I don’t feel my age, I certainly don’t act my age, and I’m delighted when people tell me I don’t look my age. But the 35,000 air miles I’ve logged since the beginning of the year have taken an unexpected toll that a younger me might have been able to simply shrug off. It’s in these circumstances that a Medical Doctor overrides an Ocean Doctor, and my orthopedic surgeon was clear with me that if I was going to be able to shed my wool suit for a wetsuit for our next Cuba expedition in June 2009, I would need to listen, obey, and lie still.
I hadn’t seen it snowing sideways with such intensity since I rode out the "Storm of the Century" in Cape May, New Jersey. Of course, I was looking out the window of a Boeing 737 in motion, very definitely a moving frame of reference, so perhaps the "sideways" part was somewhat exaggerated, but the intensity part wasn’t. On our final approach, I was mesmerized by the sight of a buried St. Louis, Missouri slowly coming into view through a milky night sky, blanketed by the blizzard that was on top of it. The Interstate was a broad white ribbon snaking through the tranquil-looking city, with just a handful of headlights and tailights of vehicles making what must have been an incredibly perilous journey. I would soon be among them.
Woven deeply into every speech I have ever given about exploring the oceans is a reverant tribute to Lewis and Clark and their epic expedition to the new American west. Dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the vast new territory recently acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark also searched, in vain, for the fabled northwest passage, a water route connecting Atlantic and Pacific through North America, sought by explorers for centuries as a shorter trade route. I always carry the audiobook version of their original journals on my iPod, and their own words describing their fascinating encounters with wildlife, native Americans, and emotional reflections on the profound natural beauty that unfolded before them continue to ignite my imagination and desire to explore as if I were still 12 years old.
I hadn’t been to Kansas in 25 years, since my then-girlfriend’s ’72 Dodge Dart broke down at 2 AM square in the middle of our transcontinental journey to San Diego. The dash went dark, the engine quit, and the car silently rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the Interstate. I opened the hood and was greeted by flames, which I somehow managed to blow out, probably with the help of the ever-present midwest winds which were howling that night. They had to wake up a State Trooper to rescue us. Twenty five years later, the winds still howl as I remember them.
Leg 2 was going far too smoothly. My flight to Tampa was early. The rental car bus arrived immediately. I didn’t get lost. The sun was shining. Maybe you’re like me, but when things start going this well, I get nervous. Turns out my gut feelings were right. Things were about to get…silly.
Like the expedition’s first leg to California, Leg 2 was also to familiar territory, to a state I had once called home: Florida. My many years in Florida, teaching at Seacamp in the Florida Keys, as president of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples, and co-chair of the Everglades Coalition, means that I’ll be returning here twice more to honor the flood of speaking requests I was honored to receive.