“Someday Baby I’ll bring you a castle,
and inside you’ll be everything you ever want to be.
Someday Baby I’ll bring you a castle,
and someday baby you will see…
what you mean to me. “
– Brendan MacNaughton & the In-Betweens (Someday Baby)
017 was a hell of a year. We meandered through it as aimlessly as we meandered the country, covering thirty-seven states in our search for something… A sign? A place? A purpose? A home? The American dream?
We followed the music, the one true north upon which I have always relied. For those keeping score, since May 1st we have traveled through thirty-seven states, attended seventeen music festivals, and shaken our bones to somewhere close to one-hundred and nineteen bands playing one-hundred and thirty-seven separate performances.
We followed the sun, or, more accurately, we fled the cold and snow. In recent weeks this became a practice in futility. Our Christmas in South Carolina, where we planned to settle down for at least a short while, was plagued by decreasing temperatures that descended into the lower thirties until we fled again to ring in the new year in Miami. We caught a couple of days where we were able to swim South Beach and enjoy some sun before the weather turned on us once again, with drops into the forties at night and the sun struggling to achieve seventy during the day.
Again our heads turned south.
he Florida Keys were the next and only option available to us in the continental United States, and while we had previously discussed a winter season in Mexico we were woefully unprepared to make any semi-permanent border crossings at this time. We decided this was our personal manifest destiny. We would invade the Keys and squat for a couple of days until the big chill passed in northern Florida and the Carolinas, then return and continue on with our “plan,” which I now admit wasn’t much of a plan at all. As most of you know, the chill didn’t pass. As of two days ago on Sunday, Georgetown, South Carolina hit a low of seventeen degrees (matching the record low from 2014).
Our first day in the Florida Keys wasn’t tropical, but certainly sunny and comfortable. I had numerous tasks to catch up on, but neither Andie or I had been to the Keys previously and the decision was made that I would trudge through work in the passenger seat as Andie drove from the causeway of Key Largo out to Key West where we’d stop for lunch, then make our way back to Largo for drinks with one of her friends and colleagues who had relocated there recently from Ohio. Somewhere past Marathon in the middle islands we were simultaneously struck with an epiphany. Surrounded by turquoise blue waters, with salt air wafting in the sunroof and open windows, taking in the sunshine and sheer magnificence of this little southern comma-shaped speck of our country we nodded our heads knowingly and with few words agreed on the yet unspoken.
hen we set out on our new lives as digital nomads back in May of 2017 we said when we reached the end of our planned trips on October 31st we’d make a decision about what to do next: Keep on traveling permanently if income is generating and supporting it, or settle in somewhere for the winter and figure out our next steps. One of our problems we had at the end of October was, despite falling in love with many of the places we had been, we never experienced that “Aha!” moment of mutually recognizing a place that would be our new, or even temporary, home. I love New Orleans, she loved Utah, we both loved Colorado, and other places while desirable in many aspects didn’t feel like a place we could both call “home.”
We kept traveling, mostly up and down the east coast for the holidays with jaunts back to Ohio, the snow and cold slowly but surely gaining gravity, promising to suck us into it’s orbit or repel us outwards. Outwards we went, and we were pushed further and further south as winter’s mass and orbit grew, so we had no direction and no home to speak of, actual or desired, and no particular expectations of finding one. We weren’t even necessarily looking.
he Florida Keys struck us both immediately and with an undeniable force, and on the way back to Key Largo, after watching our first sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, we simply decided “What the fuck?!” The Keys are intuitively expensive, but if we needed a place to call home during this already horrid winter, a place to re-energize and reset, a place to slow our roll and establish a game plan, then what better place could we imagine? We agreed to at least give it a shot, stay a couple more days (which turned into several), and look at modest housing and temporary work opportunities. All we needed from the universe was a little luck, which worried me because I hadn’t heard from the universe in a while.
The universe provided, with a clarity and timeliness that I have come to recognize as a mandate of “this is the right path.” When it happens it just feels right, with no anxiety or worry, and with no second-guessing.
We are now heading north through Florida after driving through the Everglades, stopping to spend time with family in South Carolina before forging onward to northeast Ohio to spend time with her family and my daughter for a few days. From there we gather some necessities from our storage unit and head south again where we will furnish and decorate our temporary new home, the first one we chose together as a couple, almost a year to the day after meeting each other under the most random of circumstances.
We will live in a castle, in a tropical paradise,
and our front yard happens to be the third-largest coral reef in the world.
The castle? A tongue-in-cheek but accurate description of the “Sandal Castle,” a retail building in Key Largo shaped and formed to resemble a castle and currently occupied by an upscale sandal shop for tourists and locals alike to procure their beach footwear. Our simple and subtle studio apartment, all we need and require, is housed behind the sandal shop, affordable and available simply by being in the right place at the right time, asking the right questions and looking for the answers. The ease and speed of finding an insanely affordable home base in Key Largo underscored that this was meant to be.
Our front yard, or what is at most a five-minute leisurely walk across the street from our front door, is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, comprised of approximately 70 nautical square miles of adjacent Atlantic Ocean waters. It was the first underwater park in the United States, and offers swimming beaches, kayak/canoe/paddle-board trails through the mangroves complete with common sightings of dolphins and manatees (we kayaked around yesterday, alas not the right season for manatee sightings), scuba and snorkeling excursions, and other assorted recreation activities. That is merely the closest and most accessible attraction by foot.
oes this mean we’re done traveling? It does not. It does give us a chance to slow down for several months while avoiding much of the winter weather plaguing the rest of the U.S., but we’ll still be heading up north fairly often and still taking advantage of any opportunities that come our way which require travel.
We may put Key Largo behind us after after the winter and spring, or we may decide it’s a permanent home base. The fact is, we don’t know, and that is the answer I’ve come to enjoy giving to people when they always ask “What’s next?” or “What’s the plan after that?”
I don’t know.
And that’s okay, because I do know that a Key Largo castle, a front yard full of mangroves and manatees, loving, and being loved are unmistakable milestones on the road to what comes next, finding our purpose, and maybe even finding those long- lost shakers of salt.