I’ve been procrastinating on this blog post because I haven’t quite known what to say exactly. How do you sum up four months of your life? A friend of mine once told me, take your life and live it everywhere. I’ve been trying to live by that philosophy for the last few years. I don’t believe once in a lifetime moments have to be once in a lifetime. I believe every day can be an adventure. I travel endlessly and desperately. I crave those moments of sunsets in small towns in Iowa or watching the way the sun rises through the redwoods. I’m in love with collecting stories in those moments where everything seems so perfect. Travel does that to you. It changes you in the most unexpected way. It forces you out of your comfort zone and into the arms of the present moment. And in that present moment, is where you really live. I am thankful for this life and where it has taken me. I am thankful that photography has opened the doors of travel and opportunity. I am thankful for the ability to truly be able to do what I love. I am thankful for all of the friends and strangers that opened their homes to us. I am thankful to all those so eager to spend time with us. And I am forever thankful for the friendship of a few boys that would follow me to the edges of North America, just because we thought it would be a good idea.
I love my boys. Their friendship is something I’ve come to deeply treasure. They have become my family and my brothers. I would live every day over again if it meant I could watch the way Shane’s eyes lit up when he saw every mountain or the way my heart-felt to see such strength and assurance in Joel’s voice when he taught. I am endlessly proud of the strength of life and joy I have found in their company. In their strength I find my own. In their courage, I teach myself how to trust. I am proud of the community we have created and the bravery it took all of us to put our lives on hold for something we all believed in with our whole hearts. I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve learned to trust in myself and my brothers and answer adventure when it calls. Travel. It will change you. I promise.
In July I sold all my possessions, gave up my apartment, my job, and 103 days to commit myself to this project we created together to road trip North America and give back to a community that has given us so much. Through nearly 15,000 miles, 34 states, three Canadian Provinces, 13 workshops, and 200 hundred students, I found a home in The Wild Ones. My life became sunrises in the redwoods and sunsets on the beaches of Hawaii. It became creating. It became sharing. It became inspiring. Every day was an adventure. And every day was an opportunity to show our students that their dreams and their adventures were achievable too. Ultimately, we aim to provide the foundation and confidence to teach our students dreams are reachable, if you allow yourself to work hard enough to achieve it. Our only wish is to see that light that turns on in our students when they realize, “hey, I can do this too!”
Hartford, Maine – July 8th – July 15th.
We started our journey on July 8th with the boys reaching our starting point in Maine. After nearly a year of planning, I was so excited to see all of our hard work come to life. I couldn’t believe the beginning was finally here. We spent a few days prop shopping, prepping last-minute details, and generally derping around before our workshop in Boston that weekend. We had found our home on wheels, Maureen, a few months before and started excitedly packing and pimping her our with all of our own little touches. Joel brought his Canadian Flag and small trinkets from his world tour. Rob dreamcatchers and colorful blankets. I brought with me a picture of my grandmother and a fortune from a cookie I affixed to the steering wheel saying, “You are a positive contribution to mankind.” Shane brought his headphones to drown out my terrible music choices. He’s not the sentimental sort. The day before we left for Toronto, we had decided to go bridge jumping. My cousin took us to the town river where we found ourselves surrounded by local teenagers and I discovered that I was afraid of heights. This is where I earned the name, “trip weenie.” I spent a good forty-five minutes trying to get the courage to jump off the twenty-foot bridge. Poor Joel was treading water the entire time hoping to get a good shot with his go-pro. But after last year’s Wild One’s bridge jump debacle where I bruised half of my body, I wasn’t about to do that again. As the sun was setting and the temperature was getting cooler, I finally found the courage to jump. And thankfully, I lived. It really wasn’t that high. I just don’t like the feeling of falling.
We took on a project of homeless care packages to hand out to those in need along the way. They were filled with the necessities one might need if they were living out of a backpack; toiletries, nonperishable food items, hand warmers, first aid, and disposable camera with self-addressed stamped envelope where we invited them to shoot their lives and ship the camera off to be developed.
Our sponsors Flickr, Vanguard USA, Wacom, Roadtrippers, MILK Books, HGST, and Kingston Technology were very generous in prizes for our students and we couldn’t wait to start handing them out!
Props and clothing for the workshops!
Boston, Massachusetts – July 11th – July 12th.
Our first workshop in Boston was held at the beautiful Arnold Arboretum. We were so pleased with this class. The energy was high and you could just feel the creativity coming from the students. It was an amazing way to start the tour with a class so eager and willing to learn. Some of our new friends even volunteered to lay in a small muddy stream for photos. I am always so inspired by the student’s team work and willingness to help their fellow photographer. But that’s Boston. Growing up in Massachusetts I’ve always felt a home in the beautiful historic city. And I was so proud of the community of New Englanders and more who came to the workshop.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada – July 15th – July 20th.
We said goodbye to my beautiful New England and headed for Toronto nervously excited for the months ahead. My sister had joined us for the first leg to be our intern extraordinaire, maker of coffee in the morning, built-in model, giver of hugs, and answering of emails…person. We made a quick stop at Niagara Falls, Canadian side, before making it to Toronto that night. Over the next few days we took to exploring what Toronto had to offer. I redeemed my “trip weenie” status when Joel and I took to the top of The CN Tower to walk the perimeter of it. At the top we joked about how we could see our workshop location from the top. After surviving the 160 story dangle from the tower, Joel took us around and showed us the sites. I was so excited to see Mr. Roger’s Trolley at CBC. We also spent time exploring the Canadian Badlands about forty minutes outside of the city. The lush red landscape and deep hills were breathtaking. Of course we were our usual selves joking around and performing a stunning rendition of The Lion King.
Toronto Island, Toronto – July 18th – 19th.
Our first international workshop! The workshop was held in the incredible parks of Toronto Island. The class gathered at the docks and we rode a ferry to island with the skyline of Toronto at our backs. The grass was so green and in true Canadian fashion, there were signs scattered throughout the park encouraging us to “please walk on the grass.” This was a busy class. From afternoon until sunset we were all running in every which way trying to keep up with the students. I was so impressed by the skill and creativity of this class. The work produced from the day has been amazing. On the sunset ferry ride back across the water I remember feeling so at peace with life. The sun was setting over Toronto and we all sitting side by side snapping photos and laughing about the day. Life was perfect.
Ann Arbor, Michigan – July 21st and 22nd.
Michigan greeted us with warm temperatures and happy faces. After crossing the border back into America we made a pit stop to take a look at the great abandoned Michigan Central Train Station in Detroit before settling in for the night where we were staying. Here we were joined for the next three workshops by our temporary intern and contagious ball of love and energy, Carly. Carly was a joy to have on tour with us for that short time. We held our workshop in the forest haven of an arboretum. It was a bit hot that day, but the trees provided much-needed shade for our photos. This was a fun and creative bunch who really used the landscape to create some amazing pieces. The second day of our workshop was incredible and was hosted by one of our sponsors, Vanguard USA! Vanguard has been an incredible support this whole tour. The amount of equipment they have provided our students is priceless. It is an honor to find a company who truly believes in their customers and photographers.
Columbus, Ohio July 23rd and 24th.
About forty minutes outside of Columbus lies a wonderful place you would not inherently picture as being in Ohio. Deep in the forests are some of the most beautiful caves I’ve ever seen. This is where we held our workshop, in Hocking Hills. We had been worried about rain that day, but the clouds passed right over leaving the most delicate natural light. This was not a hard class to motivate. They were always moving around trying to cram in as much shooting time as the sun would allow. They were such an eager bunch not afraid to try anything that came to mind.
Chicago, Illinois. July 25th – 29th.
Chicago treated us well. But I think that’s in part to our friends at Phlearn who were kind enough to host us for the few days we were there. If you are a photographer, you probably have heard of Phlearn. They provide the most incredible FREE videos giving you tips and techniques for Photoshop and photography. It was an honor to not only host the second day of our workshop at their studios, but to sleep there as well. It was inspiring to be in a place I had admired for so long. I started my career gaining so much information from their videos and I was so humbled to be able to share my own knowledge and experience in a place that allowed me to find my own voice. We spent a day adventuring around the city, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and seeing The Bean. That weekend we held the first day of our workshop at Morton Arboretum that came equipped with open fields, rock stairs, and even a hedge maze! I connected with this class on a person level. I found myself sitting next to some of the most inspiring souls two hours after the workshop had ended talking about life, passion, and what it means to be alive. As everyone was leaving that day, I knew I had made some friends for life.
As we were leaving the city, it was mandatory that we made a stop to The Home Alone house for a bit of sidewalk shenanigans.
Creston, Iowa – July 29th – 21st.
On our way out west we made a three-day stop in the sleepy peaceful town of Creston, Iowa to visit some of my family. We slept on their front lawn in tents. We were the talk of the small town. People would stop them and ask if there were really people sleeping on their front lawn. When we had lunch at the most wonderful little cafe, they asked us if we were “the campers.” I was happy and amused to see that peaceful small town life. We went for walks and ate true Iowa corn and chased the sunset to a wind farm. It was one of my dreams to be able to stand underneath a turbine and I was so happy to fulfill that dream. On our way back to the house the moon was full over the rows of corn and all you could see for miles was fireflies. I felt so at peace in how beautiful life could be.
The Badlands, South Dakota – July 31st – August 2nd.
Off we went to The Badlands, a place Shane and I had visited last year. We got to the park just in time for one of the most amazing sunsets you could ever hope to see. We scaled to the tops of the hills until we were all little silhouettes against the sun watching the sky explode into vivid pinks and yellows. I wish I could bottle that beauty to open up on sad days at home when I long for a small mountain to climb. I felt so small in the shadow of all that nature.
Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota – August 2nd.
It was somewhere around Mt. Rushmore that we started to figure out we were making our way west the same week as the giant bike week at Sturgis, South Dakota. At every tourist stop we were surrounded by more bikers than you could ever possibly image. It was awesome. We met the best characters. We spent some time at Mt. Rushmore people watching to take our minds off how disappointing the national monument was.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – August 2nd – 4th.
We celebrated Joely’s birthday with a delicious lunch of van tacos (a mixture of unheated refried beans, avocados, salsa, and some tortillas) and watching sunset at Mammoth before getting drunk on ice-cream and laughing into the night on the steps of a store as Yellowstone’s town closed down for the night. We got very lucky with scooping up the last camping spot at the very full park and set up our tents under the trees. We spent a day or so hiking around in the rain before deciding to take off early and make our way to Glacier! I hope one day to go back for a longer visit to Yellowstone to see more of the beauty it holds. I was instantly drawn to the tough and majestic bison that wandered around the park freely and had to buy myself a stuffed one to carry with me the rest of the journey.
Missoula and Glacier National Park, Montana – August 6th – August 8th.
I feel instantly in love with Montana. Driving to our lovable host and wood elf Brad Wager’s house, we couldn’t help but pull the car to the side of the road at every overlook. It was amazing how big the mountains were and how vast and empty the landscape. With a few hours left until our destination, we pulled the car over on the side of the highway to watch the sunset on some farmland. I felt so thankful to exist in that moment.
When we got to Missoula we learned there was going to be a Sir Paul McCartney concert the next night. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, we climbed half a mountain to overlook the city and hear “Blackbird” echoing into the night. On our way back to Brad’s we kept joking about what a story that night in Missoula would be to tell to our grandkids. Then we were off to Glacier National Park. The last two years on tour, I’ve been to a vast majority of the National Parks. Glacier is my favorite. The famous Road to the Sun is as majestic and beautiful as they say. We were greeted with the bluest rivers and breathtaking views. We stopped at an overlook to watch the sun set and let Shane work his time-lapse magic.
The next day was spent hiking miles and miles into the wilderness. On our last day we hiked the boardwalk to Hidden Lake and were greeted there by curious and highly photogenic mountain goats. Mildly terrified by the wild creatures we kept a safe distance to snap some photos and watched the sunset over the mountains. Joel, Amanda, and I returned to the car after sundown to eat snacks and watch Home Alone while Shane time lapsed the stars.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada – August 9th and August 10th.
Banff was cold. But it was an incredible change in landscape from Glacier. Here we hiked around the bluest blue of lakes you could ever possibly image stunned to be in a place that was so picturesque. We rolled into town one night greeted by our friendly photographer host, Callum Snape, a campfire, a gaggle of traveling new friends, and a rude elk that was eating the neighbor’s front garden. Over the next few days we took some time to explore the town, the surrounding wilderness, and hike a few miles to a waterfall. That night we watched the stars at Lake Louise as the mountain cast a shadow over the reflection of the moon. Wrapped in layers of blankets it was bitterly cold but the feeling of such freedom and solitude was something that couldn’t be missed. I was able to get the full extent of how much work Shane puts into his time lapses. I appreciated being able to take a step in his shoes. As cold as it was he set up his dolly and let it run for an hour. He was so tired from the day hiking he kept nodding off on one of the benches. But still he sat out there watching over his setup. That sequence is going to be some of my favorite from the whole trip. Watching Shane work has taught me patience and dedication. If a shot required hiking 10 miles with 60lbs of gear, he’ll do it. He makes me feel lazy when I don’t want to step out the door and take a photo.
Cranbrook, British Columbia – August 10th – August 12th.
Cranbrook is an amazing little town and hometown of our very own Joel Robison. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains you can’t turn your head in this town without a spectacular view. And the people are as kind as they ever could be. We made it to town greeted in the warmest possible way by Joel’s loving family that would be hosting us the next few days. We were all thankful for a few days of rest. Cranbrook is a beautiful town and we wanted to give back to the community, so in lieu of an admission fee, we hosted a workshop on donations to the local food bank. The beautiful people of Cranbrook raised $375 and three heaping bags of groceries for the food bank. We hosted our workshop in the same field Joel used to create his masterpieces. I was so excited to be in the same place Joel created. Even before we were friends, he has always been such a huge source of inspiration and it felt as though every blade of grass echoed with his creativity. I know it meant a lot to him to be able to teach in his own town in his own space and I was so proud of him for that day. With nearly fifty people, it would end up being the biggest workshop we’ve ever taught. We even made the local paper.
Vancouver, British Columbia – August 18th – 24th.
After Cranbrook we spent a few days at a Flickr gathering outside of Vancouver. I lost a memory card and didn’t take many other pictures on the island. Just spent most of my time resting and enjoying the company of my friends.
We made our way to Vancouver after the meet up to pick up the Canadian winner of our intern contest, Matthew. At the beginning of the tour we urged our viewers to create videos of their lives for a chance to win an all expenses paid trip with us. Matthew’s video impressed us and we were delighted to have him on tour with us.
You’ve probably heard of our host for the week, the insanely talented Elizabeth Gadd and her family. The Gadd Clan is everyone’s perfect Canadian family. There are fables and folklore written on the extent of their kindness. They take in all the stray photographers passing through with kind smiles, warms hugs, sing-a-longs, and pie. We love the Gadds. When I grow up, I want to be like the Gadds. I have never seen a more supportive and loving family. I have never felt so much at home in a place so far away from home.
We spent a few days before the workshop exploring the local forests and waterfalls with Lizzy and her trusty sidekick, Pepper who was always close by. We had insanely cheap sushi and wandered the parks of Vancouver and watched movies cozy and warm at the Gadd’s. We hosted our last Canadian workshop of the tour at the gorgeous Alouette Lake outside of Vancouver. We had a small but delightful group of photographer’s join us for a couple of days of creative fun. I even got to model underwater for one of the students and her go pro. We had a lot of fun touring the woods and climbing giant trees to get the best picture. I was inspired by this classes dedication and attentiveness.
If you have made it this far, bless your heart. For length’s sake I’ve decided to split this blog post into two pieces. The first two months of the tour was filled with beautiful landscapes, loving students, and creating friendships that would last us the next two months on tour. Up next is Portland, Hawaii, Colorado, and all of the east coast!