It's been a few weeks since last we met. I've been spending some time with friends and family both at home in Washington D.C. and on the road with my dad in West Virginia and my brother and his kids in New Hampshire. It was nice to be with my people for a while and to take a break from the challenges of being on the road. I needed a little time to think and reflect and not have to worry about where I'm going to sleep tonight. It's been eight months since this project began, and it needed a little reflection and redirection. I have now entered Ohio, my fifth state, which when I leave will mark 10% of the journey complete. While I had hoped to spend a month in each state and be further along than I am, the whole point of the trip is not to be rushed and to see what I want to see. Before I move forward, I thought I would share some thoughts with you on the journey so far, and where I see this going in the months and years to come.
When I left Washington D.C. last week to head out to my dad's place in West Virginia, I found myself on familiar roads passing familiar places. State Parks I had hiked in, Walmart parking lots I had slept in and towns I had passed the days and the long, long winter nights in. It seemed such a far cry from when this journey began back in November. Back then, nighttime temperatures were getting down into single digits and with sunset getting closer and closer to 4pm, my time was so limited. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out the ins and outs of my van and how to make this trip work. Getting this project off the ground was a challenge that seems so long ago. As I drove through the mountains last week though, I thought about how far I've come. I listened to both of my West Virginia podcasts and my West Virginia playlist on the drive, and I thought about how lucky I am just to have seen what I have in the last 8 months, and also how I still really believe in this trip and in the work I'm doing.
It hasn't been an easy road. I often feel like I'm standing on a mountaintop and shouting into the darkness. I'm working hard and it feels like I'm hardly reaching anyone. While I know some of you have been loyal followers from day 1, I've had trouble reaching new people. I spend so much time working on a podcast, for example, that when I finish I have to get moving and get on to other things. I don't have time to sit and publicize things and build my audience because I have to keep going. Having spent an average of 5-6 weeks in each state so far, this trip has already gone from a 4 year plan to something significantly longer. I need to figure out how to reach new people and still keep moving which will be a challenge.
I've also been spending more money than I had hoped, which leaves me enough in my savings account to go another year, year and a half tops. That means I need to figure out a way to generate some income out here. I had hoped to find some sponsors and do some freelance work but that hasn't panned out so far. Stopping and working is always an option, but that adds onto the trip. I have very little interest in the traditional remote work of coding or other computer based work as my goal is to be out traveling, and I feel I spend enough time on the computer already. There is always guiding, a profession I love and am good at, but again that takes me away from these projects because when you're on the road guiding, it's a 24/7 job. I don't have the answers right now, but I'm happy to entertain any and all ideas y'all might have on this.
In the months to come, I'm going to rededicate myself to my photography. I have been running around too much, and have not been taking nearly the amount of photos I had planned on. I want to be able to wait for the right shot and really show you some of the amazing things that every corner of the country has to offer. That takes patience and timing and is far easier now that the days are longer and I have more of the little stuff figured out. I also know I can do some writing while I wait for the clouds to shift and the sun to be at the right angle to get the shot I really want. Expect to see more photo-based posts from me as I know I can tell a better story with one powerful image than I can with a few dozen paragraphs. I also hope to start selling some photos and maybe even getting out to some art shows. I have had several photos published in books and magazines, and dozens in brochures and blog posts, but now I have to start making some money from it. I have worked too hard at my craft to give it away for free anymore. My gallery website American Photo Blog, which has been going for over 4 years now has a new design and a new look. Feel free to check it out HERE.
I also hope to spend more time talking with people and sharing those conversations with you. I have a lot of social anxiety and meeting people has never been easy for me. It's amazing how few people I've talked to considering how much of the world I have been through. I need to work on that and start putting myself out there more. A big part of this project was supposed to be talking with people and showing you a cross section of the country and what it looks like in our time. Talking with people is essential to getting to that end. My hope is to show you how many people are doing really neat projects and working on really cool things. I know a lot of people out there work traditional 9-5 jobs, and I understand and respect that. But I hope to inspire people to follow a passion whether outside of those work hours or in place of them. Whether it's art or music or cooking or gaming, our collective imagination is limitless. I want to seek out peoples' passions and show you what people are capable of.
As far as the rest of my writing goes, I want to do more of it and connect it more to our current world. I really liked the post I did on John Henry (HERE), and hope to do more opinion pieces like that. I don't necessarily think my opinion is "right", but I think my perspective adds to the conversation. One of my goals when I started was to produce posts my old teaching friend from New Orleans, Mark Lucker, would re-post. I really like what he shares and read almost every thing he posts on his Facebook page. I hit my mark early with John Henry and haven't gotten another share since. My goal is to produce more posts that are "Luckered". Writing long posts has been difficult to get back into the habit of, but writing does get easier the more I do it. That doesn't mean I'm done with brewery tours and weekly updates, but it does mean I'm going to work harder on things that make you think through the lens of where I've been.
Through my podcast, I hope to continue presenting each state individually and interpreting the history and culture I find out here. This includes difficult stories on difficult topics and bringing out stories of marginalized people whose stories have been swept under the rug for far too long. If we want to move forward as a country, we have to first acknowledge and seek to understand the sins of our past - and they are many. Blind patriotism is dangerous and always has been. One of my Army friends recently stated that real patriotism is so much more than the flag and supporting our troops and it takes acknowledging our faults and working to correct them as well. The United States is a great country full of great people, but we could be so much better if we started listening to each other and learning stories that have long been ignored. Some have commented that my podcasts sometimes come down pretty hard on the places I visit and that contradicts me saying how great a time I had there and how wonderful the people were that I met. I disagree. I think that the United States, like each state, like each person has good sides and dark sides, happy times and sad times, parts that need to be celebrated and parts that need help and love and attention. We can't even begin to move forward until we acknowledge the wrongs of our past and attempt to make amends and reparations for them. Through my podcast, I will continue speaking my truth.
In the coming months I hope to continue working on some personal goals as well. Sadly I've been out of the gym for a month and it definitely shows. I had been really good about working out regularly because my health is important to me (as it should be to us all). I'm getting back in there today, and I need to keep at it. I'm also working on learning American Sign Language, and have even picked up a violin, something I haven't played in almost 30 years. The road ahead is a busy one, but hopefully I will have plenty to keep me entertained and out of trouble (most of the time).
So here is where you come in. If you are reading this now, I want to thank you. I appreciate it more than you know. If you read a post that you like or find interesting, please share it with others who you think might enjoy it as well. If you have friends who like American History, please share my podcast with them, or even specific episodes if they cover a topic someone might be interested in. If you like a photo and want to have it on your wall, let me know - I'll give you a good price for it. I know not everyone can do a trip like the one I'm on, but I hope that others can get things out of this trip through me. This isn't my trip, it's our trip. But the only way it can keep going is with your help.
I have a few other things in the works which I will hopefully be rolling out in the days, weeks and months to come. This project is just getting warmed up, and is about to enter its second phase. I know I can do better, and I will.
As always, thank you for coming along for the ride. I'd love to stay and chat, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep...