I was slow to get up because I didn’t sleep much at all. The sound from the road kept me up and the fact I had a roof rat (a species of rat in Florida that lives in trees and often in roofs, hence the nickname) land on my head during the night.
Eventually, I got up after my morning routine of stretching and reading my bible.
I finished crossing the causeway and was passing a gas station when this guy started coming toward me.
“Hey man, I saw you back there and was curious what your sign said,” he said.
“Oh, I’m backpacking all 50 states.” I said and turned to show him.
“That’s awesome. Hey are you Mennonite?” he asked because of my hat and beard.
I laughed “No, but I am a Christian though. My name is Seth,” I said offering my hand.
He shook it “Isaiah. So where are you from?”
“Oh yeah? I’m from P.A. So where are you headed?” he asked.
“I’m working my way over to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. A friend told me that they have that dolphin with the prosthetic tail there and I want to check it out,” I said.
“I can give you a ride over there,” he said.
“Yeah man. Hop in,” he said.
As we were driving, I learned that Isaiah had lived in Oregon for like 15 years and that I needed to check it out. He also told me that he went to school for exercise science at Oregon and then switched to applied behavioral science when he moved back to Pennsylvania.
“For awhile I was working for the Blue Jays and got to go to their games all the time. It was great, but I needed to make more money to be financially sound. So then I tried going into a nursing program, but it wasn’t for me. And my friend had this business and well, here I am,” he said and laughed.
Isaiah works doing concrete radar and marking out gas lines and tension cables.
“Whoa, that’s pretty cool. Sounds like you’re the guy who saved us when we were working around the gas lines,” I said referring to my old job working construction where we had to drill into the ground to put these beams in for a wall and there were gas lines marked out by someone doing exactly what Isaiah did. So good thing they were accurate or it could have been bad.
We talked about everything from politics to guns.
When we arrived Isaiah asked me “Don’t you have sunglasses man?”
“I did, but I lost them in a rainstorm,” and then told him the story of how I did.
“Here take mine,” he said handing me his sunglasses.
“Are you sure man?”
“Yeah, I’ve got another pair back home. Plus you’ll burn your eyes out down here if you don’t have’em. They’re polarized,” he said referring to the sunglasses.
“Thanks man, hey do I look less Mennonite now?” I asked putting on the glasses.
He laughed and we said our goodbyes.
I then headed to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the Dolphin.
I headed up the stairs to see the main attraction…Winter. The Dolphin with the prosthetic tail. The one the movie was made about called Dolphin Tale.
She was with her trainer in the back area that they have for the Dolphins to choose how visible they want to be. They can either be up front where everyone can see them or in the back to relax. I really liked this feature, so the animals don’t get overstressed.
I looked around some more after watching Winter and Hope for a good while. The river otters were adorable and when I went to get a picture an intern came up to me and said:
“Hi, feel free to take pictures. I just have to ask that you keep your phone behind the railing so you don’t drop your phone and the otters get another toy to play with.”
“Sure no problem,” I said.
Then another intern came up to me and asked me about my trip. I told them about it and what all I was doing. I then introduced myself and found out their names were Amy and Kayla and they had been interning at the aquarium for about two months. Amy told me she had driven across a couple states to intern there by herself and all her friends were telling her she was crazy. I told her it’s never crazy to go for your dreams.
We talked awhile longer and then they had to get back to work, so we said our goodbyes.
I made my way over to the touch pool where I got high-fived by a stingray, which was awesome!
I went down to the underwater viewing area where I ran into Brian, another employee of the aquarium.
“Nice backpack! I have the same one. So where you coming from?” he asked.
“The Keys. Been on the road about two months now,” I said.
“That’s awesome! I’m from the keys. Did you like it down there?”
“Yeah, it was a lot of fun.”
Me and Brian talked about my trip so far for a little while longer and then he had to get back to work.
I then explored the underwater viewing area. It was a really cool sunken pirate ship layout. I watched Hope the dolphin swim around and some sea turtles. Then I got to see the Nurse Sharks which were incredible.
Then Brian called to me “Hey Seth!”
I went over to him.
“We interview interesting people for our website that visit the aquarium. Would you like to do an interview?”
“Yeah, definitely!” I said.
Brian introduced me to Bill who did the interview. Bill couldn’t believe the weight I was carrying and tried to lift it to hand to me so it could be in the camera shot. I laughed and went and put it on to carry to the interview chair.
Bill interviewed me all about my trip and how I came to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. I told him a fan told me about it and how they had the Dolphin with the Prosthetic tail. I remember seeing the preview for the movie and knew I had to check it out.
After the interview Bill told me about how he gets to talk to amazing people and how one of his favorite moments was when this guy came running at him and at first he was worried, but then realized he was just so excited. The guy showed Bill that he had a prosthetic leg and couldn’t wait to see Winter.
How can you not be inspired by humans working with animals in a positive way? It’s something truly beautiful.
I then headed out and worked my way along side the Clearwater bay watching the sun descend.
I stopped for some ice cream in Dunedin and then found another fence and some bushes to sleep in.
Forever your friend,