The Boat Search In The Florida Keys With Bridget

Molly gave us hugs and drove off, leaving us with our thumbs for a mission to the Keys from this gas station in West Palm Beach. The idea was to head to marinas and anywhere else boaters might be, seeing if we could hitch a ride with one towards South America. Bridget wanted to see Peru in particular, I was right there with her.

We got a ride right away, a Chilean couple heading into Miami. The husband driving, the wife in the passenger seat knitting as they got us more and more excited about Chile and South America. They dropped us off in the Cuban part of the city where we quickly got a ride from a woman with her baby in the backseat, but she was only going to the next exit.

We walked along, looking for a more ideal freeway entrance to stand on, but ended up walking in the center divider alongside slow traffic as we dangled our sign to our side. A university student paused traffic for an extra second as he let us hop in, we was studying architecture, originally from Mexico City.

He dropped us off right at the university where we kept walking along the road. Finally I saw a guy parked on a side street waving us down, his name was Josh, a guy with big dreads heading to Key West.

It was an amazing ride, not only because of the company, but the roads going over the keys, bridge after bridge, one was seven miles and named accordingly, ocean on both sides as we made our way to the most southern point in the United States.

We had a stop at the grocery store and the three of us had a picnic on the beach. We then drove with Josh to where he met up with his friend there, she pointed us towards the docks when we told her our plan of finding a boat. We thanked Josh and parted way, ready to get our boat search going.

Down at the dock there were plenty of boats. We started inquiring, asking groups of people, people standing on boats, people standing around, trying to see if there was a central place or anywhere we could have a good chance of finding a boater. Land hitchhiking has been easy, just stand on the road going your way with a thumb out, this was slightly different.

We got pointed to the marina store where we were told there was a bulletin board for people selling things, looking for crew and everything else. We checked the board and saw no posts that interested us, but made a post of our own with my phone number on it.

We walked on from there, we’d poked around, now it was time for beer, certainly. There was some big to do on a street we came upon, shut down from traffic, music going on, apparently there were some races going on in town. We came across another big bulletin board and posted on there as well.

We found a beer, not the local one I’d been searching for, but at this point we needed to just sit and relax. After that we headed back to bar by the docks, again they didn’t have the Key West beer, so we had a rum and coke and took in the scene some more before heading back to the main drag, Duval street.

By this point we were still hoping to perhaps find that beer on the cheap, but also it was getting late and we would have to be keeping our eyes peeled for a place to sleep. We marched along, plenty of people about, plenty of expensive places. At last we found a place that had the beer called “Peanut Butter N’ WHAT?”.

We asked how much the beer was, five bucks, too much, then he said four bucks, next it was three and he split it between a couple cups so we could both give it a shot. We realized we were hungry and given that the guy was as cool as he was hooking us up with the beer, we figured we’d dig into the menu, which let you design your own sandwich choosing from tons of different nut butters, jams and other great spreads and so forth they’d come up with.

“Cashew butter, garlic and bacon”, I told him, he instantly got his wife’s attention, the combination of garlic and bacon excited them and I guess they’d been talking about it before. Bridget got a sandwich that also had banana and apple maple jam on cinnamon toast, all was right with the world.

With just in there, we began sharing our story with the two and vise versa. They had high end suit jobs originally, legal or accounting or otherwise, then just decided to drop it all and start up the sandwich shop in Key West. They’d done a bunch of traveling and were keen to do some more, this is what sparked their interest in the two of us.

They began giving us various experimental treats for us to taste test, like chocolate covered lemon cheesecake and glazed rosemary nuts and so on. Bridget breached her vegan ways for this indulgence, I became convinced that she wasn’t as concerned with the vegan aspect of food so long as she sensed there was a certain level of love baked into what she was consuming.

Eventually we paid our bill and took their advice of where we may be able to camp, a patch of woods alongside where he biked every day. We walked a fairly long walk to get there and found the massive line of trees. At the first opportunity we dipped into the woods, but immediately saw some pants and a mini shelter, looks like someone else had the same idea.

We stepped back to the road and walked a ways more, finally finding another spot to dip in and we began setting up camp. Soon a light appeared, a bicycle, a guy dipping into the woods to his own shelter not to far from where we had set up, we just hadn’t seen it in the dark.

We made ourselves known, “Hey, didn’t see you set up over there, do you mind us camping here the night?”, he had a whole mattress and guitar among the rest of his stuff there, clear he’d been there a while.

“Plenty of woods for everyone!”, he told us, that was that.

In the middle of the night a huge roar came upon us from a plane overhead, we were adjacent to the little airport.

“What the hell is that?”, said the mid-dreaming Aussie accent in the sleeping bag next to me.

“Airplane...”, I said, a small smile and a drift back to sleep after the earth shattering plane drifted into the distance.

We eased into the morning, packing up and heading across to the beach, walking barefoot as we got the sleep out of our eyes. Once back towards the thick of town, I found a spot to get some Key Lime pie with thoughts of my passed grandpa, it was one of his favorite treats.

We headed towards the dock again after getting some bread for sandwiches. I sat by our bags while Bridget roamed around talking to people, trying our luck at finding someone sailing our way. A guy named Tony came and talked to me, he lived on a boat and was telling me about Rat Island which he was able to point out to me. He came back again later after having ran into Bridget at some point, he said the later on he could give us a ride out to the island as a place where we could camp the night and get a ride back to shore sometime in the morning. We exchanged numbers to work it out later in the day.

Bridget came back, she had talked to a lot of people and posted our information on another bulletin board. We grabbed our bags and went for a walk together, pausing at the dock bar again for a beer. We talked a waitress into letting us leave our bags behind the host stand so we could roam the town for a while without the weight, the manager came in at the last moment a little unhappy about it, but thankfully let it slide.

Just outside the bar we talked to a guy on his dinghy who mentioned his wife that worked in a trinket shop nearby and may know someone heading to the Bahamas. We wandered a bit taking in the town, eventually looping back to the shop and talking to the woman. She was pretty friendly and informative, but didn’t actually know if her friend was heading to the Bahamas or not, so we just left my number with her.

It was late afternoon by now, so we were debating between taking the Rat Island offer or otherwise. From all we’d learned talking to people, it seemed Key West was not a big hub for big time travelers with sail boats. A lot of people living full time, not going huge distances though. We were told Marathon, a few keys up, would be a better place, that or Key Largo.

So we decided we’d skip the island offer and get to hitchhiking up that way. We paced our way through the town and to the main road. We stuck our thumbs out as we got to the road, still walking along it, now also with a sign that said, “Marathon”, but a cop drove by immediately telling us we couldn’t stick our thumb out.

A couple driving by saw us anyhow and offered us a ride right then. They lived halfway between Key West and Marathon and gave us a ride that far. We quickly got scooped up by a guy in his 20’s who gave us a ride further up to a gas station, but not quite to Marathon yet.

By now it got dark and we started looking around for places to camp. There were some potentially usable spots in the woods, but nothing great. We stood under the streetlight, still having energy, but another cop came by to tell us the same thing, “Don’t stick you thumb out”.

Just after that a guy came from a side road on his bike, we were still standing under the streetlight, but with only our sign showing, someone this difference made our hitchhiking ok according the officer.

The guy on the bike had been traveling about five years and currently found himself here, he had a story about the police stealing his laptop in some sort of home search that didn’t totally add up, but he seemed like an interesting person. He helped us out by biking back where he’d come from to check out a pull out he’d seen with camping potential not all that far away. Within minutes he was back and told us it looked great.

We thanked him, he biked off and we walked back and found a decent spot to throw our sleeping bags for the night.

In the morning we were back to the main road and right away walking over a bridge to the next key. The sunrise was amazing, it was a beautiful way to start the day. Just on the other side we got picked up by a local who took us into Marathon and dropped us off at the marina.

We saw a guy on a small boat as we walked in, he pointed us towards the common area where there was a bulletin board we could post on. Outside there was a woman on the radio talking in a morning meeting over a channel other boaters in the marina were on, she gave us a shout out so everyone else listening would know we were around and looking for a ride.

We went and sat at some tables near the dock where people were coming and going, asking us our story and giving us advice. A yoga class started up and we joined, it seemed many of the people had heard of us over the radio and were curious, but no one was actually heading out anytime soon.

One guy talked to us who eventually wanted to go to Belize, not for some months away, but said we could join him for some sailing around the area if we were around in a few days. He also let us into the showers nearby so we could cleaned up, a nice little bonus.

There was word of a movie night and people told us we should stick around for it, enjoy the night and meet some more boaters. I headed to the grocery store for some beer, returning just as things were getting set up. I sat between Bridget and the town drunk, as most people told us and it seemed to add up. Somewhere in the mix we were pointed to a guy who was heading to the Bahamas the next day, over the phone anyway, he told Bridget that we were free to join him, we’d just have to head north a bit and meet him the morning.

Bridget seemed a bit tentative, but it seemed like it was all a go. One guy and his wife who seemed to run the marina to an extent asked where we were staying this night and then offered to let us stay on their boat.

It was a beautiful catamaran, we sipped rum and they told us about their New Years party on the boat and talking down about “Dirt dwellers”, people living in houses on land. It was a fun night and Bridget and I had a private hull of the boat to ourselves.

The sun was rising as they gave us a ride back to shore on their dinghy. We got walking quickly towards the road and gave Tom a call, the guy who last night had said he could give us a ride. We caught him off guard, “Oh wow! I didn’t think you guys were serious... wow, um... ok, ah... haha, wow!”, he paused and thought, “The thing is I’m twenty five miles up from Marathon and only have enough supplies for the two of us on board to get past the Bahamas”.

“That’s fine by us though”, I told him, “Just getting to the Bahamas is fine and we can pick up some food quickly now and race up there”. We went back and forth while he tentatively agreed, but said he had to figure a couple things out and still mull it over.

We raced to the grocery store where Bridget ran in, returning with rice and the rest of it, then quickly walked up to the road where we began walking backwards facing traffic with our thumbs out, almost frantic with the time ticking, but only twenty five miles to get to.

The phone call came before the ride, “Sorry guys, I really just can’t do it, there’s no time, we gotta get moving, maybe some other time”.

We sat down to contemplate our situation. Bridget had seemed on the fence about the Bahamas ride anyhow, now it was no longer an option. We debated going back to the marina, or continuing north, Miami was said to be a good port to look in as well as some of the other keys on the way.

Food helped, then we decided to head to Key Largo and try there. Thumbs back out and a quick ride from couple heading to the airport in Fort Lauderdale, they dropped us off right at the marina. We walked along the docks, past the bar, then a guy named Howie asked what we were doing, we told him. “It’s paradise here”, he said, “No one’s going far”.

He told us how to get on the WiFi there and showed us a place to sit after telling us about some cruising websites where we might be able to find someone that way. We posted on a couple sites and looked at some of the existing posts, another waiting game.

We walked back to the main road from there, still unsure as to our destination and motivation. A little beat, we headed to the donut shop to cool down and think about things. I wasn’t too keen on wandering around more docks in Miami or otherwise, I also started doing the math - getting on a boat, sailing down to one place or otherwise, finding a boat from there to South America, hitching around and then hitching all the way up through Central America in time for Bridget’s flight out of Los Angeles - all of this in less than 80 days - possible, yes, but a long shot with the unknowns of sea travel and inevitable island hopping. Plus, once I made my way to South America, the last thing I’d want to do is have to leave right away.

I grabbed my felt tip marker and flipped our cardboard sign over, then began writing. Bridget laughed as I spelled it out, “PERU”.

“We’ll just hitchhike the old fashioned way, by land, through Mexico and down”, our new mission laid ahead of us.

January 17, 2012 to January 20, 2012