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Brandon Palaniuk's dream machine

3/11/2011

I met a dreamer last night. He was holding steadfast to hopes for a bright future as a fulltime B.A.S.S. pro. I was holding a Canon and a notepad.

Fact is, here at the season opener, following the mandatory Bassmaster Elite Series pre-tournament briefing, there were a lot of dreamers walking around in that Tavares, Fla., parking lot. Few of them were as young as 23-year-old Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Brandon Palaniuk.

Even fewer of the dreamers had spent the previous night sleeping in their tow vehicles like he did.

Palaniuk brings back soulful memories. Ask my hunting buddies or my team tournament fishing partners, Russ and Robert. They'll tell you. I have a mattress in my Tundra too. It's there mostly for practical purposes, like providing a cushy place for my deer rifles and Quantum rods and reels to ride. And in part, I'll admit, it's there to remind me of simpler, freer times.

I used to travel to compete in local and regional bass tournaments and sleep back there too, just like Palaniuk. But I'm 17 years older than Brandon, of fewer hairs, far less fishing talent, more bills and more belly fat, and privileged to have a company-furnished expense account. I don't have to sleep in my truck anymore, but I don't get to dream as much either.

With age comes humility; heck, I'm technically old enough to be Palaniuk's dad, so I told him straight up — I wasn't good enough. Couldn't catch them like you do, Brandon. Never qualified for a B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship — let alone won one, like you did. Dang sure never fished in a Bassmaster Classic, let alone give KVD a run for his money, like you did three weeks ago, Brandon.

Crazy as sleeping in your truck may seem, I understand where he's at. It's mostly about being broke, trying to save money and just about as much about youthful freedom.

Don't feel sorry for him. He's proud of his place in the back of his Tundra. He was happy to show me the homemade rough-cut lumber bed frame and the 4-inch-thick layer of foam his sleeping bag rests on. The sleeping bag and pillow are decorated with pine trees and moose images. I imagine that reminds him of Idaho. Home, for Brandon, is a 40-hour drive from here.

I thought of Brandon this morning as we woke to chilly temps and pouring rain here at the Harris Chain of Lakes in central Florida. Me in room 212 for $84 a night with fluffy white pillows, thermostat, fridge, coffee pot, European spa showerhead and a laptop. Brandon waking in the back of his Tundra — with dreams.

"So we'll live out in our old van; travel all across this land." — Free, Zac Brown Band