It all started with a simple question on the way home from a three-day photoshoot.
“What if instead of racing home between assignments to mow the lawn and do the laundry, we spent that time together as a family in the wilderness that we so desperately craved?”
Over the next few months, as we scrambled from meetings to school events and did our best to cope with the frantic pace of normal life, that question began to resonate more deeply until we could no longer shove it aside. Needing to slow things down and simplify everything, we began to plan, in earnest, the greatest adventure of our lives.
When we told our daughter, Abby (then age 9), that we were moving, she expressed the typical concerns of any kid facing change …what about my friends? Where will I go to school? What about all of my toys? But when we added that we were moving into a Winnebago RV for a year-long road trip, she was — for the first time ever — speechless.
With the encouragement of our friends (who secretly thought we were crazy), and the reluctant support of our family (who knew we were crazy), we sold most of our things, packed up the rest and moved into a 24-foot Winnebago RV. At best we were destined for the biggest adventure of our lives, at worst we would return with our careers in shambles, our family in financial ruin, and permanent emotional damage from life within the confines of 150 square feet. We did our best to anticipate what the future would bring and minimized our risk: We eliminated all debt and monthly expenses (except the cell phone) and booked as many photography jobs as we could in advance, but ultimately the entire endeavor was a monumental leap of faith.
In the beginning, there was success.
First, life on the road was just like any of our other countless road trips over the years (except that life in the RV was way more comfortable than in our old pickup truck). We spent the majority of our days kayaking and climbing and managed to tic one extraordinary adventure after another off of our bucket list. But as the weeks and months passed, we realized that not only were we spending more time together doing what we loved in places where we wanted to be, but also that our business was growing exponentially, making this once-in-a-lifetime adventure a viable long-term lifestyle. So instead of returning home after a year, as we originally planned, the journey continues (for over two years now) with no end in sight.
For me, the moment we decided to embark on this journey, was the first time in my life that I allowed myself the luxury of slowing down. It was finally ok for me to step back and say I don’t have to volunteer for every worthwhile cause, and I don’t have to charge, full-speed-ahead, down the career path that seems set on a steady, relentless incline. Abby and I would both be fine if neither of us took part in school bake sales and PTO meetings.
That mental shift had a positive impact almost immediately. The stress that had for so long been by permanent companion simply vanished and my sleep patterns changed. Regardless of where we were and how much noise was around us, I was finally able to sleep, night after blessed night, for the first time in over a decade. And being well rested allowed me to accomplish more during my waking hours, leading to a healthier and more successful me. Looking back, I could have just as easily stepped out of my self-imposed rat race while I was at home. The need to be more, to have more, to do more was my own internal struggle, that I was completely unaware of until I hit the road and let it all go.
Peter’s transformation was much more gradual. His sense of responsibility to pay the bills and provide for our family made it easy for him to put aside his dream of becoming a National Geographic photographer, of creating images of adventures across the globe and share those experiences with the masses. Instead of pursuing that dream, he opted to channel his talent and love of photography into a more traditional career path and created fine art portraits of families exploring incredible environments as personal art for the home (a rewarding and respectable career).
It wasn’t until we literally had nothing to lose (i.e. no debt, no bills, no house) that his dream of photographing adventures resurfaced. This time he directed his lens inward and focused it on our family and the extraordinary journey we were on — simply as a personal outlet for his creative energy. He posted those images through our social media channels and before long, we found ourselves overwhelmed with requests from outdoor brands asking us to partner with their marketing teams to create images, videos and stories of our adventures to share with their customers.
What started out as a creative project to document and share our personal adventures with our family and friends has since become a full time job. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we could make a living by photographing, filming and writing about our days in the wild doing what we love the most.
A whole new Abby.
The most obvious change for our daughter has involved her whitewater paddling skills. She started out as a timid kayaker, uneasy on class II stretches of river. But after two years and countless new rivers, she is now taking the lead and charging ahead into thundering rapids. The confidence that comes from independently and successfully navigating potentially dangerous terrain is a skill that she will carry with her and fall back on for the rest of her life.
More importantly, Abby has broken free of her shell. Every person we have met along the way, who has taken the time to ask Abby about her unusual lifestyle and shown excitement and interest in who she is and what she has done, has helped her morph from a shy little girl who rarely spoke up in a group to an outgoing young woman, comfortable in almost any social situation.
This became evident when we were working on a photo-documentary presentation of our recent adventures for a large audience in at the Winnebao Grand National Rally in Forrest City, IA. Abby insisted that she do an equal third of the presentation and spent the next week rehearsing her part. During the show, I stood on the sidelines and watched my 12-year old daughter take the stage. Her commanding presence filled the entire theater and captivated every person in the standing-room-only crowd. It was at that moment that I realized the profound impact this entire journey has had on her.
When we set out, we were simply trying to maintain some semblance of normal and avoid any permanent damage while we chased a crazy dream. This incredible experience has simply been the catalyst that ignited the spark and gave us permission to become our best selves, the ones who have been there lying dormant for so long. We hope that our new sparkle shines brightly through our images and stories and inspires others to get outside, go on adventures, and live the best life possible. I have no idea what the future holds for us, but can’t wait to fire up the RV and discover what lies just over the horizon.