So 2015 was my introduction to real life on the road. I've fished tournaments and worked tournaments over the years, but I've never taken on a schedule like I did in 2015. Working nearly every Open, College and Elite event, I was looking down the barrel of 225 days on the road at the start of 2015. A million miles and one quarter-life crisis later, I'm to the end of the road. The final event left, Lake Seminole, was a short three hour jog south to the finish line.
I've been wrong before, believe it or not, but I'm not sure when I was as incorrect as I was in thinking this was going to be a silky smooth wrap-up to a long and strenuous season.
It was like one of those Freaky Friday movies. James Overstreet, Craig Lamb and I were all giddy on the way to Big Jim's Oyster Bar on Wednesday night. Laughing and talking about all the fun we'd have during the offseason. I'm painting the picture of three little school girls at a slumber party, and though it would be hard for the casual observer to pick up on that vibe what with our overgrown facial hair and robust man scent, that's what we were at heart, three little school girls.
That is until Overstreet ordered oysters and the waitress at Big Jim's said, "Sorry, we're out."
That's when the Freaky Friday music would have started playing and the dramatic irony would have started piling up. As a viewer, you'd start screaming at the TV every time you knew impending danger was soon to find the main character and his crew.
This wasn't a movie though, and no one was there to warn us.
To back track a little, Lamb's flight into town had been canceled, and he was rerouted to Pensacola, a good three-hour drive from our final destination for the week. That threw off Overstreet's plans as well seeing as how Lamb was supposed to pick him up from the airport and the two would carpool into Bainbridge, Ga., together. Eventually the other two members of the tremendous trio made it to town, and we shook it all off and headed to Big Jim's thinking the worst of the week was already behind us. We were bad wrong.
Day 1 dealt the three of us multiple blows, the worst came when stumpy lake Seminole turned Overstreet's camera boat into a tree stand. Read more about that here.
Day 2 greeted me two hours later than it should have. I rolled over at 8:30 a.m. to find way more daylight coming through the window pane than should have been. Somehow I had overslept for the first time ever. Not the way you want to start the day. After answering 10 missed calls and texts from the guys as to my whereabouts, I was back on the water struggling to make up for lost time.
Day 3 came and went without too much catastrophe. The fishing was a grind so the photography was too. For the week, Overstreet and I captured about 10 fish catches in around 40 combined hours of looking through a lens. But the tournament came down to the wire, and we got to watch two good friends duke it out for a Bassmaster Classic berth, Brandon McMillan landing the final blow as Randall Tharp came up one spot short.
So the week was finally over, time to upload some photos and hit the road for the short drive home. I'd be sleeping in my bed tonight. Wrong.
After editing my gallery in the Bass Pro Shops’ parking lot, I put my truck in gear and every bell and whistle she had started blaring all at once. Traction Control OFF, Stabilitrak OFF, Engine Power Reduced, Service Traction Control, Service Stabilitrak – I could feel my face tanning from the amount of lights flashing on the dash.
So I consulted with Overstreet who has run into nearly every road mishap in his 100 years of doing this. In true form, he had had this same thing happen before.
"I drove mine all the way from Alabama back to Arkansas 55 miles per hour like that one time. It ain't gonna put you down, but it's gonna suck."
So with those words of wisdom and the only other option being spend a week in Florida until I could get it fixed, I set out on a 240 mile journey from Tallahassee, Fla., to Reeltown, Ala. The truck would rev up to around 5,500 RPM in first gear then slam somewhere into around fourth all the while traveling at a blistering speed of 20 miles per hour. Anytime I came to a red light, it'd take a quarter mile to get her back up to speed and in that time I would usually run into another red light or two. Hills were completely out of the question, with the pedal nailed to the floor the truck would all but shudder to a stop. Luckily it was late and there was little traffic so I kept the flashers on and kept inching toward home.
With transmission failure all but inevitable, I decided now would be a good time to call my buddy Luke Stoner. Luke works for Dynamic Sponsorships, and I knew he was on a similar route towing one of their trailers back to Oklahoma. Luke was a few miles ahead of me and pulled off at a gas station until I could catch up. We got hooked up and headed off again, Luke now bringing up the rear so I at least had someone to witness the impending mechanical failure.
No more than 5 miles into our trek, I cross a set of railroad tracks and look up to see sparks fly in my rear view mirror as Luke came over the tracks. His trailer axle had given way and now we were on the side of the road in nowhere Florida attempting to fix an unfixable mess, me 200 miles from home, him 800.
Two tire removals and a few scuffed knuckles later, I had to stop and laugh. The trip that was supposed to be the easiest of the year, a smash and grab operation – get in, get out and get it over with – had become a road trip from hell.
Despite an hour and a half effort, we finally threw in the towel knowing we didn't have the tools or the street smarts for the task and called road side assistance. With help scheduled to arrive the next morning, Luke locked up the trailer and doubled back to the nearest town. I set off again toward home, limping on luck and a prayer.
Determined to make it home, I trudged on for another hour or so covering a mere 30 miles. Exhausted with no realistic hope of making it home before sunup, I reluctantly decided to stay the night in Troy, Ala. It was a Saturday night but fortunately an away game, so I should have had no problem getting a hotel room. Five no vacancy signs later I finally pulled into a Motel 6 and threw in about the 15th towel of the trip. I crawled into the back seat of my pickup, shoved all my provisions aside and lay my head down on an old hoodie for a pillow around 3 a.m.
So there I am curled up in the back seat of my truck, parked under a blaring Motel 6 sign wishing old Bodett would turn it off just this once. I slept soundly for about five hours, and by soundly I mean I slept to the abundant sounds of an overcrowded college town. Any 30 minute interval not interrupted by a hooting and hollering drunk, of which there were few, was still interrupted by at least one cramp in my left rear quarter panel that would nearly send my foot through the back seat window. I'd stub my toe on the glass each time and thank God I hadn't led with my heel. It's the little things, you know.
And that's not even the exclamation point. That's just another comma in a 'woe is me' story for the ages. There were a half dozen other mishaps unsuitable for such a diverse audience. The kind that have my closest of friends doubled over in laughter at my misfortune. Good buddies.
As the sun came up I set sail again, finally rolling down my driveway at 10 a.m., a full 12 hours later than expected.
But at the end of the day, I'm still breathing. I'm blessed to get to do what I do, and the season is finally over, though the financial ramifications are still trickling in. I lived to fight another day, and I’m looking forward to the 2016 season.
The Bassmaster Classic is only a few months away, but what marks the start of the season for most will be my fifth road trip of the year. Life on the road never really stops.
The good news, I'm about two weeks away from having my first brand new Toyota Tundra tricked out for whatever the road has to offer. I have a healthy family, great friends and I'm accumulating stories every day. So bring it all on, road. I'll be ready.