Palma Sola Bay, FL

If you have an aunt that casually mentions that she has a friend in Florida that owns vacation rentals on the Gulf of Mexico...yeah you might want to go ahead and follow up on that. Sweet-sunbathing-Jesus-in-the-morning, did Iuck the fuck out on this one.

I was in desperate need of a solid WiFi connection. Not only was my intention to domicile in Florida, but I had a growing pile of laundry, work emails to send, and a myriad of other logistical things to workout now that I had gone full on gypsy. When I first pulled up I immediately turned around assuming I had the wrong place. I spent about twenty minutes searching the neighborhood for the vacation house I had been granted full access to before a neighbor confirmed the fact that, yes, that waterfront property on Palma Sola Bay was indeed the spot I was looking for.

The joint is like a tiny private hotel. Heated pool, hot tub, the works. I've never been to a place like this that wasn't crammed with at least  twenty other people. I've been here for six days now. Swimming, doing laundry, drinking beer, working on refining Thee Witchfinder General's systems...and writing. I've been banging away on a keyboard with a broken spacebar putting this blog together.

I never had any intention of writing anything at all on this...what-ever-the-fuck itis I'm doing. It had been suggested that I do so by a few friends before I even set out, but I didn't give the idea much thought before this week. I hadn't attempted to write anything more than a grocery list in more than a decade...and besides...who the fuck would read the thing? Judging by the analytics my hosting provider is showing me, people are reading it, and a few number more than I would have expected. Thank you for that. 

Do to some wild, probably half-drunk, clerical fuck up on my part, my original plan to obtain legal residence in Florida didn't happen. The Chaos Dice rolled me a Texan. This ended up being more of a gift than a problem after doing some research. Ultimately I would have regretted being a Floridian had I learned what I know now later down the road...most notably...no property tax on the van in Texas. This is what is known as a "wicked bonus".

So now, on my final day on Palma Sola Bay,  I'm trying to decide what to do next. Do I push it further south to Key West in the inevitable hell of their prime tourist season? Or do I start crawling west, towards the promise of cheap and free camping, cruising along Highway 10 towards my Texan destiny? Ultimately...it doesn't matter. I'm confident that no matter which I decide to do tomorrow morning, it will be a righteous fucking adventure. 

Gold Head Branch, FL

Gold Head was a beautiful spot, but one where I would spend more time walking and pondering the story so far than documenting my surroundings. These three pictures were the only ones I took. 

On average I've been hiking about fives miles per state park per day. This is new to me. In my previous life I would spend eight to ten hours a day hunched over my desk, the only exercise being a run to the grocery or to pick up cigs and beer. This day however, I walked at least fifteen miles through flooded fields, forest canopies, and swamp. Four miles of that hike I did barefoot up ridge trail. It always really bothered me that my feet were soft and not armored up enough with callouses to enjoy not wearing shoes. I will do more of this. Toughen up, fucker, this party is just getting started. 

Fort McAllister, GA

I wholeheartedly, fucking unequivocally, love the swamp. In terms of general overall personal aesthetics...swamps must be where my art lives. I could have spent days out there drawing and capturing the flaura and fauna. Great twisting canopies of cypress garnished with lazy resurrection lichen swinging in a warm sun drenched breeze. This is the inspiration I was looking for.

The campground was relatively quite on my end. Freedom to explore. Freedom to get totally naked...which I did and documented because...fuck it...I'm having a good time. I was rewarded by the Mother of Swamps for that act of defiance because immediately after getting dressed I found an unmolested turtle shell and some manner of rodent skull one pace from where I setup my camera. More inspiration. I scooped up my loot and went on a search for a gator that I never found.  

Somewhere parallel to the trails I discovered an ammo can tethered to a tree. It's contents were small toys, trinkets, and a pad of paper with a pen stashed in a ziplock bag. I assumed this was one of those geocaching things I had heard people talking about. I had no trinkets on me at the time. I scribbled a crude self portrait with the caption "Thee Witchfinder General was here!", stuffed it in the ziplock baggie, and returned all the items to their home. 

Things are changing. I'm changing. Something has risen in me since I left Wadmalaw Island. Fear, of really anything other than being mauled by a bear, has left me. I've stopped booking places to stay days in advance. I ignore Google maps and stick to state roads that look like they might run through more interesting shit. I'm starting to wild out. I'm returning to my original from, that strange forest critter I was when I was 25 years younger and I lived in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

I highly recommend getting naked in a Georgia swamp. Keep your boots on though, strange shit lurks in those waters and their intentions for you are even stranger. 

Wadmalaw Island, SC

There was an unholy fucking racket echoing through Myrtle Beach State Park last night. Whatever the camper across from me was building at 11am must be monumental, I imagined, some kind of artisanal cedar planked pop-up perhaps. At that moment, Brad Deerhake, an old Columbus buddy from the way back days, messaged to ask if I would like to come out to say hello. Yes, god dammit, I most certainly would. I didn't know exactly what the score was at Brad's place and I hadn't seen the dude in maybe eight years, but I knew it wasn't an overcrowded state park filled with the boisterous banging of hammers. I would later discover that artisanal cedar-planked pop-up tent guy was actually just a shitty dude who didn't understand how to anchor his tent in sand properly.

I met up with Brad in Charleston, SC. He was at his buddies house fucking wildly with the ignition switch on his custom Harely EVO Sportster. The first wave of moto-envy on this trip hit hard. We caught up, I told the story as it was so far, did the van tour, and then we hit the road for dinner with Brad's buds, Ethan and Lindsay. We ate tacos and drank beer. We walked down to the beach. Ethan drew a elegant cock in sand. Lindsay scrambled to distort it's anatomical perfection before a young couple and their three kids could make out the shape of it. We parted with Ethan and Lindsay and set off for Brad's home on Wadmalaw Island. I had seen pictures of the place before. I knew it was some kind of compound where he and his fiance, Jackie, had been living for a few years. I knew there were horses there. I didn't know much else.

This wouldn't be the only time on this trip that I would utter the phrase "This is some Great Gatsby shit!", even though in nearly all instances the only correlation between a Fitzgerald novel and the subjects that elicited that exclamation would be money. Lot's of fucking money. Set before me was a thousand acre plantation, replete with million dollar homes, sprawling pastures, docks, and the kinds of toys only the Illuminati could afford. The place was incredible. The owners were some kind of mysterious English couple that owned the SC soccer team and prize winning English jumping horses that Jackie was in charge of. This was an alternate reality, one I had only read about or seen on a TV show that I probably hated.

Brad and Jackie were incredible hosts. I ended up spending two nights with them. Breakfast and dinner were served daily. Brad ended up ditching work  to take me on a Charleston tour. I bore witness to the majesty of Angel Oak, some massive, gnarled, four-hundred year old, ancient Ent looking bastard. Respect your elders. We explored The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon which, in fact, would turn out to be just a brick basement where prisoners or war and pirates were kept. No torture devices here, just a crowded and wet basement where they would hold up to forty individuals at a time.

 I would have stayed longer had it not been for the fact that I had to get to Florida relatively quickly to handle some gypsy business. I will definitely be returning next loop if they will have me. 

Wadmalaw Island was a massively transformative experience. It marked the first time that I didn't have to immediately wake up and jam on to the next state park. It was the first time since heading out that I saw the merits of staying with people and actually getting an opportunity to explore an area.

It was also the first time loneliness would set in. Not the cruel and crushing kind of loneliness I experienced in Louisville...this was different. It was simply the kind where I thought, man it would be fucking awesome to share these experiences with someone. "Holy fuck! Would you look at that?", doesn't seem to have the same weight when there isn't someone to holy fuck would you look at that thing with you. 

 

 

Myrtle Beach, SC

Fucking Myrtle Beach, man. I was warned. The campground was a great radiating mass of RV's and tents in a dirt semi-circle orbiting the Ranger's Station/Gift Shop. Don't misunderstand, the people there were great, incredibly welcoming, but the place itself was just the sort of thing I had been trying to avoid. Still, I should have known, cruising down 17 with the bright lights of heavy tourism streaming through the windows of Thee Witch, what I was in for. I did, however, manage to capture my first glimpses of a beach sunrise and document it in my most fucking Motorhead moment of the trip thus far. I'll take it.

Murrell's Inlet, SC

I hadn't seen my mother in about 22 years. We had only been on speaking terms again since last January. I knew I would stop in Murrell's Inlet to see her, before she had even asked me to. The experience was surreal, not only because of the surface nature of the thing conceptually, but because of how easy it was for both of us. We got terribly wrecked on a box of wine, woke with savage hangovers, and parted as friends with a mutual respect for each other that I'm not sure we ever had before. There are certain inexplicable moments in time, when a great portal opens and invites you to step though, and you know what awaits you on the other side is something right a true. I won't get fucking heavy on you with this one, I'm not even sure I could do it justice...but I will say...life in this country is getting cartoonishly weird, so out-fucking-weird the bastard by mending broken bridges you never thought you would cross again...then build new ones...then jam on down the fucking road.

Carolina Beach, NC

Carolina Beach was incredibly mellow. It marked the first truly worthy day of sleeveless shirt weather which was a major turning point in the odyssey. I met an older gentleman, retired, by the name of Grady, who took a profound interest in The Witch. Grady's wife hide died two weeks  prior, since then he had been wandering from state park to state park with no plan or direction, living in his Toyota Camry with his dog who's name I have already forgotten. He had money, he explained, and a home that he had shared with his wife that he was eager to sell. We spoke of love and loss and senseless wandering when the fog is too thick to choose a point on the map with any kind of informed clarity. Grady will be getting a van in the next few weeks, inspired by Thee Witch, and he will wander like I am, agreeing that the true heart of the trip is in the search itself and not a person or thing to search for. This is something I am coming to see more clearly now as the days pass, and I'm thankful for that chance conversation with Grady to give that sentiment more substance and tooth.

Merchants Millpond, NC

I woke early, determined to put as much distance between winter and I as reasonably possible in a days drive. Highway 13, straight through Delaware, no stops. Focused, with the first prickling trickle of travelers adrenaline starting to enter my bloodstream, I arrived at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. Pictures cannot to the mammoth bastard justice. I experienced my first true sense of awe in nearly a decade. I opened all the windows in Thee Witch so she could soak up the sea air, some sort of righteous cleansing ritual for us both. I howled and hollered at oncoming traffic through the tunnels. The experience was rife with symbolism, a piece of what I had been looking for since the inception of this whole thing had been revealed to me.

It had snowed the previous evening at Merchants Millpond, a ranger had called to warn me. "We wanted to know if you still intended to stay here, the campground roads are covered in ice." .  "Yeah man, definitely," I said, considering the fact that I was about an hour away and out in the middle of fucking nowhere on a logging road that had just kissed the windshield of Thee Witch hard and terrible. "I'll be there, I don't need anything fancy, just a place to park the van for the night.".

When I arrived the rangers reported that I would be the sole camper in a roughly 3700 acre park that I would have entirely to myself. They had plowed a small section of the picnic grounds for me to set up camp with all facilites. I immediately parked and set out on the trails. The day was filled with thick mists spiraling around massive bald cypress trees in semi-frozen swamp. Crooked bridges caked with crisp ice. I was finally "up on some Tolkien shit". Fucking bliss. I was so taken with the fantasy of the place that I took few pictures. I will return with the thaw. Definitely a location that demands more exploration.

 

Killen's Pond, DE

I left New Jersey in a thirty-five degree frenzy. I was already one month behind. One of the greater sources of fuel for this drive was the promise of warmer temperatures, the ones that favor cut-off sleeve shirts and Chuck Taylors...or maybe even plastic sandals tinted a nauseating pastel that I will never wear. Fuck winter to death. Cold gets in my core, coils around my spine like an Ice Wyrm, and pulls me down deep into the permafrost.

I don't remember the drive through Delaware. I'm not sure if this was Delaware's fault or my own. I never bothered to stop, straight shot to the campground. It was frozen. A half dozen Class-A's stuck fast in a semi-circle. These people were not passing through, they were settled. I parked and walked down to the pond, immediately turned back around, and headed back to Thee Witch to get under the blankets and draw. I drew an enraged shamanic mushroom and dwelled on an old relationship before falling asleep. 

Thee Witchfinder General - Genesis

Once you have gone through the process of selling your house and possessions it's time to buy a van that costs as much as a house. You are going to cut holes in it. You are going to drill mean spirited self-tapping screws in to it. You are going to fucking ruin it. The trick is to ruin it better.

I won't go through my process, nor will I provide a how-to. These have been done by better builders than myself and are a few search terms away if that is what you are looking for. I'm a firm believer in eyeballing everything, guessing, sketching, and making shit up as you go along. This is wrong. I hide fuck-ups behind thick coats of dark walnut stain on excessive trim. It works for me...loose...fun. It is not at all the right way to do things, which is an approach I tend to favor in order to keep things interesting.

Two weeks on the road now and I realize the bastard will never be done. It will constantly change, be added to, be edited out of necessity. I'm very happy about that. Evolution is infinitly more fun than an ending.

I'm a huge fan of barrel bolts. 

I'll post progress pictures here periodically and maybe a full video walkthrough at some point.

 

 

Checking Out of the Hospital.

It wasn't the world itself, or the people in it, that I was afraid of. I didn't have social anxiety or panic attacks. As an atheist, or maybe a seriously fucking jaded agnostic, it was ironically the divine hammer of chaos that put the fear in me. It was the random savagery of an unexpected tragedy lurking in the shadows of any given moment that kept me hidden. The coding of the program was perfect, and I ran it daily for the six years that I had lived in Lousiville, KY. 

Somewhere around Christmas of 1996, while pulling a pair of socks out of the dryer, I had a stroke. I lost half of my field of vision. My depth perception was completed knocked out. My short term memory and sense of time was broken. I was completely unable to gauge where I was in relationship to the material world. I would walk into walls, getting lost in my own home. It was a solid year before I figured out how to function well enough to navigate on my own. I was never granted access to the how or why of it. When your brain inexplicably explodes, the last thing you want a conference of thirty neurosurgeons at UVA Stroke Clinic to offer you is a collective shrug. The precedent was set. The Doomhammer was real.

I was furious with Alix that night. We had fought right before she left our apartment. I had turned off my phone and left it at home. I drank heavily at Cafe Bourbon Street, closing the place down with the hardcore regulars and staff. When I finally returned and stumbled up the steps of the apartment I realized she still wasn't home. I reached for my phone to text something that would have probably been incomprehensible with the intent of being pointedly cruel. I had over twenty voicemails. I only listened to the first one before I was speeding blindly towards a hospital that I never bothered to figure out the location of, wildly drunk with tears streaming down my face. I don't remember how I got there. I only remember seeing her laying in a bed, with blood-soaked bandages wrapped around a respiration tube jammed in her throat. She had been shot in the neck by a stray bullet from gang-related crossfire while driving back to our home. Those first couple of weeks the question was only whether or not she would be able to survive a trauma of that magnitude. She fought. She was always ferocious in battle. Watching someone you love try to navigate waters that fucking treacherous will absolutely gut you in a way that you can only comprehend if you have had the misfortune of witnessing it firsthand. She remains paralyzed from the neck down. Total fucking chaos, The Doomhammer had stepped back up to the forge. Rather selfishly, in retrospect, I imagined it was now after the people I cared about. 

At some point during those long months after, my father had come to Columbus to get a handle on the situation with Alix and check on the stability of his son's fractured psyche. I was completely lost, emotionally exhausted, panicked...maybe even a little suicidal. My father was my best friend. He knew how to deal with me when I was letting my shadow buddy run things. I wouldn't have been able cope with sheer brutality of Alix's situation without him there. About a month in to his visit he started complaining of pains in his leg. A few months after he would have a stroke of his own. A few months later I would be living with him, taking care of him on the graveyard shift while everyone else slept. I started stealing his Lortabs and drinking heavily. On more than one occasion I had to assure him that global temperatures were not his responsibility. He had become increasingly convinced that The Weather Channel was taunting him and blaming him for whichever weather report he was on at the time. I watched his brilliant mind rot from terminal brain cancer. He died a few months later. The Doomhammer was in the fucking Nuclear Arms Race now. I surrendered to it. I was done. Completely shattered. Fried. Fucked up beyond anything I had ever imagined. The only thing I remember about the funeral was putting one foot on his casket to play air-guitar. I followed my sister back to West Virginia the day after his funeral where I spent a month in solitude at her house while Appalachian Terror Unit toured in Europe. I drank and played World of Warcraft until they returned. I moved to Louisville, KY the following day. 

I spent the first two years of my time in Louisville drinking a mix of coffee and bourbon from noon until whenever I passed out. Wake up, repeat, repeat, repeat. I was not a happy person and people could feel it. I had become prone to wild outbursts of tears or rage or both...the whiskey werewolf was lose. I was no longer suicidal, but I wanted something or someone to do the deed for me. I made few friends in Kentucky but fortunately the ones I did make were quality relationships capable of tolerating and understanding my wildly fluctuating mood swings. I eventually fell in love again, hard and fast...too fast for where she was at the time. I bought a house with the money I had inherited from my father and renovated it singlehandedly. Her and I would live there I imagined. I joined a moped gang and managed to squeeze 50 MPH out of a 2-stroke engine that was designed go 35. I had a "club". I flirted with making the art gig real. I tried to make it work. I tried to extract some kind of joy out of life again despite the fact that I was still constantly looking over my shoulder for the next swing of fate that would inevitably crush everything all over again. The Doomhammer never came back. What grew in it's place was deep stoicism and cynicism. The new void. The relationship had ended, rather badly, under the strain of my focused desire to settle down and play house. I became increasingly reclusive after the split. I started working three jobs to try to sustain a house I could no longer afford in a neighborhood that was being gentrified on an exponential incline. The house became a living metaphor for my life...it was starting to crumble...I had to get the fuck out of there before it all collapsed.  Settling down was a failed experiment...and I'm fucking grateful for that...but only now. 

I woke one morning last October in a panic thinking that I may have had another stroke. I had completely disassociated from the reality of the past six years in Kentucky. I didn't know what was wrong with me, my chemistry was altered, the house felt alien, I didn't belong there, my routine nauseated me. I called my sister. I wanted to know how she felt about the idea of selling the house, about living and working out of a van and driving around the country with no real course or plan. She said something to the effect of "Don't be a fucking wimp, if you are going to do it, do it. Don't wait or overthink it.".

The next morning I had my house listed. The house sold in two days. I sold or gave away 98% of my possessions. I bought a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter. I filled it with scrap wood left over from the house build. I said goodbye to Louisville. I spent about a month with my sister, then three weeks with my aunt, while I worked on the van build. I named the van Thee Witchfinder General. I've functionally been living in it since.