Isla Mujeres, Mexico to Isle Santanille, Honduras 

4/19/2017 
The sun is setting off our starboard stern quarter, the sky exploding into an array of pastel colors. The small island of Isle Santanille (aka Swan island) is in front of us and the white beaches are reflecting the setting sun. Max is cooking lentil stew for dinner which is causing the boat to fill with a warm aroma of garlic and various vegetables. We are all feeling satisfyingly exhausted after a long day full of activity. Getting to this small island that seems to be in the middle of nowhere was quite the journey and I am feeling grateful for the 2.5 nights of rest we are enjoying at the anchorage in the lee of the island. 
After a couple days of exploring Isla Mujeres and a fantastic dinner at a small, romantic restaurant called Limon (Thank you again Todd!! It was absolutely fantastic), we decided to go explore the mainland. Originally we had planned to visit Tulum to see the Mayan ruins. This was going to be about 3 hours of travel via ferry, cab, and bus. A lot of travel, but we felt it was worth it since we’d get to spend the entire day there. Well on the ferry ride to Cancun to catch the bus, the group decided that they would rather visit Chichen Itza to see the largest Mayan pyramid. I was hesitant at changing plans at the last moment, but a 3 to 1 vote and we bought tickets to Chichen Itza. It wasn’t until we were on the bus that we found out that even though it was only supposed to be a 2 hour bus ride, because we got the second class bus, it would be a 4.5 hour bus ride. Long story short, the day did not go as planned haha- we spent, quite literally, 12 hour traveling between the bus, ferry, and cab rides. Fortunately it all ended up being worth it as the ruins were a once in a life time experience and absolutely amazing. The scale just blew my mind. The bus ride, while incredibly long, was actually quite interesting as it took us right through the middle of inland Mexico where I was able to sit at the window and observe how people live in that area. It seemed to be rather impoverish, many run-down huts, completely open aired buildings, and a lot of people in small spaces. But at the same time, the people seemed to be happy and enjoying life. Kids ran around freely, and many people lounged in hammocks. We arrived back at High Climber around midnight and sleep came fast. 
The following day, after learning we couldn’t leave the country due to Good Friday we took advantage of the day off and ran some errands and lounged around the marina. Saturday morning around 2pm we motored away from the fuel dock and headed south towards Isle Santanille. The passage took us almost 3 days and it was not the easiest passage. The wind was in a decent direction and we were going fast the entire time, but we were on the same tack for the entire passage and the boat was wet, salty, and just pounded into the waves. Again, the first 30 hours are a bit of a blur to me- a combination of fear and not feeling well put me in a sleepy daze, waking only to move from the cockpit to the bunk down below- eating when I could. While no one really got ill, crew moral wasn’t extremely high during this passage. Salt water covered everything, it was hot and humid, and the movement was extreme. Of course there were good moments, especially towards the end, but we were all so thrilled when we were within 40 miles of Isle Santanille. A major highlight for me was on the last day when this small, sparrow like bird, started flying near the boat. We were so surprised to see him so far from any land and he was just so small for how high the wind was. Eventually he started getting really close to the boat and tried landing a couple times. Within 30 minutes of endless attempts of landing and taking off he finally settled on the stern pulpit about 3 feet from the person the helm. The little bird stayed with us for over 4 hours- it wasn’t until we anchored and a moth flew by that the bird left us. We feel as though he probably wouldn’t have made it as he was getting pushed out to sea due to the strong winds. 
Around 1:30am on Tuesday I heard Max yell “land ho!!” Kyle and I were on off watch down below and headed up to the cockpit to take down sail and prepare for the motor into the reef surrounded anchorage. Thank goodness the moon graced us with its presence which made coming into a foreign anchorage in the middle of the night a little less intimidating. What a strange thing it was to arrive at this completely unlit island that seemed to be in the middle of the nowhere in the dark. While the guys cleaned the deck and stowed our various gear I came below and did a quick run through with wipes, the mop, and paper towels attempting to de-salt the wet muggy boat. Sleep came fast as we were all extremely exhausted from the passage. 
4/23/2017 
The following morning I poked my head out into the drizzly rain and saw the island in daylight for the first time. White beaches with small rock cliffs overhanding, dense green growth on top of the cliffs. The sun shining behind a rain cloud, rays piercing the small island coming to life in vivid colors and textures. I happily enjoyed the view for a few moments before hearing a whistle and a strange yell. Grabbing the binoculars I started to see shapes on the shoreline, as I focused the binoculars they crystallized into the shapes of men. Over 10 men stood spread along the half mile stretch of land in front of High Climber. Upon closer look I realized they all had guns and were dressed in full military uniforms. As more men came from the trees the yelling and whistling increased in sound and one particular man kept pointing at the boat, then to the other end of the island. I began feeling rather nervous- I knew ahead of time that this island was protected by the Honduras Navy, but 15 men all with guns, some pointing them around in various directions, made my heart begin to beat a bit fast. Waking Max and having Kyle and Mark come and look at what was going on, we decided Max needed to row ashore to “check-in”. Loading Max, our documents, a handheld VHF radio, and some chips, cookies, and candy for the military men into the dinghy- Mark, Kyle, and I stood in the cockpit, monitoring the onboard radio while peering through binoculars, a tad nervous by all the gunned men making their way to the beach Max was heading for. As soon as the dinghy hit the sand a couple men ran down to the water and helped Max pull up the dinghy. We took turns looking through the binoculars at Max, surrounded by 10 men. Breathing a sigh of relief when Max handed over the goodie bag and they helped him re-launch the dinghy, we waited eagerly to hear how things went. Tying the dingy to High Climber Max informed us that we were checked in, although all they did was write our names on a piece of notebook paper, and that we could snorkel the reefs but weren’t allowed on land as it is “prohibito”. All of us were rather bummed about this news, but grateful that we had a place to rest for a few days and that we could snorkel the untouched and beautiful reefs. The next day and a half were spent snorkeling, diving the anchor, reading, lounging, watching movies on my ipad, and cooking meals. On Wednesday afternoon we took a rather long snorkeling excursion, one person rowing the dinghy, and others swimming, taking turns when the swimmers got tired. The reefs we snorkeled were spectacular. Healthy, colorful, and full of fish the day got away from us as we exhaustedly made our way back to the boat. 
Around 4pm I heard hollering and whistling again from the shoreline. “Max, I think they want you to go back over there and talk to them..” Hesitantly he got in the dinghy and rowed over. Again, we stood in the cockpit anxiously waiting to hear what they had to say. This time Max rowed back smiling. “Well he says, if we give them some cooking oil, they will take us on a tour of the island!” Laughing we quickly poured a half bottle of olive oil and grabbed a few garlic gloves to go with it. Getting dressed and carefully loading all 4 of us into the tiny dinghy Max rowed us back to the beach where 6 men were standing, this time only 1 had a gun- a lot less intimidating! As we speak very little Spanish between the 4 of us and none of them spoke any English, it was a bit funny doing introductions and trying to communicate. They were all very nice and thankful for the olive oil. Guiding the way we followed the men up the small cliff to the wooded area above the beach. We walked together for a while, attempting to ask questions- using our Spanish English dictionary as much as possible. All the men were under the age of 40, most seemed to be in their 20’s. A few minutes later we arrived at their living quarters. I asked if I could take some photos, but they said not until we got back to the beach, so I was unable to capture their living quarters which were positioned around a small soccer field. “Danielle”, Kyle pointed to me, “muy bien en futbol” he said in broken Spanish. This made the men smile and one ran around the corner, coming back with a soccer ball in his hand. Kicking off our shoes, Max said “Gringos against Honduras Navy?” They laughed and within minutes we were playing a rather heated game of soccer. Mark the goalie, Max Kyle, and I barefoot and dressed like salty sailors played the field against the navy men dressed in full uniform and combat boots. It was an absolutely wonderful game of soccer- the language barrier fell away as we all giggled and played the game. Kyle, Max, and I found ourselves exhausted after running for just a few minutes- steering a sailboat sure doesn’t keep us in shape! Soon after the Navy scored a goal I tied up the game by scoring one myself, before collapsing in the shade, out of breath and smiling. The men laughed at how tired we were- “smokers??” They kept asking. No! Haha just out of shape from living in a 40ft space for the last few weeks. The guy who seemed to be in charge of the group that was leading us around brought out bagged water for each of us, and we sat in the shade with the men, talking as much as possible. Their living quarters looked new- wooden buildings with opened windows and doors. A radio tower stood on the other side of the soccer field, with a small building that seemed to be where the cooking took place. Walking us over to a trail in the woods one of the men began climbing a tree and brought down small green fruits, telling us to bite into them. A bit sour, but rather good we enjoyed the fruits of which I can’t remember the name anymore. We slowly made our way back to the beach where the dinghy was, stopping at the only dock on the island on the way. A large, exposed cement dock, where the men get dropped off. Through broken Spanish and some gestures here is what I gathered: About 20 men live on the island for 45 days at a time. Then a big boat comes and picks them up, dropping off a different crew of men. It takes them 2 days by boat to get to the mainland, where they spend a couple months before doing another 45 day stretch on the island. There is no electricity and sometimes they run out of food, in which case they eat the fruit and hunt the large iguanas that are all over the island. They do not have a boat, and have no way to communicate with the outside world except for a radio. The man I spoke with was 30 years old, had 3 kids and had been in the Navy for 6 years. He seemed happy and enjoyed the time on the island. 

Once back at the dinghy they allowed us to take some pictures together, happily giving thumbs up and taking some of us as well. Before we were about to hop in the dinghy they asked if we had any more cookies or chocolate. Max and Mark rowed back to the boat to get some Easter candy we had left over from my parents and home-made fudge our neighbor at Blind Pass made us. While Max went to get to get more goodies I spent time trying to communicate with some of the guys. They were curious about Florida, where we were heading, if we had kids, and if we would get a hotel in Providencia Columbia. Max arrived with their chocolate and they helped us launch the boat again. Smiling, waving, and laughing we said our goodbyes before heading back to High Climber. I felt so incredibly thankful that they approached us for the olive oil so that we could get to know them and explore the island. Funny to think how scared I was when I saw them lining the shore with guns, and then ended up playing a friendly game of soccer with the same men. 

The island, while small, was beautiful and untouched other than the small living area the Navy had developed. The reefs were clean, healthy, and alive. The beaches white, with no garbage or evidence of humans. It was refreshing and I am thankful that this island has stayed mostly unvisited and that there are still places like this out there. Thanks to the Honduras Navy for protecting this gem in what felt like the middle of the Caribbean sea! 
The following morning around 10am we secured everything in the boat, lifted the anchor and headed towards our next stop- Providencia, Columbia- 280 miles Southeast of Swan Island. 

**We are currently in Providencia, Columbia after a safe and comfortable passage from Swan Island. It will take a while due to lack of internet for a week-ish but stay tuned for photos of this beautiful mountainous island!**

Florida to Isla Mujeres 

**Mark Hopkins gets half the credit for all the below photos as half of them are his 🙂 **

4/9/2017
Sea shanties are playing in the background while I listen to Kyle and Max converse about the large tanker off our starboard quarter. Mark is down below resting before he takes the helm from Kyle for his 3-4 hour shift. I am sitting in the cockpit on starboard side, looking up every once in a while to stare out at the vast horizon. This is the first time since we left 4 days ago that I am able to sit down and journal. The wind is behind us and so are the waves, in the gusts we surge forward, surfing the wave and bringing our speed up a knot or two. The sun is shining, but on its way down. White puffy clouds float carelessly throughout the sky. The water surrounding High Climber’s hull is the purest blue, scattered with golden sea weed providing a stark contrast of colors. It seems that as with each 100 miles the water gets bluer and at this point it is taking on an almost clear look. Isla Mujeres, Mexico is about 75 nautical miles away and we have been underway for about 76 hours, we should be arriving sometime tomorrow morning or afternoon.  

 The first 24-36 hours of this passage were rather rough for me. We left on Thursday afternoon around 3pm with a wonderful farewell from our dockmaster at Blind Pass Marina and fellow dock friends. We then motored under a bascule bridge and then under the Pinellas Bayway. Our good friend Lynne rode her bike from Gulfport and was on top of the bridge when we went under- so much fun to see her 65ft up there- made my day to have her see us off! After filling up on fuel at Tierra Verda Marina we headed out towards the Pass-A-Grille channel to get out to the Gulf. Well, the wind had been blowing rather hard the few days leading up to our leave, and thus the waves leaving Pass-A-Grille were really big- about 8-9 feet. But those numbers really don’t give the waves or conditions justice. The waves were steep, compact, and standing- kind of like giant rapids as Max puts it. Not only that but we only had about 3ft of water under the keel, causing them to be more intense. Just 50ft away the waves were crashing hard on the sand bar. Needless to say it was an intense situation. To be honest, I curled up in a ball and cried, I was so scared. Max handled the situation at the helm wonderfully but suddenly the engine warning alarm began going off and we didn’t know why. There was nothing to do but hope the engine held out until we got through the channel. Kyle rubbed my back to keep me calm and Mark seemed to handle the situation well, although I was a bit distracted with my own fear. Anyway, after clearing the treacherous waves we were safe in deep water of the Gulf. I must give our captain Max credit for getting us through safely and calmly. The engine turned out to be okay and we turned it off and raised sail; I always forget how loud engines are until they are turned off. Once out in the Gulf the waves were still much bigger than I was anticipating and it began to make the crew sick. Mark and Kyle became sick rather quickly, while I laid in the cockpit and slept, Max stayed on the helm. The next 20 hours are blurry for me and I can’t particularly remember the series of events. I never really got sick, but just generally felt awful. I know that I didn’t go down below for a full 24hrs and just camped in the cockpit. Mark, Kyle, and I took bonine which provided some relief but not a lot at first. In reality the conditions weren’t that bad by Friday morning, but my body was having a hard time adjusting to the non-stop moving. By Friday evening Mark and Kyle were on the up and up and were able to keep down some food, water, and take full shifts.

 Anyway, skipping forward to Saturday and my goodness what a different and wonderful world!! I was starting to think I would never feel better and was absolutely dreading the rest of the passage- but Friday night I kept down some rice and by Saturday I was feeling good enough to make coffee and tea for the crew. The better feeling continued and right now, at 7pm on Sunday evening the boat is rolling through the waves and I am sitting and looking at the Ipad screen. Kyle and Max are reading, and Mark is on the helm, but can also read and write. Overall we have all adjusted 100% at this point and the moral is high! Yesterday afternoon the wind died a bit and we took the opportunity to swim behind the boat and rinse in fresh water. Kyle and Max climbed up the mast and jumped from the first spreader before grabbing the rope we had dragging behind the boat. Mark and I jumped from the side, but it was fun none the less being pulled behind High Climber’s stern in the deep blue water. Crazy to think the ground was 10,000 feet below us. Max made a big stew for dinner and we took turns on the helm throughout the night. I am not quite comfortable being on watch by myself at night yet, so Kyle and I have been tag teaming during the night hours. Generally speaking we do 3-5 hour shifts depending on how the person at the helm is feeling. It has been really nice because the people on off watch are getting anywhere from 6-12 hours of off time.

 This morning I woke up and made breakfast burritos with potatoes, eggs, onions, and tortillas. I was able to use the nylon strap connected to the stove to hold me in place while I cooked which was very helpful. I have never used one before but I feel as though I would not have been able to make such a successful meal without the strap. The boat is constantly rolling and thanks to the gimbaled stove and tie in cooking has been quite enjoyable. I then took watch for about 4 hours and had the most enjoyable shift! The wind has been blowing from behind us about 95% of the time which is causing a following sea. So to any of you whom wished us fair winds and following seas- THANK YOU! That is exactly what we have had and it has been quite magnificent. Holding the large wheel and steering the boat down wind through the rolling seas and ever so often surging down a wave gives me a feeling few things else in this world do. It’s so powerful being pushed by the wind in your house with all your friends and belongings with you. Sometimes I would listen to music, other times I just listened to the water flow along the hull of the boat.

 It took a good day and a half but I am now in the rhythm of life at sea. We haven’t seen land since Thursday evening and sometimes I feel like I am in a big blue globe. I am sure spotting Isla Mujeres tomorrow will be rather exciting and I look forward to what it has in store for us. Cheers!

4/11/2017

 The wind is blowing gently from the Southeast providing some reprieve from the tropical sun. The water below the hull of High Climber is crystal clear, allowing me to see even the smallest shell 10ft below us. Kyle sits next to me reading his novel, Mark is down below reading as well while Max is ashore attempting to check us into the country. Large catamarans with at least 30 people crowding the decks pass by every few minutes blasting Spanish music, partying on this sunny blue skied day. The wakes from the boats passing by causing High Climber to bob up and down in her slip at Marina Parisio. The journey here was a long one, but the beauty awaiting us here on Isla Mujeres seems to make all the hardships worth it.

 After an awesome morning of sailing downwind at a consistent 5 knots on Sunday we entered the Yucatán Channel where we were greeted by a rather strong current, really reducing our speed and progress towards Mujeres. We were only about 50 nautical miles away, but due to the current, a cross swell, and finicky wind the last 50 miles took us almost 24 hours to complete. It was a rather long and frustrating night with little sleep from any of the crew. Kyle and Max were up for hours throughout the night trying to change the sail plan and reduce the rolling of the boat. Whoever was on shift experienced the frustration of keeping the boat on course with the current and swell against us. Around 7am Monday morning towards the end of my 4 hour shift we made the decision to turn on the motor as we couldn’t seem to make much progress and were getting pushed North. Fortunately around 10am we left the current behind and the wind picked up from the East. With a strong wind we shut the engine down and Mark sailed us on a beam reach at a consistent 5 knots the last few hours; crew moral was instantly lifted with the pristine sailing conditions. At 11:00am Mark pointed to some structure off our starboard bow. Looking through the binoculars I saw trees on a Cay just North of Isla Mujeres’ location- “Land Ho!!!” Kyle bellowed. We all giggled and found ourselves giddy with the view of land for the first time in almost 4 days and within twenty minutes Isla Mujeres became visible directly in front of us. With perfect wind we sailed all the way into the Channel entrance of the island before dropping sail. The water below us changed from a deep clear blue to crystal clear water showing sea grass, white sand, and some small reefs.

 It is hard for me to capture the feeling I had when the island came into view. Leaving Florida and arriving in another country under sail 4 days later was something special. Not only that but the island that greeted us had pristine white beach, colorful boats, people radiating joy on the boats and beaches, and palm trees with coconuts. We had sailed into a tropical paradise and instantly all the hard work done to get ready was well worth it. With our yellow quarantine and Mexico flags raised and flapping in the wind we motored to an anchorage just on the other side of the channel across from some marinas. After some celebratory cocktails and spending some time tidying up the boat, Max and I grabbed the notebook with all our documents and hopped in the dinghy. Max rowed us over to El Milagro Marina where we were hoping to get a slip and checked in with customs. Arriving at the dinghy dock I found myself in awe of how incredibly relaxing the entire place looked. Mosaic table and chairs were built into the sand so one could sit partly submerged in the water while enjoying lunch or a drink. On shore numerous hammocks and lawn chairs were filled with people of all ethnicities lounging in the warm sun. Iguanas basked in the sun and thatched roofs covered the office and bar area. The moment our feet hit the dock for the first time in 4 days we both felt like we were moving. It was such an odd sensation, I felt like the dock was swaying back and forth- and it only intensified as we walked towards the dockmaster. We were greeted by a few different marina employees who kindly welcomed us before informing us that because it was after 1pm they would not be able to check us into the country today. Feeling a bit disappointed since we were all really looking forward to dinner out on the town, we explored the marina grounds for a few minutes and walked to a small store at the edge of the marina where we bought some cold beer to bring back to Mark and Kyle. Once back at the boat we informed Mark and Kyle of the news that we would be stuck on the boat until tomorrow and decided to make the best of it by going snorkeling.

4/12/2017

 Our bellies full with rice and beans, the boat cleaned, and our snorkel gear ready we headed towards some reefs that our dockmaster in Florida had told us about. Being that there are 4 of us and only 1 dinghy Mark and Max rowed towards the reef while Kyle and I swam and were towed behind. There were a few other snorkel tour boats in the area but it wasn’t too crowded. Setting the dinghy on a small sand bar we took off on an amazing snorkel adventure. There were tiny islands made of porous rock that below the surface were colorful. Swimming in, around, and near the small reefs were hundreds of immaculately colored fish. My favorite were the tiny fish that were mostly black but had glowing blue specks and a mouth that almost seemed to light up. Another was a medium sized fish that was quite literally a rainbow. Most of its body was pastel green but then it had purple lines across the top, a bright yellow dot on each side of its mouth, pink, yellow, and orange mixed in on its scales. The current was quite strong and it made the snorkeling a bit hard, but we enjoyed the reefs for an hour before returning to the dinghy to make the row back to the boat.

 Being that no one really slept the night before we were all rather exhausted. After some lunch left overs for dinner we all retreated to our bunks and slept for a good 11 hours. The following morning, Tuesday, Max rowed to shore to try and check in again. He was told we had to go to the hospital, then customs, then a different office before going to another office, etc, etc. Not wanting to spend the entire day attempting to check in ourselves we lifted anchor and motored over to another marina called Marina Pairiso. There the dockmaster aided us in checking in by bringing agriculture, health, immigration, and customs to us. It took about two hours of having various people look at the boat (although no one boarded the boat), filling out documents, providing copies of passports, ships papers, and health information but we were allowed to hang out at the bar and pool at the marina the entire time so it made it extremely easy and relaxing. My job before we left on this journey was to take care of all the documents needed to get into various countries. I must say, it is much more complicated that I would have ever anticipated and took me over a month to get everything in order. I worked really hard to make sure we had every single piece of paper we could need, and then made 30 copies of each document as most countries want 5 copies each. An example of how confusing and difficult it can be is a Zarpe. A Zarpe is a form that you receive when checking out of a country to prove when and where you left. Well, America does not give Zarpes to small craft, only to commercial vessels- yet Mexico requires one to enter the country. There have been accounts of people showing up in Mexico without this form and having their boat confiscated and then being kicked out of the country. I wasn’t sure what to do so I printed a Zarpe online, filled it out to the best of my ability and then had my mom notarize it. Well it turns out this was a very good thing to do- as Max made it seem as though they would not have checked us in without it. Anyway, moral of the story- before traveling out the country by boat it is extremely important to get everything in order and make sure you have everything needed. If any of you ever need help in this manner please feel free to email me- I think I have it mostly figured out by now 🙂

 At the end of the process the immigration officer stamped our passports, provided us a visa, and welcomed us into the country. We all felt so thankful to be free to explore the country and not be confined to the boat. Within 20 minutes we had put on walking shoes and sunscreen, grabbed our backpacks and headed for the Island. Six hours and 8 miles later we had walked almost the entire Island! Leaving the marina we were instantly greeted by endless golf carts and mopeds; that is how everyone gets around on this island- even the police. The mopeds amazed me because many of them had over 3 people on them and then a baby or two hanging off the side in someone’s arms or standing at the driver’s feet- same as the golf carts. I will say though that everyone, except maybe the baby’s and small children, wore helmets on the mopeds. Interesting! Walking the Main Street for a while we quietly observed our surroundings- the colorful buildings and homes stacked really close together, the equally colorful skiffs lining the inland beaches, and some pretty awesome street art and murals. Finding a small opening between buildings we crossed over to the Gulf side of the island and walked North along the sea wall with large waves crashing down below. The waves were a mixture of clear blues and greens that would roll and smash down on the rock and white sand on the shoreline. Making our way back inland a bit we found the market area which were streets lined in colorful shops with jewelry, blankets, and endless trinkets lining the front of the small shops. Sitting down for some lunch I enjoyed the people watching and observing the cultural differences from America and this small tropical island. We found a convenience store and bought a SIM card for the Global cell phone we had bought before leaving and the nice men behind the counter helped me get it all set up- it took a few minutes due to the language barrier, but within 10 minutes Kyle and I were able to call our parents to check in and say hello. I was very thankful to be able to check in and catch up with my family! The rest of the afternoon was spent in a similar manner- exploring and enjoying the Isle of Mujeres. Around 6pm we arrived back at the marina where we took a quick swim to stretch our tired legs and sore bodies, before taking showers and using some wifi at the marina bar.

 As I write this I am sipping on hot coffee looking out over the tiki bar to the marina and clear waters beyond. Kyle is reading in front of me and we are going to head into town soon to do some laundry and find an Internet café. This afternoon we will probably find another snorkel spot before our 7pm reservation at Limon. Our dockmaster from Florida, Todd, was so incredibly kind and provided us dinner at a local restaurant owned and operated by a man named Sergio. It is supposed to be quite spectacular and Todd who visits Isla Mujeres somewhat regularly wanted us to experience the food and dining the restaurant provides. We haven’t even been yet, but thank you Todd!!! We will cheers you at dinner 🙂

 We will probably be in Isla Mujeres for a couple more days as we are hoping to take a ferry to Cancun tomorrow and catch a ride to Tulum to visit the Mayan Ruins. We were planning on going to Roatan, Honduras on our way to Providencia, Columbia- but as of this morning due to a few different factors might skip Roatan and visit a small island called “Swan Island”- it is basically uninhabited and sounds like it would be quite the experience. If you’re interested here is a pretty cool article about some people who visited last year: http://www.bwsailing.com/bw/cruising-news/places-no-one-has-been-before/

I feel incredibly grateful for all this journey has provided thus far and look forward to the what comes next. Onward!  

Meet High Climber and A New Voyage!

3/22/2017  

It’s been some time since I have logged on to give an update and now that our plans are falling into place I thought I’d spend some time catching up and introducing the next journey. In September, about a month into our Solvi venture down the Mississippi River, we spoke with our friend Max on the phone. During that phone conversation we discussed helping him deliver his 40’ Dufour Aluminum Sailboat from St. Petersburg, Florida to San Fransisco, California via the Panama Canal. At the time it was just a small seed in the back of our minds, similar to the idea that we had when we first came up with the Solvi plan. But just as with Solvi, the small seed took roots and blossomed into reality. On April 1st (give or take a few days for weather windows) Max, Kyle, myself, and Max’s father will leave Blind Pass Marina in St. Pete Beach, Florida and head Southwest towards Isla Mujeres, Mexico- our first stop in this 4 month 6,000 mile journey. The tentative plan from Isla Mujeres is as follows: we will sail to Cozumel before making a 250 mile hop to Rhoatan Honduras. From there we will visit a small island in Columbia before heading to the Panama Canal entrance. Once through the canal and in Panama City we will be changing crew- although Kyle, Max, and myself will stay on for the journey’s entirety. From Panama City we will slowly but surely make our way North towards California, participating in what many sailors call the “Baja Bash”. The predominant wind pattern on the West coast is North, therefore attempting to head North into an oncoming wind can be very challenging and a bit uncomfortable due to pounding into wind and waves for days on end. Fortunately we planned somewhat accordingly and the months we will spend on that coast will have fairly less wind than the rest of the year. Arriving in Cabo by mid-late June is necessary due to Hurricane season. If we make that date then we will explore the Sea of Cortez in the Baja of California before making the last stretch to San Francisco.  

 As I am sure is clear, this is a fairly major journey we have set out for ourselves and not one tidbit has been taken lightly. From every square inch of the boat, engine, hull, rigging, and sails being checked, cared for, rebuilt, or replaced to countless hours of research on documentation, customs, routes, and weather patterns we have spent the last 3 months since returning from Solvi preparing for the trip. At this point Kyle and I have been living aboard full time for over a month! Documentation, paperwork, and provisioning has been my forte while also working as much as possible to make money to fund this trip. As a full time team Kyle and Max have spent hundreds of hours making sure the boat, High Climber, is ready for the passage. Other hours have been spent making sure the crew gets along, getting awful vaccinations, gathering first aid items, and organizing the boat so that every aspect is efficient and clean. I could spend pages describing the preparations we have and are taking to prepare for the voyage, but the underlying point is that we want this to be an adventure full of challenge, joy, excitement, and growth. Therefore the three of us are taking every action necessary to ensure our safety and enjoyment along the way.

With the leave date approaching we are beginning to get real excited for the upcoming adventure. Below are some photos of High Climber, Max’s 40’ aluminum Defour A9000 sailboat we will be traveling in. As I will update the blog with some regularity it will not be quite as in depth as our Solvi adventure. But stay tuned for some pictures and stories of our first leg of the voyage to Mexico. Onward!

Max and High Climber!

Home for the Holidays! 

12/25/2016 

 The time has come for the continuous traveling of the journey to end. But the impacts of voyage will continue to be prevalent in our lives long into the future. On Tuesday morning Kyle and I pedaled 50 miles from Henderson State Park to St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, FL. There we spent 3 days relaxing fully and allowing ourselves to prepare for the transition back to Pinellas County. The days were filled with reading, walking, lounging on the beach, and finally disassembling the bike for the car ride home. On Thursday we walked to the beach and were greeted by calm water, still air, blue skies, white sand, and sunshine so bright it caused the water to look green. Walking over to the large boulders that begin on the beach and protrude into the Gulf, creating a break wall for the harbor entrance, we climbed the boulders and found a spot to sit. Quietly we observed our surroundings: fisherman casting off the rocks, a sailboat and some powerboats enjoying the first day of calm weather in weeks, a large offshore vessel coming into port, fish jumping through the water’s clear surface, waves lapping gently on the shore, and birds gliding overhead. A perfect afternoon to sit together and reflect on the last 6 months.

  
That evening Kyle and disassembled the bike while I organized our gear. We made dinner, read our novels, and retreated into our tent, knowing it was our last night in our small green home. A home that protected us from wind, rain, storms, flooding, scorching sun, relentless mosquitos, and flying sand. A nylon house that kept us close to the earth allowing us to be on the same level as the bugs, plants, and dirt. Sleeping well we awoke and began taking down camp. Around 9am we got the call from my dad that he and my mom were pulling into the state park! How fun they both managed to come 🙂 An hour later we had said our hellos, loaded the bike on the roof, our gear in the trunk, visited the beach, and were on our way back to Pinellas County.  

The first few hours of the 6.5hr drive were, of course, filled with stories, laughter, questions, and catching up. Kyle and I both commented on how quickly the vehicle was moving- going 70mph felt very strange when we were used to 15 or under! Out of instinct I found myself checking the size of the shoulder, if there was a bike lane, and the quality of the sidewalks. Around 5pm we arrived at the 7 mile bridge bringing us across Tampa Bay and into Pinellas County. And just like that, we were back where we started 183 days ago when we drove over that bridge, Solvi in tow, on our way to Wisconsin.  

After 6.5hrs we were all excited to get out of the car and I was thrilled to see my parent’s dogs, one of which we have had since I was 9! That evening we ordered pizza, talked, listened to Christmas music, wrapped some presents, and just enjoyed all being together again. Quickly after arriving at their house Kyle and I went into the backyard to see Solvi! It was awesome to be re-United with her again and to go through the gear, clothes, books, and journals that had been left behind for the bike adventure.  

Currently, it is Christmas afternoon. Kyle is responding to some emails while I’m writing in my journal; the smell of Christmas dinner cooking inside is lingering in the air. We have been enjoying our time at my parent’s house the past couple days. Yesterday I found myself curled up on the couch, a cup of coffee in one hand, my novel in another- Christmas music playing quietly in the background, candles emitting a soft glow, and the dogs on the ground below me snoring happily. I found myself feeling content and grateful to be happy and healthy on Christmas Eve. Kyle and I put the tandem back together and rode it to the grocery store; we had so much fun with no gear!  

Tomorrow or the next day we will go check on our house- a 35ft sailboat that has been kept at our good friend’s house at their dock. Kyle and I have been living aboard our sailboat, Sirocco, for a few years now and have missed her greatly while we’ve been gone. A huge thanks to Courtney and Micah for watching after here while we were away!  

While the last couple days have definitely been a transition for Kyle and I, we are both feeling good about being back…plus it’s only for a few months before we take off on another adventure anyway 🙂 For the next few weeks we will work as much as possible, switch off staying with my parents, on our boat, and with friends before moving aboard our friend’s sailboat. As of now the plan is to leave around April 1st aboard our friend’s sailboat and take a 4 month journey to help him move to a different part of the U.S. – but I’ll save those details for a later date! This game we call life is so full of opportunities, experiences, and endless places to see and people to meet. Kyle and I are looking forward to living a bit transient and staying open to all opportunities, rather than choosing to settle down somewhere for an extended period of time. We both seem to have caught the travel bug and we can’t imagine stopping exploring when there is still so much to see, to do, to live! Onward 🙂  

This is our home, Sirocco, that we can’t wait to see after six months away!

P.S. We have received a few questions in regard to the blog and if we have any video footage to share- I’m working on a small video, a photo album, and a reflection of our voyage which will all appear here sometime in the next week or so. Thanks for all the support!  

Welcome to the Sunshine State!!

12/16/2016
124 days, 12 states, and over 2,500 miles we did it!! This morning, around 10am we pedaled across the imaginary line separating Alabama and Florida. Kyle and I, as a team made it from Wisconsin to Florida by man power 🙂 What a wonderful feeling it was! We hugged, kissed, yelled, took photos, smiled, ran around, and celebrated the best we could on the side of the road with 25mph head winds. I had thought about it, actually making it to Florida, countless times. But actually doing it- actually pedaling across that “line” was something special. Something I haven’t quite been able to articulate yet; I’m not ready to try and write about the array of emotions we experienced, therefore I’ll give it some time before creating a reflection. We both laughed rather hard when we realized that as soon as we reached that Florida sign, we felt ready to be home. I was not expecting this, I was thinking that I was going to feel sad, confused, not ready to have made it. But the exact opposite happened- together we yelled “Fred! We’re ready! You can come get us now!” We were joking, but my dad, Fred, is going to pick us up on the 23rd and I guess we were feeling ready a bit sooner 🙂 Laughing and elated on the feeling of making it, we pedaled away, into the damn headwind and continued the 33 miles to our next ‘warmshower’ stay. The day had a light hearted feeling about it- I had never been so happy to be in Florida, even the FL License plates made me smile. It was marvelous and spectacular and there is no one else in the world I would have rather shared it with than Kyle. You could have never convinced us we would make it to Florida…on a tandem bicycle…but there we were, pedaling along the paved path next to the beach having made it to Florida. Woo!  
Anyway, the rest of the day as I mentioned above was exciting, light-hearted, and despite the strong headwind, rather fun. Around 2:30pm we arrived to downtown Pensacola and stopped in at a bar for one celebratory beer. We only had 7 miles to our hosts’ house so we took some time to relax a bit before continuing over the big, loud, fast moving bridge into Gulf Breeze, FL. Pedaling over the bridge was not very fun- despite having a huge shoulder the cars moving 55mph next to us and the wind howling at our faces made the entire thing a big overwhelming. I was thrilled when we got off the bridge and hopped onto the sidewalk. That is when we first met Charlie, our host, who had surprised us and came to meet us on his bicycle. We made some introductions while pedaling and followed him to his house a couple miles away. There we met Missy, his wife, and got settled into their motor home, parked in their driveway, which is where we spent the night. Charlie and Missy were the most wonderful hosts and we all had such an awesome time together. From the moment we pulled up in their garage the conversation did not stop until we said goodnight. Charlie and Kyle took apart our tandem bicycle to try and find the source of an annoying ticking noise we were dealing with, while Missy and I went inside and talked about careers, the school system, and life choices. While Missy and I were sitting on the couch chatting Charlie came rushing in, “Missy, do you want to ride the tandem bicycle??” Charlie and Missy are both avid bicyclists, they do long distances and Missy even does triathlons- but neither of them had been on a tandem bicycle. It was pretty entertaining watching them get going on the bike, nervous and laughing at how different it was. They pedaled down the block and when they came back informed us that they didn’t know how to turn it around so instead got off and picked it up to turn it around. We all laughed at this and then went inside to have some dinner and cold beers. The remainder of the evening was spent in their homey kitchen, listening to Christmas music, a fire glowing in the fireplace, chatting and laughing. The four of us had such a blast and we spent so much time laughing that my cheeks hurt. Thank you so much Missy and Charlie. You guys went above and beyond in your hosting and we appreciate the hospitality so much. The motor home was such a nice place to stay and we wish we lived closer so we could hang out more as I can tell we would all be such good friends. The magic of traveling and meeting wonderful humans!  

12/19/2016 

Our day of pedaling after leaving Charlie and Missy’s was a spectacular treat. Kyle and I were both completely unaware of what Pensacola Beach had to offer. At first it was similar to the beaches in St. Petersburg: tall condos, restaurants, development, people, and piers. But as we pedaled farther East on the paved bike trail the development slowly started to dwindle away until suddenly I realized we were surrounded, in all directions, by raw, untouched sand dunes and white beaches. Besides a few road signs there was absolutely no development on the dune and beaches. For about 8 miles we were surrounded by the most beautiful preserve. It was windy, but sunny and we pedaled along as the salt spray came misting through the air. Despite being 100 yards from the actual water the spray splattered our glasses and covered our skin, which for the first time in weeks was uncovered by clothing because it was finally warm enough for shorts and short sleeve! Stopping a few times to admire the large expanse of sand dunes and Gulf waters which seemed to be green due to the white sand, we smiled as we pedaled along. While pedaling we met another bicyclist named Mike. He was out for his daily 20 mile ride and ended up pedaling with us for a half hour or so. We chatted and got to know each other while he showed us some side streets and gave some advice for the next 20 miles of our day. It was wonderful to meet him and we feel thankful he took the time out of his day to pedal along with us. Thanks Mike!  

50 miles later we arrived at Henderson Beach State Park where we are currently staying for a couple of days. Right before we arrived at the Park we met a couple who were also on a bicycle tour from Fort. Lauderdale to Houston, TX. They were from England and have been traveling by bicycle for over a year visiting places like Japan, Singapore, Europe, and America. It was fun to chat with them a bit and we laughed as they were heading to Missy and Charlie’s! What a small world it is in the biking ‘warmshowers’ community!  

As I write this, we are currently sitting at Panera Bread in Destin, Florida. It is really cold, wet, and windy outside and we decided to take a walk from the State Park and find some warmth with wifi and hot coffee! We have been enjoying our stay at the State Park thus far and will be leaving tomorrow morning for our last day of pedaling! Tomorrow we will pedal 50 miles to St. Andrews State Park where we will spend three nights before my dad comes and picks us up on the 23rd. As the days begin to dwindle down on this grand journey we find ourselves contemplative and nostalgic thinking about the last 6 months and all it has entailed. Onward! (For a little while longer at least :))  

Gulf Pedaling and a Wet Ferry Ride 

12/13/2016

After leaving the Firestation on Monday morning we headed back down towards the Gulf to see if the paved bike path picked back up. And that it did! Excitedly we hopped back on the paved path and again spent our entire day within 25ft of the beach. Also we had an amazing surprise of sunshine! It was supposed to be cloudy but the sun decided against that and blasted all the clouds away. Stopping a lot along the beach to relax, snack, and call our parents to catch up, we again had a very leisurely day of traveling. Although, while we were underway due to the paved path with no stop signs or intersections we made really good time and had already travelled 25 miles by 11am. When we stayed with our hosts from warmshowers.com outside of New Orleans they had mentioned that Ocean Springs, MS was a really cute little town and that we should check out the Main Street. So once we came down another rather long and steep bridge and arrived in Ocean Springs we decided to splurge a little and go out to lunch. We pedaled along the beach for a bit before turning left onto Washington Street. Finding a café with fresh sandwiches, salads, and sweet potato fries we sat outside and drank water with lemon while munching on the freshest food I’ve had in a while. I must say that is one of the things I am most excited for when this journey ends- going back to eating only healthy, fresh, non packaged foods!  

After lunch we checked Google Maps for our route that would take us 14 miles to Shepard State Park. The weather was calling for thunderstorms on Tuesday and we decided to take a zero day at a campground rather than peddle into 15mph winds with rain. Arriving at the state park around 2:45pm we set up our tent and headed straight for the showers. Not having the river to shower in every other day has been interesting and we try to shower at every chance we get. Lately when we have stayed at campgrounds they have all been really catered to RV camping and not tent camping so the sites are manicured and almost look like a parking lot. Shepard State Park is completely different and I was thrilled when we said we wanted to primitive camp and the ranger said we could set up our tent anywhere we wanted as long as it was off the main road. Therefore we found a secluded little spot surrounded by tall pines, oak, and cedar trees with the ground completely covered in pine needles (which always make me think of the Box Car Kids). Kyle set up our boom tent from Solvi as a rain shelter for the bike and our gear that doesn’t go in the tent while I did some route research for the next couple days. After showering, setting up camp, and cooking some dinner we got in the tent early and read a while before falling asleep.

Awaking this morning around 7am we hung out in the tent during the rain and then once it stopped headed out to explore. The state park has many walking trails and it was a foggy morning so we enjoyed the stillness around us as we walked through the leaves and pine needle covered trails. Needing to do some laundry we biked up to a laundry mat and read while our clothes dried. We are currently sitting at a picnic table near a pavilion while some of our devices charge. Kyle is reading, I am typing. Squirrels are running all about up and down the trees while a few crows speak loudly to each other in the trees. The air is still but muggy and as I look out towards the dense trees I see fog still lingering above the ground as though it is waiting for wind or sunshine to come take it away. Today is the 13th of December and in 10 days, on the 23rd of December, regardless of where we are in Florida my dad is going to come pick us up so we can be home for Christmas. The thought of this is rather strange and I am not sure I fully comprehend it, but I am very much looking forward to seeing my family and eating healthier and fresher food. Also the idea of not having to check the weather every single day sounds pretty nice as well. 10 days, 300ish miles, and two more states to go- Kyle and I are making sure to enjoy every last moment!

12/14/2016 

Pedaling away from Shepard State Park we were bundled up and ready for the gray, foggy day ahead of us. While it never did rain, there was a consistent mist that left the surface of things a bit damp. Our destination was 48 miles to Dauphin Island, AL where we would stay at another ‘warmshowers’ host. The day was spent mostly on the sides of highways, which was actually pretty fitting for the gloominess of the day. It seems that whenever we have days of pedaling that aren’t very attractive and on the highways it is gray and gloomy outside. Whereas when we have days spent by the beach the sun is shining. We played some music out of our speaker in order to keep us motivated as we pedaled into the wind and mist. Around 3pm we arrived at the bridge leading into Dauphin Island; Mobile Bay surrounded us on both sides as we approached the bridge. At this time the fog was so thick I felt I could have sliced it with a knife. We pedaled up this massive bridge and couldn’t even see the water looming 65ft below. On the map Dauphin Island looks so incredibly beautiful and there we were, on top of a 65ft bridge overlooking Dauphin Island, yet I couldn’t see a speck of land; it was a strange feeling being so encapsulated in fog. Continuing on down the bridge we coasted onto the bike trail that runs the length of the island before turning left to our hosts’ house. Our hosts, Jim and Jan (for those of you who are cyclists Jim is crazyguyonabike) were not on the island but have set their house up so that touring cyclist can camp under their house which is on tall stilts. The set up was so nice- a porta potty, flat covered spot for our tent, a small table and chairs, a hammock, an outlet, wifi unlocked, and some lights. The temperature was dropping as we set up our tent and cooked some hot soup and rice. Bundled up in our sleeping bag and liners before the sun even went down we spent the remainder of our evening reading while sipping on hot tea. Thank you so much Jim and Jan for allowing us a safe place to camp under your house!  

12/15/2016 

Dauphin Island is the southern most island on Mobile Bay and to save ourselves over 100 miles of pedaling we decided to take the ferry across Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan. Running a bit late we pedaled our fastest on the bike trail in order to make the 8am ferry. The morning was sunny, but freezing and extremely windy; gusts were about 35 from the North which brought the temperature down considerably. When we arrived at the booth to pay the fee to get on the ferry the man told us that he could only send us across on the ferry if we were one way as they weren’t sure the ferry would be able to make any more trips the rest of the day due to the wind. This was fine with us and we pedaled onto the ferry. One of the employees showed us a small, partially opened room on the ferry that we could stand. I wasn’t quite sure why he was offering for us to be inside, but said thank you anyway. 10 minutes later I fully understood why they were suggesting we hide in the room. About 5 cars were on the ferry with us, filled with people sitting in the warmth of the heated car; then there was Kyle and I, standing near the railing with our tandem bicycle. At first it was enjoyable as we watched the 4ft waves crash against the side of the ferry as it left the safety of the port. The farther we got from Dauphin Island the bigger the waves got, until suddenly they were crashing onto the ferry causing the floor to be covered in cold salt spray. I looked down at my socks and sandals and Kyle’s loafers and started to giggle. We were freezing, it was windy, and we kept getting sprayed with salt water. Pushing the bike into the small room we tried to hide, but the floor was exposed and the water kept coming in. Kyle found a broom and spent 15 minutes pushing the water out as to keep our exposed feet somewhat dry. It was cold and wet, but still absolutely beautiful. The sun shining down on the breaking waves, the flock of seagulls using the boat as a way to get across the bay, and a few dolphin in the distance. Kyle and I both felt a bit relieved when we saw Fort Morgan in the distance as it meant dry land and pedaling to keep us warm. We said our thank you’s, hopped off the ferry, changed our socks, and pedaled the 24 miles to our next camping spot.  

Fort Morgan was an awesome little Island that was very bike friendly. We enjoyed a paved bike path separate from the road and as the day continued the temperature rose a bit. Finding a sunny patch on the bike path we made green tea and sandwiches for lunch. Around 2:30 we arrived at Gulf State Park to camp for the evening. The state park is massive and we explored the trails near our campsite which were peaceful and warm protected from the wind chill. Overall, despite being cold, it was a fun day filled with new places to explore and sunshine.