Friday, December 21, 2012


While traveling I have been doing my best to keep track of how much I spend. I keep receipts for everything and record them in my day planner at the end of each day, with the exception of this month because I've been staying at my folks place. I wanted to give myself an idea of how much I spend on certain things, ie. food, gas, lodging, so that I can budget better in the future. So, I share this information in case anyone out there is thinking about embarking on this kind of adventure.

Nova Scotia to Oklahoma

Accommodations: $133.18
Entertainment and Touristy Things: $69.71
Food and Drink: $449.55
Supplies and Maintenance: $439.37
Gas: $921.39

The first month on the road I stayed for free most nights so my accommodation costs were quite low. I spent 4 nights in Highland, NY when I had the concussion, 2 nights in Ardmore, PA at a friends, 3 nights in Maryland at a friends house, and 4 nights at other acquaintances I met while traveling. All for free or trade. Most other nights I parked on the side of the road or at truck stops. $300 of the supplies and maintenance went to a new battery and exhaust repair for my van.

Oklahoma to California and back to Arizona

Okie (new expenses after adopting my dog): $235.00
Accommodations: $211.50
Entertainment and Touristy Things: $667.86
Food and Drink: $502.50
Supplies and Maintenance: $1377.71
Gas: $650.00

I spent more money on campgrounds the second month but it was also the month where I was given a free cabin at the Grand Canyon for 4 nights, stayed on BLM land outside Zion National Park and parked outside a friends place in Phoenix for a week.  My maintenance costs were the highest in October because I had to buy new tires at a cost of $750 and had some other work done to the tune of $450. Also, the entertainment category is quite high because I bought a season pass to National Parks  and treated myself to a new tattoo.

Arizona to Florida

Okie: $52.68
Accommodations: $135.04
Entertainment and Touristy Things: $221.50
Food and Drink: $373.48
Supplies and Maintenance: $117.39
Gas: $669.00

I started November off sick and still parked in Phoenix for 4 days. I spent 3 free days in Austin, TX and then 8 days couchsurfing  in New Orleans. I was also invited to stay at a friends in Panama City where I visited for 3 days and then headed down south to Florida where I am now.

Although I tried to be diligent and organized I can tell by the total spent over the three months I must have missed recording some expenses. It's off only by a couple hundred based on what I started with and what I have left in my bank account. The expenses recorded above equal $7236.86.  My goal now is to head back to Nova Scotia in February and exhibit some new work with hopes of financing my next adventure. Looking at my costs listed like this I'm sure I can do better, especially in the entertainment and accommodation categories. I will be heading out next time with more art work and a better plan for bartering.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's been a while...

Staying with the 'rents in Florida has given me a much needed chance to get some work done, not only for people who donated to my travels, but also for Argyle Fine Art back  home in Halifax. Sometimes I need a break from my computer though so I decided to head to Sarasota to visit the Ringling Estates. Diane, in Gibsonton, told me about the Circus Museum there and I absolutely needed to go. It's not that I'm even a big fan of the circus. I haven't been since I was a small child. I actually have a thing for old circus poster art and the underground culture of the circus life.

Hitting the road again, even for a short trip, immediately makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy here as well but there is just something about driving that puts me at ease right away. I already know I like driving but it wasn't until this trip I realized being behind the wheel of my van is one of my happy places. The roads look a bit different when you’re not on the move all the time. The glowing arches of a McDonald's is now just a sign for fast food, no longer symbolizing a place where I can connect my laptop to the rest of the world. Walmart parking lots are back to being a place where people park to shop and not a potential free sleeping destination. Things seem different when you have a home base.

I spent five hours at the Ringling Estates but didn’t manage to see it all. The estate includes their winter house, an art museum, circus museum, and a library amongst other small buildings. Because John Ringling's wife, Mabel, was keen on art they collected many pieces from Renaissance and Baroque painters as well at statues and sculptures from Europe. He wanted to learn as much as he could about the arts and ended up with an art library more complete than anywhere else. I have plans to go back and spend the whole day there soon since I didn’t manage to visit it this time around.
My favorite part of the circus museum, besides the original poster lithographs, was the miniature circus replica made over a period of 50 years. I’m a sucker for a good miniature scene.
mini5 mini1
mini2 mini3
posters1 posters2
woodwork side show paintings
cart3 cart2
cart1 canon
cart detail3 cart detail4
house3 house 1
I am currently adding up all my expenses for the last three months on the road. My next post will give you a sense of what it might cost if you are thinking about doing something like this. Stay tuned....

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's time to get down to business.

I've been at my folks place in Florida for a week now and have begun editing my photos and putting together new works to send home to Argyle Fine Art. I am feeling very fortunate to be at a place in my 'career' where I have a gallery willing to take my art. It really is a dream come true.

When I first arrived I tried to dive head first into making new work. I tend to put unnecessary pressure on myself, especially when people have already paid for pieces I haven't actually made yet.  Well, as you can probably imagine, I had a bit of a panic attack. I can't expect myself to go from being on the move every day for three months to immediately churning out new work. So after taking a couple of days to run some errands, eat oranges from the trees out back and easing into staying put I am now back on track. I am getting some commissions done and there will be new stuff at Argyle for the Pre-Shrunk show in January.

Spending time organizing the hundreds and hundreds of photos I've taken isn't all business though. The past three months have all blended together and sorting through my pictures brings back memories I've already forgotten. I have lots of time for reflection and in a month will be back on the road. Before I left I assumed many things. I pictured myself foraging through the woods for greens to eat, camping by rivers or lakes for weeks on end and making extra money washing dishes or doing odd jobs. I have done none of these things. The romanticizing I did about this journey is just that, romantic and unrealistic. The realities of traveling are completely different, for me at least. Yes, I'm sure I could have done all of these things but it's not who I am. I think part of anyone's success in life is knowing who you really are and not who you want to be. I'm not the kind of person who feels comfortable walking into a place and asking for work. Larry the hitchhiker is. He has taken many little jobs along his way to keep going and is perfectly comfortable doing so. He would approach people for rides or ask for help and was almost always met with kindness. I admire what he's doing but, as I said, it's not me.

I've had to discover who I truly am, accept it and work within it. I am not someone who is going to walk across the continent. I don't want to sleep in a tent in the woods for weeks on end or rely on knowing what's edible in the forest. I want my perked coffee in the morning and a hot meal at night. I like my small creature comforts. It's hard for me to admit I'm not as worldly as I like to think I am. I know it's all relative and some would disagree with me. I guess what I'm trying to say is I now know what my limits are and what I'm comfortable with, even if it's not what I thought before I set out. No matter how well you think you know yourself there's always more to know and spending three months on the road by yourself will surely bring some new things to light.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Part 3; saying goodbye to the hitchhiker

Once in a while I meet a person who has a profound impact on me. Larry the hitchhiker is one. Don't get me wrong, I have met many wonderful people whom I hope to have lasting friendships with and I don't wish to belittle our interactions by any means. Sometimes though, your path crosses with someone who changes your outlook on life forever.

Larry is a 35 year old divorcee who got tired of his desk job and decided to head to the Everglades from Kansas...on foot! He was tired of feeling like he was trapped, sold all his belongings and said so long to his friends and family, not knowing if he would return. He is almost completely off the grid. He has no phone or watch and only checks in when he passes a library to let them know he is still alive.  I thought I had made a simple life for myself living in a van and then I meet someone like him who has chosen the most basic way of traveling. What I was considering roughing it was luxury to him. Perked coffee instead of instant, drinking from a mug and having fresh vegetables in a meal was a real treat for him and I was happy to share.

We talked for hours about the way the media presents the world verses how we have experienced it. We shared stories on the generosity and hospitality of complete strangers and how amazing it is that people are so trusting. We gabbed and gabbed about the lives and friends we left behind and what we hope for our future. Then we would travel in silence watching the towns whiz by. He was always up for doing anything or nothing at all, appreciating both equally. Nothing seemed to bother him and we traveled together like we were old friends. We also shared the same feelings of sincerely wanting to remain single. Neither one of us are bitter about love or relationships, I truly do love love, but both understand that our nomadic choices do not include another person. It was especially nice for me to not have to worry about the awkwardness that sometimes comes from hanging with guys. We were just friends. It was wonderful.

We had a great last day together in Gibsonton where we had breakfast and then sat by a river basking in the sun for most of the day. In the evening we went to a chili cook-off at the towns fair. I was to head east to my fathers and him, south. I drove him to the edge of town where we hugged and said our goodbyes then he disappeared into the woods. As I drove away I could feel a real sense of loss and got a bit teary eyed. This was partly because I knew I may never see him again and partly because he was off on another adventure and mine was coming to a stop for a while. I miss him but I know this is how things go on the road. Paths cross and then diverge but I am left with wonderful memories.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Part 2; swimming with manatees & drinking with carnies.

In the morning the hitchhiker and I wake early and make coffee. I perk my coffee in an old perk given to me by a friend. Larry usually lives off of instant so it’s a big treat for him. While I’m packing up the van he brings me the only thing he has that resembles a birthday cake, a strawberry newton,  and tells me to make a wish. This small gesture means more to me than he knows.
birthday cake
Packed up and ready to go, we head into the small town of Crystal River. A friend informed me about the opportunity of swimming with manatees there. The first place we find is way too expensive so I decided not to give myself that birthday present. Funny how things work out. I turned onto a side street to get us traveling back in the right direction and in front of me is another dive shop. I think, what the hell, I’ll check their prices. Right off the bat they were much nicer than the first place and so eager to have us join in. Their price was extremely reasonable so I sign us both up. Needless to say Larry is up for it.

By this point I’m literally jumping for joy and can’t wait to get my wetsuit on. Neither of us have ever done anything like this before. Once out in the water we are told to spread out and simply float on the surface, letting them come to us. Manatees are amazingly big and graceful animals. They are friendly and curious about us. I have no photographs to share of this experience but the memories and images in my head will never fade. I can tell you they feel like an elephant, with rough skin and bristles. Our guide made sure I had some quality time with one of them for my birthday. He called me over and showed me if you rub their belly they will roll on their back for you. I believe I also got a kiss from one. What a wonderful and peaceful way to start my birthday day.

From there we drive and drive further south down the coast. My folks asked me to pick up some Danish schnapps for our Christmas dinner at one of the towns along the way. I was having trouble finding the store so we pulled over at a Krispy Kreme to grab a coffee and ask for directions. At the liquor store I go for my wallet and it’s not there. It’s at Krispy Kreme, seven miles back!! Needless to say I am not impressed with myself. I had just taken out a bunch of money and not only that, I have everything I need in my wallet. Speeding back, Larry is convinced my wallet will still be sitting in the bathroom. He says, “someone as nice as you ought to have racked up enough good karma. It will be there.” And it was. All the money still in it.

For my birthday I wanted to be at a place called Gibsonton, otherwise known as Showtown America. It has a long history of being the vacation spot of carnival workers. I loved the idea of being in a small town with an interesting history to celebrate getting one year older. Gibtown looks just like any other nondescript small town along the highway except for this bar. Even if I hadn’t read about this place years ago I would have stopped to take photos. I won’t go into a lot of detail here about the history of the place but you can follow the link above or watch this video made by Seth Gadsden.
showtown front showtown1
Showtown ovals showtown side
showtown door
Painted to look like a half-door.
showtown door2
Another fake door. It's hard to find the real entrance.
showtown chef
Gibsonton has been described as a rough place, and maybe it is, but I can say we were welcomed with open arms. Ok maybe not right away but as we struck up conversations with Kim the bartender and Mr. Ozark, third generation owner of Showtown Bar, they became curious about us. Why were we there? Where were we from? Did we know the history of the town? It was fun to see the look on their faces when I told them I’m from Nova Scotia and this guy to my left is a hitchhiker I picked up the day before. Four beer in I hear the DJ announce, “This one goes out to the birthday girl, Angela, who turns 21 today!” 50 Cent, In Da Club (it’s your birthday) comes blaring out of the speakers.

I couldn't have asked for a better birthday on the road. I had a fun and interesting person to celebrate with and I was where I wanted to be. Before the night was over the owner of the bar took this shot of Larry and I. It's the only one I have of the two of us.
showtown drinks
Next, saying goodbye to my new nomadic friend.
To be continued……..

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Part 1; picking up a hitchhiker

I arrived in Florida on Sunday and made my way to Panama City to visit my friend Peggy, whom I met in Tucamcari, NM back in October. I stayed with her and her partner for a couple of days in a lovely little bayou village, relaxing and drinking wine. I was welcome to stay as long as I liked but my goal was to be in a certain place for my birthday, but more on that in a bit.

Okie and I got back on the road on Wednesday, heading down the west coast of Florida to eventually work my way east to my folks place. We had a fairly uneventful day of driving and ended it with a stay at the Holiday Campground just outside of Panacea. In the morning we took our time getting back on the road. About ten minutes after starting out on a long stretch of pavement with nothing on it but trees, I passed a guy walking wearing a big straw hat and lugging a very full backpack. He didn't stick out his thumb as I passed but he turned his head around in enough time to meet my eyes. Something struck me at that moment but I kept driving. The feeling lingered so a mile down the road I made the decision to turn around and see if he needed a lift. I know everyone is cringing at this moment and trust me, I NEVER thought I would even consider picking up a hitchhiker as a solo female traveler. Peggy and I had talked before about picking up hitchhikers along our travels and she had only done it once. It's something she doesn't regret and I can see it in her eyes when she tells the story. Her experience isn't what made me turn around though. After all, he wasn't technically hitchhiking since he didn't stick out his thumb for me.

I pulled over and called to him, "Do you need a lift?" He accepted and threw his pack in the back. Not for a second did I think my life was in danger or threatened in any way. It goes back to what I said about trusting your instincts. Something just told me to go get him and see what adventures ensue. It was the best decision I could have made. Don't get me wrong, I don't have plans to keep picking up vagabonds but I'm sure glad I invited this one along.

Larry Gust, or Shaggy to his friends, would be with me for the next three days. We both had the same route south planned.  He had been walking from Kansas with a destination of the Everglades where he wants to work for alligator tours or with reptiles in some capacity. He had been alone for two and a half days so he had lots to talk about. His stories regarding the kindness of strangers almost brought me to tears. I mean, I thought I had some amazing stories, and I do, but I am floored by what he has received from people. One example; He was walking on a country road in Missouri and came upon a woman gardening. She was curious as to why he was there and where he was going. They began to talk and before he could blink she was making him food, doing his laundry and offering him a shower. He left there with food in his pack and $20 in his pocket and this is not an isolated incident for him. Another time a man stopped to see where he was walking to and just so happened to be taking a load of army gear to donate. Larry ended up with a new pair of boots and a meal. These are just two examples from the many stories he told me.

The whole day was spent driving down the coast, stopping to go for walks and getting snacks. We were immediately connected and traveled with ease together. His infectious laugh and gift of gab was a welcome addition to my little hobo family. We traveled until dark and I offered to let him set up his tent at my RV spot. We toasted to us meeting with vodka-spiked Gatorade and went to our beds for the night. The next day would be my birthday and he agreed to spend it with me in Gibsonton, but more on that in the next post when I'll write about us swimming with manatees and drinking with carnies.

to be continued......
Larry and Gorilla. End of day one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Louisiana and beyond

I had a great time in Louisiana but I have to say I've never driven on such terrible roads. I'm always looking for a place that screams home and even though I enjoyed myself in New Orleans it isn't on my list of places I would stay. The whole state is messy with garbage and I didn't feel 100% safe walking around. I don't understand why people need to throw their litter all over the place. It's one thing that has bothered me throughout this whole trip. Even in national parks, I can be standing in the most spectacular landscape and at my feet is a discarded bottle or can. If I had one constant gripe while traveling it would be that.

Driving out of New Orleans you can still see the remnants of both hurricane Katrina and hurricane Isaac. Off to the side of I-10 I saw a whole business area which looked abandoned so I decided to investigate. There was a theater, some office buildings and department stores all smashed and boarded up. This is what I saw.

After leaving there I came across an abandoned hospital. The doors were wide open and the place was completely empty. I had a conversation with someone about the ethics of being an urban explorer. It's an unwritten rule that you enter and leave a place without disturbing anything. I hate to see people destroying a place but on the other hand I do love the graffiti. In the case of this place it made it all the more photogenic.

Now I'm in Florida and about to take a break from the first lag of my trip to work on some pieces to send home to Argyle Fine Art. I am looking forward to staying put for a while and working on the hundreds of photographs I've taken in the last three months. It has all become a bit of a blur but I know memories will come flooding back as I go through and edit what I've recorded. I continue to thank my lucky stars for the life I am leading and don't take a single day for granted.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Trusting my gut and staying safe.

I get asked a lot if there have been times I've felt unsafe or threatened and I can honestly say I can count the times on one hand. In three months of travel I have accepted help from a lot of people and only turned down a couple. I  may have missed out on great opportunities by declining an offer but as the saying goes, I would rather be safe than sorry.

Friends have told me they don't know if they could be as trusting as I am but when you are traveling and living from moment to moment I think you may surprise yourself. The kindness of strangers is always surprising and my first instinct is often to back away and say no thanks. I have learned if I take a moment to listen to what I am being offered and watch body language I can tell if it's a threatening situation or not. Sometimes it's just a small doubt in the back of my mind that doesn't dissipate during the conversation. Like I said, I may judge wrong but so far I have trusted my gut and have had no problems whatsoever.

I think the first time I declined an offer for a shower and place to stay was from a Norwegian man I came across in Texola, Texas. We were heading to the same place and he already had a room booked there. He offered for me to meet up with him, have dinner and a shower. I did take his phone number but didn't contact him. I wasn't comfortable meeting someone at a hotel to take a shower. This seems like a no-brainer but honestly if I had a better vibe I would have gone. Most of me thought it would be harmless but that small voice disagreed. So, I didn't accept.

In Indiana, I was offered a room in a motel-turned-apartments. I stopped to take photos of the motel's neon sign and the owner just happened to be there. He struck up a conversation with me and I learned all about his family and how he came to own the motel. When he learned what I am doing he offered me a vacant room for the night. My caution voice was there then too but it was different. I have learned over the last three months the different levels of gut instincts. It's natural to be guarded with strangers. We have been told our whole lives to be careful of strangers, don't talk to strangers etc. so I think we are always a bit guarded. I have found there is a difference between my natural, ingrained defensiveness with strangers and the serious warning voice. It takes time to recognize the difference but my general rule is if the voice is accompanied by a gut feeling I decline and move on, possibly missing out on something but possibly avoiding a dangerous situation.

In Louisiana, I made a goal of photographing the abandoned Six Flags park in New Orleans. I drove around the park and scouted out where I could park that would be far enough away not to draw attention to it. I ended up leaving my van a lot farther away than I thought. I began walking and right away a car turned around with a young guy and girl and their dog in the back.  They came to ask if I had broken down and needed a ride somewhere. I immediately sized them up, looking around the car and studying their faces. I told them where I was heading and they offered me a ride. I took it. There was nothing out of the ordinary there and I felt no threat at all. On the way back to my van a guy in a beat up truck offered to drive me and I declined. I still don't know why I did but 'no thanks' came out of my mouth before I even thought about it. Sometimes it just happens that way and I don't question it.

Yesterday I decided to take a walk through the French Quarter during the day to take some photographs. Just as I crossed the street I saw two porta potties, but they were both locked. From out of nowhere a guy approaches me and wants to lead me to a hotel where I can use their bathrooms. I feel like he might be a hustler but there are so many people around I follow him. He tells me where I can find a free Thanksgiving dinner, free showers and free places to stay. He has only been in Nola for a few months and has learned the ropes. For the 3 minutes I am walking with him I am studying his face, the road names and all the shops around me. I have my hand on my purse the entire time as well. When he points to the hotel I thank him for his help and walk in the direction of the door. As I approach I can see there are door men holding the door for people and the car pulling up, filled with people who are checking in, looks pretty normal. I was thinking he was leading me to something sketchy and it actually turned out to be a nice place and a much needed pee break. I'm not saying he's not a hustler though. I met him later in the streets and he said, 'Where are you going? I'm trying to hook up with you". I simply responded with a very stern NO and he politely left me alone.

I would never suggest there aren't bad people out there but I am saying that it would be a great thing if we all just let our guard down a little and trusted more. Learning to trust your voice of caution and studying your surroundings is the best defense you have. Not being afraid to be forceful with language is another thing I've learned. Who cares if I offend some person I will never see again if it keeps me safe. I love people and my trip would be nothing without the interactions with them. In the end, they need to trust me as well. The people who have taken me into their homes or made dinner for me don't know me from Adam either so they are also taking a risk.  Thank heavens they take a chance on me because they have helped shape this journey more than they know.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Abandoned Six Flags in New Orleans.

Six Flags Amusement Park in New Orleans was so badly flooded during Hurricane Katrina it has been abandoned ever since.

A bit of history:
The park first opened under the name "Jazzland" in 2000 but it wasn't profitable so in 2001 the lease was put up for sale and in March of 2002, Six Flags purchased the lease.  The last day the park operated was August 21, 2005. Weekday operations ended a couple weeks before due to the fact schools start early in August in that region and end mid-May. The park was scheduled to open August 27 and August 28 as usual but once Katrina was forecast late on Friday to directly hit New Orleans, the weekend opening was cancelled in order to prepare for the storm and begin evacuations. After the park's drainage pumps failed during the storm, the berm retained the combination of rainwater and sea water overflow from Lake Pontchartrain caused by Katrina's massive storm surge, submerging the entire park grounds in corrosive, brackish floodwater to a depth of 4–7 feet. The floodwater was not drained for over a month. Due to the damage received, the park was closed indefinitely with no plans to reopen. (text taken from Wikipedia)

By the time I arrived it was pretty far gone. It’s been vandalized repeatedly and much of the decorations of the park have been piled up in heaps of sad garbage. Being in there was an adrenaline rush. The decrepit rides and buildings made noises in the wind and I kept thinking I heard voices. In the end, my only company was birds and flies. Many people have amazing photographs of this place. I had the opportunity to be there far after it’s prime of beautiful abandonment but I still feel like I made one other little dream come true. I read about the park just after the hurricane and have never forgotten it but I never actually thought I would get the chance to be there. Another check on my list!
turnstile booth closed attractions
IMGP0237 arcade
games IMGP0048
IMGP0046 geeks get away car
junk pile1 animal pile
ferris and red thing broken balloon
bumper dog and register tape
colored walls funhouse entrance
kids swing swings
come and slides risk 1
yosemite sam french quarter