1,100 Miles the Hard Way

I was recently introduced to the Japanese ritual of Misogi, a Shinto ceremony where people take pilgrimage as a purification ritual, to natural, sacred locales like the waterfalls of Mount Ontake and oceans. This is believed to cleanse impurities and to re-establish harmonious relationships with both themselves and the natural world around them, ultimately balancing one’s life internally and externally.

 Learning about this religious ceremony made me realize the idea of pilgrimage-for-purification is quite prevalent in western culture, or example, through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, but how rare it is for people to personalize their “pilgrimage” to one’s own need and desire for growth and balance.

 Funny enough, I was introduced to the concept as I prepared to join my all time best friend, Justin Bright, on his long distance pilgrimage from the Alabama border to the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States located in Key West.

 Rather than walking to his cleanse in the Atlantic Ocean, Justin’s pushing a skateboard.

 This feat is closely entwined to both his business and personal life, as he has been skating since the pubescent days, even landing sponsorships with major longboarding companies like Original Skateboards and Blood Orange/Caliber wheels and trucks. Justin’s also part of a team running an up and coming skate company, Sapient skateboards, based out of Chicago.

 Partnering with Conservation Florida, he’s skating the 2 month long, 1,100 mile journey to help raise money (already at $2,500 and counting) to preserve the unique ecosystems he’ll be experiencing first hand. Conservation Florida is working to create the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a continuous stretch of land allowing wildlife to move freely through the state, rather than crossing over major roadways fragmenting the natural areas of our state.

 Although Florida has a populous distance skating community, and many people hike the Florida trail, which links a similar route, Justin may be the first to complete the Alabama to Key West trek on skateboard. Justin will be completing this trek mostly in solo fashion, but some fellow tree trunk legged individuals will be joining him along the way.

 The distance skating community, although quite [1] niche, is filled with, for lack of better terms, absolute badasses. The current world record for longest distance continuously skated is over 7,500 miles. Community legends tell stories of people skating across countries and continents and[2]  I’ve even heard of one man who skated 14,000 miles in 2.5 years covering 33 countries and 4 continents. [3] 

 I initially wanted to try to do the entire distance with him, but with a new job and other responsibilities, it was impossible. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to join him, alongside another childhood best friend Quinn Dudley, through one of my favorite stretches of Florida, a 50 mile section winding through the Ocala National Forest linking forest roads, springs and longleaf pine forests. Rather than pushing a skate, I opted for my trusty steel single speed bike, as I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with him.  I pulled up on Justin and Quinn in the middle of the night, cowboy camping in a tall grassed scrub lined with 100 foot tall pines inhabited by endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. After a long night around the fire, we were greeted by a misty morning and immediately started our journey.

So there I was pedaling a bike loaded down with forty pounds of camera gear, camping equipment and multiple bags of wine through untouched wilderness, two of my closest friends a few yards behind me as we made our way up what seemed to be the 100th hill climb of the day (yes Florida has hills, they just don’t feel like much when you’re going 60 mph in a car) and I was grinning ear to ear.

Loaded down with an ultralight kit, Justin’s pack’s base weight (total weight of gear not including food or water) is only 12 pounds. He’s pushing custom setups by local longboard maker UNDERGROUND LONGBOARDS fine tuned to resist the elements. Modifications such as thru holes in the deck to prevent water pooling when skating in rain and “dropped” truck setups, lowering the board to the ground reducing joint impact while pushing. These changes to the traditional longboard will allow Justin to push through Florida’s inclement weather.

It may sound like a pleasant push through winding forests and scrubs, but a majority of the ride is incredibly dangerous. Traffic is the most prevalent danger on Justin’s route, looming over his shoulder at all times. The occasional coveted bike path and forest road, like the 100 mile bike path linking through Orlando or our 50 mile section of forest roads through Ocala National Forest, graces his legs, but most of the time he’ll be swerving road kill on the side of busy roads hoping his journey ends in a different fashion. Although the premise of this trip is to skate the whole thing, due to unforeseen circumstances like lack of highway shoulder, Justin’s had to hike and hitchhike through unskateable terrain.

Justin has talked about pushing his skateboard through the entirety of Florida for years, and has  been prepping as long. Alongside many of his personal long distance skate endeavors, like the scouting trips he did prior to hitting the long road, he’s skated in a few Ultraskate events, a distance skating event in Miami where skaters race on the Homestead Speedway to see how far they can skate in 24 hours (the world record is 313.8 miles set by Joe Mazzone),  and completed a 107 mile self-supported race across the panhandle of Idaho. He’s planning on competing in Ultraskate again this year, which kicks off less than a week after he reaches Key West. Last year he skated around 129 miles in the 24 hour period, but after this trip, I think he’ll shatter his personal record; his legs have never been more prepared.

By the time you have read this, he will have completed his journey, but his fundraiser for Conservation Florida will still be running. Follow his instagram @justindoeslife for recaps of his trips, updates on Conservation Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, or to see photos of me acting a fool over the years.


About Vincent Dalessio

Vincent Dalessio is Folio Weekly’s Head Photographer and Writer. Originally from St. Petersburg, Florida, he takes pride in resetting his roots in Duval County. Active in the skateboarding, surfing, rock climbing and outdoor recreation communities, he takes what he’s learned in his personal life and applies it to current issues facing these groups. His writing focuses on the environment, socio-demographic issues, biopics on community figureheads and stories on the communities he spends the most time in.