I’m home, y’all! I pulled up in front of the house my great-grandparents built here in Northwest Washington D.C. late last Friday night. Shadow Catcher did well on the 9 hour drive, as it has throughout this journey, and now she can take a nice, long, well deserved rest. My van will be staying here for a few months and enjoying the summer, although I myself will not be. I will keep traveling. That’s who I am and what I do. I don’t really know anything but anymore, and I don’t necessarily care to. My life is on the road and to the road I will return in a few weeks, albeit a different road on a different trajectory. This is the end of this leg of this particular journey, not the end of my travels, my adventures, my photography or this blog. Think of it as a season finale, not a series finale. I do want to take some time in this post to reflect back on the last year and a half and to look forward at what comes next. Before I do, though, I want to say an enormous thank you to those of you who have come along for the ride. Whether you’ve been with me from the start or you’ve only just joined me I appreciate every single one of you and your support over the course of this journey. I hope along the way I’ve been able to inspire you and show you places you’ve never been or perhaps those you have in a different light. I hope I’ve been able to bring a little joy into your lives, a little beauty, a little color, a little light. If I have, then I will call this whole thing a success. Thank you for being a part of this trip.
After leaving you last week, I had a few more adventures before I packed it up and headed north though, and it would be tragic to leave them out of this post. That afternoon I went out to High Falls Park near Geraldine, Alabama, and what a wonderful place that was to visit. It was a beautiful county park with a magnificent waterfall, a pleasant beach, a bridge over the river, hiking trails and a picnic area. It was a magnificent spring day and when I got there I fell in love with the place and stayed until the park closed. I swam and got some sun and read and enjoyed the sound of the falls and the warmth on my face. I returned to Fort Payne in the evening and took a few photos around town in the fading daylight before calling it a day.
The next morning I went to the Alabama Fan Club and Museum right there in Fort Payne. This was definitely a neat collection of memorabilia from the band Alabama’s FIFTY years of making music. I’m a big Alabama fan and really enjoyed seeing this collection and speaking with the fascinating lady that runs the place. A self-described “hippy-redneck”, she had an interesting world-view which I enjoyed hearing about.
From there, I wandered out to DeSoto Falls, a beautiful waterfall to see but a hard one to photograph from the viewing platform at the park. From there I headed on to Mentone, a wonderful little artists’ community in the very far northeast corner of the state. I had a wonderful meal at the delightful Wildflower Cafe, bought a beautiful little pottery pitcher for my mom and then headed on to Chattanooga. and out of Alabama
I ran a few errands around town trying to pick up a few things before I headed north, and then enjoyed a Chattanooga Lookouts game at AT&T Park in the evening. It was a great place to wind up the day, the journey and my travels in the South for now. The lookouts even gave me a win to send me off with.
Friday I enjoyed driving north through Tennessee and remembering all of the wonderful places I had visited and the things I had seen and done on my journey through the Volunteer State, right around this time last year. I was in Tennessee for a while culminating in a visit to Bonnaroo Music Festival which is now just a few weeks away. I loved driving past the Great Smoky Mountains as I’ve been in such flat country for the last few months. I passed by Oak Ridge and Bristol, both places I was fascinated by, and then began the long trudge up 81 and then east on 66 and on into our nation’s capital and my hometown. It was a rainy night when I got here, but it was sure good to be home.
I spent most of Saturday with my family and friends. My friend James’ son is almost a year old and it was great to see how big he’s getting. Another friend is expecting in a few months, so it was great to hear about their plans for the October arrival of their first child. We had a good time catching up and it was nice to just sit and be with friends near home.
I got to spend Mother’s Day with my mom which was the main reason I made tracks to get here, and that was a lot of fun. We went to see the movie Tolkien, which was one of the absolute best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. From there we popped in to a couple of micro-breweries and then had a nice meal to finish out the day. We couldn’t go too crazy because I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning and blood work that needed to get done.
The appointment was quick and painless, and now I just have to await the results. For those of you who don’t know, when I was home over Christmas, I went in for the first physical I’ve had in a very long time. Everything was pretty good until I got my blood tests back. I was diagnosed with high cholesterol and type II diabetes. This was a big slap in the face, because I’ve always eaten relatively well and exercised pretty regularly, and felt like it must be some mistake. On a closer examination of my lifestyle and food choices over the few weeks after getting that call, I realized I could be doing a lot better. I’ve been eating really well these last few months with a few notable exceptions (thanks Louisiana haha). I’ve made a big effort in the gym too, and between the two am down over 30 pounds since January. I have no interest in living on meds if I can help it, and I can make better diet and exercise decisions from here on out. I have too much to live for to not prioritize my personal health. While I look and feel a lot better, I’m still waiting on these results to see how my insides are doing. I should know by the end of the week. My tests done, I took my mother out for a nice lunch at Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown to celebrate Mother’s Day with a nice meal at a classic old Washington haunt (it’s where JFK proposed to Jackie). The rest of the day I spent emptying out Shadow Catcher, cleaning her out real good and getting laundry going and things put away.
Tuesday morning I had to report for jury duty first thing in the morning. While I’m never thrilled to get up early and sit in a courthouse all day, I do believe it’s my civic duty, so I went. I also think it’s neat when you can find a cross-section of people in a common set of circumstances because they end up bonding with people they might otherwise not even come in contact with. We were all in it together that day! It turned out that the courthouse has great WiFi, so I was getting some good work done before I got called in. I was put in the back of the line though, so by the time they got to me, they already had their jury and I was dismissed before lunch. While I wanted to go home, the WiFi was just too good, so I stayed another hour or two and got some more work done. Last night I spent hanging out with the oldies at the house, enjoying the little pleasures of just being home.
And that brings me to today. Here I am. At home.
When I arrived back in D.C., was 18 months to the day since I set out on a sunny November morning back in 2017, on my way to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and the start of my great adventure. Since that day, I’ve traveled extensively through 10 states: West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama, in that order. I went back and counted 214 different night stops along the way, meaning 214 different places where we pulled in to sleep - some for a single night, others for almost a week. In total, we went 33,331 miles which may not seem like a lot, and that was always exactly the point. The whole idea was to travel fewer miles and see more. To check out each state a little at a time and be able to really explore where I was instead of how many miles I’d covered. While I could definitely think of places I missed in every state I visited and look forward to going back and seeing them, I think I did a pretty good job of developing a real understanding of each along the way. I’ve learned so much history and so much about the culture, food, music and people that make each state different and unique. And I’ve managed to have a little fun along the way.
I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos as I went. I have spent countless hours going through them, sorting them, editing them and publishing many that I thought were worth sharing. I think that process has made me infinitely better at my craft, and I simply see the world differently now than I did when I started out. Since one of my goals was to document America in our time, I’m grateful to have been able to see so much and hopefully bring some of these places to a wider audience with my photos. Some of my favorite interactions have been with people who have lived somewhere their whole lives and yet saw their town differently through my lens. I think that is the ultimate compliment. I’ve had some excellent luck in getting my photos published, and over the course of this trip they’ve gone into magazines, brochures, social media posts, advertisements and even a book. I’m really proud of all of these photos, and I think that even more will come in the future as I start to publicize them more. Unfortunately, even with the number of photos published, I haven’t been able to make enough money to keep this journey going which is one of the reasons it is coming to an end for now. Since everyone has a camera these days the assumption seems to be that any idiot can take a photo. People aren’t generally interested in paying me for my work which is really sad. I’ve seen the results of that attitude at every junction of this trip with terrible, out of focus photos being used in major tourism brochures, advertisements and even well respected travel magazines. A good photo takes time and energy to set up and capture, not to mention travel time and editing. But alas, it just hasn’t happened for me, so I must go back to work for a while and save up some more money before I continue.
Over the last 18 months, I’ve also written, produced, hosted, edited and published 17 episodes of my history and music podcast American Anthology. Each episode has taken on the state that I have been traveling in and its unique and interesting history. I’ve tried to include both the good and the bad and especially to look at people and stories underrepresented in mainstream history. When I could, I’ve tried to look at today’s news through yesterday’s lens to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’ve really tried to research my stories and tell them as honestly as I can. I’ve included music from local artists in each episode and told some really interesting stories. I have absolutely loved this process and how much I’ve learned in producing each episode. It’s been a challenge though, as each episode takes so many hours to research, write and produce. I’ve fallen two full states behind, but do hope to finish up with Louisiana and Alabama before too long. I hope to have a new episode out by the weekend as a matter of fact. It’s always been interesting to try and find a quiet place to record, and episodes have been recorded in closets, library study rooms, auditoriums and even in the back of my van in a pinch. I wish I had been able to get it out more regularly, but I have averaged one a month since this journey began which I’m pretty proud of. And as I’ve gone back and listened to these podcasts, I really enjoy them myself. I will spend some time in the coming months promoting the show, and hopefully draw in enough of an audience to support a Season 2. If I can’t bring the numbers up, the time spent producing it may not allow it to continue. I guess only time will tell at this point. If you like history and you haven’t yet caught an episode, you can stream or download it at the Podcast link at the top of this page or you can find it on iTunes, Stitcher and most podcasting apps. For those of you who have been listening, I really appreciate it and hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.
I haven’t done the amount of writing I had hoped to when I set out. My days have been full and exhausting and I just haven’t found the time to produce what I know I’m capable of, and for that I am disappointed. When I find time and a space to work (mostly at Starbucks and public libraries), there are always tons of distractions and tons of things to catch up on. I never have the time to just sit and write, and if I do I’m generally working on a long overdue podcast. I have, however, been keeping notes and genuinely hope to start writing a book in the near future. This journey has been an extraordinary one and what I’ve seen and done and the people I’ve met is a remarkable story and one I think you’ll enjoy knowing more about. In the coming months I hope to make the time to start working on this in earnest. I know many people have asked, and I think that this is a realistic goal and one which I can make happen and get published if I can just find the time and the quiet space to do it in.
On a personal level, this trip has been amazing. I have learned and grown and been inspired by so many things I have done and seen and by the people I have met along the way. I have caught up with friends and family in every state I have visited, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. These friends were the ones who kept me going, who gave me a place to lay my head, a hug when I needed one most and an ear to bend to keep me from losing my mind. Without these people, I don’t think I could have come as far as I did. When people ask, and they do, I tell them that the main drawback to this lifestyle, the main complaint I have, is the loneliness of it all. And yes, I do speak with my mother and there are certain friends I talk to on a regular basis, and those help, but it is still deeply and profoundly lonely on the road by myself month after month. When I move towns every few days, meeting people can seem like a big investment of time and energy with not much of a payout in the end. I hate to say it like that, and I have met some extraordinary and wonderful people along the way, but it can be difficult especially for a shy person like me. There are a lot of days where I don’t talk to anyone and it’s just me alone in my own head, and for anyone that can be a challenge. I’ve always been a loner of sorts. Not that I haven’t had amazing friends at every stage of life, but I’ve always been different. It’s been amazing to have so much time to think, but sometimes it really gets to me and all I want to do is scream to break the silence.
For those of you who don’t know, there was a girl who was supposed to come with me on this trip. I met her a year or so before I planned to depart. My whole life I’ve heard people tell me when you meet the right person, you’ll just know. I thought I knew, and I thought that was her. When I met her, she was at a good place in life to come along - with no ties holding her back, no commitments and no debt, a place very few people ever know after their first day out of high school. But it turned out she didn’t want to come with me, instead choosing a far more conventional route to go down. The further down that route she got, the less she wanted to do with me until finally she told me it was over. She wanted to stay friends and I tried hard to make that happen, but it has mostly been me making the effort. I’ve visited her twice on this trip and both times were really hard. The last time, just this past February, she seemed to want to be anywhere else in the whole world than sitting across the table from me. After 3 years, all she could spare for me was 45 minutes which she spent staring at her phone and finding an excuse to leave as quickly as possible. At that point it took everything I had left, every ounce of self-respect, self-care and self-preservation to walk away. She told me before I left that she was as happy as she had ever been, and there is some solace in that. From the time when we were planning this trip until today, not a day goes by when I don’t think about her and what could have been. It’s been three months since I saw or heard from her last, and I’m slowly healing, but that has been a major part of this trip and my mental state throughout. The loneliness and isolation hasn’t helped. It certainly wouldn’t have been the same trip with her along, but it hasn’t been the same without her either. Slowly, my heart is moving on.
So where do we go from here? Well, I’ll be home for a few weeks, catching up on work and spending as much time as I can with my people here. In the beginning of June, I’m flying to California where I will go back to guiding tours for the summer. I’m a career tour guide by trade, and this will be my 14th year working with American Adventures. It’s a job I truly love and a company I love working for. I take small groups of people out for several weeks at a time, and I show them America. I try and show them an amazing time, knowing how much people depend on their vacations to get them through the year. We see and do a lot, but no too much to be overwhelming. We eat well, get to know each other and laugh a lot. Some of the people I’ve taken on tour over the years are some of my best friends today, and have been the most supportive of this last year and a half of my life. I am really looking forward to being back in the driver’s seat with a bus full of people on the adventure of a lifetime. My first stop is Hawaii, where I’ll be for the rest of June and the first part of July. I’m excited.
Of course you understand that people on tour want to see the places they’ve read and heard about their whole lives, so I will be travelling a much more well worn path. We also move quickly because time is precious on tour. While I will miss the small towns and surprises of this trip, I will be back in some of the most beautiful places on Earth, and believe me, my camera will be right there with me. While the job is incredibly demanding and can be a 24/7 commitment a lot of the time, I still plan to bring as many of these photos to you as I can. While I won’t be publishing This Week on the Road for a while, I do plan on publishing when I can, keeping you updated on where I am and where I’m going, sharing incredible photos of magnificent places and maybe even giving you a peak behind the curtain at the life of a cross-country tour guide. In other words, I hope you’ll keep with me as I transition back into that world, I don’t think you’ll be sorry you did. I also hope to be able to go back through the last 18 months in my head and on my computer and edit and publish photos from each state that I just never got to when I was there. It would be great if I can compare and contrast some places for you as well.
My plan is to work through October and save, save, save while I do. One of the great things about this kind of work is that I don’t have to sign a lease or utility checks or deposits, I can just keep going and put what I earn into the bank. My vanlife hasn’t been that expensive, and I think I can even do better than I have been with a better plan in place. If all goes according to plan, Shadow Catcher and I will be right back out there on our own in November, headed out across Mississippi, Arkansas and into the great state of Texas for a while. But plans can change too, so you’ll have to stay tuned and see what comes of it.
I certainly don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I’m well aware that most Americans only get 10 vacation days a year if they’re lucky. While I wouldn’t call what I’ve been doing out here “vacation” as it’s kicked my behind every day for a year and a half, it’s certainly been a voyage, and for that I am forever grateful. In the last 18 months I’ve had more travel time and time to do my thing than many people will have in an entire career. I saved up for a long time to make that happen, but I’m also grateful for a career and a company that allow me to come and go and not lose my seniority or my job security. That’s also something I’ve worked hard for, but I’m lucky and blessed by it nonetheless. I’ll be saving my nickles and dimes this summer, and doing a lot of thinking about the road ahead. You can help me out if you like by sharing posts or photos that you like with your friends or family or recommending my podcast to anyone who might be interested in hearing stories from this country’s fascinating history. And with some hard work and a little bit of luck, we’ll all be back together on a dirt road with the windows down and the radio up before you know it.
Have a great summer out there y’all. I hope you can get out and do some traveling of your own. I’d love to hear from you and where you ended up and what you got into. This last year and a half has been an amazing, beautiful, challenging, sometimes painful, always inspiring journey into the heartland of my home country. And it wouldn’t have been the same without you. Thank you so very much, from the absolute bottom of my heart, for coming along for the ride. It has been my dream from the time I was a little kid staring out my window at home, the same window I will stare out of for the next few weeks. I can’t believe it’s over (for now). I can’t believe how good it was. I love you all. God bless, and safe travels and I’ll see you somewhere down the road.
After all, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep…