Living Free in Florida
When I left Wisconsin in January with just an direction that I wanted to travel in and no plan of what I would do or how I would get there, I had no idea of all the wonderful things that would happen along the way. My only goal for the trip was to have as much fun as possible while spending as little money as I could. Hitchhiking and staying at Pete’s house out west allowed me to travel for free and the over the month that followed, all sorts of unique coincidences helped me get the remainder of the way to my destination in Sebring, FL and back home.
Thanks to the incredible kindness of @pete_masiel, I got to live in luxury for the first few weeks of my adventure. I didn’t have to camp at all and I got to take a shower every day. I think the next half of the adventure will be a little different but at least I found a nice barn to camp in last night! #bikeadventures #bikemississippi #RidingUltras #bikepacking #biketouring #cycling #lifeontheroad #livinfree #deepsouth #outsideisfree #camping #seasonalvagabond
The true beauty of America is best experienced on a bicycle. #americabybike #bikepacking #worldbybike #biketouring #bikemississippi #bikepacking #travelmississippi #adventurecycling #outsideisfree #lifeontheroad #seasonalvagabond #RidingUltras #ultracycling #cycling #america #deepsouth #longleaftrace #visitms #railstotrails #seenomyride #biketrail @bikepackersmag @bikepackingcom @biketouring @visitms @railstotrails
A photo posted by Kelsey Regan (@ridingultras) on
|Hilary and I hiking in Brazil in 2011.|
After arriving at Hilary’s house, I got in contact with the my trucker friend Tim, who happens to live in Pensacola too, although to say he lives there is a strong word. He mostly lives on the road, driving to all different parts of the country, going wherever his company sends him to pick up and drop off loads. Occasionally he gets days off and spends them exploring new places and visiting friends near his route, but when the rare opportunity presents itself, he stops by his hometown to visit family. As luck would have it, he happened to be spending the week in Pensacola when I was there so we made plans to meet up for lunch on the beach the following day. Like old friends, we filled each other in on what we had been up to during our three weeks apart. When we got to comparing travel plans for our next destinations, it turned out that we were going in the same direction to Central Florida at the end of the week. It was only appropriate that I hitch a ride with him to the Rainbow Gathering he had told me about.
The extra time I gained in Pensacola since I could hitch a ride instead of bike to my next destination worked out perfectly because I had another surprise waiting for me there. Social media connected me with a fellow Davenport North High School alum, named Luke. When we met up we both had to ask each other, “What the heck are you doing here in Pensacola?” Luke joined the Navy as a pilot officer and moved there the previous summer. This was the first time someone he knew from Iowa had come to Pensacola and I was happy to see another Iowan on the road. We filled each other in on Davenport gossip and he showed me all the fun things Pensacola had to offer. When I arrived in Pensacola, I had only planned on staying a day or two, then moving on, but I had no idea how much fun I would have there. I’m glad it worked out for me to stay longer and I really appreciate Hilary and her awesome roommates for letting me inhabit the couch at their house for the better part of the week.
To hitch my ride across Florida, Tim and I made plans to meet at a business off the interstate exit closest to Hilary’s house. Sitting there waiting for him at 1:00 am, I thought about how ridiculous my situation would seem if anyone happened to stop and ask me what I was doing there. “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just waiting for my trucker friend to pick me up.” Eventually his truck appeared out of the darkness and I threw my bike and gear up to him and climbed in, just as I had in Amarrillo a month before. It was comforting to be back among the familiar hum of the deisel engine, the sweet smell of L&M 100s and our usual hippie conversations. I’m sure most people would think twice about picking up a stranger for a long distance ride, but after living on the road for the past three years, Tim understands the challenges of traveling with little or no money, so he’s always looking out for people on his route who need a ride. Picking up a woman with a bicycle and taking her to a hippie festival was just another day in his life. In fact, I was the second woman who he had dropped off at said hippie festival.
A month ago I hitched a ride out west with a hippie trucker and he told me about the Ocala Rainbow Gathering. Well here I am back in the 18 wheeler with my favorite hippie trucker heading to said Rainbow Gathering! THE UNIVERSE IS AWESOME! #hippies #hitchbiking #hippietrucker #rainbowgathering #ocala2016 #ocalarainbowgathering #rainbowfamily #Florida #peaceandlove #hitchhiking #theuniverseisawesome #hippietruckerrideshare #lifeontheroad #livinfree #seasonalvagabond
He drove all night, stopping in the morning to pick up a load of orange juice in Central Florida bound for California, then going out of his way to get me as close as possible to my destination. I called the “Light Line” to get directions to the Rainbow Gathering and he got as far as the paved roads would take us. He parked his truck on the shoulder near the forest road that lead to the gathering and unloaded my baggage and we promised to keep each other updated with our future travel plans. When we had parted ways in Phoenix, I hadn’t known if I would see him again, but this time I knew that the universe would find a way to bring us together again. I’m sure one of these days his route will take him close to Wisconsin or I’ll find myself standing off some random interstate exit waiting for him to pick me up. The trip had officially come full circle. I wouldn’t have know about the gathering if he hadn’t told me about it back when we were heading west and to get a ride with him to it was perfect. Before the trip, if someone had asked me what the top two things I hoped to accomplish on the adventure would be, I would have said “meet hippies and hitch a ride with a trucker.” I never imagined that I would be hitching a ride with a trucker who happened to be a hippie and that we would become friends. As always seems to be the case, reality proved to be better than anything I could have imagined for myself. Again, I have Craigslist Rideshare to thank for not only connecting me with Tim who gave me two safe rides across the country, but for giving me another new friend. Off I went on my bike in the direction of more hippies.
|Just follow the rainbow trail!|
After riding 10 miles down the forest road, I found rainbow colored ribbons lining a trail that lead to the gathering. While hiking with my bike down the trail, I was greeted by all sorts of people with “Welcome home” and “Lovin’ you”. Rainbow Gatherings have been around since the 1970’s when people started coming together to create temporary communities within different national forests throughout the country where they embrace peace and love while providing an alternative to consumerism and the monetary system. Food, admission and entertainment are free but money and alcohol are prohibited. Some members of the Rainbow Family arrive in the Ocala National Forest at the beginning of winter, as soon as whatever forest they had previously been squatting in gets too cold, but the official gathering that brings several hundred people to the forest is always the week before Valentines Day.
Although my journey of catching rides across the country with strangers might sound like an extreme adventure to some people, arriving through means of hitchhiking is a fairly normal mode of transportation to get to a Rainbow Gathering. Some people arrive by car (or hippie van) but the majority hitchhike, hop trains, or post on the Rainbow Rideshare Facebook Group, advertising their “jug and fly” skills (the hippie vernacular for panhandling) instead of offering to contribute gas money. Going to the gathering in Michigan last summer, I saw people who lived almost exclusively without money. They just exist off the excess of others, hitchhiking to get from place to place, dumpster diving for food and camping or staying wherever they can find a free place. One of my concerns with choosing to be an organic farmer was that I wouldn’t have enough money to travel like I had in the past. By no means do I travel in luxury, but it takes gas to get from point A to B and all the other expenses that come with driving a car. Seeing how well people can live without money made me realize that I could travel within my financial constraints too.
I made it home for my second Rainbow Gathering! Met lots of family, wandered through the forest, listened to great music, helped a man named Happy cook lunch at Dumpster Jedi Kitchen (but in reality the majority of food served at Rainbow Gatherings probably came from a dumpster). I had a great time but I’ve returned to Babylon to continue my adventure. I’m heading to Sebring, FL next to crew for Sarah Cooper as she attempts to improve on last year’s 460 mile ride in 24 hours! #rainbowgathering #ocalarainbowgathering #ocala2016 #rainbowfamily #ocalanationalforest #hippies #lovinyou #welcomehome #seasonalvagabond #livinfree
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I spent the next four days at the Rainbow Gathering, wandering through the forest, listening to the stories of all sorts of interesting people, eating excellent fire cooked meals made with food that probably came from a dumpster and hanging out by the campfire while people played all sorts of instruments. Eventually the time to continue south arrived as I figured I would leave three days before Sarah’s race, giving me two days to bike the 170 miles to Sebring plus an extra day to help Sarah prepare for the race. As my departure date approached, the weather forecast increasingly deteriorated, with predictions of rain and unseasonably cold weather. Fortunately, my dad’s travel plans happened to align with mine. He was heading to Fort Myers, FL to escape the cold and spend some time with a friend, a trip he had been wanting to do for a while. When I called him to see where he was in his travels, he happened to be driving through Georgia so we made plans to meeting at a hotel near the interstate and continue to Fort Myers the following day.Before leaving the forest, I left everything I didn’t need with people who could use what would just be extra weight for me: emergency blankets, food, toilet paper, etc. As I was biking towards the highway that lead through the forest, I saw three people from the gathering who were trying to hitchhike. I stopped and asked if they needed any food or water or anything, but they said they were good, showing me that they had a bag full of food. “Chocolate?” I offered, remembering I still had a bar in my backpack. Their eyes lit up and I left it with them. Free food is easy to come by on the road but chocolate is a delicacy. After benefiting from the kindness of so many people during my travels, it felt great to be on the giving side for once. I continued on my bike to get the 30 miles from the forest to the hotel, but with a headwind of 25 mph and my heavy bike, it was going to take me most of the day to get there. I decided that if a ride happened to come my way, I wouldn’t turn it down. Sure enough, within 10 miles, a man in a box truck pulled over, saying “You look like you could use a ride”. I smiled and told him that I definitely could and I put my bike in the back and hopped in and he took me right to the hotel which was on his way home from work.
My dad and I made it to Fort Myers the following day, where I was able to pick up Sarah from the airport and head to Sebring, finally arriving at the destination that created so many travel stories. Sarah spent 24 hours averaging 20 miles per hour on her bike while I occasionally handed her food and water and giving words of encouragement, doing my best to make sure she didn’t have to lose valuable time off the bike. My trip across the country for the race was totally worth it to see Sarah’s record setting performance. Sarah would never brag, but her performance proved that she is the best female cyclist the world has ever seen and it puts her at a competitive level with a lot of top male cyclists. Her mileage of 479.4 was unofficially the world record for 24 hours and she placed third overall among a competitive men’s field. It technically won’t count for official certification because one of the rules from the long list of requirements set by the UMCA is that it must be on a loop between 5-20 miles, while the Sebring loops ranged from 90 to 3.7 miles, however her performance was 10 miles more than the official record.
I’m having fun crewing for @Iowacoop at the Bike Sebring 24 Hour Race! There’s less than 8 hours left in the race and she’s still on pace to break her record from last year of 460 miles! I checked in with George Thomas from Over The Top Cycling to talk about how she’s doing and I’ll be giving another update in a couple hours: https://aca.st/a60a29. It’s so exciting to be a part of this awesome performance! #BikeSebring #ultracycling #RidingUltras #WheresCoop #SarahCooper #bikeflorida #bikesebring24 #bikesebring2016 #24hourrace #endurance #cycling #bikerace #sebring #overthetopcycling #panachecycling #houndstoothendurance
Following the race, I returned to Fort Myers where I got to spend another week and a half enjoying the warm weather. My dad’s friend, Jim, lives in a secluded area on the edge of Fort Myers with a yard that is full of unique birds, fish and possibly a gator. The location provided easy access to lots of nice roads for cycling, away from the city traffic. While I was there, I got connected with a friend of a friend who lives nearby in the Everglades, working for the DNR. He took me on a tour of the area, showing me cool birds, ferrel hogs, alligators (of course) and all sorts of other wildlife. We hiked through the forest, picking wild grapefruit and oranges off the trees and drinking the juice. Later he cooked alligator meat from a gator that he accidentally hit with his car and took home to butcher. Even though I’m vegan, if someone is going to cook alligator for me, I will try it, especially if it comes with a good story. Another person who I got to see was Wisconsin cyclist Scott Holan happened to be in town for a conference so we met up for a ride. I’m amazed how connected I am to the world. I feel like I could show up at any decent sized city and either know someone who lives there or know someone who knows someone.
Just drinking the juice from a wild grapefruit somewhere in the Everglades. Never turn down an opportunity to have a local show you around. Only in Florida… #Florida #everglades #southwestflorida #travelflorida #seasonalvagabond #theuniverseisawesome #onlyinflorida #okaloacoochee
A photo posted by Kelsey Regan (@ridingultras) on
Before leaving to wander around the country, I had set March 1st as my deadline to come home, which would give me time to get things ready for my vegetable farm. When I was planning the trip, two months seemed like such a long time to travel but in reality, it flew by. The time to head back home arrived and my dad and I headed north, making a quick stop in Mobile, AL where he wanted to see the USS Alabama. When we returned to the car, he asked, “How far are we from New Orleans?” Checking the map revealed that we were less than three hours away so we made the decision to go there, avoiding going north but only for a day. Reality hit me in New Orleans, realizing that my adventure would soon be over. I felt like I could stay on the road for a many more months and with almost no travel expenses, I could afford to. It would be so easy to just continue biking along the coast or stick my thumb out and wait for some awesome person to pick me up. But those adventures would have to wait until next winter; it was time to go home and I’m sure plenty more adventures are waiting for me in the future.
I’m amazed how well the pieces of the trip fell together. When I told people I was looking to go in a certain direction and they helped me get there. When I mentioned that I was looking for something to do and people showed me the highlights of their area. When I said that I was vegan and people went out of their way to make some of the most delicious food I have ever had. Never once was I stranded, bored or hungry. In a way, I think this trip was kind of representative of life in general: if you have a direction you want to go in and you’re open to whatever experiences come your way, things will work themselves out. Sometimes you will be the hitchhiker standing in the rain while hundreds of cars pass you looking at you like you’re crazy, only for you to find out that some awesome person in just an hour away, ready to pick you up around the corner. Other times people will stop and pick you up when you’re not even asking for a ride.
I was able to successfully accomplish my goal of getting across the country and back without any significant travel expenses. In fact, I even saved money compared to what it would have cost me to heat my house through the winter. In traveling with little money I was reminded that the best things in life are free. Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible for me! My only regret is that I didn’t get to see everyone who invited me to visit them. I’m sure it will work out on a future adventure though! In the meantime, people are welcome to visit me at my tiny house in Wisconsin anytime. I definitely have a lot of paying it forward to do. Next time I drive somewhere, I will definitely be on the lookout for hippies to pick up and other travelers in need.