The Pepper Logs

Anyone remember that classic “Andy Griffith Show” where Howard, the practical, down-to-earth county clerk, succumbs to a travel documentary and decides to leave Mayberry for life on a Caribbean island? Watching that episode may have had something to do with my subsequent yearning to explore the world beyond the cornfields.

I wondered if Monica Fiedler went through her own “Howard Sprague” moment when she decided to give up her desk job at the HCM Foundation and sail off on a 39-foot boat with her friend Trent Armstrong?

When the idea first arose, the only one with more doubts than her parents (“They did not want me to go”) was Monica herself, who recently landed back in Fredericksburg after a year at sea.

“When Trent mentioned it, it took me two weeks before I said, ‘OK, why not,’” she said. “It is something people dream about doing when they retire, but you never think you can do it at this age. There are a lot of nice boats sitting in marinas.”

Both were at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives, so they started putting pieces together to see how it might work. They decided to go for it, although it was “really hard” to pull the plug. Monica was working two jobs, and both had houses full of “stuff.” It took them an entire year to downsize, getting rid of everything except what they could carry in a used Suburban.

“If it didn’t fit in a Suburban, we were not taking it,” Monica said.

Even when they moved aboard in June of last year and began cruising the Florida coastline, the trip did not seem “real.”

“We still had all the comforts of home — good grocery stores, easy-to-find washers and dryers, hot showers, fresh water. Everyone was still speaking English and looked like us.”

But when they started the crossing to The Bahamas, the adventure suddenly became very real. The pair encountered a strong current, and for several hours one night they made no headway and were being pushed toward Cuba. It was at this point, wearing a lifejacket, tethered to the cockpit, with waves crashing all around, that Monica experienced her greatest doubt.

“It was terrifying,” she recalled. “We saw a cruise ship, and I so wanted on that ship.”

But by the time they landed at Bimini and were invited to a pig roast by natives, they knew they weren’t in Kansas anymore. For the next year they skipped around the islands, learning the cultures, making friends, and avoiding the cruise ships she once longed to board.

“We learned to stay away from places when cruise ships were in port,” she said. “Because we were treated differently. It was really exciting when we would pull in somewhere and people knew right away that we weren’t tourists.”

Her adventures were too lengthy to cover in this column. You can look back on her trip on her insightful blog I was more interested in her inner journey.

She is still processing that, and anyone who has lived overseas can empathize with how difficult it is to share your impressions with anyone who has not shared your experience.


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