photography, travel

ON THE ROAD: AN UPDATE

Oklahoma in the spring is awash with color. New shoots on budding branches green with rebirth. Skies of complex and ever-changing hues of blue, then textured white, then glowing pink and orange. Reflective water, mirroring the hue shifts of the sky. The daily ebb and flow of wildflowers, constantly changing like the tides, indiscriminate, showcasing every color of the visible (and invisible) spectrum. And the deep, earthen red-orange dirt exposed directly adjacent to the vibrant grasses and sedges exploding with renewed life. It’s fragrant out here.

It’s mid-May as I sit to write. Things are beginning to open back up, but the second wave of a global pandemic still looms as an inevitable possibility. So much has changed. 

The holidays in Dallas were what they were. A smattering of good and bad. Great to see friends and family, communing with those we love dearly and don’t see nearly often enough. But as I’ve mentioned, the city wears both of us down. And this year in particular, we experienced the loss of another beloved friend. I’ve mentioned the untimely passing of my dearest friend in Wyoming in September, and then on new years eve, the Colonel, Bubba passed away quietly under the bed in our guest room at Ellens folks. Ellen called him a dear friend for 16 years. He and I mostly tolerated each other, with brief moments of affection throughout my dozen or so years with Ellen. It was hard on her though. The end of an era. We buried him in a secluded corner of their backyard with a lovely candle lit service, and said our tearful goodbyes to him, and our family.

We spent the winter soaking up the sun, sand, and salt water in Florida again solidifying, potentially, our new dream, or next step. More on that later.

We filled our days with further exploration into new territory, as well as deeper into old favorites. I started a section hike of the Florida Trail, with a harrowing two-day 32 mile hike through knee deep south Florida swamp (the full story on my blog). I also was inspired to create a new Big Cypress workshop for 2021, as well as a few other brand new locations. 

As March rolled closer to April, the coronavirus, and fear from a lack of knowledge and highly sensationalized news, took over. All of our state and national park reservations were canceled out from under us, and jobs were postponed or canceled outright. The world, to most everyone, looked a bit more uncertain. But for us, not too much more uncertain. Let’s be honest here… Ellen and my life for the last four years has been a dress-rehearsal for many catastrophic scenarios. And here we are; lean, mean, and ready for Broadway.

As the cliche goes, when God closes a door, He opens a window. Well, when we had no where to go, no where to park Gertie, we jumped through the proverbial window and booked it for my brother’s in Chattanooga, TN, just before the world went on total lockdown.

We figured we would be there for a week or two. Then the Easter night tornado tore through the neighborhood just 100 yards from where our ultra-lite trailer rested precariously in their driveway. It was a terrifying experience for us, but we were the lucky ones. Many in Chattanooga and surrounding areas lost their lives and their homes that night. We just lost power for a week.

My brother, who is a pastor helped coordinate community service in the weeks proceeding. I helped with my chainsaw to cut neighbors trees and remove debris. No social distancing was possible in the wake of tragedy on top of tragedy. But the little we did was dwarfed by the response of the kind people of the whole area. They poured in to help, and truly made quick work of the devastation. Certainly not all was magically fixed, but the show of love and acts of kindness helped to heal a severely broken community.

We ended up spending the end of march, all of April, and the first few days of May parked at my brothers in Chattanooga. It was a special time of connection with family that we don’t get to see as often. Family dinners, games every night, hikes, basketball in the driveway with the kids. We will cherish that time, in spite of the pandemic quarantine and tornado destruction.

We even had the chance to sneak away a few times to the nearby Appalachian mountains of North Carolina to get a little car camping in. Replete with campfires, smores, hiking, swimming in freezing creeks, pipe tobacco smoke, Tolkien essays, etc. All the good stuff.

I received word that a few of my clients wanted to proceed with shoots that were intended for early March, now the first week of May. One in north Louisiana/ Arkansas, and the other in West Texas. I was overjoyed that the jobs didn’t disappear. We were really counting on that income. So we planned our route, and said more bittersweet goodbyes to the ones who embraced us so fully and graciously for over six weeks. We would miss them dearly. But as is often the case for us, it was time to move on.

With the volatile economy, I haven’t been sure what to expect, since much of my business depends on tourism. However, my workshops have started filling up again, and I am hopeful that we will pull through. 

So here we are now, in the ever warming days of high desert New Mexico, boon docking on a reservoir near Raton. The winds and dramatic spring storms kick up the dust and bring to the nose notes of cattle, and hard western living. We have planned and replanned and rerouted our next steps so many times, even I’m getting little confused as to what’s next. But its looking like we will explore and backpack the nooks and crannies of our beloved Wyoming next, and then up into Montana to revisit Glacier National Park. 

As we approach our four year anniversary of life on the road in early June, we look back with immense gratitude. Ellen and I both laugh and roll our eyes whenever either of us starts to look at the pictures and videos in our phones. It is a multi hour time-warp. We get completely lost for hours remembering the amazing adventures we’ve had. All on a broken wing and a heartfelt prayer.

Our next step is foggy, but seems to be coming in to focus more and more daily. It may be time for us to plant some roots, somewhere. Where exactly, were still deciding. But we’ve both come to the conclusion that we need a proper home base. The prevailing leader of the pack is Florida, at this point. Low taxes, warmth, beaches, gorgeous land, wonderful and interesting creatures to find, and it already feels a bit like home. My first choice was and is always Wyoming. But the winters are too long and brutal. We would prefer to continue our tradition of spending the milder months up there, while soaking the sun and warmth elsewhere the rest of the year. Nothing to prove here.

The last we left things, we were seriously considering buying the shuttle business in Wyoming after running it last season. That fell through and both Ellen and I are actually relieved. We realized we weren’t ready to share our time with a new all-consuming business. We have our own businesses that still need much tender loving care.

But what we learned from that experience, is that we are ready for a change. And this time, perhaps, a more grounded change. We don’t plan to leave the road until 2021. We want to finish our (potential) last year on the road strong.

— Andrew


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