The first BivyPack production and the rest of my 2016 adventures

Those of you who've followed this blog since 2007, when my travels began, were used to detailed accounts of each adventure as they transpired. As the years went on, the lag between those adventures and my writing about them has drifted immensely.

Here we are in 2020, and while my podcast, Facebook, Instagram, and occasional YouTube videos reflect my most recent shenanigans to some degree, this blog's most recent story brings you only up to Christmas 2015.

In an attempt to catch up, I'm about to sum up all of 2016 in a not-so-short-but-way-shorter-than-normal barrage. Let me hit you with a few paragraphs to tell you what happened altogether, then I'll break out some of the better stories.

This was a year I didn't leave the United States but still covered thousands of miles coast to coast in dozens of states. In fact, 2014 and 2016 are the only full years out of thirteen on the road where I didn't leave the US.

My BivyPack invention (which I'll explain in a moment) somewhat dictated the first half of the year or so. Tasked to make thirty-something of these, I started the year hitchhiking out of California to Georgia. My "partner" there had conflicting obligations and interests, which had me coming and going from Georgia until the eventual months of grinding to knock them out.

None the less, those coming-and-goings were full of adventure. I'll tell you about hitching and hiking through Florida, sleeping in a warehouse, a pink limo ride, chopping trees limbs, and making new friends. There was a hitch up to NYC. Staying with someone from Dogfish Head Brewery. I wound up hitching to San Antonio on a whim and saw Tim Duncan's last career home win in the NBA Playoffs before retirement. I nearly got shot at a strip club pretending to be a cop.

I got a ride hitchhiking in Mississippi by someone who became one of my best friends, and oddly enough would make the next great round of BivyPacks at his place years later. There's plenty of interesting characters along the way I'll mention from Texas to Tennesee, Florida, New York, and back as I spidered off from Georgia, losing my mind at times, particularly during the final grind.

When all the BivyPacks were finally shipped out, I hitched my way up to New York City, again, in celebratory fashion. After a run of friends and family seen up there, I hitched my way clear across to California with essentially just one intentional pause at a friend's in Indiana. I got my kicks from the south to north where I spent the harvest season trimming weed for a spell. Eventually, in time for Christmas and New Years 2017, I hitched my way to Wyoming.

You ready? Let's go back to the start of 2016 and dig into all this.

The BivyPack was an idea I'd come up with over the first several years of traveling and continued to sketch and ponder as I became increasingly conscious about carrying minimal weight on the road.

The concept was fairly simple: a backpack that transforms into a bivy tent. The frame of the backpack would double as poles for the tent, and the backpack material itself would overlap as part of the bivy; altogether this would save weight and space.

A while back I'd met John in Georgia; he'd been making gear for himself, his girlfriend Lilly, and eventually just about anyone else who asked. We'd made several iterations of my BivyPack concept that I'd now extensively tested in my travels, and I was ready to share the idea with others who could use one.

When the calendar crossed into 2016 I was at my brother's in Southern California, halfway through a thirty-day Kickstarter campaign which would determine just how many BivyPacks we'd have to produce. I started hitchhiking towards Georgia eager to make them all.

Even as free as I allow myself to be, I occasionally manufacture a rush that neglects an otherwise obvious spontaneous opportunity. My first night on the road hitchhiking east was an example of this type of mistake. A few gem-hunting travelers, about my age, gave me a ride around sunset and extended a casual invite to join them for the night. Foolishly, I opted to use the very last of remaining light to try and push a little further east.

Instead of camping with them, sharing stories, beers, sifting through dirt for a day or two looking for gems and potentially making some new friends, I caught one more short ride and camped alone off the side of the road. I don't often make mistakes like this and felt silly for doing so. As it would turn out, Georgia would be full of delays and side-adventures, such that a day or three side-adventure here would not have mattered. You live. You learn. You forget. You live again.

And I lived the next day, in a smaller way, by jumping at the opportunity to hike to a little oasis in the desert that was pointed out to me. Eventually, my thumb got me to the Salton Sea where an effeminate guy showed me his home full of porcelain trinkets to the extent only an eccentric 90-year-old woman should have. If ever there was a time for me to be put into a hole under someone's home to be fed once a day via bucket-on-a-rope before eventually getting skinned - it was then.

But no. This is not the way of the road. Instead, my temporary friend insisted on buying me a bus ticket as far as he could afford, which in this case was Phoenix. I accepted, and later that day was hanging with my good friend in the city. While still excited to get to Georgia to start making packs, the gem-hunter lesson, as well as the reality of timing (I was still unaware of the delays to come but knew the Kickstarter money wouldn't clear for a couple weeks or more anyhow, and the fabric orders, etc would extend that wait more), had me hanging in Phoenix with my friend for several days without a worry.

Instead of pure hitchhiking out of Phoenix, I lucked out with a free ride from a guy off Craigslist who just wanted someone to split the driving to get east faster himself. After two solid days of driving, I hopped out onto the icy road past Knoxville where I hitched one ride to Asheville.

I spent a stint in town with some friends hitting up various breweries and enjoying a snowstorm that came through. I was eager to get to Augusta but was dependant on John and his work schedule, which over the next several months would have him coming and going out of town quite a bit.

At last, I hitched that way and was ready to get going. The money still hadn't cleared to order all the material, but I kept busy addressing potential design improvements and calculating just what we'd order and how we'd get things done. My sewing skills were near-zero at the time, which is where John came in, but the tracing and cutting of materials was a can of worms in of itself, but one that I could tackle.

Less than a week later John was going out of town to work, so I too had to find something to do in the meantime. I decided on messing around in Florida, eyeing a section of the Florida Trail and a few cities to visit.

And so I did, starting with a hitch to Tallahassee. I wound up meeting a guy at a brewery who drunkenly gave me a hundred dollar bill before showing me a couch in a maker-space warehouse I could crash for the night, surrounded by 3D printers and tools of all kinds.

I kept hitching the next day to Gainesville. I spent one night camped out in the woods paranoid about gators, then a few nights couchsurfing with a girl who took me on a couple hikes to specifically look at some gators up close. Probably too close at one point, as one hissed at us pretty angrily passing by.

I hitched some more rides from hippies and drunks and farmers and everyone, eventually getting to the Florida Trail. For a few days, I walked through pine forest and past springs until popping out northwest of Orlando.

While waiting to be picked up by a Couchsurfing host I popped into a fast-food spot. Someone behind me watching me count out change (wearing my backpack, perhaps a bit tired from the trail) stepped in and paid for my food. Another guy who saw that happen approached me as I sat down to eat. He was in the tree-trimming business and needed a hand, so he gave me his info saying I could make some cash if I could help him out.

I met the woman I'd Couchsurf with, and the while she was at work the next day I went and trimmed tree branches from a residential roof and made an easy day's pay.

Next was a hitch to Tampa where I couchsurfed with Randy. With a mutual love for beer and hot peppers, we became fast friends. I spent a few days enjoying his cooking and being his excuse to explore a few extra breweries in the region.

He sent me off with a bus ticket to Sarasota and a "care package" filled with cupcakes, sandwiches, and beer - of course. I checked out Siesta Key, then started hitchhiking towards Fort Lauderdale. That took a couple days, starting with a ride in a stretch pink limo driven by a guy with time to kill.

After a couple days catching up with a friend in Fort Lauderdale, I began my ascent back to Georgia. I hitched back up to the same woman's place I'd couchsurfed with near Orlando, spending a few days meeting her friends and one day clearing out her yard for a hundred bucks.

It took me a couple days to get to Athens to drop in on another friend, with one wet night stealth camping in Atlanta between. Then, finally, I hitched my way back to Augusta to get the BivyPack project moving.

I spent a couple weeks tweaking the design and dialing things in, preparing to make the big order for all the material. Once again, John had to leave town for work, so I had to leave as well.

I rode with him, as he was heading towards North Carolina, so I figured I could hitch as far as New York and back by the time he was back in Augusta.

I hitched a ton of rides and coasted into Delaware for a night where I stayed with a guy who worked at Dogfish Head Brewery. I had at night downing beers with him, and a morning of samples at the brewery itself before walking straight from there with my thumb out.

I was in Manhattan before dark, waiting outside my friend's bar by the time he got off his shift.

I spent a few weeks raging between various friends in the city and different family about an hour north. With John a week away from getting back to Augusta, I decided to at least start heading back that way, and scored a series of Mega Bus tickets to Knoxville for less than five bucks.

Saint Patricks Day in NYC with Nick and company.

I didn't stick around there, I hitched straight to Nashville where I found a last-minute couchsurfing host. I'd meet Ben there, a guy who'd become a friend and I'd see several more times over the years.

Next, I hitched to Memphis to see a friend for a couple days of BBQ and catching up. From there I hitched to Huntsville to see another friend for a night, and then on to Atlanta to do the same.

Once I hitched back to Augusta we, at last, made the big order for all the material to make the BivyPacks. After just a few days, however, John once again had to leave town for work and I was looking for another week-long side-trip until he'd be back.

I hitched my way to South Carolina this time. By dark, I was at a bar near Charleston with a guy who'd picked me up who then let me crash on his couch for the night. The next night I wound up on the couch of a bartender from a brewery I'd dropped into.

I bopped around a few more days and then started inching my way back to Augusta. I got there a day before John was supposed to be back, but the guy who'd given me a ride to town invited me to stay at his lake house for the night.

In the morning, instead of heading to John's, I got a text from him saying he'd be out of town for an extra two weeks.


I scanned the map and decided on Destin, Florida. It looked like there were beach showers, stealth camping options, and a couple coffee shops. This was all the criteria I needed for a place I could chill for a couple weeks and get some writing done until John got back.

I scored an excellent ride, just one ride, all the way to Destin. The guy was heading to Arizona and had stories of getting busted with drugs at borders, dosing over fifty people with acid at a horse track, and plenty more stories to keep me entertained until we reached Destin some eight hours later.

The next day I scoped out the beach and the shower, found a better place to camp, and settled into a coffee shop before heading back to the beach for sunset. I figured I'd spend the next couple of weeks with days like this, pecking away at the keyboard working on my book.

Instead, on the third day, I got a text from a friend in New York.

"Are you anywhere near Texas?" he asked me.

"Kind of?" I replied. I was closer to Texas than New York, anyway.

He explained he was having a rough month and wanted to do something "crazy," and was considering getting tickets to a Spurs playoff game in San Antonio for a weekend trip to clear his head. He correctly assumed that I was about the only person he knew who'd be up for such an adventure.

Within minutes, sitting in a coffee shop texting back and forth in between my writing, he confirmed that he'd gotten two tickets, booked a hotel room, and said he'd happily cover all the beer, food, and fun if I could make it.

I closed my laptop at that moment, shoved it in my bag, and walked over to the beach shower. After a quick rinse, my feet were moving and my thumb was out.

Three days later and some twenty rides later, the day before the game, I arrived at the Super 8 hotel in San Antonio just an hour after my friend had landed.

"Willie D!" I shouted victoriously as he popped out of the room and me out of my last ride. Good times were afoot.

We caught up and hit several bars and breweries, chowing down and digging into the San Antonio vibe. The next day we hit the riverwalk and found more great beer and food spots before taking a shuttle to the game.

The Spurs blew out the Thunder and the crowd was electric. They'd end up losing the series in the week to come, so as it turned out, we watched Tim Duncan's final win at home in San Antonio before he retired.

Full of unbridled energy we hit another couple of spots for beers and passionate chatter about all things here and there. In the rental car, Willie stepped on it, heading in the general direction back to the hotel. Flashing lights behind us were the last thing we wanted to see, but now we were pulling over with Willie in a slight panic.

"I say we just play it cool, watch this," I told him. When the cop came to the window and asked for ID, I slid my passport over to him as if he'd asked for mine, even though I was in the passenger seat.

I gabbed a quick tale about the game and how my friend was getting me back to the hotel, how we'd come from New York, how the Spurs had crushed it. I barely let the cop get a word in until the right beat came.

"Get this guy back to your hotel, drive straight there," he said, looking at Wil with a merciful tone of warning. He handed the passport back and turned back to his car.

"Fucking Kenny, man. What the hell just happened?" Willie cackled in disbelief and relief. "Fuck it, man, we're going to the strip club," he howled laughing and I could do nothing but join the elation.

We found a strip club, one way or another, and spent the next couple hours in pandamonium. As they were closing and girls were packing up along with a couple other guys, things began to shift. For some inexplicable reason, Willie and I made some unspoken agreement of an inside joke to begin making subtle comments that made us appear to be undercover cops as some clumsy drug deal was going down.

This passed, and all were leaving, and we too made our way for the car. As Willie started the engine one of the dealers ran up to the car window.

"Yo!" he said with a mix of aggression and mostly nervousness, "My friend said you guys were cops! That true?"

Ice cold, and without hesitation, Willie looked right through the dude as if he was a two-bit, pathetic nobody, "If we were, we wouldn't be looking for you."

Embarrassed, relieved, and confused, the guy dropped his head and walked away. Willie put the car in gear and we jammed out of the parking lot.

"God, damn, my man!" I exclaimed at him, "Cold. Fucking. Blooded, man." And we could do nothing but break out into a fit of his infectious laughter all the way back to the hotel.

"We cops, we cops!" we cracked, smashing some fast food and keeping the night going just a beat or two longer.

We ran around the city some more the next day, hitting new bars and some from the days earlier, passing by the Alamo and seeking out some music. He left the next morning at 4am to catch his flight, I slept in and rode out the hotel room until check-out, debating my next move.

Austin was the move. I hitched up there and spent nearly a week staying with friends of a friend. Days were packed with hiking, waiting in line for epic BBQ, and even picking up a few bucks randomly installing installation in a warehouse.

My friend in Austin giving me a haircut by the river.

As fun as my friends, new friends were there, I wanted to start angling back towards Georgia for whenever John got back. These damn BivyPacks had to get made eventually.

Eight rides hitchhiking the first day on the move got me to Lake Charles camped out in the woods. Another full day of rides had me dragging through New Orleans and eventually camping again just over the border in Mississippi.

I was making pretty good time and had now settled on Destin as my destination, once again figuring I'd get some writing done there while in waiting for John to give me the green light to head back up to Augusta.

Along the way, though, I wound up getting picked up by someone who would become one of my good friends. His name was Christian, he'd pulled his RV over in the shoulder of Interstate 10 and I ran up to hop in.

He was heading to some machine shops near Mobile, Alabama to see about fabricating a tattoo gizmo he'd invented. He told me if I tagged along to the shops that he'd give me a ride to the far side of Mobile afterward. We were getting along, and the idea of getting past another big city while hitchhiking is always enticing.

Christian was tall with long dreadlocks and had done some traveling himself, as well as some stints of chosen homelessness. He'd also done a run as a high-end fashion model, in Europe primarily, whilst still stealth camping around cities or bumming it at girlfriends' places.

Now he was married with kids living in Biloxi where he owned a tattoo shop - hence the idea for the invention he was now trying to bring to life.

We hit up a few shops until he finally found one that seemed like they could produce what he needed. When we headed back to the RV he presented me with a new option: I could either take the ride across Mobile as he'd offered earlier, or come back with him to Biloxi and chill for a few days.

I'd told him about the BivyPacks and about my plan for Destin - how'd I'd basically be idling there with my writing as I waited on word from John.

"You can shower up, use WiFi at the tattoo shop, just chill and feel comfortable," he told me, encouraging me to choose Biloxi over Destin. He talked me into it, and we turned back west towards his town.

I wound up spending close to two weeks hanging out between writing in his tattoo shop and going on side adventures and errands with him. He'd talk philosophy and take us to a buffet. Or ask "Have you ever rode a Mississippi rhino?" before taking me to the mall with his kids to ride a motorized fluffy rhino cart.

Altogether it was both a productive and bonding experience - we'd see each other many more times to come.

At last, I got moving, and after a few solid days of hitchhiking, I arrived in Augusta. Time to do this BivyPack thing.

The next three months was the longest I'd stayed in one general area in the nine years since I'd started my traveling lifestyle.

This had not been the plan.

For the first two months, I tried to remain confident the John was going to help me. This was foolish, and I didn't even know how to sew.

See the thing was, originally, was that I was to do all the tracing and cutting of the fabric, and John was gonna do the sewing. I imagined that I'd start picking up some knowledge on the sewing front and potentially jump in towards the end to finish things off if need be. Yes. And no. Instead, I wound up sewing every stitch.

As the days and weeks went on, John quietly established that he was doing nothing. There was never anything spoken, and there was never a particular moment where he communicated that he'd be ding nothing. Gradually, however, this became the case. And gradually I was teaching myself how to sew, albeit with one of the most complex projects imaginable.

For the first several weeks, I was doing all the tracing and cutting - as planned. If I wasn't doing that, I was joining John and Lilly out playing disc golf or at the climbing gym. When we were at the apartment I'd occasionally join them in front of the TV, but primarily I was trying to get this project done.

And although John said he wouldn't have to work his regular job, he indeed needed to leave town several times for days or a week at a time. At first, this bugged me. Not for long, however. Once I realized that he'd somehow decided not to help me, even when he was home, him leaving town meant fewer distractions. I enjoyed disc golf and the climbing gym, but as time went on all I really wanted was to get the hell out of Georgia. Get out from behind the sewing machine. Wake up somewhere else. End this insane groundhog day.

One time while he was out of town his girlfriend came up into the sewing room. For the first time, the BivyPacks were looking like BivyPacks, instead of piles of arbitrary mid-stage patterns coming together. She was helping me troubleshoot an issue with the sewing machine - something pretty simple in retrospect, but as I said, I was learning in a trial-by-fire.

"I'm not sure why John stopped helping you," she said, somewhat confidingly as she rethreaded the machine. I hadn't mentioned anything about it and instantly felt a strange sense of gratification just to hear some unprovoked acknowledgment.

"I haven't wanted to say anything to him... sometimes he gets defensive and weird," she continued.

"Yeah..." I said, cautiously. "I thought he was gonna be a lot more into it. Strange..."

We didn't say much more about it.

Time stretched on. I began declining trips to the disc golf course in favor of hammering away on the packs. My days were blending together in ways I wasn't used to, marked only by incremental progress on the packs and strengthing fantasies of the outside world. I began regaining the trapped feeling that ultimately propelled me out on the road all those years ago.

The final stages of fabricating the packs went unexpectedly quick, which was most welcomed and exciting. With everything packed up John and Lilly took me to the post office where we got them shipped out, one at a time.

I was done.

We rode back to their apartment and I didn't even go back inside. My BivyPack was ready too, packed and with me, now on my shoulders. I said my goodbyes and turned to the road, eager to point my thumb towards somewhere new.

Sunset was already upon me. In nearly any other situation I would have stayed another night in favor of getting an early start the next day, but there was just no standing another night. Being August 31st as well, I couldn't stomach the thought of extending my stay in Augusta into a new month. I just had to go.

I managed to catch two short rides before darkness took over, and I was happy to be just over the border in South Carolina. A new state, a new adventure ahead. I proudly and blissfully tucked into my precious new BivyPack in the hidden wooded area alongside the highway, ecstatic to be camping in one instead of sewing even one more.

Amazingly I made it up to New York City in just one day hitching - I wanted to swing through to catch up with some friends briefly before heading west for a friend's wedding and the marijuana harvest. Despite making all those BivyPacks, I was basically broke. John had over-ordered some expensive fabrics and I probably didn't sell them for nearly what they were worth. Harvest would help put some dollars back in my pocket.

After a week of shenanigans in New York, it took me two solid days to hitchhike to Indianapolis. After several days of catching up with a friend there, it was back to the road yet again.

The very first ride I got was a truck driver "heading to a little town called Scottsdale." Magic. I rode with him for two days as we cruised on towards Arizona. He hauled gear for musicians on tour, like a truck full of Beyonce's "shoes and underwear," Paul McCartney's Land Rover, and at the moment he had a bunch of equipment for Korn and Breaking Benjamin.

At last, we hit the Phoenix area, he dropped me off and my good friend Larry came and scooped me up. I spent a chill day there and coincidentally a friend from California was in town and offered me a ride on over that way. She got me into the state and I managed to hitch a late-night ride all the way to the coast where my brother lived.

I spent a week or so bouncing between my brother's and some friends' places down around San Diego. Breweries, bar crawling, moonlit makeout sessions on cliffs, and all that kinda California nonsense continued.

My friends got married up in Idllywild - close to Palm Springs. I camped out and enjoyed the festivities for a couple days, then began my hitching journey towards northern California.

Southern California, particularly around Los Angeles, can often be hitchhiking quicksand. This day was no exception. By dark, I'd only made it as far as Pasadena. I tossed out a hail-mary Couchsurfing request to someone nearby, not looking forward to finding a stealth camping spot in the sprawling urban muck.

Miraculously, a host responded. Jim was his name, a friendly and very overweight wheelchair-bound dude who was counting his days to death. He knew it was close.

"Dude!" he smiled as he met me, this being his favorite word. I spent that night and the whole next day into another night with him and his roommate. We talked endlessly about technology and he took me to some epic restaurants - food was his obsession, and he had some pretty high-end taste.

I got back on the road late in the day, back into the muck, and once again did not manage to get far at all. Around sunset, I got a ride from a guy with a goofy smile in Santa Clarita.

"Put it there!" he said, shaking my hand with that quirky smile on his face. Initially, he said he'd give me a ride to the truck stop on the north side of town, one I'd been to before. It was the absolute northern end of southern California - it's clear roads heading north finally from there.

As we neared the truck stop offered to have me over for dinner. By the way he hesitated, and the fact that the sun was going down, I was nearly certain this would also become an invite to crash at his place for the night as well. There was something a little off about him, and also I wouldn't have been surprised if he made a pass at me, but he seemed harmless and genuinely hospitable, so I went along with it.

He stuck some pizzas in the oven a box of beer in the fridge, then sure enough outright offered to let me stay in his guest room for the night. After a failed trip to the video store for a movie, I got a load of laundry in and a shower.

There was a set of bunk beds in his guest room.

"I can lay on the lower one," he said as it was finally getting late, "so we can talk all night if you want."

I wasn't sure if he was too shy to make a direct pass at me or if there was some kind of social awkwardness I just couldn't otherwise discern. In any event, I went quiet and let myself go to sleep.

He made eggs and got out some cereal in the morning, continually asking me if there was anything he could do. He loaded me up with tuna and cookies for the road.

"Think of what I can do for you, usual or unusual," he would say, frequently shaking my hand with that quirky smile. Finally, we hopped in the car and he dropped me at the McDonalds near the truck stop where southern California comes to an end. He stuck $27 worth of bills in my hand, gave me a hug, and shot me one last smile before driving off.

A car honked at me before I even walked all the way to the onramp.

The guy driving was heading way up towards the Bay Area and had been awake for a solid thirty hours, so happily offered me a ride just for the conversation that may keep him awake. I helped drive at one point and rode the hours on north with him until he turned west towards San Mateo.

After another couple of short rides, I found myself stuck in Stockton at dark - only a couple hours south of my destination in Chico. As I walked through the urban sprawl looking for a place to actually hide and camp, exhausted, I eventually caved in and got a room in a sketchy motel. I was down to my last hundred bucks in life, but the room was less than forty, and I knew my immediate future would be full of trimming weed and making a couple hundred per day or so.

The tired guy going to the Bay Area had given me several beers when we parted ways, so I drank them down in my dirty room as folks came and went and shouted at each other in the parking lot outside through the night.

I managed to hitch several rides the next day and finally made it - Chico, California.

I spent the next month or so, through Thanksgiving, bouncing within a couple hundred miles of Chico. Many days were spent trimming weed and stacking up some cash. Endless drunken nights raged on between breweries, downtown Chico bars, and house parties. I brewed some batches of beer and even helped a guy press apples at his cidery.

I'd decided to spend Christmas with family in Wyoming, so after all the northern California shenanigans, about two weeks until the holiday, I got moving in that direction.

The first night on the road hitching landed me in Reno. Now post-harvest season (as in, the most money I'd have for the year), I wound up spending a few nights raging between craps tables and buffets, somehow managing to leave with more money than I'd shown up with.

It took a couple extremely cold days, but I hitchhiked through Nevada and Idaho to my family's spot in Wyoming with a week to spare until Christmas day.

I'd wind up staying there through New Years, wrapping up 2016 altogether.

2017 was already looking bright. I'd won a random contest with Sierra Nevada Brewery for an adventure trip to Nepal, which would actually begin with a trip to Hawaii, already booked and ready to roll.

But that's for the next story. The good times keep on rolling.