Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… well, by most accounts, I drove completely off the road. Most people thought I had gone crazy to leave the “safety” and “security” of working in a professional office to travel, photograph and write.
I was a lawyer when I first started travel writing. I ran my solo practice in an office suite that I shared with about 35 other lawyers. After five years without and real vacation or break, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was literally losing my mind. My friend Bridget (a wonderfully spontaneous girl) decided we should take a weekend road trip to St. Louis. That simple road trip set the wheels of change in motion. Those wheels continue to turn.
On our way back, we were speeding through central Illinois, chasing the sunset, looking for the perfect place in the middle of nowhere to watch it fade into the horizon. We sat completely silent in the grass on the side of the road. As the sun sank down, the idea for a book surfaced. This was discovering what it meant to really be alive. We would do this again.
When I started taking these road trips, everyone was naturally curious about what I was doing. When I told people about the project and showed them some of the pictures (after Death Valley we had nearly 3500) I always got the same two reactions in the same order – every time. First, their eyes would light up and they would say “this is amazing, it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” followed by a sad, longing look and “I wish I could do something like that.” They rattle off a laundry list of excuses as to why they couldn’t – I have a wife/husband, kids, mortgage, soccer practice, work demands, etc., etc. “You’re lucky. You’re single. You can do things like that. I have too many responsibilities.” They would look at me as if I was superhuman, irresponsible, or completely crazy. Well, the latter is probably true. Yeah, definitely true.
Burning Man. The name alone conjures up wild images of a week-long, naked, desert party in the minds of those who know what it is, but have not been there. If St. Louis was getting in the car and starting the engine, Burning Man in 2008 was revving the engine to red line and dropping the clutch. Cliché? Probably. But I’ve never looked at the world and people the same way since then. Two things will always stand out for me from that experience. One was Tony Deifell’s “Why Do You Do What You Do?” project. The other was an encounter with a tarot card reader in Center Camp. Both caused me to seriously ask that very question. “Why?” I couldn’t come up with a reason to try and hold on to my office any more.
My exit from office life was part my decision and part economic situation I didn’t have any control over. The bad economy forced some of my clients into bankruptcy, and others simply didn’t or couldn’t pay. I was losing money and had to face the reality that a business I put six years in to was going to come to an end. Lots of people asked if I could have saved it. Maybe? However, it had become life parasite. It was time to cut it off. Truth is there isn’t anything but your own fear and restrictions keeping you from doing what I did. As my friend Karen put it, “you don’t have an ‘I can’t’ complex. I don’t, and it’s gotten me into trouble more than once. But, it’s also rewarded me in ways that I never imagined. I’ve seen things, been places, met people and done stuff that you generally only read about. Well look at that, you’re reading about it now! Success!
Life over the last two years has been somewhat surreal. It’s been filled with crazy adventures, new places, new looks at familiar places, new people, new friends, a new president, and an entirely new life developed over 50,000 miles in a car. I still have a part-time day job to fill in the gaps and I have nowhere near the income I used to when things were going well in my office. But fame and fortune is not why I set out to do this. I’d certainly welcome both, should they come my way. I would not trade what I do now for any of what was my life in the past. Part of the fun of travel is when everything goes right and goes wrong – often at the same time.
I don’t have the secrets of how you can do this and make it work. That’s up to you. It’s your journey. It will be scary sometimes. But remember, you can’t have courage without fear. Courage is being afraid and going forward anyway.
Step outside the familiarity and “safety” of office life. It’s not as safe as it once was. Live dangerously. Drink the water. Surprises await you around every corner, down several long stretches of highway, and over one rather bumpy off-ramp.