Social media is an amazing platform, but it can also be misleading. We are all susceptible to it - posting photos of ourselves looking our best, editing landscape photos until they look like something out of Nat Geo, and just generally sharing the "good stuff". Let's be real. We're human, and nothing is usually ever as it seems. This blog post steps away from the plastic to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes reality of our trek.
When I first envisioned trekking the perimeter of Florida while picking up plastic, I wanted to use it as a way to gain media attention to support banning single-use plastics within the state of Florida or at least within coastal municipalities. I knew it was going to be challenging, but couldn't have imagined the full scope of what lay ahead.
After conducting a few Google searches to see if anyone else had ever walked the perimeter of Florida, I discovered Bryan's 'Hike 420' in 2017 (from Fernandina to Miami beach), and ultimately reached out to receive advice about trekking the beach (did he wear shoes, where did he get food and water, etc.). Upon receiving his prompt email response, Bryan shared that he had also envisioned the same trek, and suggested that we team up and do it together. Initially I was a little shocked (because, I mean who else would willingly take on such a feat?), but I'm an adventurous lady so I agreed. At the time, one of my colleagues at work asked me "So you're planning on doing this huge, challenging hike with someone you don't even know? Do you feel comfortable with that?" My answer was immediately "Yes!" because I have a pretty good track record of traveling with people I don't really know that well. For example, I solo thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017, where I met lots of new people whom I ended up hiking with for days, weeks, and sometimes even months. I also spontaneously backpacked around Hawaii for a month in 2018 with a few strangers-turned-close friends. So I was pretty confident Bryan and I would get along swimmingly. We met for lunch soon after exchanging emails, and found each other agreeable enough, so the interpersonal part of the hike was honestly the least of my concerns.
Half a year went by leading up to the start date of our trek. I was managing the Hostel in the Forest in southeast Georgia, and had barely any free time to work on planning PlasTrek 2019 (the name that Bryan created for our trek). During that time, Bryan was working two jobs (as a lifeguard at St. Andrew's Club and at Surf District in Delray), so he hardly had any free time either. Somehow we still managed to schedule weekly Skype calls, plan our route, reach out to sponsors, write press releases, contact media outlets, and organize a fundraiser during those six months. Fortunately, Bryan had set a lot of groundwork with his Hike 420, and made great connections within the community on the east coast of Florida. I am super grateful for all the hard work Bryan has continued to put into this trek and toward the mission of creating a single-use plastic-free world. Much of the trek (especially the Wilderness Waterway) would have seemed impossible to do alone. Even though it was very tough sometimes, we tried to express our gratitude for each other as much as possible.
For four months we hiked, paddled, and swam over 1,200 miles around the perimeter of Florida. No easy task. We both had to draw upon our own personal stamina, physical strength, ingenuity, confidence, mental clarity, perseverance, and emotional health. Day after day, we trekked in hot, humid conditions; our feet burnt by the sand, and our faces burnt by the blistering mid-day sun. Some days we ran to seek shelter from thunderstorms, while other days we continued trekking as night fell and we were surrounded by darkness. We dealt with mosquitoes, no-see-ums, deer fly, fire ants, spiders, cockroaches, sand spurs, and more. We both broke a toe a few days after commencing our trek; I had tendonitis after the first week, and Bryan caught a nasty flu two weeks later. The harsh Florida environment was relentless on our bodies and our possessions. Sometimes our phones had service, sometimes they didn't. It was a daily struggle to keep them sand-free and saltwater-free (mine eventually succumbed to the ocean three days before the end of our trek, RIP iPhone 5). Our backpacks fell apart, our shoes fell apart, our sunglasses fell apart. Two of my favorite bracelets and a favorite necklace that I'd had since high school fell apart. It was all very symbolic of the emotional, mental, and physical transformations that Bryan and I were each experiencing. Additionally, my 15 year-old cat, Possum, passed away during the second week of our trek, and I was heartbroken. I cannot recall another four-month period of my life where I have ever cried so much.
There were times when we really enjoyed each other's company, and laughed together and supported each other. But there were also times when we yelled at each other, cried, and said things we didn't mean to say. It's complicated, just like almost any partnership. When you spend 24/7 with one person, lots of things come up that don't normally show themselves in a typical relationship. Before starting this trek, we had spent a total of three weeks together, meeting up to work on the project. Therefore, not only did we experience the obvious stress of hiking the Florida coastline, but we also experienced the added stress of getting to know each other and how each other operates. Needless to say, this journey was a huge learning curve for both of us, and a unique opportunity for personal introspection. It is said that every person we meet is a mirror of ourselves, to which Bryan and I definitely noticed our reflections in each other, for better or for worse. We discovered each other's strengths, and we discovered things about ourselves that we strive to change and improve.
I knew from my experience hiking the Appalachian Trail that it is difficult to accomplish a physically-challenging feat with a significant other, a close friend or a family member; and doing so can either make or break a relationship. It was stressful to hike through the sand everyday under the beating sun and the hot, humid Florida weather; it was stressful to witness and pick up plastic symptoms every day; it was stressful to figure out where we were going to sleep every night, how we were going to get a ride, and where we were going to find food and water; it was stressful to reach out to media and sponsors; it was stressful to keep up with email and social media; it was stressful to manage the website; it was stressful to coordinate with volunteers and organizations; it was stressful to drive in Florida traffic; it was stressful to find a way to pay for all of our expenses and garner donations; it was stressful to collect, count, sort and store all the plastic we gathered off the beaches. So it's no wonder it was stressful for the two people doing all of this to always get along. Thankfully, Bryan and I were both in this trek for the ultimate mission of educating others about the harmful effects of plastic, inspiring environmental activism, and finding alternative solutions to our dependence on single-use plastics. We continue to be committed to the cause, and to finding a way to reach our goal.
Through it all, the Hawaiian practice of healing, Ho'oponopono, seems the most fitting mantra for our trek, and for anyone in a partnership trying to work through their differences:
"I love you, I'm sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you."
Tips for surviving 24/7 partnership travel:
Express gratitude often
Use humor to lighten the mood and reconnect
Discover and understand each other's communication style and needs
Write, draw, sing, or otherwise creatively express your connection to each other
Be respectful of each other, and learn what respect looks like to your partner
Look out for each other's safety and well-being
Conduct selfless favors for each other (ex: massaging, making a meal, giving a gift)
Commit to being honest and open with each other
Make sure the workload feels even
Accept each other, and understand that we're each on our own path of transformation
Practice empathy and compassion
Understand that this too shall pass