I saw it today. I finally saw it. My first alligator. As I always do, I looked down a river I rode past to see if there was anything worth taking a picture of. Down this particular river, I saw a turtle sunbathing. It seemed worthy of a photograph but as per usual once I was ready to snap a shot, the photographic opportunity was lost and the turtle submerged itself into the murky waters. However what lay behind him was even more photogenic. An alligator. The first alligator I’ve ever seen was hanging out in the midday sun almost begging to be filmed. I just stood there in awe of this prehistoric animal thriving in its environment, disregarding the rest of civilization, owing the waters, muscling out evolutionary drawbacks, being an all-around badass species. And there it was, ‘chillin’ as the young folks might say. It wasn’t necessarily the best shot, it was kind of like when you see a side boob as a kid. There was no nipple, so it wasn’t wholly satisfying, but it was enough to brag to your friends about. For the rest of my ride, I would peer out to my left and right, hoping I might cross paths with another. It was a futile effort. But it makes sense that gators live down here. The environment appears prehistoric. These undisturbed marshes serve as a perfect harbor for these archaic giants.
Towards the end of the day I began to feel fatigue and lack of nutrition set in. Then, as if sent from the heavens, I rode upon the 19/98 grill. Do you ever get that feeling where you have no choice but to stop somewhere? Like you just get pummeled with this feeling; this force. It’s difficult to describe, but I felt an need to enter the grounds. It was imperative I entered this aura. Something there felt right. Once I entered the establishment, I could tell I was in the right place. And they served alligator. I gobbled me down some. In the midst of eating I shared my story with a few different people, young and old. I love talking to kids about the trip and reminding them to do whatever they want to do. I feel like it resonates more with them than older crowds. Children are an unlimited vessel of potential. We all are, it just seems like the older we get, the easier it is to forget that.
Anyway, as the evening wore down I started talking with Charlie, who was working the register. He explained to me how his father, his step-mother, brother, and he built the restaurant from the ground up a few years ago. I stuck around for more engaging conversation and by the time I realized what time it was they were closed. Thankfully, Charlie offered me a place to stay on their land and hang out. Hang out we did. The four of us sat around the fire, shared stories of positivity, laughter, the bounties of mother earth, and some moonshine. I had never tried moonshine before and it does exactly what you think it does. I’m pretty sure what we drank could double as a varnish remover. One subject we discussed heavily was trail magic. It’s a term Yaris came up with and it basically boils down to the idea that if you’re a good person, good things will happen to you. Charlie commented on my phone and how outdated it was. After I told him the story about how I found an iPhone on a bridge, he gave me his old one. Trail Magic. Vito also gave me a knife that he made himself. It’s entirely made of plastic and sharp as all hell. Charlie and Vito have so much to offer the world and I can feel them bursting with energy and excitement. Vito has his own clothing line and a huge RV which he planned to travel the U.S. promoting it. However, last week a huge tree came crashing down on the tail end of the RV. I think most people in that scenario would have trashed the idea completely, or at least put it off for a significant amount of time. Not Vito. He’s already working to remove the tree and transform the rear of the bus into a patio with a mini bar. It’s that kind of mentality I admire. Charlie is a tremendous poker player as well, which is a subject I don’t have much knowledge on. Still, I picture Charlie in Vegas raking it in. He is a smart, strategic player who knows what he wants. He just has to go get it.
A couple hours ago I was listening to some guys spout off insensitive remarks towards gay people. I was demotivated. I planned to stop off in a Wal-Mart, eat some crappy premade sandwich, and sleep out in the woods. Instead, the force drove me to the 19/98 Grill and I will be forever thankful that it did. The Pastore family is one of a kind.
I could spend ages writing about the ideas I gleaned from last night, but I’ll keep it short and simple. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and on this trip. But I’ve learned from them. Well I think I’ve learned from them. I can safely say that I’d rather life a life of mistakes than a life of doing nothing at all. At least mistakes are something I can refer to. It’s so difficult to articulate when there are so many thoughts and memories running through my head. Places like the 19/98 Grill remind me how beautiful life is. How incredibly generous people are. How lucky I am. And how much love this world has to give. All you have to do is stop, take it in, and give away some of your own.
Total Ascent: 81 ft.