It’s been 92 days since Justin Riney embarked on his yearlong journey of Florida’s coastline, waterways, and aquatic ecosystem. A wild ride to date with more excitement to come, follow Justin’s every paddle as he takes the Expedition Florida 500 from brilliant concept to reality.
I’m laying here in my tent on Day 91 at Oyster Bay chickee. It’s 11:49PM, and I’ve had a curious rat keeping me company all evening. I dozed off earlier while reading and awoke to a furry silhouette directly above my head as he darted across my primary tent pole. That might sound a bit uncomfortable to most, and I suppose it should be; I was a little frustrated with him for keeping me awake, but I’d prepared for his arrival this time and had all my gear inside my tent. That clearly frustrated him, as well, hence the disrespectful peeking.
There’s no freshwater out here, so the rats and coons are more determined than usual. I was worried about him chewing through my tent when I fell back asleep, which would really make my life difficult, so I grabbed my machete and headlamp to have a heart-to-heart with him. As I stepped outside, I noticed him bolt across my board and off into the dark. I glanced down to find rat poop on my board and couldn’t help but laugh. That little chuckle cooled my frustrations and quite possibly saved his life tonight–the little booger better take the hint, though.
Life is different out here, especially when you’re alone. There’s no human interaction or judgement from others…it’s just you and the wilderness. It’s incredible how quickly your mindset and instincts adjust to that. I find myself talking to the birds, yelling at the wind, laughing at the vultures. Your senses are heightened out here, almost as if they’ve been subdued our entire lives awaiting our return to the wild. My head is on a swivel at all times, and I’m incredibly aware of my surroundings. I don’t have access to weather data, so I find myself subconsciously noticing the breeze changes as they move across my face. I’m always looking up to watch the structure and movement of the clouds. I listen to the insects and birds intently–they’re incredible weather forecasters. I look into the trees with wild eyes, and I unbutton the sheath on my hip knife when I paddle through tight mangrove tunnels. My instincts are sharpened and alert, and it’s not forced; I’m amazed by that and our natural will to survive.
When you’re with another human being, you lose a bit of that with the confidence of their presence. You’re still civilized–a touch of savage would be silly. I feel alive with that touch of savage, and it feels right to pick up that knife and defend your camp. It’s not the pesky little rat–it’s stepping outside your tent into that dark and deafening orchestra of sound, alone in the middle of the swamp, to look this wilderness in the eyes confidently and respectfully–to earn your place in its world. That’s exhilarating and demands a great deal of responsibility. – Justin Riney