Were You Ever Scared? Part Two

Stream in the woodsI was one mile into a two-mile hiking trail when it first occurred to me that I’d done a very, very foolish thing. I hadn’t told a single soul where I was going, what I was doing, or when I would be back.

There was no one else on the trail, which surprised me. I was expecting to see at least a few others along the way. This didn’t help with my fears. I started running down the list of people that might think to come looking for me. I had stopped at the ranger station earlier to get the guide map and ask about the trails, but we hadn’t discussed the trail to Lost Lake at all, so even if she remembered me she wouldn’t think to look for me there. My parents and boyfriend both had access to my regularly updated spreadsheet of sleeping locations, but I didn’t know I’d be staying in the park until long after I’d lost internet access. My spreadsheet for that night indicated I was “camping in Northern Michigan,” so that would be less than helpful. The trailhead parking lot was right next to the main park road, so in theory someone might see my car there after dark and wonder. However the trail I was on had designated areas for backcountry camping, so there were probably vehicles in that lot overnight on a regular basis.

In short, I was confident it would be quite a while before anyone started to look for me, and much longer before they found me.

I didn’t have enough daylight left to get to the ranger station and then back to finish the hike, so I kept going. What was I afraid might happen? Bears, mostly. Ever since Crater Lake I’d had this sinking feeling in my heart that I was going to have to fight a bear. Not be killed by a bear, not just be mauled, but that I was going to be in a position to fight an actual bear. It’s not completely unrealistic. There are certain circumstances when encountering a black bear in which fighting would be your best option. They’re not common of course. But neither are bears.

I encountered a small stream and took some photos. It was beautiful, like something out of a fantasy novel. Perhaps I would be bitten by a snake. Were there venomous snakes in Michigan? I couldn’t remember. It seemed like the kind of injury that could be slowly fatal. Those were the only ones worth worrying about, after all. Those would be the only ones whose fatality could have been prevented. It’s always possible to have a lethal animal attack in the woods, and no amount of telling the rangers where you’re going will fix that. But you could have an injurious incident – the kind that leaves you incapacitated but alive. That’s when the rangers could have helped you out. That’s what I was normally so prepared for.

I wallowed in my own frighteningly specific imagination for 40 minutes before I decided I was doing more harm than good. I tried to think about other things. I tried to enjoy the scenery. I tried to listen to podcasts or music. Nothing helped. I couldn’t focus on other things because the story I was telling in my head was far more intriguing. That’s when I began to talk to myself.

“It’s This American Life, I’m Katrina Hamilton. Each week we pick a theme, and bring you a variety of stories on that theme. This week’s theme: dying alone in the woods.”

When I write fiction I tend to replay the scenes over and over again in my head before I write them down. I’m very good at imagining every aspect of a pretend event. So instead of playing the animal attack over in my head, I decided to play the result. I imagined myself in the woods, hurt, and struggling to make it back to the road. I imagined my mind becoming fuzzy from the venom or the blood loss. I imagined that I would only be able to make it so far before I had to take a break. I imagined being worried I would fall asleep on my break and never wake up. I imagined I took out my phone and starting talking to keep myself awake. I imagined doing my best Ira Glass impersonation and recording a story for the radio.

It would be a great story, too. A sort of narrative Last Will & Testament. I would talk about how I ended up where I was, but I would start at the beginning. I would talk about the whole trip. I would talk about where the idea first came from. I would talk about camping as a child and loving to travel. And the whole thing would feel so hauntingly immediate, because you were never sure when the recording would cut out, and an announcer would come on. Perhaps it would be Katrina, explaining how she passed out in the woods but was fortunately found only a few minutes later by some passing hikers. Or maybe it would be Ira, explaining that the rangers found Katrina’s body alone in the woods several days later, her phone at her side, the battery dead.

Now that’s good radio.

The answer of course is that everything turned out fine. I made it to Lost Lake, and found the act of looking at a lake by myself to be incredibly calming. The entire hike I was alone – no humans, no snakes, no bears.

Lost LakeWhen I tell people I traveled alone, they often ask, “Were you ever scared?” The answer is yes, I was scared. But not of the things they’re thinking. Not when I went home with strangers. Not when I drove through the wrong side of town. Not in New York City traffic or at night on the lonely highway. I wasn’t scared of the people and the places that I didn’t know. These things weren’t scary. They were wonderful.

I was scared when I gave myself the opportunity to consider the limitless possibilities. I was scared when I thought too much, when I pondered all that could go wrong. I was scared preparing for the Grand Canyon, but I was never scared during the hike. I was scared sitting outside the Westboro Baptist Church, but I wasn’t scared sitting in the pews. The greatest fears I ever experience come from my own dreadful imagination. I can work myself into a frenzy if given the time.

The best cure for asking what could happen is to consider what did happen. There are a lot of things that could have happened to me on my trip. I considered them, I was prepared for them, and I didn’t experience any of them. I used to be pretty uncomfortable around strangers, but I’ve spent too much time with too many strangers to still feel that way. My experience can go toe-to-toe with my imagination, and experience will win.

Was I ever scared?

Yes.

But that was before I left.

_______________________

Were You Ever Scared? Part One

I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. I like to think I’m the sort of person who makes good choices. The kind of person who thinks ahead.

Most of the time.

Beach and RocksAfter a beautiful hike along Twelvemile Beach, I decided to see the namesake of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The park literature was quite clear that the best way to see the rocks was by boat. However the boat rides were inconvenient and time-consuming, and I asked the ranger at Miners Castle if there was a good hiking trail I could take to see the pictured rocks. She pointed to the Lakeshore-North Country Trail that runs the length of the park. The trail clearly stretched for miles, but she assured me that the best view was within the first two miles. “You’ll know it when you see it,” she explained.

The trail took awhile to get going, but before long I could tell I was walking parallel to the lakeshore and high on the cliffs above the Pictured Rocks. I saw a small side trail that led out towards the edge, and I got my first look at the rocky shore. It was beautiful. The little trail could barely reach out far enough to see the view, but it was there. I went back to the main trail and encountered another side trail only a few minutes later. It had solid footing and a nicer view. I started taking pictures. By the third trail I visited, I had a completely unobstructed view. I admired the gorgeous painted rocks and began to wrestle with another problem.

“Well this seems like a great way to accidentally kill yourself,” I said out loud to no one in particular.

The sand was loose and sloped off the cliff edge. This was not an official trail stop, which meant there was no safety railing. There wasn’t even a ranger planning to stroll by, and I hadn’t seen another hiker the entire time. What I could see was a long hard fall into the water below.

Red WallIt wouldn’t take much. I little loose gravel and a poor choice in footing and I’d be on my side. A little more gravel and I’d be sliding towards the cliff edge. I’d be picking up speed, so it wouldn’t be so surprising when I failed to stop myself. Dying upon impact was certainly a possibility, but it wasn’t a certainty. A clean drop into a deep patch of water and I might not even be injured. Of course there was no beach down there, only rocks. Perhaps I’d be better off swimming away from shore and hoping the adrenaline would keep me going until I reached a real beach. If I swam towards the rocks I risked being slammed up against them. Even if I was only injured, the blood loss might be enough. If I were extraordinarily lucky another hiker might be stupid enough to walk out far enough on the same ledge and see me on the rocks. Assuming that happened in the first two hours, and it only took them 30 minutes to get back to civilization, and it only took an hour to get the boat out to me, and 30 minutes to get to shore, and another 30 to reach the hospital, I was looking at a good four hours of bleeding on a rock being pounded by waves.

Yes, it’s a pretty morbid set of thoughts for a young woman to have while walking in a park. However these thoughts are fairly typical for me. And this wasn’t even the worst instance. That would be the next day, in the Porcupine Mountains.

_______________________

Twelvemile Beach

Path in the WoodsI was alone on the beach.

Completely Alone.

I had seen it on the map: “Twelvemile Beach.” It sounded beautiful, and I was looking for a good hike out to the water. I started fresh in the morning, though not unreasonably early. There were a few cars at the trailhead and I figured I’d run into others hikers as I went. It took the better part of an hour, and I crossed many forks in the road along the way. Each time there was a little wooden sign pointing the way to the trail I was on, the trail that led to Lake Superior.

The hike was beautiful, serene. There were tiny streams and ponds. Giant boulders shaped by time. Strange plants that belonged in a movie about a foreign world. After a while I could tell I was getting close. Maybe I could hear the water, or smell the change in the air. I don’t remember what it was exactly, only the inarguable feeling of being near the great open water.

SignageI came to a clearing with three small wooden signs. There were four different trails listed on the signs. None of them were the trail I was on, nor were they pointing to anywhere I was trying to go. The path straight ahead was unlabeled, and I briefly considered how far I would be willing to go down an unlabeled path without confirmation I was heading in the right direction. The water felt so close. It couldn’t be that far. I walked forward on the path, and within 25 feet the dirt turned to sand. I pulled my shoes off to get through a steep bit of loose sand, and walked past the trees just beyond it.

And there it was. Lake Superior. She was beautiful.

Footprints in the SandI looked as far as I could in each direction and could see no one. There were no people, no boats, no buildings. There were no other trailheads, and no footprints in the sand besides my own. With shoes in hand I strolled down the beach, sand coming up between my toes. Just like at the Shipwreck Coast Museum, the water felt dangerous and inviting. The waves were constant and crashing, but just small enough to make you think a quick swim wouldn’t be so bad. I wondered if she’d ever managed to snag any hikers off this trail.

After walking for a while I reached the passable limit. The sandy shore became a rocky one, and the waves crashed up several feet in the air. I took a few pictures and marveled at the water’s power and reach. I turned to walk back, amazed to still see no one. I followed my own footprints, sometimes finding that they’d already been washed away by the waves.

Crashing WavesWhen I reached the trailhead I stopped to take one last look at the empty beach. It’s not easy to find somewhere so beautiful, so easy to get to, yet so void of human influence. On my way back I came upon another solo female hiker stopped at the same confusing set of signs that had flummoxed me. I was about to let her know that she was only a minute from the beach when she made the right decision and passed me by. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had decided to leave at the exact right moment to have my entire beach experience to myself, and to allow her to have the same. Her moment wasn’t to last however, as I watched a group of three German hikers pass by towards the beach only a minute or two later.

Shortly before I got to Michigan my sister insisted I add another song to my Road Trip Playlist. It was Simon & Garfunkle’s “America,” and I have to agree that it’s a great song for driving across the country. I would play it in my car while driving past big open farm fields, and I would hear Paul Simon declare that “Michigan seems like a dream to me now.” When I hear that line, I think of Twelvemile Beach and my footprints in the sand. I think of hiking through the woods and fighting off the chill in Sault Ste. Marie and that night I woke up to the sound of some unknown animal snoring just outside my tent back in Interlochen State Park. It felt like I was in Michigan forever, but certainly not for too long. They told me to see the beaches of Northern Michigan, and I believe this is what they meant. They meant the beaches that seem too unreal to believe. When I close my eyes I can still see the water. Michigan seems like a dream to me now.

Panaramic Beach

The Shipwreck Coast

Museum SignYou don’t have to look at Lake Superior for very long before you realize what it really is: a siren. It’s beautiful. It’s endless. It’s enchanting. It will lure you in and swallow you whole. I guess that’s why they call its southern shore “The Shipwreck Coast.”

On the very end of Whitefish Point and far away from everything and everyone is the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The museum grounds include the entire Whitefish Point Light Station, which is still under the control of the Coast Guard. Most of the buildings are no longer needed for official use, and they have been renovated to tell the history of the station and the many shipwrecks that happened nearby. One building is filled with rescue equipment. Another has mannequins and old furniture and is set up to look like the old light house manager’s home.

The actual museum building has artifacts of past wrecks. Some are recreations, some are reminders, and some came straight from the bottom of Lake Superior. The museum’s pride and joy is the recovered bell of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, the most recent and largest ship to wreck off this tragic coast.

Bell

It was one o’clock in the morning on November 10th, 1975 when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, commanded by Captain Ernest McSorley, first encountered a heavy storm on its way from Superior, Wisconsin. The ship had been sailing within range of another large ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, since 5PM the day before. The two ships battled the storm all night and through the next day, until the Fitzgerald lost her radar. The Anderson tried to get closer to provide guidance to the Fitzgerald, which was now sailing blind. The winds had reached 67 miles per hour, and the waves were as high as 25 feet. The light house at Whitefish Point was down, and the mighty Fitzgerald began to list. At 7:10PM, some 18 hours after the storm had started, the Anderson radioed the Fitzgerald asking how she was doing. “We are holding our own,” McSorley reported. Less than ten minutes later, the Fitzgerald disappeared from radar. The ship’s bell was recovered many years later, and brought to the museum as a tribute. The rest of the ship remains on the lake floor along with its entire 29 man crew.

Rescue BoatThe Whitefish Point Lighthouse is still in operation, and visitors to the museum can get a private tour up to the top for a small extra fee. I was the only person who had purchased at ticket for the 1PM tour. The guide was a man in his late 40s, and I met him at the base of the lighthouse. An older woman stopped us and asked about joining the tour. He told her the number of stairs involved and asked if it sounded like something she could do. She hesitated.

“If you have to think about it you probably shouldn’t do it,” he told her.

He wasn’t joking. The stairs were steep and small and bound up tight in a spiral. They’d be hard to climb no matter how fit you were. As we got close to the top, he warned me not to hit my head on the ledge, explaining that there was a mesh bag of rubber ducks there to catch my eye. I was thinking about the silliness of the ducks when I hit my head sharply on the ledge.

View from the topWe made it up to the observation deck and my guide explained that visitors aren’t allowed up alone by order of the Coast Guard. He recited the handful of facts he knew about the place and told me to take as many pictures as I wanted. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to know about the lighthouse, so I started to ask him questions about his own life. He lives only a few miles away from the station, which makes him 70 miles away from civilization.

“If I wanna buy blue jeans,” he explained, “it’s a two hour drive.”

He told me about a time he got all the way down to St. Ignace to go shopping, only to realize he’d forgotten his wallet. “You learn to make lists,” he said. “You can’t afford to forget anything.”

He only lives near the museum during the summer months, though he’s considering moving there full time. He told me the biggest hurdle was that no one comes to plow the roads near him, so he’d have to invest in his own snow removal equipment. It was, as he put it, “a big commitment.”

Great LampIn the museum I had seen a huge, beautiful, reflective lamp that was once used in the lighthouse. My guide explained that it had been replaced with a modern one, prompting me to ask if I could see the new light. From the observation level there was a small but steep set of stairs leading up to where the lamp was. My guide told me that we weren’t allowed up there. I nodded with disappointed acceptance. He looked around, first at me, then at the absence of everyone else.

“I bet it’d be okay just to poke your head up,” he told me.

My guess is he’d never had a tour of one before, so it was never possible to let just one person take a look. In my travels I’ve found that being alone grants me a certain amount of trust with everyone I meet, and a strange amount of freedom and opportunity.

Modern LampI stepped up onto the second staircase, going just far enough to see the light. Compared to the beautiful beast in the museum, it was very small – maybe the size of a watermelon. It was dwarfed by the room it was in, which was built to house a much bigger lamp. It was black and dull and mounted on top of an overly industrial-looking black canister. I remarked on its surprising appearance on my way back down the steps. My guide told me that he’d never actually looked at it himself, and started up the steps to take a peek. We were both amused by the underwhelming nature of the lamp.

Considering the presence of modern navigation on even the smallest vessels, we don’t often think about advances in lighthouse technology. We assume every ship knows where it is by the blinking lights on its dash. What use is there for lighthouses in a world like that?

I suppose on a great sea like Lake Superior, there is still a reason for this very old and undeniable sign of the shore. When the water stretches farther than the eye can see, there’s comfort in finding both your literal and figurative bearings.

__________________

The Dune Climb

Let’s face it: I don’t have anything insightful to say about sand. I considered skipping this post altogether, but my experience at Sleeping Bear Dunes was a lot of fun and it seemed a shame to say nothing. Perhaps this goes not into the category of “important life changing events” and more into the category of “fun things you ought to try one day.”

Dune ViewThe winds off of Lake Michigan have, over many years, created massive sand dunes on the shore. These dunes are so big they seem rather unimpressive at first glance. When you first step out of your car, it’s no different than looking out over any other bluff onto the lovely but expected Michigan scenery. It’s only after you really consider the ground beneath you that it becomes impressive. You are not standing on a cliff that is covered in sand. It’s sand all the way down.

The Steep ClimbI took a detour to the unfortunately named Inspiration Point before hopping on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. One of the final stops on the scenic drive is the Lake Michigan Bluff, which has an unobstructed sand slope from the top of the bluff all the way to the water. Despite the many stern and clearly posted warnings against it, many visitors felt the need to run all the way to the bottom. I opted not to do so, having paid a lot of attention to the people trying to climb back up. As a casual observer, I would estimate that the distance to the water is at least 200 meters, and the incline stays at a steady 45 degree angle the entire time. People weren’t hiking back up, they were crawling on all fours. Plenty were just sitting down, and I couldn’t tell if they’d wised up and stopped their trek to the bottom, or simply run out of steam on the climb back up. Perhaps I should have asked one of them if it was worth it, though I imagine for many such adventurers pride would have gotten in the way of the truth.

People on the DuneRegardless, there was another dune to climb. This one was park-approved and traveler recommended. I drove over to the creatively named Dune Climb and parked my car at the base. It didn’t seem like much. It was steep, but not unreasonable. It was sandy and hard to walk through, but I gathered that was sort of the point. It was also immediately clear that the whole point of climbing up was the amazingly fun run back down.

I dropped my shoes at the bottom (as was the custom), and started up the dune. It only took a few minutes to get to the top. Or rather, it only took a few minutes to get to the edge that I thought was the top, only to see another 20 minute climb ahead of me in order to get to the actual top. The second half of the dune leveled off for a bit, but there was a lot of distance between me and the small pair of benches at the peak. I carried on, watching the teenage boys race each other to the bottom and seeing the little kids chase after the tumbleweed. There was something a bit surreal and foreign about being surrounded by so much clean, soft sand, yet being no where near a beach.

Sand and TumbleweedsWhen I finally reached the top, I took a spot on the open bench. My feet dangled off the end. So much sand had eroded away since the bench was installed, I could barely get up onto the thing at all. I took a deep breath, admired the view, and then took off. There is only one way to get down off the Dune Climb, and that is running at full speed like a 3rd grader. I ran the first third of the way, then switched to a wide, hopping, side-to-side stride. Each step sunk deep into the sand and sent me further forward. My limbs were flailing in every direction and I would have felt self-conscious had it not been so ridiculously fun. It helped that I wasn’t even close to having the silliest stride on the dune.

When the sand leveled off in the middle I slowed back to a walk in order to catch my breath. There was one more run to go. It was the short but steep stretch I first saw before I realized how big the Dune Climb really was. I briefly considered flinging myself off the side and rolling all the way down on my belly. If I wasn’t so averse to having sand in my clothes, or if I knew I’d have quick access to a shower and changing room, I probably would have done it. Instead I opted for another full speed run, turning around just in time to see a dozen other people running along side me.

WarningIn conclusion, sand is fun. That is my big, insightful take away on this one. I went to a place with a lot of sand and I ran around and it was fun. I got to be a little kid for awhile, and I got to watch a bunch of other tourists do the same. I can see why the Dune Climb comes so highly recommended. It turns you into a child. Few and far between are the places you can arrive at by car and end up going back in time.

Niagara

“Free Msg! Welcome to Canada. For Roaming Support Call 1-908-559-4899.”

It was the first of three messages I received outlining the many ways in which using my phone in Canada was going to be expensive. I switched over to airplane mode as I didn’t have time to search for the data usage settings. I was in my car trying unsuccessfully to find a place to park that wouldn’t cost $20. I gave up quickly. This, I decided, would be worth it.

Top of the FallsI knew early on that I would want to visit the Canada side of Niagara Falls. Everyone I spoke to who had been there insisted the Canada side was better. They were completely right. Niagara is a giant waterfall, and the park on the U.S. side is at the top. While the view looking down from a waterfall can be nice, the top is a horrible place to see the waterfall itself. I gave the U.S. side the benefit of the doubt and found the park to be quite lovely, but I can see why few people bother. It’s not what you come to see. You come to see the Falls.

The Falls at Niagara are the result of an elevation change between two of the Great Lakes. Lake Erie spills over a 165 foot drop into the Niagara River, eventually becoming Lake Ontario. Technically Niagara is a set of three falls – Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil – though Horseshoe Falls is the one you think of when you think of Niagara. It’s the big, pretty, rounded one.

Maid of the MistAfter parking in Canada, I walked along the cliff’s edge that overlooks the falls and the river. The area was crowded at all times, and the crowd was one of the most racially and culturally diverse groups that I’d ever seen. I guess Niagara appeals to everyone. I had a field day indulging in my favorite pastime of taking pictures of people taking pictures, and I watched the Maids of the Mist ferry boats make their short voyages to the base of the falls and back. I thought about getting a ticket myself, but I wasn’t sure how much fun it would be without someone to talk to, and I was already getting plenty wet just from being at the top of the falls.

Woman taking PictureIn my memory, I visited Niagara Falls on a warm, sunny day. To look at my photos, it was grey and overcast. The constant pounding of the falling water creates a huge and heavy cloud of mist that radiates off of Horseshoe Falls. I’m sure some days the cloud is better than others, which is why most people’s mental image of the falls is crystal clear. Those are the days they take the postcard photos.

For me, the most fascinating thing about Niagara is that it is destroying itself. The strong, constant flow of water is eroding the rock underneath, constantly changing the shape and pushing the falls further into Lake Erie. There were signs in the visitor’s center explaining the steps the American and Canadian parks departments take to slow down the erosion process. I found this rather laughable. What gall must we have as humans to try to tame such a waterfall? And to what end do we want to “save” Niagara? We want to keep it looking the way it does in the pictures, we want to keep it next to all the hotels and amusements we’ve built up around it. We want to control the thing that inspires us because it’s untamable.

DangerWe humans are working to preserve Niagara for the sake of us humans. To keep it where we want it, doing what we want it to do. I’m happy to say that in general, we are completely failing at this endeavor. And for her part, Niagara seems unconcerned.

Lesser Known Curses of the Solo Traveler

I still had most of the day ahead of me when I settled in at my campsite at Little Sand Point. The campground is one of many surrounding Piseco Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. With plenty of time to spare, I asked the man working the ranger booth about nearby hiking. He recommended Panther Mountain as the go-to destination, since the trial head was just down the road from camp. I went back to my car and started to put together my hiking pack. It was almost lunch time so I made myself a sandwich to eat at the top, and added a few extra snacks and two bottles of water (one for the hike and one for the sandwich). And of course my usual hiking gear: binoculars, sweater, pocket knife, first aid, etc.

I parked at the trailhead and saw a pair of elementary schools kids pulling up with their grandparents. Their group would end up passing me on the trail, as would a man with a baby carrier on his back. When faced with the prospect of being passed by a four-year-old who was insisting on climbing the whole thing by herself, I started to wonder when hiking became so hard. I made it up and down the Grand Canyon, what had changed? Was it because there was too much in my pack? Had I been spending too much time in my car this week? Why was it suddenly so hard?

Families on a HikeI decided to take the difficulty as a sign, and an opportunity. I’ve always had trouble being too focused in hiking, looking at my feet instead of the scenery. I sat down on a nearby rock and let the four-year-old and her parents pass me. I took a sip of water and admired my surroundings. After a bit of time I started up the mountain again, but when I saw the little girl, I stopped. I had decided I would go no faster than the four-year-old. She would be my pace car.

When I finally made it to the top, an area known as Echo Cliffs, I was the only one without children and/or a baby. I took a seat on one of the large, warm, flat rocks and ate my lunch while taking in the view of Piseco Lake. It was clear from the conversations the young boys were having that this was not their first time to the top. I started to wonder if I had psyched myself up for a hike, while everyone else saw it as a fun walk. Perhaps I should have taken fewer things with me. At the same time, I was hiking alone. That freedom comes with certain responsibilities. I can’t afford to be unprepared. I had no way of knowing how crowded the trail was, or how close assistance would be.

View of PisecoPerhaps the real lesson is the futility of comparing yourself to others. Had I been alone on the trail, I probably would have felt nothing but accomplishment upon reaching the top. I wouldn’t have wondered if other people would be able to do it faster, or if knowing the area would have changed my preparations. I would have just gone on a hike, as I’ve done so many times before. I shouldn’t let other people’s hikes damage my own. Perhaps that’s the curse of the solo traveler: you’re always alone, and you’re never alone.

I drove back to the campground and decided against renting a canoe. The day before, looking out upon the quiet beauty of Brown Tract Pond, a solo canoe ride sounded heavenly. But at Piseco the lake was too big, the waves too large, the wind too cold. This is yet another curse of traveling alone: your standards for enjoyment shift. Had I been with other people at Piseco Lake and got invited to jump in a kayak with them, I probably would have done it. Paddling around with friends will be fun almost anywhere. But by myself, Piseco didn’t look fun. Brown Tract would have been fun. It was peaceful and still and nestled far away from boaters and skidoos. I suppose it seemed like a lake worth paddling alone specifically because there was no one around. But there were so many people at Piseco, a solo canoe ride just sounded like work.

I considered going for a swim but opted to stay on the dock due to the previously mentioned wind, waves, and cold. No one else was swimming anyway. After a nice chunk of time sitting around doing nothing I decided that tonight was a good night for s’mores. I had been engaging in a complicated relationship with s’mores on this trip. Every time I started a campfire I wished I could have had a s’more. It’s a Pavlovian response to campfires I’ve spent years building up. But I had limited space in my car and no other use for marshmallows. Graham crackers make for a good road snack and I can make any number of chocolate bars disappear, but marshmallows only ever come in one size of bag, and it’s always too many to eat by myself. However we all have our breaking point, and by the time I hit Piseco Lake I was sure I didn’t want to watch another campfire go by without roasting a marshmallow or two.

Piseco LakeI went to the tiny nearby store and picked up my supplies: a box of graham crackers, two chocolate bars, and a bag of too many marshmallows. I looked around to see if I needed anything else and a woman asked where I had found the s’mores fixings. I pointed to the bottom shelf in the corner and she discovered that I had grabbed the last bag of marshmallows. The clerk told the woman and her family there was another store about ten miles to the north that would probably have some in stock. I bought my groceries and walked out to my car. I looked at my big bag of marshmallows.

“Well this is stupid,” I muffled to myself, and went back inside. The father of the family was standing near the door. “Do you need a whole bag of marshmallows,” I asked him, “or would half a bag work?”

“Half a bag would be plenty,” he said with hope in his voice.

We went out to my car and I portioned out half the bag into a ziplock . He gave me a dollar for his half of the marshmallows and thanked me. I couldn’t have imagined a more elegant solution to my excessive marshmallow problem.

I had more logs than usual so I started the fire early. I found a nice, solid stick and used my pocket knife to whittle it down into a high quality s’mores utensil. I ate my dinner. I waited. Something that we don’t often consider is that sitting around and watching a campfire is only fun in a group. Watching a fire by yourself produces a finite quantity of enjoyment. As the coals of my fire finally began to make themselves known, I started on my s’mores. I ate four of them, which is more s’mores than I ever recall eating in one sitting while growing up. I would have eaten more if I could have. But maybe that’s the other curse of the solo-traveler: it’s easy to overeat when you don’t have to share.

I should have bought more chocolate.

Anger in the Adirondacks

I didn’t have much of a plan for the Adirondacks other than camping. A campground near Rollins Pond had been recommended, and I bought some wood at the local grocery store in anticipation of building a fire. By the time I got to Rollins the rain was coming down hard. I figured as long as it was too wet to camp I might as well keep driving and get a few more miles in. Ninety minutes later the rain had stopped and I found myself at a secluded campground on Brown Tract Pond. I managed to snag the last open site next to the water, and had plenty of time left in the day to enjoy it. Unfortunately, right after the ranger ran my credit card the rain began to pour so bad I could barely make it the four feet from the ranger booth to my car without getting soaked. I pulled into my spot and looked out onto the pond. It was beautiful. Or rather, it would have been.

Brown Tract PondI sat in my car and wrote for awhile. When the rain finally stopped I took a look at the sky. It was clear. And it was daylight. I still had time to make that campfire. I pulled the logs out of my car and got the flames going. I’d been practicing using a flint and steel to start a fire, but I wasn’t about to bother this time. Just as the fire was almost going strong the rain returned and the flames died. There were still coals burning so I couldn’t put the logs back in my car. If I left them out they were sure to get soaked and become unusable.  I shoved the wood towards the corner of the cement pit. I had recently realized the umbrella I brought was on the verge of worthlessness, and I made the executive decision that I would not feel bad if I accidentally set it on fire. I propped the umbrella up over the wood, but the sorry little bumbershoot wasn’t going to be enough. I grabbed the map of Portland, Maine from my back seat. The paper was a bit glossy and I figured water would be more inclined to bead off of it rather than soak through. I covered the whole pile with the map, repositioned the umbrella, and hopped back in my car.

I blasted the hot air to dry off, then got back to writing. More time passed – maybe a half hour – and the rain stopped again. I got out and looked at the sky. It seemed clearer than before, like this time it was really over. It was like those times in dreams when you start to question if the place you’re in is real, but then convince yourself it is. Only when you wake up do you realize how foolish you were before. That was a dream. NOW the world is real.

That was just a break. NOW the sky was clear.

I pulled the umbrella and map off of the wood and tried my fire again. It lit up instantly – much faster than I’d gotten a fire going all summer. By covering the hot coals I had inadvertently smoked the wood for 30 minutes. The logs were hot and dry on the inside even if the ground and bark were wet. I enjoyed my little fire, cooked my dinner, and started getting ready for bed. The rain never came back.

Once the fire was low enough to leave unattended I walked to the nearby bathroom to brush my teeth. When I returned, a large fifth wheel RV was pulled in directly behind me, and two people were pointing flashlights into my car.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said a woman, “You can you move your car, you’re in our spot.”

I was flustered, not sure what to say. “I’m sorry,” I finally managed, “but I paid for this spot.”

“So did we,” said a gruff man’s voice, “We reserved it months ago.”

There was some mumbling back and forth between the three of us. They had a big black dog who sniffed at me. I don’t like being around strange dogs. I couldn’t see much of the two of them, but I could tell she was a large woman with an imposing gait. Her and I shared a few more stunned words with each other before I quietly eked out, “Well, where am I supposed to go?” It had been dark for more than an hour. It was late. We were in the middle of the woods.
The man crossed around in front of their truck and walked back over to us. “I can’t move it anyway,” he told his wife. They were parked directly behind my car, blocking me in. Even if either party were willing to leave, neither of us could. I told them that I was heading out in the morning anyway. He noted that obviously there’d been a misunderstanding and we should all just go to sleep.

Brown Tract Change in Weather

I went to bed furious, especially at that confrontational woman with the oversized clothes. Rude New Yorkers, I thought. I had to listen to them bang around and watch them shine their flashlights as they got ready for bed. I was positive that in the morning they’d be just as surly and entitled and I’d demand a refund from the park. I had already been rained out, I didn’t want to be kicked out, too.

I woke up at 7AM to the sound of the man unloading the canoes from their truck. Not wanting to make what I was sure would be an awful situation worse, I started getting ready. The man went back inside the rig, but I decided to keep packing up. I wanted to be ready to move at the first available opportunity. I had been planning on a slow morning, and being forced to get up early angered me even more.

The couple finally emerged. They were very nice, very kind, and I realized that she was a rather petite woman. They were smiling and clearly not angry anymore. It was hard to keep up my own anger with nothing to fight against. I realized that they were probably not even from New York, since their accents didn’t seem local. They mentioned my Washington license plate and asked if I was on a cross-country trip. We were talking about my travels when their black lab ran out of the rig and pooped immediately.

“Poor baby,” said the woman, turning to her husband, “I told you she needed to go. I’ll get a plastic bag.”

Two young boys popped out of the rig, still in their pajamas. They looked at me curiously. The man and I talked some more. He was sad that I didn’t get to see more of the area because of the rain. He told me they came every year, and recommended I come back if ever I get the chance. When I mentioned I was ready to leave, he happily got in the truck to move the rig out of my way.

On the somewhat long drive out to the ranger station I went back and forth about what I was going to do. I wanted to demand a refund of at least half of my money. I was angry at the park for making me angry at those people. And I was mad on their behalf. After what was probably a long, late day of driving with two kids and a dog they had to deal with me rather than their perfect, empty campsite.

When I got to the booth no one was inside. There was a small cabin next to it and two old men were sitting on the porch. They told me the ranger wouldn’t be out for another 10 minutes. I explained what happened, and my frustration. I said that I’d like to know how I ended up in someone else’s site. I had no idea who these men were or what exactly their job was, but one of them said I was welcome to wait for the ranger. I asked him what he thought that would solve and he shrugged. “Maybe you’ll get your questions answered.”

I decided that holding onto this anger AND waiting around for another 10 minutes was too big an investment. I drove off, trying to figure out if I was still mad or not. I considered writing to the state parks department and demanding a refund. I thought for awhile about what I’d say and when I would do this. Eventually I realized I shouldn’t bother. The campsite was $20, and getting that money back wouldn’t be worth the cost in frustration. Ultimately, I knew the money wouldn’t make up for the real cost – how much longer I’d have to stay angry to get it. I realized that I could simply stop being angry at that moment. That all harm that could be done had already been done, and that the only possible benefit left would be a lousy twenty bucks, assuming I could even get that. And I’d have to keep up that frustration and pain for so long – certainly for the rest of the day until I could write up my letter, but probably much longer until I could get online and look up the contact info for the parks department. Realistically I would probably have too much to do in the next few days anyway, and would have to put it off until later, maybe even until after I got home.

The prospect of staying mad about something for the rest of my trip sickened me. The choice was easy. And turning it into a choice made me feel better instantly. Neither the situation nor the anger were ultimately out of my control. I still had the power to make a decision about how I wanted this event to affect my trip, my life. And I decided that it was in my own best interest to consider my $20 an investment in personal growth. It was the price I had to pay to realize that I always have the power to control my response. And in the end, the things that are outside of my control – the rain, the rangers – are insignificant in the face of the unending power of my response.

A New and Different Sun

CoastlineBy the time I realized I should have reserved a campsite at Acadia National Park, it was too late. The only campground at the park was already full. I considered getting a room at a hotel in Bar Harbor, the local tourist town. However after spending 15 minutes to get 6 blocks in Bar Harbor, I determined it was a bit too crowded for my current state. It was still early in the day and I decided I might as well start exploring the park. I had only budgeted the afternoon, evening, and perhaps a bit of the next morning for Acadia. If I wanted to make the journey up the Maine coast worthwhile, I was going to have to get sight-seeing fast.

Acadia National Park’s main feature is a long, looping road that goes through and around the park. For most of the time it is a one-way, two lane road. Signs everywhere tell you to stay on the right except to pass, and that the right lane can be used as a parking lane at any time. I loved it. Every frustration I normally have with tourists in National Parks disappeared. If ever you wanted to stop to gaze at an outstanding ocean vista or catch a glimpse at the local wildlife, you could park the car exactly where it was and get out. If you got stuck behind a slow vehicle, there was always room to pass. Certain pullouts and attractions were especially popular (such as Sand Beach), but parking was never really an issue. If the lot was full, you just parked out on the road. I realize it might seem silly to be waxing poetic about traffic patterns and unlimited parking, but after 70 days living out of a car, such things demand reverence.

Binoculars

At a particularly beautiful and less-crowded stop I decided to pull out my map. On the southwest corner of the island I saw a little patch of town called Northeast Harbor. I figured they’d probably have hotels there, and it would certainly be less packed than Bar Harbor. I took my time meandering on the one-way path and eventually turned off from the park and onto the regular road. The first thing I saw as I approached Northeast Harbor was a beautiful hotel. I looked it up on my phone and was turned off by the four dollar signs listed next to the hotel’s name. I didn’t need fancy, I just needed a room for the night. I started driving into town, only to find that there was no town to drive into. Northeast Harbor is almost exclusively residential. There is no main street, no business drag, almost no shops or stores of any kind. It’s just a neighborhood. I imagine they like it that way. It probably keeps tourists like me out.

Girl on Fence

I managed to locate the only other business in town. It was a slightly lower-priced hotel overlooking the marina. I checked into my room and started thinking about my plans. I still had a fair amount of daylight left, so I could easily circle the park before the sun set. But a thought had been spinning around in my mind: What if I woke up in time to see the sunrise tomorrow? This was the furthest east I’d ever been in the United States, and it was not far from the furthest east one can go without leaving the country. It had been on my bucket list to watch the sun rise over an eastern ocean for some time. I’d had other chances to do so, but none went entirely smoothly. Often I couldn’t see the sun because of clouds, or my view wasn’t the best, etc. But there were plenty of great views in Acadia, and a good chance at decent weather. This was it.

I looked at my map and tried to figure out a few good markers. My plan was to take another drive around the park, this time paying close attention to the clock. I would calculate the drive time from various spots and pick the best one to see the sunrise from. This was how I could ensure I woke up early enough to catch the event. I hopped back in my car, looked at the clock, and headed to the park.

Couch Cushions

In driving around Acadia there were several points at which I encountered entrance gates. After marking down the drive times to a few choice spots, it occurred to me that I should confirm the gates would be open in the early morning. I stopped at the next gate, handed over my entrance pass, and asked the ranger if they’d be open early enough for me to be inside the park at sunrise.

“Yep, the gates are open 24 hours. But you’re not going to want to come down this road, you’ll want to take 233 going east — “

“I’m not staying in Bar Harbor,” I interrupted. “I’m in Northeast Harbor.”

“Oh okay, then you’ll want to take 198 north to go west on 233 to get to the Cadillac Mountain entrance,” she continued without missing a beat, “You’ll see a park road on your map that seems like a short cut, but it’s closed right now, so you’re better off taking 198 to get to Cadillac Mountain.”

“And Cadillac Mountain, that’s where I want to be?” I asked, surprised to be getting directions to a place I hadn’t mentioned.

“Yep,” she said with confidence. “That’s the place to see the sunrise.”

View from the MountainWith my plan now set and a bit of daylight left, I decided to drive up the mountain and check my travel time. From the top of Cadillac I could see in every direction, and I looked over ocean and lakes on all sides. By this point I knew it was time to get some dinner, and I made my way over to Bar Harbor.

I had thought for a long time that while I was in Maine I needed to have some lobster. I had no desire or intention to eat a whole lobster straight from the shell, but I’ve always been a fan of New England lobster rolls and thought I could find a good one in Bar Harbor. Unfortunately the more I looked, the more I heard David Foster Wallace’s voice in my head. “Consider the Lobster,” he instructed us in an essay of the same name. In the essay he doesn’t seem to come down cleanly on either side of the debate about boiling lobsters alive being a form of cruelty, but he certainly leaves you with a queasy feeling in your stomach. Still, I knew I had no intention of becoming a vegetarian, so where could I draw the line? I weighed the ethics against the experience, and made a compromise: I would have one last lobster roll while I was in Maine, just to say I did. After that, no more. I found a good place with an empty barstool in the back, and enjoyed what just might have been my very last taste of lobster.

Flag and SunsetI decided to walk off my dinner in the nearby park, and caught a fantastic sunset in the process. I decided to stay and watch the whole thing, knowing that I would be seeing the same sun rise the next morning. The park was full of people running around and taking pictures of this and that. The town was alive, and I imagine it stays that way for the entire season. I wondered what it was like to live in such a place. Or perhaps no one really lived there. Perhaps they were all over in Northeast Harbor with me.

I woke up promptly at 4:30AM and put on my cold weather gear. My car was foggy and everything was dark. I began the drive up 198 and passed by Upper Hadlock Pond, a little lake I had seen the day before. The first time I saw it the sun was setting on it and the whole thing was orange and red. The second time was later in the night, when it reflected the shine from the moon. This time it was just before dawn, and there was barely enough light to see the mist floating off the water. I would see the pond once more on my way back to the hotel, bathed in ordinary daylight. It was a lake of split-personalities. Every viewing was a whole different experience. Every pass told a new story.

Crowd at DawnI arrived at the top of Cadillac Mountain and I was not alone. There were at least 100 people who had decided to join me for the sunrise. I heard German and Chinese spoken. A few folks had British accents. I grabbed my blanket and found a nice spot near a rock that faced the east. The wind was blowing and I tried to get as low as I could, hoping to get under its path. All around me people had set up cameras and chairs. Some were regretting not wearing warmer clothes. A few were laughing. Many were silent, still holding on to that last bit of sleep.

First Half of DawnThe sky began to turn. Long before we saw the sun, the light had made every island and ripple in the water visible. Fuzzy pink and yellow lines ran straight across the entire horizon. The first bit of sun appeared as a dot, and the pace at which it grew larger and brighter was faster than you assume of the sun. I struggled with staring at it, knowing that it was bad for my already terrible eyes. I opted to switch off between seeing the sunrise itself, watching it through my camera, and watching it on the faces of everyone around me. It was absolutely beautiful. One for the bucket list.

BreakfastAs the sun grew into its full, round self, people begin to leave. When viewing the sunrise, eventually one must make the decision that it is no longer daybreak, it is simply day. I picked myself up off the cold stone and walked to my car. I saw a young couple making breakfast a few vehicles away from mine. He had a grill going and food was laid out on the tailgate. She sat on top of the truck canopy with a blanket over her legs. Both had a cup of coffee. It seemed like a beautiful way to start a day. I pulled some food out of my trunk and sat in my car, not wanting to disturb them while still joining them for breakfast.

Back at the hotel I packed up my things and then made the four hour drive up to Rangeley Lake State Park. My campsite at Rangeley had a small, short path that lead right out onto the lake, and that evening I watched the sunset over the water. As I watched it I thought about a quote I know, attributed to Into the Wild‘s Chris McCandless. While I realize things may not have worked out so well for Chris, I can’t help but think that his words sum up that day in Maine, and my whole trip:

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Chris McCandless

Lens Flare

Several Unrelated Things that Happened in Tallahassee

Two CapitolsMake no mistake, the Florida state capitol building in Tallahassee is hideous. It is a tall, rectangular, austere, Soviet monstrosity. It towers over the city and was built in the late 1970s, a time when a lot of mistakes were made. The historic capitol directly in front of it, however, is quite lovely. It was built in the mid-1800s and has that quintessential Jeffersonian dome in the middle. These days the old capitol is a museum, which I managed to duck into a half hour before closing. Both the senate and house chambers were being repainted, but I could still look inside to see the adorable old rooms. I checked out the various museum exhibits, including a collection of old political cartoons that marked the various debates that have come up in the state’s political history. I wandered through the old governor’s office and watched a video message from the current governor, Rick Scott.

Governor Scott was having a bit of trouble next door, as my visit came about a week after the Martin/Zimmerman verdict. Several police officers were coming out of the back entrance to the current capitol building as I walked past. Inside a group of young people had set up shop in front of the governor’s office, demanding that he hold a special session of the state congress to re-examine the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. The building was closed for the weekend, and the protestors were expected to remain there without air conditioning until it re-opened on Monday morning. Unable to get in until Monday, I took a few pictures of the building’s exterior, trying to find its good side. It doesn’t have one.

It started to rain and I rushed back to my car to meet my host Currie and her mother at a local Mexican restaurant. The three of us were going out for dinner and a movie. We saw The Great Gatsby, and Currie and I agreed that either too much or not enough seemed to happen in the film.

Be JoyfulWe went back to Currie’s house, which is unbelievably adorable. The walls are all brightly painted, the curtains and upholstery covers are handmade patchworks of Currie’s own creation. There is art on every wall and an old stained glass piece in front of every window. Sometimes words and phrases are written directly onto the wall, including my personal favorite in the living room: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

GatorCurrie helped me plan out some of my activities for the next day, and invited me to come with her to church in the morning. After the service, I headed over to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of seeing an alligator. I was, after all, in Florida. I pulled over several times to scan the water, but always came up short. At one point I parked my car next to a couple of locals out fishing, and on my way back from yet another fruitless search one of them called out, “There’s a little gator over here if you want to take a picture.” Apparently I had been wearing my intentions on my sleeve. I walked over to where the woman was pointing and sure enough, there was a tiny alligator, not much more than a baby. I took a picture and thanked her.

The nearby Riverside Cafe had been recommended to me, and Currie told me to get the smoked mullet if it was available. While pulling a filet of smoked fish directly off the bone is not normally my cup of tea, the fish was pretty good. After lunch I headed up to Wakulla Springs, which is one of the many places in Florida that can lay claim to a “Fountain of Youth” connection. Despite the warm temperature, the spring water is always a bit chilly. That doesn’t stop hundreds of visitors from flocking to it every year.

Jumping into the SpringsSweaty from the heat, I decided to throw on my swimsuit and join in. Wakulla is well-developed, with parking, bath houses, food, and a lodge. There’s a floating dock for swimmers to rest on, and a two-story tower structure for jumping. Local minerals give the water a brown hue, which creates the sensation of swimming in over-steeped tea. I swam out to the dock, and sat there with the other swimmers to warm up again. I imagined conquistadors pushing their way through hot, muggy, swampy forests, only to have the trees open up to reveal a beautiful lake that had sprung up from the ground. A lake that was cold and dark, but always safe to drink. Wakulla Springs didn’t need to be the Fountain of Youth, it would have been fantastic just as it is.

Back home Currie showed me an article in the newspaper advertising a poetry reading that evening. She thought might interest me as a writer. I decided to go, but got a bit wrapped up in writing and suddenly found myself running late and rushing to the coffee shop. When I arrived the place was about half full, and there was no indication of a performance taking place. I went up to the counter to ask, and the barista said, “Yeah, they’re doing that sometime tonight.” He pointed to the next room to indicate where it would be, and I ordered a drink. As I was paying a group of about six or seven people my parents’ age walked in and began rearranging chairs and throwing their coats over them. I asked if they were using all the chairs at the table (since it seemed there were none left), and one of the men said with a smile, “Go ahead and sit wherever, we’ll figure it out.”

As everyone settled in with their drinks, I learned that there was considerable miscommunication about the time of the event, but that the featured poet would be arriving soon. The baby boomers were all friends with each other as well as with the poet herself, and most were part of the local writing and theater scene. I told them about my trip and my writing, and one man handed me a business card saying, “Let me know if you’re ever interested in producing one of your plays in our area.”

The poet arrived and gave her reading. The space was small and cramped, and she had to read with audience members pushing in on all sides, including behind her. While her poetry was good, she was clearly a bit uncomfortable performing it and tended to make jokes about her work and herself as a way to make things seems more casual. She was reading partially out of her published book of poems, and at one point asked the audience to call out page numbers at random to decide what she’d read next. After it was decided that enough time had passed, she gave her bow and we applauded. As I was getting up to leave, one of the men I had been chatting with earlier came over to me.

Candy

“I live just down the street,” he told me. “This group of us, we’re all old friends, and every Sunday we gather at my house to watch Masterpiece Theater. Would you like to join us?”

The cafe is situated right next to a lake, and we walked a few blocks on the shore to the man’s house. It’s a big, beautiful place with dinosaur stained glass in the windows. There were bowls of candy all over the coffee table in front of the TV, and I was given a plate to load up on the food leftover from the evening’s potluck. The poet eventually joined us, and fixed herself a plate as well. I called Currie to let her know I’d be a bit late, and she laughed as she told me she wasn’t surprised I had managed to make some new friends. I found a good spot in front of the TV, and the seven of us watched a delightful evening of intriguing British mystery.

The next day I said goodbye to my wonderful host and headed back towards the center of town. I’d been told that the view from the giant, ugly capitol building is quite nice, and I was intrigued at the prospect of seeing the protestors after they had been held up in the building all weekend. I went inside the new capitol and was greeted by a polite gentleman with a pamphlet map of the facility. He pointed out some of the highlights, and I made note of where the governor’s office was. I assumed I would see some protestors walking around, but I couldn’t pick out any from the handful of people passing by. I did, however, see an awful lot of police officers. I walked over to the section of the building that held the governor’s office. There were several more cops, including a pair standing on either side of the lobby entrance to the office. These two seemed more serious and intimidating than the others. I walked up slowly, pretending to be interested in the photos of past governors that lined the hallway. When I got close to the lobby I hesitated, and one of the officers gave a huge, friendly smile. “You’re welcome to go in,” he told me. I thanked him and went in the lobby. No one was there. I walked back out.  I wandered around for a bit, checked out the observation deck, and even slipped into the interfaith chapel for a moment. Before leaving I made one last pass near the governor’s office, this time seeing five or so young people sitting on the lobby couches. A friendly-looking woman was standing nearby. She looked to be in her early twenties, and was looking at me as I looked at the protestors. She was one of the organizers of the protest for the group Dream Defenders, and we struck up a conversation. She told me about their protest and the interaction they had with the governor the previous Friday.

“We asked for a special session to reconsider Stand Your Ground,” she told me. “He said he wouldn’t do it, but that he’d pray for us.” She shot me a sarcastic smile.

I asked where everyone was, and she said most had gone off to shower and eat breakfast. They planned to return later that day and stay until the governor listened. I wished her luck and was on my way.

Capitol with DolphinsAbout a month later, the Dream Defenders ended their protest. They planned to move their efforts towards individual lawmakers and registering young voters. Before I left Tallahassee I talked to my host Currie about the protest and she shook her head. “The problem is that everyone in the state legislature likes the law. We need to get rid of them first.” Perhaps she’s right, and that seems to be the conclusion the Defenders have come to. When I think back on Tallahassee, one moment comes to mind more than anything else. While I was touring the historic capitol I sat down to watch a short intro video about the history of government in Florida. Near the end, as the film began to cover modern day changes, the narrator proudly claimed, “Florida has won awards for good government.” There was no expanding on the statement, just a single sentence implying that at one time someone, somewhere, felt that the State of Florida was doing something well. I wonder who it could have been.