photography, travel

The Next 20K Miles // Reflections From a Year on The Road (Part 1)

Most everything means nothing, except some things that mean everything.” ~ Patty Griffin

Our journey from June ’16 to June ’17, took us over 30,000 miles of zig zagging our way across the beautiful USA and Scotland. Go ahead, check out the interactive map below to see our route(s).

Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho. 12 states down, 38 to go. Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, Black Canyon of The Gunnison, Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, Everglades, Biscayne, Big Bend, Saguaro, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Rocky Mountain. 19 National Parks explored (plus a few in Scotland… Cairngorms, Loch Lomond and the Trosachs), 40 to go.

The first year is over… but we have so much more we want to do.

I find myself continually evaluating; why are we doing this? I’m not sure the answers are as simple as I once thought they were.

Originally, when we set out, the answer to the existential question “why” was because we wanted to see everything our beautiful home country has to offer. Simple as that.

But as we’ve been on the road, answers to big questions sometimes get lost in the mud. Our character and resolve have been tested. Our dreams have also been put to the test. Our feet to the fire.

Much of the first year was a bit idyllic. Yes, there were problems. Some, really gross problems (see The First 10K Miles {Part 1}). But overall, we were shown vast amounts of grace and mercy, which effectively helped get our “road legs” under us.

The First 10,000 Miles was full of wonder and growth.

The next 20k+ miles, was filled with intense struggle.

We returned home for the holidays on fumes. Financially and emotionally. You see, when you give up 60% of your business by hitting the road, it takes a bit of time to build back the clientele and income you need to make it all work. And when we got back, we took Islay in to our vet for a persistent limp. The vet found what she believed to be either bone cancer or a fungal infection in the pelvis. It was in such a place that they couldn’t amputate. After taking her over to the specialist, Islay was given two months to live. She wouldn’t even make it to her first birthday.

Islay was our mascot, our cheerleader, our friend. She made the first leg of the journey so special and at times she was one of the only things that brought us temporal happiness. We were devastated.

Back in Dallas though, the work came pouring in. I’m so thankful for all of my old clients. They were all glad to have us back, and I was so glad to have some work.

Our 2 month stint back home set us up financially for the next few months…. we were going to Florida for the winter!

I’ve mentioned it before… Ellen is a beach girl. So, since she gives me all summer and fall to enjoy the mountains, the least I could do is try to give her a season at the ocean.

But first, we made the difficult decision to go get another “mascot” for the next leg of the journey. We also laid up a “hail Mary” with an anti-fungal medication for Islay… and we knew it would be a long road before we even saw any results. She was lethargic and limping. Not her usual self at all.

Enter Skye Blue. She is Islay’s sister from a different litter. So now let’s do the math… that’s two humans, two dogs, and a cat living in a 175 square foot travel trailer.

It took a bit of adjustment to have another high energy dog, but thankfully, from day one, Islay and Skye were best friends. So in many ways, they now occupy each other’s attention and play like crazy together.

We worked our way across the Gulf Coast, visiting friends in New Orleans, exploring Mississippi and Alabama beaches, eventually landing in the panhandle of Florida.

We learned pretty quickly why everyone wants to be in Florida for the winter. And also what we should’ve already known; it is crazy expensive.

Typically, when we stay at an RV park, we spend between $10-40 a night. In Florida, the rates were $50-120 per night! Something had to give. We did well back in Dallas over the holidays, but not that well. Also, out west, there are millions of acres of public land. And public land equals free to low cost camping. In the east, public land is not so readily available.

The first important thing we learned was to lean heavily on the Florida State Parks system. We love our state parks back home in Texas, but I’ve got to say that Florida’s parks could rival any of our favorites back home. Average per night at the state parks was only $30, and they are beautiful and very well maintained.

The biggest problem was availability.

Chatting with a neighbor one day, I learned the most valuable piece of information I probably learned on our whole time in Florida. A little website called Wandering Labs. So, uses an algorithm to constantly search for availability at the parks of your choice on the dates of your choice, and then it sends you an email when it gets a match, so you can immediately book it.

It saved our butts at least a dozen times. And it allowed us to stay at some of the most coveted parks in Florida…

We got some good camping and beach time in, before moving down the Gulf and across Alligator Alley to the Everglades.

Ellen had never been, and it’s one of my favorite parks, so we spent a good bit of time exploring and re-exploring this unique ecosystem.

As a bonus, Biscayne National Park is really close, so we got to check out another park while in the area.

It was time to explore the Keys. Again, Wandering Labs was crucial to us getting reservations all throughout the keys.

We stayed at John Pennekamp Coral Reef, Curry Hammock, Long Key, and Bahia Honda State Parks. It was absolutely idyllic.

Even Skye quickly learned the beach bum lifestyle.

Our time in Florida really felt too short. I had a workshop in Big Bend later in March, so we had to start the long journey back to Texas and all the way across the Lone Star State.

It’s hard to believe, but this was our first time with Gertie (our trailer) in Big Bend. We’ve been tent camping in the park for 15 years or so. As much as I love primitive camping, I’ll admit that it’s really nice to have a kitchen, bathroom, and bed everywhere you go…

The workshop, Big Bend // Wildflowers + Stars, went really well, and remains my signature workshop. Despite working when there, our time in Big Bend is always rejuvenating and restorative. And Islay was doing better. Her limp had gone away, and was back to her usual…. mmm let’s just say energetic, self. But the anifungals she was on can destroy the liver and kidneys, so we knew we couldn’t keep her on it forever. We were just praying that we could get her back up to Wyoming in June before things got worse.

Islay was excited to be back at her first National Park. If you recall, we picked Islay up from the breeders at 6 weeks old and immediately took her on a  month long camping road trip to Big Bend. This was just a few months before we would get Gertie and hit the road for good.

She spent her most formative weeks smelling creosote and getting pricked by all the cacti and spiny desert plants. But Skye was with us this time, and she took to it just as Islay had exactly a year prior.

We were a bit unsure about the next leg of the journey. I had an ambitious plan, as I always do, but money was becoming tight yet again. We had no idea if we could afford to go the route we wanted. Our plan B would be just to go back to Dallas, and I assure you, we did not want to do that.

We prayed and decided to simply move forward. It’s so simple, yet feels so reckless.

But isn’t that what faith is?

That’s another big takeaway from our first year on the road. Intellectually, I know that I’m in control of very little in this life. But on a practical level, it doesn’t always sink in the way I know it should all the time.

A few years ago when living in Dallas, on one of our monthly visits with Ellen’s grandparents, her Grandy told us how she and Papa will make their plans. They discuss and dream big, then they pray that the Lord bless the plans, and if it’s not His will, that He would stop them from going astray. Then they simply move forward. She said, “sometimes He will close the doors, and then we know to change direction… other times, He provides everything you need. But either way, pray that His will be done.”

So we’ve started doing that. He has never failed us. And we did this very thing for our great southwest trip that we were thinking about embarking upon. We decided to move forward. And He provided.

Seemingly against all odds.

— Andrew

NEXT: How we toured the southwest for six weeks and ended up in Scotland…. stay tuned!

Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 3-5 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE

Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Teton National Park
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
Andrew R. Slaton // prints from the road
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
For assignment work requests, please email me:
Thanks for visiting!
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017

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