Thursday, May 28, 2009

Today Show clip now online!

They just posted my action-packed appearance on the Today Show:

Apologies to Razor- we never got to their Powerwings Scooter! I've been riding mine all around New York, and it's too bad that Hoda and Kathie Lee couldn't check them out.

Hanging out at the Today Show

I just tested the cooler and said hi to Matt Lauer! Also, I just got my make up done next to James Taylor and told him about the trip. Twenty minutes till I'm on the air!

Longer blog post coming soon...

New York: Vehicularly Speaking

It was an action-packed day in New York full of five new modes of transportation. In the morning I took the subway out to Ozone Park- a neighborhood I never knew existed- to check out the headquarters of Worksman Cycles. I was joined by two of my New York buddies- Nanda and Danae- who helped film and photograph the day. Worksmans Cycles manufactures industrial tricycles for use in factories and warehouses, as well as food carts and some consumer bicycles as well. But Worksman Cycles wasn't inspired by the recent green movement- when they first started selling pedal powered carts they were trying to replace horses. They've been around since the late 1800s, and now a lot of eco-concious consumers are discovering them for the first time. Ironically, some of their biggest customers are the car companies who use the beefed-up trikes to move parts and boxes around their factories. Wayne, the president of the company, showed me around their production facility as he told me about the company's history and even let me go for a ride in one of their cargo tricycles.


Next up we headed over to Hammacher Schlemmer's only store. They had helped me on day one of the trip by providing one of their 14 MPH coolers, and I was excited to see what other modes of transportation I could try out. They didn't disappoint- I got on four new modes of transportation. First I joined a giant stuffed bear for a ride on a pedal-powered surrey (Price: $3,800).


Next up I checked out the Land Sailor in the window (Price: $999.95). It's a recumbent bike with a sail, and unfortunately due to it's placement I couldn't get very far, but the salespeople assured me that it could go very fast.


Then I hopped aboard the Off-road Pedal Buggy (Price: $1,200) and maneuvered around the store for a few minutes.


Lastly, I took a spin on their recumbent tricycle (Price: $399.95). They also have a bunch of other vehicles hanging from the walls and ceilings like their Seuss-like monocycle and this giant hamster ball that you can climb inside and roll around on water.


And now I'm back at my friend's apartment, getting ready for the Today show and figuring out what to wear. I think I'll go for the blue shirt. You can watch in a few hours to see if I changed my mind.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Car-Free Isn't Always Happy

Although I've been avoiding cars this trip, it's been hard to avoid all the depressing news coming from the car industry. Dealerships are closing down, people are losing jobs, and now it's hit close to home. My good friend's dad owns a Dodge dealership in Virginia and they just lost their franchising agreement. After putting thirty years of work into the company, they only have a few weeks to figure out how to stay viable without their car supplier. Dealerships are more than just car lots- they're employers and community supporters, and now they're in trouble because of a decision made in a boardroom somewhere.

So what do we do now? I'm not really sure. But hopefully I'll some answers on the Un-Road Trip. I guess we not only have to look beyond the car, we have to look beyond car-driven employment too.

Anyone want to start some bike dealerships?

Epic Unicycle Fall Caught on Tape

WCAV in Charlottesville, VA just posted a longer version of their story on the Un-Road Trip which includes an impressive unicycle tumble. Take a look.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Eight Action-Packed Hours in Charlottesville

I took the midnight train from Spartanburg and arrived in Charlottesville a little after 7AM on Sunday morning. Charlottesville was a late addition to the trip after a few people I had talked to in DC highly recommended the historic college town. I was in touch with the visitor's bureau, but they didn't have too many recommendations for car-free ideas. They did give me the contact info for David Brown, a former mayor, current chiropractor, and avid cyclist. I had a hard time getting a hold of him, but I finally spoke to David on the phone the night before my arrival. Not only did he have some free time the next day to meet up, but he gave me contact information for two other people to get in touch with. I called up Len Schoppa, who's very involved with Charlottesville's ACCT (Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation), and Jason Pearson, the chair of the city's planning commissioner and a fellow non-car owner. Amazingly, both Len and Jason also had some free time on Sunday and agreed to meet up.

As soon as I got off the train I was greeted by Jason, who also happens to live a few blocks away from the Amtrak station. We walked back to his place- an awesomely remodeled house built in the 1920s- and Jason and his wife, Katerina invited me to join them for a fresh and delicious breakfast. After the meal, Jason and Katrina lent me a bike and helmet and showed me around the UVA campus, including the rotunda designed by Thomas Jefferson and the many hidden gardens.


Then we rode over to the downtown pedestrian mall where I met with Len. Len's working on a lot of cool transportation initiatives through ACCT including creating "walking buses" for kids to get to school and making the city more bike-friendly. We rode over to a great bike/walking path that goes up to Monticello. The problem is that there is no easy bike-able way to get to the bike path. We had to ride on a busy high speed road with a small shoulder for a few miles before we arrived at the start of the trail. Once on the path, it was beautiful. We cycled over boardwalks and through the woods as we meandered up the hill. With my limited time in Charlottesville, I didn't actually get to see Jefferson's home, but we biked up as far as the path went before we turned around and headed back into town.

Once back in town we met up with David Brown, who had brought his unicycle down to the pedestrian mall.


He hadn't ridden in a while, but he was clearly experienced as he rode around and showed me how it was done. I clumsily stepped up- and then down a few times- and tried pushing off from a nearby metal cable. At first I could barely move an inch, but after ten minutes and a few breaks I was pedaling an impressive three to four feet. Len gave it a go too as did Liz, the reporter from the local TV station, though it became clear that you need to spend a few days with a unicycle to get truly comfortable.

Then I was off again to drop off my bike at Jason's house before heading back to the train station for my 2:45PM train. When I got to the station, I learned that it had become a 4:00PM train. I got comfortable and caught up on some emails- I've become pretty good at using train delays to my advantage. Although to Amtrak's credit, they did make up the time in transit and we only arrived five minutes late in New York. Which is where I am right now.

I haven't actually tried any new modes of transportation in New York yet, though I have plans to in the next few days. I had a few pressing things I had to deal with first- like getting my clothes a deep cleaning. I'm wearing mostly borrowed clothes right now, (thanks Robert!), as my clothes are being laundered professionally on the Upper West Side. I'm also getting ready for my appearance on the Today Show on Thursday. I'll be demonstrating a few modes of transportation, and I want to make sure I don't fall off of any of them. You can watch Thursday morning (between 10-11AM) to see if I succeed.

Sneak Peak of Charlottesville

Liz Palka, a reporter from WCAV in Charlottesville joined the Un-Road Trip for a short leg of the journey as I attempted to learn to ride a unicycle. Here's the story she produced:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Taking South Carolina by Storm

I arrived in Columbia, SC around 6AM. The train was two hours late, which was fine with me as arriving at 4AM doesn't sound that fun. I found one of the few open coffee shops in the area, (thanks to my Yelp app), and headed over for some much-needed WiFi.

A little before 10AM I set out in search of a barber shop. I was looking a little scruffy and I figured I should clean up in preparation for my spot on the Today Show. And with a week before the appearance, my hair would have time to grow a bit in case the cut didn't look so good. The barber grew up in the area and has been working in the shop for about thirty years. He took his time cutting my hair and I got a little nervous when he took out a straight razor to clean up a few areas, but it ended up looking pretty good.

Next I was off to University of South Carolina. I was meeting up with John Parks, the executive director of their Innovista initiative. They're working to redevelop a portion of downtown Columbia which will include a few new research buildings. Part of that research has to do with hydrogen fuel cells, and they hope to have fuel cell buses transporting students and faculty around the campus soon. They didn't have a hydrogen-powered bus or car to try out yet, but they have built a fuel cell powered segway which I was able to go for a spin on.


Next I met up with Jay who picked me up in his vegetable oil-powered ambulance that he bought on ebay a few years back. Jay owns two Melting Pot restaurants in the area and didn't know what to do with all the wasted oil, (which was still pretty clean), that the restaurant uses to warm the fondue. Then one of his servers mentioned bio-diesel and fry-brids to him, and he started searching for one online. He ended up finding the ambulance in a nearby town, and because it already had two gas tanks there was barely any conversion he needed to do.


He pours the oil through a sieve and then dumps it directly into the gas tank. Jay admits that he's seen bits of mushroom and broccoli go in there too, but the car's still running fine. We stopped by the restaurant to see the process in action before we hopped in the ambulance and drove to my next stop on the Un-Road Trip, (which happened to be on the way to Jay's other restaurant).


About an hour later, Jay dropped me off in:


I had gotten a call from Lauren Ponder at Spartanburg's Convention and Visitor's Bureau a few months back, and she strongly encouraged a visit to this former Hub City. Back in the day, there were trains coming into Spartanburg from eight directions. Now there's only one or two passenger trains coming through their un-staffed station, but there's still a lot to see. When I got to town Lauren took me to Partners for Active Living, an organization that seeks to make the city a more healthy and livable community. One of their coolest initiatives is their Hub Cycle program. For a $15 deposit, (which is later refunded), you can borrow a bike, helmet, and lock for three months, (and keep renewing it for as long as you like). Lauren and I borrowed bikes and she pointed out some Spartanburg landmarks as we biked back to her office.


We made some plans for the next day before I set off to my hosts for the night. I biked through town and on Spartanburg's awesome Rail Trail, paved over one of their old lines, which is shared by bikers, skateboarders, and walkers. About forty minutes later I arrived at Betsy Teter and John Lane's house. Betsy is a founding member of Hub-Bub, an awesome arts organization in Spartanburg. In addition to hosting frequent art shows and musical performances, they also have an incredible Artist in Residence program where they invite four twenty-somethings to live in town for a year and create art in the community. John is a professor, adventurer, and author- you can check out his recent columns at Kudzu Telegraph. They live in a beautiful eco-friendly house in the woods that they designed themselves to LEED standards.

After a great night's sleep I headed out on my bike again and stopped by Hub-Bub briefly before meeting up with my newest mode of transportation.


It's the Eco Mow, Chad Lane's new electric riding lawn mower. It can charge a few acres on one charge, and he's working on a solar-powered model too. I'd never ridden a lawn mower before, so the zero-turn steering took a little time to get used to, but it was pretty thrilling. Chad told me that because riding mowers don't have any pollution limits imposed on them, (like cars do), they can be huge polluters. I was one of the few people to have ridden one of these so far, but they'll be available to the public in a few weeks.


Next up I met up with Partners for Active Living again for their Friday bike ride at noon. Around a dozen people showed up for a quick six mile bike ride along the rail trail and through a nearby park. On the way back, we noticed an abandoned shopping cart near the trail and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out another mode of transportation.


After mowing a few lawns, I headed over to meet up with the guys from Longleaf Development and RJ Rockers. Longleaf was providing my accommodations for the night and RJ Rockers is a local brewery, but there's some overlap in their management. They handed me their Bell Ringer brew and showed me my home for the next day and a half.


I took the next day to explore the town a bit more- checking out the local produce at their farmer's market, vising the local museum, and joining a historic downtown walking tour. And before I knew it my time in Spartanburg was nearly done. I headed to the Amtrak station to catch the midnight train north, but I had a feeling I'd be back. Spartanburg is truly a great town with some of the nicest people I've met this entire trip. It's surprisingly progressive, and I'm excited to see what programs and initiatives these guys come up with next. I hope to back soon to find out, and I hope that some of the people I met there- you know who you are- will come out to Portland on June 28th for the "End of the Un-Road Trip Bash."

Next up- Charlottesville!

P.S. This is what a bale of cotton looks like. I've always wondered...


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Video From My Continued Adventures in Florida

The Un-Road Trip gets a lesson in boating thanks to Florida's Offshore Sailing School. It's smooth sailing until the vessel starts heading into stormy waters...

Will I get to Tampa on time? Will I miss my train? Will I ride an electric bike and yacht?

You can find out in 4 minutes and 26 seconds- just watch below!

Day 29 - 31 from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sails, Storms, and Contingency Plans


We woke up early and optimistic on Tuesday morning as we headed out of the channel and into the rougher waters. Though there wasn't any thunder and lightening that morning, but the seas were rougher than we had seen them before and the winds were more powerful. The sails weren't much help though, and we were primarily moving with help from the motor. Within a few minutes, I was starting to feel queasy and after talking to Captain Pete it became clear that we'd be slogging through at least six hours of these conditions until we got to Venice. And Venice was still over fifty miles from Tampa. I decided we should turn back and head for Punta Gorda, a small town in Charlotte Harbor.


The rain started falling again as we cut through the rough seas on our way back into the channel. I concentrated on the horizon and tried to breathe deeply. As soon as e made it into the Harbor, I immediately started feeling better and pretty soon the sun started coming up. We let the sails out and did our first actual sailing of the trip.


The wind was blowing consistently and we were heading towards Punta Gorda at a pleasant six knots. Though I was pretty busy at the time- frantically calling everyone I could think of to help find a way to get to Tampa. I called the airport, flight school, chamber of commerce, and some people I had met in the past few days, but no options were presenting themselves. Finally I called one of my initial Florida contacts- Nate at the state tourism board. He was very friendly, as always, and said he'd email a few contacts in the area. Within an hour I had receeived an email from Jennifer at the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau. She had a few ideas and was sending out a few emails of her own. We docked at Punta Gorda and I made my bed for the third night, and went to sleep slightly unnerved.


The next morning, I bid goodbye to Captain Pete and the Offshore Sailing School, and I was back to the transportation game. I had a few emails waiting for me, and some of theme looked promising. Jennifer had put me in touch with Tracy, who works in marketing for some nearby hotels. Tracy told me about her dad, John, who's a car and motorcycle aficionado and is always up for an adventure. I kept my fingers crossed and kep looking into some other options just in case this didn't work out. She got in touch with her dad a little after 10AM on Wednesday, and about an hour later we was picking me up on the back of his Harley.


We rode the 100 miles to Tampa, stopping off at John's house and shop where he showed off some of his awesome classic cars, (a few of which used to belong to Bob Dole). John told me about some of the crazy trips he's gone on including a few cross country road trip and a canoe ride down the Mississippi. He dropped me off on Davis Island where I met up with Scott Glassburn and a few other folks from Suncoast Electric Bikes.


Scott has a background in building sports cars, but he wanted to start looking into cleaner transportation. The company was born less than a year ago, but they're already starting to catch on in Florida. We rode down the island, and it was an effortless ride. Without any peddling, I could push the accelerator and get up to 20 MPH in no time. A few minutes later we arrived at the marina where I met up with Nancy and Jeff of Endeavor Green, a new company that makes electric hyrbid yachts.


We took a ride into downtown Tampa as Nancy and Jeff told me about the beginnings of the company. They'd been renting and selling electric boats for a while, and they'd take note whenever their customers had notes or suggestions on what they were looking for in their watercraft. Eventually, they realized they wanted to make a boat of their own. So they started designing this hybrid yacht that has a remote control roof that also acts as a cover, a full size toilet stall that pops up, and a shower. Pretty impressive and it all fits comfortably on the nearly silent boat, (as long as it's running in electric mode).


Lastly, I got a ride on Hop Tampa to the train station. It's a free taxi service, (paid for by ads), that shuttles people around town in an electric GEM car. It's a pretty wild vehicle but it was a fun ride and was timed well as a huge rain shower started just as I stepped in. As usual, Amtrak was a little late, but I really didn't mind sitting to catch my breath this time. I almost didn't make this train so I was just happy to be there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Made it to Tampa!

This was one of the most exhausting days of the trip. It may not have included tons of physical activity, but it involved more problem solving and close calls than any other day. I'm about to pass out on the train, but I'll do a quick recap. A panicked call to Nate at the Florida state tourism board connected me with Jennifer at the Charlotte Harbor Visitor's Center who put me in touch with Tracy who asked her dad if he'd give me a ride to Tampa on his motorcycle. He first heard about the trip at 10:30 this morning and at 11 he picked me up in Punta Gorda and we were off on the 100 mile journey. I met up with some other cool folks in Tampa- Nancy and Jeff who make electric hybrid yachts and Scott who started Suncoast Electric Bikes. I'll fill you in on those later. Now I'm going to catch some sleep before my 4AM wake up call, when I get off the train in Columbia, SC

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Quick Plea from Punta Gorda

I don't have time for a full recap quite yet, though I will tell you that we didn't get very far north today. The winds were high, the waves were rough, and I was feeling a little pukey. We sailed into Punta Gorda, the nearest city, and now I'm struggling to find a way to Tanmpa. I've been in touch with Harborside Aviation, a flight school in the area, and depending on the weather and their pilots' schedule, they may be able to give me a ride. I also got in touch with one of the local tourism boards and they seem to have a few leads as well. Hopefully I'll have a real breakthrough in the morning, since I have a train to catch tomorrow afternoon. If you have any ideas, PLEASE get in touch. I'll give you a hug and a free pair of Keen shoes if you can get me out of here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sailing up the Florida Coast

Note: I'm posting this from my phone so please excuse the lack of photos- I'll add some when I can find some wifi for my laptop.

I woke up early Sunday morning to finish up editing my Florida video before Nathan (my visiting friend from NY who's joining the trip for a few days), and I met up with Nancy. She had generously given us a ride on her boat on Friday and had mentioned that were some endangered gopher tortoises on Fort Myers Beach. We met up at our hotel and walked to the nearby nature preserve to see if we could spot some for ourselves. Nancy pointed out lots of plants along the way and we spotted some osprey fishing off the coast before we caught sight of our first gopher tortoise. It was hanging out just inside it's hole checking us out from the security of it's home. We saw at least a dozen different holes, though only two tortoises seemed to be home.

We parted ways with Nancy, packed up our room, and headed across the street to The Offshore Sailing School who had volunteered to teach me to sail on a three day trip up the coast to St. Petersburg. Nathan and I boarded the 38 foot sailboat and met Pete, our captain/instructor for the journey. He gave us a quick overview of all the lines and sails and talked us through some safety information. We'd read over the sailing textbooks they had sent us, but seeing it in person was quite a bit different. Pretty soon we had untied from the dock and we were sailing off from the sunny Fort Myers coast. I took the wheel for the first few hours as we powered through some channels and under bridges. After we got into some more open water we let the sales out and eased up on the motor. It was pretty impressive to see the power of the wind and watch the boat accelerate as we trimmed the sails. Pete pointed out all the lines and we quickly figured out which line pulled what.

After about twenty miles we anchored off the coast of a small island and started making dinner as we watched the sunset. Apparently some storms passed through overnight, but I slept through everything. We woke up a little after 6- we wanted to get an early start and try to beat the predicted rain showers. We pulled the anchor up and started on our way. Within thirty minutes we were all in our rain gear, and the rain never quite stopped. Pretty soon the showers were joined by thunder and lightening. We decided it was probably a good idea to take a break, so we got off course and headed into shore. We pulled into a slip in Gasparilla and dried out a bit before checking out the marina. There's a small store that sells snacks, bait, and a surprisingly large selection of Gasparilla Marina T-Shirts. There's also a bar & grill and a huge garage that stores around 600 boats on huge shelves. It was also the home of the largest fork lift I've ever seen in my life. The wheels were nearly as tall as me.

We all took the opportunity to shower at the comparatively huge marina bathroom and Nathan and I got started on dinner. Tonight's selection- pasta with a cheesy garlic tomato sauce, teriyaki broccoli, and salad. Now we're cleaning up and hoping for good weather tomorrow. I've got a train out of Tampa on Wednesday afternoon, and if we can't make some serious mileage tomorrow than I've got to come up with a Plan B. I'm starting to investige seaplane pilots in the area who aren't afraid of a little cloudy weather. Anyone know anybody who fits the bill?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Video from Florida

The Un-Road Trip hits Florida by train, bicycle, airboat, horseback, flats boat, and kayak as I traverse Lake Okeechobee and the entire Caloosahatchee River.

Day 25 - 28 from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The End of the Caloosahatchee

Nathan and I boarded our kayaks again on Friday morning in downtown Fort Myers, and we were off before 9AM. The river was looking a little choppier than the previous day, and the wind was blowing harder too. But we had a destination to get to so we picked up our paddles and started working our way down the Caloosahatchee River.


The paddling was definitely harder than the day before, and we definitely weren't moving as fast. That's when "Plan B" started forming. We looked at the map and the fifteen miles ahead and decided that we may want to paddle to the beach at Cape Coral and get a ride on a motorboat from there.


We picked up our paddles once again and got to work, paddling the ten miles to Cape Coral. On our way we spotted more jumping fish and rays as well as a young bald eagle resting on a piling.


We rounded a corner and suddenly the beach was in sight. We pulled up to shore and dragged our kayaks onto shore.


Next we met up with Nancy who works for Lee County Parks and Recreation and who generously offered to give us a ride to the Pink Shell Resort where we'd be spending the night. The sky was looking a little menacing with dark clouds quickly approaching, so we headed out as quickly as we could. Nancy let me take the helm as we headed out of the Caloosahatchee River and into the bay.


The dark clouds seemed to be following us as we headed towards Fort Myers Beach, but aside from some choppy water we pulled up to the dock without a hitch. We were all pretty amazed with our luck avoiding the storm, especially as we looked back and saw the rainstorms so close behind. We checked in at the Pink Shell and went up to our very comfortable room complete with large balcony and an ocean view.


Tomorrow, Nathan and I are hitting the open seas for three days as we sail up the coast to St. Petersburg, so we spent today relaxing at Fort Myers Beach. We walked along the beach and checked out some of the nearby nature preserves. I'm not sure how much internet access I'll have over the next few days, but I'll try to post something from my iPhone.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Paddling to Fort Myers


I left Commissioner Mann's house yesterday morning and walked the 2 miles back to the Franklin Lock where to board my kayak for the day. I stood on the edge of the water for about ten minutes scanning the shoreline for approaching kayaks. It felt like something our of a very different era. I finally saw a few kayaks headed my way from the other side of the river. Betsy and Wendy from the Calusa Blueway were going to be my guides for the next two days, and my good friend Nathan was joining up too. He'd flown in from New York the night before to boat through Florida with me for a few days and help with filming. Also, Andrew from the the News Press was paddling along for a bit too and taking some photos for the newspaper, (which you can see here).


I boarded a tandem kayak with Nathan and we started paddling the Calusa Blueway. It's a 190 mile trail for kayaks and canoes, and in the next two days we'd be exploring around 30 miles of it. I've gone kayaking a few times before, but I'm far from being an expert. Wendy gave Nathan and I a few tips for paddling efficiently, and we noticed a marked difference after we synchronized our strokes and held our paddles properly. Wendy also explained how the Caloosahatchee River was straightened about one hundred years ago. It originally meandered around the area as rivers tend to do, until the Corps of Engineers came along and plowed a straight line through the state in the name of commerce. The original curves are still there, often marked by the little islands that now separate them from the main channel. It was fun to kayak into these smaller channels and check out the mangroves and diverse wildlife.


We stopped for a snack and to stretch our legs at Sweetwater Landing and bid farewell to Andrew before heading down the Caloosahatchee once again. Betsy pointed out a white-spotted island we were quickly approaching. It was covered with roosting wood storks, who are pretty rare now though still quite plentiful in this area. As we got closer, their calls and squawks were surprisingly loud, but they certainly didn't mind us paddling by.


Wendy also pointed out a statue of a manatee, who are pretty common in the area. Betsy spotted one early on in the trip, but it swam away before I could get a good luck. They move downstream this time of year, so we may have a better chance of seeing them tomorrow.


Pretty soon the Fort Myers skyline was visible, and just in time because my arms were starting to get sore. It was an interesting contrast- paddling through the beautiful natural environment and then kayaking right under heavy-traffic bridges and towards a city skyline


We brought our kayaks ashore and Nathan and I headed to the Indigo Hotel, our home for the night, to clean up a bit. Then we were off to the old courthouse to meet up with Commissioner Frank Mann one more time. I wanted to get a few of his stories on camera and see where he works. The Commissioner warmly welcome us into his corner of the courthouse and pointed out some of his awards and photos lining the wall. He's certainly accomplished a lot of amazing things in all his years in office.


Then we were off to explore downtown Fort Myers and do a few press interviews with the local TV news stations.


And now we're getting ready for the 16 mile kayak ahead of us today. Hopefully we'll reach South Fort Myers before the predicted rainstorm hits...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Down the Caloosahatchee


I woke up just after 6AM on Wednesday in Clewiston, Florida. It was still pretty dark, but it was getting lighter by the time I was packed and dressed. I set out on the bike I borrowed from Karson and met him by Lake Okeechobee. The Seminole Tribe had generously provided us with a few horses to ride on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. Benny takes care of the horses for them and served as our guide for the 9 mile trip.


I rode Dakota along with Karson, Lisa, and Benny as we followed the lake edge as we passed miles of melaleuca (an invasive Australian tree they're working on eradicating) and sugar cane. We also spotted a lot of shorebirds and alligators hanging out in the lake.


About two hours later we rode into Unce Joe's Fish Shack- a collection of fishing shacks centered around a small general store. Karson, Lisa, and I swapped the horses for a flats boat- used for fishing for big fish in the shallow water close to shore.


We passed through two locks- one of which had a holding area between two big gates where we waited while the water came down nearly ten feet to get level with the Caloosahatchee. We stopped for lunch in Labelle, a quaint town on the river, which also had a great little coffee shop with WiFi. They said they're the only place with it in the area. Then we were off again moving towards Alva, (the destination for the night), when we started spotting some threatening clouds ahead.


Karson sped up the boat and we raced into the rainstorm. The temperature dropped dramatically as we rode towards the clouds and pretty soon we were being pelted by giant raindrops. I covered my gear with a poncho, and ten minutes later we were in sunshine again. A few minutes later we went through a smaller storm and around 5PM we arrived at the Franklin Locks where I got off the boat and waved goodbye to Karson and Lisa. The clouds were looking menacing again, so I walked as fast as I could to make the 2 mile walk to Frank and Mary Lee Mann's house where I'd be spending the night. I got out my emergency poncho just in case as a golf cart zipped out. The kids on the cart yelled out something like, "Watch out... lightening... thunder." They sped up before I could ask them to clarify. I picked up the pace and finally made it to the Manns' house.


Frank is a longtime Florida politician and he's been living in Alva with Mary Lee for about twelve years. During a run for Governor in 1986, Frank was referred to as the "dark horse" candidate so he decided to take them literally. He got a black horse and started riding it at events. Then he rode it 400 miles to the capitol in Tallahassee. My horse riding experience doesn't really compare much to Frank's, though I'm not sure if he's ever ridden a camel.

And now I'm drinking the best orange juice I've ever had in my life, (squeezed from fruit grown in the Mann's orange grove), and getting ready for a 13 mile paddle to downtown Fort Myers. I thought it was going to be downstream but the Manns say that the area is tidal, so it all depends which way the tide is going. I hope it's going the right way.

And check out some video from my time in Florida at Fort Myers' NBC-2 website.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Video from Washington

The Un-Road Trip arrives in Washington and gets political. I meet up with congressmen, senators, and ride two new modes of transportation in our nation's capital.

Day 19 & 20 from Boaz Frankel on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Airboating Across Okeechobee

I not only added a new mode of transport to the Un-Road Trip list today (that brings the total to 38), but I also added one to my life transport list. This afternoon I rode an airboat for the first time.


The morning started with a bike ride down to Lake Okeechobee where I met up with Captain Jason Williams of Florida Airboat Charters. He backed his boat onto the edge of a canal that leads to the lake, we climbed aboard, put on our headphones (with built in walkie talkie system), and we were ready to go.


The first thing that surprised me was how little water an airboat actually needs to operate. For a good portion of the trip, we were in water about 6 inches deep, and for some short periods we were literally flying over mud and grass. It's really the only way to access the amazing marsh land that surrounds much of Lake Okeechobee, and today we were the only ones exploring the area. Most people come to the lake to fish, so the natural area on the edges has remained relatively untouched. Another great thing about the airboat is that even though it may be hot and muggy outside, the giant fan acts as an air conditioning unit when you're on the move.


Jason pointed out tons of birds- herons, egrets, vultures, ducks, and some others I can't remember. The airboat can be quite loud when the blades are spinning, but the bird didn't even seem to mind most of the time. They were thousands of birds hiding in the tall grasses or paddling on the water, and every once in a while a hundred of them would seem to suddenly take flight simultaneously. Maybe they saw a gator?


I was looking forward to seeing my first Okeechobee alligator, and I didn't have to wait more than a few minutes before Jason pointed one out. It looked like a bumpy log just barely poking out of the water, and once he showed me I started seeing them everywhere. As we got close they would disappear below the surface in a swirl of bubbles. I grabbed for my camcorder whenever we had a good gator sighting, so I don't have many good still photos of them, but you can sort of see a gator head in the uppper-right quarter of this photo:


And as soon as I post video, you'll get a better look at the Okeechobee alligators. After riding with Jason for two hours, we pulled over at Cochran's Pass to meet up with Karson Turner, my guide for the next leg of the trip. I climbed aboard Karson's airboat and we waved goodbye to Jason before we zipped off into the marsh to look for some big alligators.


We entered a larger pool in the middle of the marsh, and suddenly we heard some loud thrashing behind us. Karson turned the boat around in time for us to see a ten foot alligator noisily racing to shore. He threw his tail from side to side as he booked it across the pool. We followed him as he dove into a deeper area near the bank. He buried his head under the reeds, but his giant tail was still sticking out.


We left the gator alone and continued on as Karson pointed out tilapia, gar, and other fish. Thirty minutes later, we pulled up to shore and I got on a bicycle and headed over the Herbert Hoover Dike to Karson's house.



It was a short bike ride, but it was incredible windy- in the wrong direction. I felt like a kite as I struggled to pedal against the gusts. After a day relaxing on an airboat I guess I have to fit the intense physical activity in somewhere. Twenty minutes later, I pulled up to Karson's house and was thrilled to discover some WiFi. I was planning on taking the bike out again, but the clouds started coming in and it's looking a little menacing out there. I think I'll stay inside with a Clif Bar for now. Tomorrow should be another action-packed day filled with horseback riding and some more boating too. The last time I rode a horse for a few hours I was sore for three days. I'm curious to see what happens tomorrow.