What it's done is change me. At least as to how I enjoy the outdoors. On the off chance that I actually get a weekend off, you won't catch me dead outside. I'll be inside on the couch. I've had too many days practically ruined during the weekend rush. Be it a jet-ski buzzing by the kayak at 30 yards and scaring all the fish, or a hunter walking right up to my tree stand. It happens all the time and I've grown tired of it. Friends might ask:

"Alex! Can we go kayaking Sunday morning?"

"Absolutely not".

I simply won't do it. I can't do it. There's too much pressure and it's lost its appeal for me. So I question; How many others are like me? How many hunters, or fishermen, or hikers, or whatever, have altered the way they use the outdoors? How many have all but just given up? Think about the most popular outdoor spot near you. Now imagine it on a holiday weekend. It's going to be an absolute zoo. There are so many people that it might as well be Wal-Mart, and lord knows no one ENJOYS going to Wal-Mart.

Luckily for me, since I work the weekends, I often have weekdays off. I can go kayaking on a Tuesday morning and not see a soul on the water. I can hike after lunch on a Thursday afternoon and not see the faintest sign of another hiker. It's fantastic. But I realize not everyone has the same luxury of doing things on the weekdays like I do. I'll never claim to be any more or less avid than any of my fellow outdoorsmen. So I ask the question: How do you get around the weekend crowds when you're stuck to the weekend schedule?

I'm avid enough that should I ever find myself stuck with that schedule, I'd still try. But I can't say I'd enjoy it nearly as much as I should. It would wear on me, and eventually might break me. I'd find myself skipping weekends and just watching football and drinking beer instead of being outside. Anything to avoid a tainted experience with something I love. All because everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time with their days off.

Are there ways around this? Yes. Well...Sort of. Take hunting for example. Don't hunt public land like national forests, right? Okay, so you fork over the cash to join a hunting club, and you'll get to avoid the crowds. But what's that end up doing? Driving the cost of hunting through the roof. If you weren't already aware, hunting is becoming a rich man's sport. Yes people pay big bucks to hunt...well...big bucks. But they also pay up to avoid the crowds of people who flock to public areas when they can't afford a private hunting lease.

I honestly don't have a solution when it comes to dealing with the weekends. I've figured out how to deal with it personally, but I question everyone else. Do you simply grin and bear it? Do you wake up -extra- early to beat the crowd? Or do you hike those extra ten miles into the wilderness JUST to dodge everyone else?

Personally, I don't see the issue getting any better. Hell, if it's even an issue at all. For all I know maybe there are people out there who love fishing around the crowds or watching the chaos that is the county boat ramp in the morning (ok, that's admittedly fun to watch). But for me, it's a problem. And I can only hope that we can find some sort of solution before more people want to simply give up.