Spending Christmas With My Family
ECT Day 303-305
Day 303: zero day
This morning I wound up waking up around 7am. I assumed that I’d want to sleep in because I was up late last night. But when I heard my family starting to get up I did the same.
I headed into the kitchen and made a Keurig coffee. Then I hung out with my family talking for a while. Tonight my family and I are going to go to a buccaneers game here in Tampa. This Airbnb is right next to the stadium. My cousin works for the team so it will be cool to watch him in his element. Plus I’m excited to tailgate and go to a game! I don’t think I’ve been to an NFL football game since I was in college. They can be a really fun time. I downloaded my ticket in advance while we all sat around.
Then I got ready for the day and just hung around. Today I’m not planning to do much. At some point I’m gonna go out to a grocery store with my dad. I want to make stuffed manicotti tonight in the Airbnb kitchen. I’ve been craving stuffed manicotti for 10 months and haven’t been able to find it anywhere. Then later on this afternoon we’re going to go to the buccaneers stadium. I think I even get to go down onto the field which will be cool.
Around 11:30am I was doing some work on the website for The Trek. Recently I’ve been curious about how many cumulative blog views I have for the year. I made a spread sheet and tallied the views for the last 148 blogs. It’s hard to believe but I’ve received over 2 million and 70,000 reads on the blog this year. That blows my mind honestly. It’s hard to wrap my head around. I’ve so enjoyed sharing my story with everyone this year. It’s been a highlight of mine. I can’t express how grateful I’ve been for all of your love and support.
After I did that I wound up going to the grocery store with my aunt Connie. I wanted to get all of the ingredients to make stuffed manicotti tomorrow night. I’m so excited to make a home cooked meal. I haven’t cooked in 10 months. I also got some veggies to roast which I’m excited for. Surprisingly even shopping on Christmas Eve it wasn’t too crazy out. We got in and out quickly. I even got Clamato juice so I can make bloody Mary’s later tonight. I’m a huge Bloody Mary fan, but just haven’t been drinking a lot this year.
Back at the Airbnb we all hung out for a while. We had a couple hours to kill before we headed over to the buccaneers stadium. It’s gonna be so fun having some drinks, tailgating, and walking around the stadium. I hung around with everybody until it was time to go to the game.
The stadium was only a mile or so from the Airbnb which was ideal. We drove over and parked. Then were actually able to go down onto the field before the game. The whole experience was really fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything like that. Before the game started we went upstairs to the actual seats. I also got a bowl of beef ends mac n cheese which sounded amazing. That was probably the best stadium food that I’d ever had.
Surprisingly the game went by fast and was a blast to watch. The buccaneers wound up destroying the jets. It was a fun game to be there for. When it got dark out the stadium was lit up which was really cool. The buccaneers stadium has a big pirate ship with cannons on it. Every time the bucs scored the cannons would go off a bunch of times. It was super loud but a good time.
When the game was in the final quarter we headed down to the parking area. There was still a bit of time left on the clock. But leaving early meant it was a little easier to get out of the stadium. We were gonna wait around in the parking lot for my cousin to finish up at work. The traffic once we finally left was rough. Even though the house was only a mile away it took closer to 20 minutes.
Once we got back to the house we just chilled out for the rest of the night. My uncle put some burgers on the grill for a late dinner. Everyone watched TV in the living room until after 10pm. I called it a night a little early and went to lay down.
Even though I haven’t been hiking the last couple days I’m still pretty tired. My sleep schedule has been rough. I’ve stayed up late most nights and haven’t really caught up much on sleep. After another couple days though I think I’ll be rejuvenated. Tonight I wound up falling asleep almost as soon as I laid down.
Day 304: zero day
This morning I slept in until around 8am. I slept like a rock last night and dreamed like crazy. Today is Christmas! A couple weeks ago I was convinced that I’d be spending Christmas on trail somewhere. I didn’t think I’d be celebrating much or seeing family. Now here I am, waking up on Christmas morning, in a house with a bunch of family!
I can’t even express how grateful I am for this surprise. Being on trail or alone for Christmas would have been ok. I had a good time hiking this year on thanksgiving. But to be able to spend Christmas with some of my family has been such a delight. In the last 10 months prior I had only seen my dad once. That’s the only family I’ve seen all year practically.
Once I got up I headed into the kitchen to make a coffee. We all chilled out for a bit until everyone was awake. Then we opened up stockings. My aunt even made a stocking for me which was so sweet. She got me such cute and thoughtful little goodies. It made me so happy just to be with everyone.
My dad always does gag gifts for Christmas so I got to watch that unfold. Each year he gives my cousins, aunt, and uncle each a funny gift. They are usually hilarious, possibly dirty or raunchy, and damn creative. This has been going on for 10+ years so he knows what he’s doing at this point. One of the gifts was so wild he actually mailed it to the Airbnb. He didn’t want to risk the embarrassment and awkwardness of the item being found by TSA.
After that my aunt made pancakes and bacon for everybody. I had chocolate chip pancakes with fresh strawberries. They were delicious. Then we all lounged around the house together. It’s been really nice doing nothing for the last day or so. Especially with family.
In the afternoon I did a bunch of prep work for dinner later. I’m making stuffed manicotti, roasted Brussel sprouts, and broccoli. I boiled the manicotti noodles and then prepped the filling mixture. It’s just a combination of ricotta, cheeses, egg, and spinach. At least that’s how I made it. Then I filled the manicotti shells and got it all ready to go. Then I can just pop it in the oven later. I also chopped all the veggies and got them seasoned. It was so fun cooking! I legitimately haven’t cooked in a kitchen in 10 months. The whole process was so cathartic. I love cooking and prepping food. I even enjoy the cleaning as you go.
The rest of the day after that I just relaxed with everybody. I got some writing done but not much. I’ve been really good about my writing recently. So I just had to spend a little bit of time on it. Later on I took a shower which felt great. I even shaved my legs which was lovely.
Sometime after 4pm I started finishing up dinner. I just had to pop the veggies in the oven for a while. Some of the brussel sprouts I roasted and the other batch I sautéed. Then I put the manicotti in the oven after that. Everything turned out fantastic. I was just hoping that it tasted as good as it looked.
The family all sat down together to eat. The food was absolutely delicious! Thank god. I haven’t cooked basically anything in the last year. I’m just glad that I still had it in me.
The manicotti was creamy and rich. But I think my favorite thing was the roasted brussel sprouts. I’ve really missed vegetables this year.
After we ate everybody cleaned up. Then we hung out in the living room and watched TV. I had a Bloody Mary and we all talked. In the evening my cousins girlfriend arrived at the house. She just flew in from Massachusetts. They have been dating for ages and she is such a great girl.
The remainder of the night was spent all together. We watched football for a while. Then my uncle and I watched a movie instead. Everybody else loves watching football but I’m not really that entertained by it. While I watched TV I finally updated my iPhone. The update was about 2 years behind on mine. That meant I could no longer download my banking app and other apps. It was a faster process than I imagined. After that I did some writing and then called it a night.
Day 305: zero day
Today is my last full day hanging out with family in Tampa. Waking up I felt kind of sad knowing that this would be the last morning sleeping in as long as I wanted to. I’ve been having an absolutely amazing time with my family. I wish I didn’t have to end.
I got up and made myself a cup of coffee. I also heated up a couple of pancakes from yesterday. Then I sat with my aunt in the kitchen. Eventually everybody got up and was hanging out around the house. I did some random stuff on my phone trying to be “productive”. It was a really nice day out, the weather was fantastic. Yesterday was a bit rainy, and I literally never left the house once. I can’t remember the last time I stayed indoors for 24 hours straight.
In the afternoon, my family and I decided to head out and do something. We’ve mostly just been hanging around the rental house which has been awesome. But it’ll be nice to go out and see Tampa a little bit. My one cousin was at work, but he said he’d meet up with us later. We headed to the downtown area in Tampa. There are a bunch of little stores and restaurants. We got lunch at this very famous Colombian restaurant.
The restaurant choice was a pretty on the fly decision. There really wasn’t anything else open nearby. But that really worked in my favor because that has to be some of my favorite food of all time. I wound up getting a big frozen mango drink; and I split some empanadas with my dad as an appetizer. Then for my meal I got rice, beans, sweet plantains, and some garlic citrus pork. Everything was delicious and exactly what I wanted.
After we ate, we all walked around for a while. It was just one of those places that you could’ve spent the day moseying around nonstop. My cousin‘s girlfriend, Billie, and I got ice cream after our meal. Even though I completely stuffed myself somehow I still had room for more. We went to a chocolate store which served soft serve ice cream. I got this most decadent butterscotch toffee covered vanilla soft serve. It was absolutely amazing.
We began making our way back toward where we had parked. Then my dad and I split off from the rest of my family. We took two separate cars and I had to go to Walmart to do a resupply. Tomorrow I’m getting back on trail so I needed a couple days worth of food. While we drove I filled out a couple of things on my phone. Over the last 10 months I’ve made zero decisions about my future. I have absolutely no plans for what I’m doing after I complete the ECT. But I’ve been thinking about some things and trying to be a little productive recently. I know everything will work out.
After going to Walmart we headed back to the house. The nice thing is the Walmart is literally just a mile away, so that’s convenient. While I was at Walmart, I also found my all time favorite coconut water. I don’t really like any coconut water that you can buy. But when I was in Florida in 2021 doing some work for stay I tried an Iberia brand coconut water, and I fell in love. I saw them at Walmart so I bought two because they are just the most sweet and refreshing coconut water I’ve ever had.
When I got back to the rental house I tried to call my mom, but she didn’t answer. We never got in touch yesterday on Christmas because I got so caught up with everything here in Tampa. After trying to call her I sat outside for a while. This rental house has an outdoor couch with a TV in a little covered area. It’s really nice out there and the weather was perfect. I wound up sitting out there with my cousin Riley, his girlfriend Billie, and my aunt Connie. I’ve so enjoyed all of this time together. I’ve had so many laughs and it’s just been lovely the last couple of days.
Eventually my mom called me back and we talked on the phone for a while. Then later on I went inside and laid around on the couch. I got a little bit of writing done. Then the family and I played games for most of the rest of the night. We played a couple rounds of some sort of trivia game. Some of the questions were really hard and some of the questions were really easy. That was a pretty fun game. But it really made me realize how little I’ve used my brain this year. Some stuff I remember super easily. And there were so many easy things that I should have known but I couldn’t remember.
After we played that game we wanted to play cards against humanity for a while. That’s always such a fan favorite. Everyone had such a blast playing. My family is incredibly raunchy and inappropriate so the game got really juicy. After playing that game for a while I eventually decided to call it a night. I have to be up pretty early tomorrow to start heading back to trail.
My dad‘s flight is in the afternoon and it’s going to take a couple hours to drive to Okeechobee, and then a couple hours for him to go to the airport. I haven’t been sleeping very great while I’ve been here. I’ve stayed up really late almost every night. So I don’t feel particularly rested. That’s the kind of classic nonsense that I do on zero days. But I’m hoping to get some good sleep tonight.
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You are having too much fun.
Way to go.
This is so strange to me. I started following your blog when you passed through my area of PA and have read every entry since. And when I can get the chance I want to go back and read the parts I missed. You have a fascinating story and people keep coming back to find out what’s next. So >2 million views isn’t surprising to me at all.
Anyways, the strange part…when you posted about coming to Tampa for Christmas I was sitting in an AirBnB in Tampa waiting to leave for a cruise on the Saturday before Christmas. I thought to myself how strange it was that our paths were sort of crossing again and that you could be once again just a few miles from me. And now here I am back in port waiting to get off the ship and to my right out the window is the same view/perspective/skyline as one of your photos in this post. I know you’re back on trail now (real time), but the coincidence is just too strange.
So yeah…”the universe” works in mysterious ways 🙂
I used to listen to radio much of the time. On top of high passes you could get AM halfway across the country…the UFO show was one staple. On FM, A Prairie Home Companion was way funnier than back home. Cycling across Canada (finished at lands end North of Halifax ’91) but in mid-Canada, could only get radical right radio (Rush etc.); weird for a country with universal health care! Also country songs about potatoes from Prince Edward island .. which I saw them harvesting near the end. Best of all is to find an open mic song night or any live show really. In tourism towns even the Melodrama (live theater) is pretty hilarious. I was walking thru Denver’s Soiled Dove district on a break from RMT 04 (too many cutoffs to be CDT) a doorguy threw me a pass to see Alice Peacock & AYCE buffet! Also saw Summer Hartbauer at 16 yo who years later lost American Idol but shouldn’t have! Don’t miss those experiences hikers!
Glad you got some family time! I can’t imagine being away from everyone as long as you have, so I know that was important.
I too have been following since the beginning and love reading about your adventures. This entry was so different from your others because you aren’t hiking! But it was still interesting. I also believe you are using your brain more than you might think. After all, you have walked the entire East coast, much of it solo! I sure can’t do that.
I continue to enjoy following your journey, up into Canada, and now down in the ECT…keep up your great storytelling! I am curious the fanny pack that was on your pack when you had the scary episode in the swamp. You liked how it provided a level of dry protection when you were struggling to get put. I’m wondering what the fanny pack’s name is please. Happy New Year!
See Peg Leg’s Nov 16 post where she debuts her palante bag. Not a superfan here who might have read every post since April.
Happy last day of 23 Peg Leg! Hope you and Trucker have a fantastic nye and that the trail is dry and gator free! So much gratitude for allowing us to be armchair passengers on this epic journey!
Getting concerned. No posts from Peg Leg since the 29th. Hope everything is OK, especially cuz she only had 300 miles to go.
I think that pink bird was a spoonbill. Seen a bunch at Ding Darling wildlife refuge while visiting Sanibel.