On the road with my mom, the bad-ass.

Last weekend my mom and I met in Los Angeles for a wayward run down the coast. According to the Google machine, the drive to San Diego takes two hours. We wisely gave it four days.

The first morning found us on Manhattan Beach at 6 a.m. The grey dawn was working its way up to 60 degrees – water temps were cooler than that. A line-up of wet-suited surfers bobbled out along the second break.

Locals only. And my mom. 

I had a surfboard that I snagged from our AirBnB. She had a body board. I have no idea if she's ever used one before. I realize now that I never asked. In my defense, she was in the water and paddling out before I had a chance to inquire.  

We got pounded by the waves that day, and the next, and the days after that. It's what the ocean does best: it reminds us of where we stand. It pounds and pushes and puts us in our place. But then occasionally, whether we deserve it or not, it lets us ride. Fast and free and grinning like children.

Life can be the same way. And so it came to be, for four days last week, that my mom and I rode fast and free.

From sea level, to the rooftop bar at Hotel Casa Del Camino, to the wonderfully curvy road leading to the 6,000 foot peak of Palomar Mountain. And then down, down, down, lost maybe a little, until we finally dropped right into the heart of San Diego as if that was the plan all along. Music loud, top town, fueled by joy and a massive cache of roadside-stand strawberries.

Along the way, I learned that my mom can road trip like a champion. I also learned that, as a child, I had trouble pronouncing "T" sounds. So when I wanted my toy truck I'd yell "Fuck!" Or when passing the fire station: "Fire Fuck! Fire Fuck!" This anecdote has no bearing on our road trip, other than it never would have come up otherwise. Also, I'll add, it makes me very very happy.

I've always recommended taking any road trip, anytime, headed anywhere, alone or with anyone who's wired right for road trips. It's never a bad idea. But if you haven't tried it with your mom? Damn junior! You need to get on that!

Busting out of travel ruts

Ruts suck. That's just what ruts do.

The quickest way out of a rut, for me anyway, is travel. Some kind of an adventure to shake things up. But lately I've come to realize that my approach to travel has fallen into a rut of its own.

The root cause is one that I'm actually thankful for: over the years, I've fallen into a slew of annual trips. Buddy trips, family trips, and so on. Many of them are little more than long weekends (or regular weekend-length weekends). A few are longer. But I've accumulated a bunch of recurring commitments.

Given my hillbilly ways, many of these getaways include the word "camp," such as Trout Camp, Deer Camp, Ice Camp, etc. There are also several that go by "The ______ Trip" such as The Canada Trip, The River Trip, The Utah Trip. You get the idea. Each of these outings includes its own recurring cast of characters, a recurring location, and a recurring set of dates on the calendar. To be clear, I love them all. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to reconnect regularly with people and places and activities that I love. However. While these getaways get me away, they don't get me anyplace new. What I'll see on them, I've seen before. What I'll do, I've done before. And so on.

I've also noticed that even my non-recurring trips have recurring commonalities (typically blue sky, white sand, and mangoes for miles). If you're going to fall into a rut, of course, that's a helluva rut to fall into. But it's a rut nonetheless.

So anyway, all this has been on my mind lately. I've been thinking about how to get my brain onto a different track. Then, just a few days ago, I stumbled across what might be the world's finest oddball travel destination idea generator. It's the Explore tool on KAYAK.com. Just enter your home airport, adjust the $ slider, and it will tell you everywhere in the world you can get to for that amount. 

Why I dig it is this: The process doesn't start by asking "Where do you want to go?" (Obvious rut bait!) It starts with "Here are all the places you could go."

I quickly learned that 89 bucks can move me all over the U.S. (round trip, tax included). Of the options, Houston caught my eye. I've never been to Houston. I've never considered Houston. Left to my own devices, if I'm headed to Texas, Austin wins every time. As a result, I've been to Austin quite a bit. I've stumbled 6th Street. I've got a favorite spot for breakfast burritos the next morning. I know Austin. I dig it.

But I see that for the price of 10 six-packs or, say, eight jugs of Cheer laundry detergent, I could wake up in a place I've never been before.

What if I up the budget a bit? For less than $500, I can get to Oslo, Barcelona, or the Philippines. Or Lima, Guangzhou, or Copenhagen. And yeah, I see flights to plenty of my old haunts in the Caribbean too. But it's the farther flung, more rando destinations that are capturing my imagination.

I haven't even looked at when these rates are available. I assume they're short-notice though, and/or awkwardly timed. I could set preferred dates and see what comes out. But for me the random timing somehow adds to the appeal. After all, getting out of a rut is rarely a smooth transition. More often than not it's a herky-jerky affair. A sudden lunge. A clumsy up-and-out and grace be damned.

But then. Then! You're free. On your way to a different place entirely.

The Books of John

I'm not a scrapbooker. Those big-ass ziq-zag scissors always intimidated me. I'm not a diarist either, nor do I capture every detail of my day on social media. As for my biographers, sadly, they'll find that over the years I've archived zero correspondence for them to work with.

My occasional scribblings on this site notwithstanding, I've come to believe that experiencing life is much more important than recording it. A photo of a long toeside turn on a snow/surf/skate board simply can't compare to the feeling of an actual long toeside turn on a snow/surf/skate board.

But wait! However! Nonetheless!

Trips are different. Every major trip I've taken in recent years has included a journal. I've never come close to filling a journal on a single trip, but I start with a fresh one each time anyway. That way, one or five or 10 years down the line, I can pull that book off the shelf and revisit a time and a place that, otherwise, would be limited to hazy generalities. 

The things I document when I'm on a trip, and how I choose to document them, are random at best. I've found, to my taste anyway, that the highest quality journals are the ones where quality was never a consideration. If quality was the goal I'd cut my word count by half, my rum intake by a quarter, and my "illustrations" entirely. But no. Fuck that. Instead I've decided to go all in on doodles and gibberish – as conceived and executed by a remedial first grader.

This past weekend I desperately needed a getaway. I pulled a few journals off the shelf and added some coffee and Wailers to the mix. I slowly settled in. As it turns out, a return to St. Elsewhere was exactly what I needed. 

Wanna live on an island? Yes! Maybe! How the hell should I know!

Over the years I've done just about every goofy thing you can do on an island. Some may have been illegal. Others just ill-advised. I've also done a few things that I regret. But the one thing I've never done on an island? I've never lived on one.

Some (slash many slash most) would say living on an island is a cliche. But in the words of Prime Minister Pete Nice, of seminal '90s hip hop trio 3rd Bass: "I beg to diffa." The real cliche isn't living on an island. The real cliche is thinking about living on an island while you're driving your pale ass through another Lansing or Lincoln or Lafayette winter with one of those grinning Life Is Good hammock dudes on your ice-encrusted Jeep Wrangler spare tire cover.

But we've probably all thought about living on an island. And I suspect with this year's election cycle, some of us are thinking about it more than usual. This inkling usually leads to researching what different islands might be like. Which inevitably leads to watching those horrible island real estate reality shows on tv. A guilty pleasure? From my perspective I'd say no because "guilty pleasure" implies that there's some sort of pleasure involved. For me anyway, "guilty anguish" would be more accurate. Although some of my distress is rooted in "oh man that looks nice," most of it comes from a much darker place.

For starters, the Americanization of faraway places drives me crazy. And yet that seems to be the measuring stick for every home buyer on these shows. Is the location convenient to beaches, mountains, rainforests, yoga studios and Whole Foods? I love the house but can we "open up" the kitchen? Is there a photogenic palm tree nearby that will help me boost my Instagram following? You know what though? In this regard, reality shows are pretty accurately capturing the reality of many Americans abroad. So I'll let it go. 

Beyond that though, there ain't much reality in those real estate shows. I've been to more than a few of the islands they've featured and they were damn near unrecognizable. Although the production crew must be going to these different places to shoot footage, by the time they cut it together and lay in that same damn steel drum song, they all seem exactly alike: wide beach shot, our home-buying couple trying out standup paddle boards (or kayaks when clumsy), some local flavor via woman selling sarongs, cocktails with comically oversized hunks of pineapple jammed in 'em, a walk along the beach, awkward backlit kiss, steel drum crescendo, cut to commercial.  

I'd say the travel magazines give a better sense of a place than the tv shows. But they're travel magazines, not "live there" magazines. So you're going to get plenty of "While on St. Whatever, be sure to visit Quaint But Clean Beach Bar and ask Bar Owner for their special Rum Drink With Fruit Juice!" News you can use if you're just visiting. But not much help if you're really trying to get a handle on a place. 

Of course ultimately, and obviously, you're going to need to put sandals in the sand to really understand an island and the people who live there. But since you can't visit them all, it takes some narrowing down.

Google is fine for the officially sanctioned tourism stuff, and a click on Image results gives you a quick sense of an island's purtiest places and/or most convenient scenic overviews. But to start digging in properly, I'd suggest a Wikipedia search. It's the perfect dashboard for the factual underpinnings of a place. 

If everything checks on the Wiki page, then I do a blog search.  If there's one thing ex-pats love more than being ex-pats, it's blogging about being ex-pats. Every island I've ever looked into has at least a few people living on it who are blogging their every move. Throw in an additional mix of transient yachties, backpackers, and "digital nomads" (maniacal bloggers all!) and you'll have more first-hand information on a place than you'll know what to do with. 

I can also recommend this: My favorite "one-stop-shop" site for island investigation is Women Who Live On Rocks. It's run by Chrissann Nickel, a Californian who's been living the island life since 2006. While she writes a lot of posts (really well), the beauty of the site is that it also features living-on-rocks wisdom from women all over the world. And they're organized by island (click HERE, then go to "Meet The Women" in the upper menu, then scroll down.)

Given the name of the site, you'll gather it's got a female perspective. Which means, yeah, I'm the pervy dude in the corner eavesdropping on girls' night. But the posts are consistently real, occasionally raw, and always well written. It's the best perspective I've found yet on what it's really like to live on a particular island. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. 

Once you've got your prospective islands narrowed down, of course, the final step (and the finest step!) is to start investigating your short list in person. I've been fortunate to visit quite a few islands over the years. As ongoing research projects go, it doesn't get much better: a mix of cultural investigation, historical education, spiritual adventure, and high grade rum. 

I still have no idea whether I'll ever actually pull the trigger and make a move (if I'm being completely honest with myself). But I know I won't stop looking either way.

Cue steel drums. Dramatic sunset. Awkward backlit kiss. Cut to commercial.

Hope for the best, plan for the best

10 years ago, my friend Brad and I did a week-long fishing trip in the Florida Keys. On the last day of that trip, we planned a follow-up trip for a decade down the line.

Our follow-up trip kicks off with a 5:45 am flight tomorrow morning. We'll be fishing by end of day.

I have two points:

1) I'll be "Gone Fishing" for the next 9 or 10 days. So things are gonna be even quieter than usual around Bring Limes HQ.

2) If you have trouble getting trips onto your calendar, plan them a decade out. Nobody is going to object 10 years in advance because they'd look like an asshole. Then, all you need to do is lie in the grass and wait patiently. Next thing you know, you're on your way!

Yup!

Sea urchins. Because why not, that's why.

One of the best parts of travel, at least the way I put trips together, is all the time there is for random whatnot. I'm a big fan of random whatnot. Random whatnot is the best kind of whatnot there is.

I've spent entire afternoons crafting artisanal (aka homemade and a little crappy) swizzle sticks from pieces of sea fan. I've rubbed Coors Light aluminum pint bottles with beach sand for hours because I thought it would be cool to have plain silver canteens. I've also done things that some might consider a waste of time.

So okay. Here I am in St. John, surrounded by my family and some of the most beautiful land and seascapes I've ever seen. And for whatever reason, I decided it was really important for me to photograph sea urchins. Like, all of 'em. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Which I guess is maybe the point. 

Anyway, here's some pictures of some goddamn sea urchins.

 

 

 

Blue Highways + Last Exit To Elsewhere

I haven't read Blue Highways: A Journey Into America. Clearly though, I better. It's a book written by William Least Heat-Moon in 1982 which chronicles his late '70s roadtrip across America.

For a taste of it, we've got this damn fine video called Last Exit To Elsewhere. It features VO taken from the book, paired with footage filmmaker Dan Sadgrove shot while on a recent 5,000 mile road trip of his own. 

The tone, of both the VO and the visuals, are entirely different than your typical roadtrip video. The piece doesn't culminate with tight tan bodies leaping from cliffs into the sea. There's no final call to action. There's no Go For It Bro! There's just this tone, throughout. Of searching and sadness too. 

The video culminates with a realization: "I still dream... but I'm not restless anymore." Is it wisdom? Surrender? A bit of both I suppose. I've come to the same understanding myself after extended time on the road.

I imagine one of these times the feeling might stick for me. But not quite yet.

Old bars are the best bars

If you're into long underwear, lag bolts, and breakfast links, do I have the bar for you...

Gilbertson's Store is on the edge of Columbia county in central Wisconsin. If you can find the town of Keyeser, you've found Gilbertson's. Because it seems the town and the store are pretty much the same thing.

Inside, once you make your way past the sock rack, the meat case, and the lingerie, you'll find a four-stool bar. You'll also find the proprietor, Kenny. He and his relatives have owned Gilbertson's Store since 1894. He'll be happy to tell you all about it after he cracks you a $2 bottle of beer. He farmed the family land for 43 years, but just focuses on the store now. The bathrooms are in the back. As in the backyard. A fine set of his-and-her one-seaters that, according to Kenny, were the site for at least one wedding and perhaps some honeymoon activity as well.

 

My buddy Clem and I discovered the place last weekend during a non-sanctioned tour of historic bars (aka spring road trip). A sense of propriety keeps me from divulging our entire itinerary (not to mention the firm advice of my sizable legal team). But as itineraries go, it was ambitious. We visited a number of places, most of which originated in the 1800s. The best part, many of them happened to have the owner on hand. Eager to share the history of their place. 

It made for a helluva day.

They say nothing good happens after 2am and I generally agree. But at some point, the clock resets. Because at 10 or 11am? On a fine April morning in the Wisconsin countryside? Bellied up and hearing how things were, straight from guys like Kenny? Plenty of good happens then. 

These types of time-capsule bars are all over our fine state. You've got 'em in your fine state too I bet. I'm hoping to find a few more before they're all gone.

 

Delayed gratification: Traveling during the off-season

Delayed gratification: Traveling during the off-season

I'd love to be on an island right now. Or a mountain. Or anyplace not gloppy.

Instead, I'm sitting in a Midwest coffee shop, 851 feet above sea level, watching another greasy winter rain goopify what little snow we've had this year. 

I know there are people freediving technicolor reefs this very second. I know there are people riding hidden glades of powder. I know these things because I can see them from my rigid chair. I can see every one of their posts and boasts and aprés toasts.  Based on their social feeds, it seems they're having a gangbuster time. And they really want me to know about it. Bastards.

But I know something they don't. 

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The S is for Simple

The S is for Simple

When I'm headed to points south, I always bring a journal. On those trips, with all the unplugged time available, it seems profound wisdom should be washing up onto every shore like sea shells after a storm.

Regardless of exactly where I'm headed, or exactly why, when I'm around the sea it just feels like I'm going to get some serious stuff figured out. And every time I'm on my way home? It feels like I did get some serious stuff figured out.

Well, this past weekend I flipped through a few of my old trip journals, looking for some of that wisdom. Perhaps a profound passage on What It All Means. Or at least an insightful bon mot that I could photograph and post on instagram in my brazen attempt to increase the Bring Limes Instagram following.

But.

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10 Travel Tricks: MacGyver Style

10 Travel Tricks: MacGyver Style

You already know the advantages of TSA pre-check, rolling your clothes, and hiring local guides. This ain't that. These are serious MacGyver moves. 

1) Free airline lint rollers

When I unpack my clothes and they’re covered in dog hair, I'll usually just let it ride. Occasionally though, you gotta be on point. Luckily, all airline travelers have a lint roller at the ready. Just pull the airline baggage tag from your suitcase, wrap it around your hand sticky-side out, and roll away.

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Being There > Being Away

This past week had me on both coasts.

I was within yards of each ocean, to the east and the west, but never got the chance to touch either one. From my hotel window in Asbury Park, New Jersey, I could see a tiny sliver of the sea. And then 48 hours later: a strip of bright white turbulence, lit by the moon, along the Pacific Coast Highway. Just a quick glimpse from the driver's seat at 60 miles per hour before the 10 took us inland.

They were business trips both: a presentation in New Jersey followed by a photo shoot in LA. The presentation was well received and the shoot, despite a huge celebrity and 50 or 60 people on set, went off without a hitch. So: mission(s) accomplished. I made my way through the airport Sunday evening feeling exhausted but, you know, pretty good. 

One thing I wasn't feeling though is that I had actually been in either place. Yes, I had been away from home. There were planes, trains, and automobiles. I have receipts. But I never really had a moment, or more accurately: I never took a moment to be where I was. 

I was thinking about this last night. And then this morning I came across this video. The filmmaker, Andrew Norton, and his wife (who sounds as cute as a bug!), serve up a great reminder of what it's like to truly be in a place. To be affected by it. Sometimes it's epic in scale. Other times, small and simple. If you don't open yourself up to it, though, you're going to miss your chance for either.

I do realize he was in the Galapagos and I was in Jersey. So I'm not going to beat myself up over it too much. But my point holds. 

Here's to traveling alone

  MT. VICTORY, ST. CROIX, USVI, 11.09.15

MT. VICTORY, ST. CROIX, USVI, 11.09.15

When is the last time you took a trip that was entirely for you? A trip that wasn't about the people you were traveling with, nor the people you were traveling to see? A trip with no agenda except your own? 

I just got back from exactly such a trip. And holy shit.

Before I get started let me say that I generally don't have anything against other people. It's just that they're not always my cup of tea. To be clear: I love my family. I love my friends. I love the people I work with. I'm the luckiest bastard in the world. I know this. But sometimes it's just... you know?

That's where I was back in August when I booked this trip to St. Croix. I needed some time alone. 

Over the course of this year, I'd been feeling a growing need for Less. Less constraints. Less time commitments. Less of those goddamn ICS meeting invite chips people keep sending me which basically say "I didn't get a chance to pee on your granola bar this morning, so instead I'm sending you this unrequested obligation." 

What I needed was a good long meander. With the emphasis on "me." 

As the departure date neared, my basement became a staging area where I'd determine what to pack and what to leave behind. I decided that the aesthetics of this trip were important: I'd be taking a minimalist approach. A one-man tent. Very basic camping, fishing and diving gear. Just two t-shirts: green and grey. Two swimsuits: grey and green. A bluetooth speaker. A book. A ukulele. 

Just as important were the things I decided to leave behind. No laptop. No extra clothes for "a nice dinner." No schedule of events or list of things to see. 

None of these decisions required second opinion or sign off. They were entirely my own, as were any repercussions. This realization felt so freeing. Down in my basement with King Tubby blaring, it seemed like some kind of transformation was already underway. 

One of the huge upsides of traveling alone, to my way of thinking, is that you can be exactly who you truly are. Or exactly who you'd like to be. You're free to try on enhanced or entirely different versions of yourself and nobody is the wiser. My enhanced version of me? It's a guy that's unencumbered (mentally, physically, and spiritually) and entirely engaged in every moment.

I know I can hit those notes on occasion at home. We all can. But in St. Croix, I was going for the long sustain. In a place I knew very little about. I basically created a situation where I'd be forced to leave my natural introvertedness behind – down in the basement with all those unnecessary pairs of underwear.

Well, I hit the ground running in STX. My first night in Christiansted (the only hotel stay of the trip), I was hellbent on talking to as many people as possible. I continued my course while camping and diving around Fredriksted and Cane Bay. This, I realize, is a weird thing for a guy to do who consciously decided to visit an island during the off-season to live in a one-man tent. But conversations lead to connections. And connections make the difference between observing a place and engaging with it.

This approach, combined with an open-ended agenda, meant that I got to know more people on this trip than I would in several months back home. All kinds too: Locals, expats, and wanderers. Hanging-outters and hangers-on. It wasn't long before I ran into people I knew almost everywhere I went. They would introduce me to their friends and their favorite haunts. We'd share drinks, dive sites, and hazy late-night hijinks. 

This rarely happens when traveling with others. Why? Conversations are easier with old friends. When we travel with others we eat huddled around tables (instead of out in the open at the bar as God intended). We move in clusters like middle schoolers. We have plans and other places to be. 

If you want to go fast, says the African proverb, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Well, I couldn't agree more. For this trip though, I wasn't looking for fast. I wasn't looking for far either. In fact, those are the exact kind of measurements I was looking to avoid. I knew I'd have plenty of fast and far waiting for me when I got home.

What I was really looking for was freedom. Freedom to seek. Freedom to see. Freedom to make a fried egg sandwich over an open fire while shittily playing a ukulele naked at dawn.

If you're interested in the same, or your version of it... 

I'd definitely suggest going alone. 

 

Other particular harbors

Other particular harbors

So Jimmy Buffett has this song called One Particular Harbor. After close examination of the lyrics, I've decided it's about one particular harbor. It's a pretty straight-forward thing, as Buffett songs tend to be, but I've always liked it. 

“I know I don’t get there often enough
But God knows I surely try
It’s a magic kind of medicine
That no doctor could prescribe

There’s this one particular harbour
So far but yet so near
Where I see the days as they fade away
And finally disappear”

Jimmy said he wrote the song while staying on Cooks Bay, Moorea, Tahiti. I googled it up and, yup, based on the pictures I would have written a helluva song there too. But since I've never been to Tahiti (and also have no song writing ability), that didn't happen. As it turns out, his particular harbor isn't mine.

Who needs French Polynesia?

My particular harbors are mostly in the Caribbean: 

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Fight or flight? Take the flight. They're cheap!

Back in August, the tunnel I was in really needed a light at the end of it.

Work was kind of crazy, as work is on occasion, and I could feel what was left of summer making plans without me.

Over the years, I've come to realize that August is my favorite month. It's when I finally figure out summer is winding down and, damn it, if I'm going to do all the sunsplashy things I planned to do, I better get cracking. As a result, I cram more good stuff into August than the rest of the summer put together. More time on/under/alongside water specifically. 

To my rickety way of thinking, summer is like one those big hurricane glass/test tube concoctions you get on Bourbon Street. Bright AF and it looks like it'll take forever to finish. But son of a bitch. Before you know it the first two-thirds is gone! Just when you're starting to think you've been had, however, you get to the last part. The fattest and bestest part. You know the big round bottom section that holds the majority of your sugary schlocktail? That's August. It's a gloriously bulbous glug of a month.

But this year, August didn't work out that way. It wasn't that my glass was half-full. Or half-empty. The entire thing was just freaking gone. The upcoming Fall was looking to be M.I.A. as well. (Meaning: It was looking to be Missing In Action. It wasn't looking like the Sri Lankan singer of Paper Planes. I'd have been quite okay with that.) 

I was contemplating all this one night at my desk when, right around 2:45am, an e-mail arrived from Orbitz.

Subject line: Great Deals Now! St. Croix $383! 

Holy uncannily timed spam, Batman! To the google machine!

They got camping in St. Croix? Yup. Diving? Yup. Fishing? Yup. Rum? Yup. Double check on rum? Yup.

This trip is planned!

I wasn't actively planning a getaway at the time. Since then, though, I've been watching flights closer and there are some ridiculous deals out there. I'd suggest you go spend an hour on KAYAK. Snoop around. Set a few price alerts, random or otherwise. Maybe something works out, maybe it doesn't.

Either way, it feels good having a few balls in play. 

Everybody's tunnel could use a little light at the end.

The boats of Carriacou

Carriacou is the largest island in the Grenadines, which are part of the Windward Islands chain. It's a beautiful, slow, real place where 4,500 people go about their business on their 13-square-mile piece of land.

A big part of their business is boat building. You see these wonderful wooden boats all over the island in various stages of construction. And of course, they're on the water too, painted exactly how all boats should be painted.