It’s taken me almost the entire week and a half since The Wild Ones Tour officially ended to actually piece it all together in mind, there is a lot to reflect on, to remember, to laugh about and to feel humbled by.
The Wild Ones 2013 Workshop tour started out as simply a comment, a desire by Shane, Sarah and myself to travel together during the summer, a road trip fueled by friendship and photography. Like most of these dreams, I never really expected it to go beyond that, but before long we were planning a route, deciding to teach workshops to help fund our journey, and deciding on names, logos and where we’d teach. It became normal to start talking about this epic trip, a travelling class that would reach from Coast to Coast and take us to more than 20 states.
We decided to teach, at first purely because we needed a way to fund our trip, but gradually and after signing on Coca-Cola and Flickr as sponsors we became less worried about the financial aspect of the trip and more invested in the people, the community, the stories. We believed in our project, we believed in ourselves and each other so much so that each of us quit our regular jobs all in the same week. 6 years of working in a high school, a hospital and in R&D at a major company, we quit to follow our dreams. In early July, after almost a year of talking and planning and emails and phone calls, we finally set out on our way, without any clue of what was truly in store for us.
Personally, I didn’t know what to expect. On paper the summer looked fairly simple, driving from one stop to the next punctuated by workshops in major cities along the way. It seemed simple, carefree and fun. And it was, even more so than I had ever thought it would be. What caught me off guard though was the community that began to form right in front of my eyes. I’d been to big meetups several times in the last year, and the friendships and bonds that came from them have truly changed my life (including setting me up for this trip!), but I had no idea that our Wild One community would come to mean so much to me.
I distinctly remember how I felt the morning of our first workshop, we were fairly quiet as we got ready and laid out our supplies in the parking lot of the Portland Arboretum. And then people started showing up, happy to see us and with huge smiles on their faces. My nerves eased as we introduced ourselves and got to know the kind personalities behind the smiling faces and before I had even realized it, the day was over. I’ll never forget though, Kathy, a new friend who I spent quite a bit of time with during the workshop talking about photography, about staying inspired and how to shoot certain concepts. This conversation was awesome in itself but shortly before she left at the end of the day, she gave a hug and told me how much it meant to her to be there. And those words twisted right around my heart and made me feel so humbled and happy and proud.
And each workshop was just like that, a beautiful collection of talented and inspiring people with stories and hugs and at the end of each workshop day I could think back and hear the words of thanks and kindness that were whispered during those final moments. Little did I know that each of those hugs, handshakes, photographs, and laughs were changing me bit by bit.
By the time we had reached Los Angeles, the halfway point of the tour I could already see it, the reach that this trip was having, not just within the workshops and with ourselves but with the people we met along the way. We were so fortunate to cross paths with so many generous and loving people that fed us, let us in their homes, walked around the city for an entire day, and simply just wanted to come and say hi before we left. I didn’t expect it and each time that it happened I was even more humbled and amazed at how our community was growing.
The trip though centered around the workshops was also an opportunity for the three of us to get to know each other better, and through the many mile we definitely did. A year ago, I never would have imagined that I would be waking up in front of Half Dome in Yosemite with these two, I wouldn’t have dreamt that I’d be teaching a class in Coca-Cola headquarters, spending a birthday walking across the White Sands in New Mexico, watching the fireworks light up the castle at Disneyworld. I came to love Sarah and Shane even more like members of my family, a brother and a sister that have memories with me that will never be taken. I’d like to say that each day of the trip was a laugh filled comedy but truthfully there were some tough days. Days when we weren’t feeling so great, days when the heat affected our moods, the lack of sleep made us grouchy and the long driving kept us quiet, but these tough times only ended up making the three of us better friends because we managed to come together. We trusted each other, applauded each other and supported each other in any way that was needed and I’m so lucky to have spent two months with these two amazing people.
The tour quickly gained three hashtags, #thewildones2013, #flickrXcountry and #sharehappiness. For me, the Share Happiness tag was the most important, not because Coca-Cola was a sponsor but because we had an opportunity to give back as much as possible to anyone, friend or stranger across the entire country. We knew from the very beginning that this was not a trip we wanted to profit from, and true to this statement we finished the trip with nothing in the bank. We were truly able to bring happiness to people every day. Buying dinners, giving away free entries to deserving photographers who wanted to attend our workshops but couldn’t afford it, feeding stray dogs in parking lots and trying to do as much as we could to fill every city and town we stopped in with a jolt of happiness.
I think for me, the happiest moment was the opportunity we had to fly two talented brothers from Illinois to Dallas to spend a few days with us and attend our workshop. Earlier when we had planned the route, I felt bad that we weren’t going to be passing through the Midwest, giving us a chance to meet Jordan and Justin Kuder. But, after a pretty short conversation pretty much consisting of “We should fly them to Dallas”….”Ok!” we had arranged for them to attend, no cost at all to them. It was an amazing feeling to be able to give a gift like that, one that I could tell meant a lot to both of them. It was a highlight of my summer for sure, to be able to not only give them the opportunity to come to the workshop but to get to know them both as friends.
It sounds cliché but giving back is truly one of the greatest things you can do. I learned this summer, that being able to give and to encourage and to share help fuel the best life you could imagine. During each workshop, I felt humbled that people wanted to learn but I felt even more empowered and inspired because I had an opportunity to share and give back to those very people who helped us get to a point where we could share. The internet didn’t make me a photographer, but it did introduce me to a new life. YOU, the people that support me and believe in me and helped make this summer trip a reality are the reason that I feel so happy to give, because you gave me your support and love and it helped me become a different person than I was 5 years ago before I picked up a camera.
This trip started out as a chance to teach other people, but in the end it taught me more about myself and about the good in the world. Each and every friend that we made and saw taught me something new and helped me feel even more passionate about creating art and about sharing happiness. While I was inspired by the natural beauty of the places we visited I was even more inspired by the openness of those that we met, how much they believed in their art and how much they believed in the three of us. That sense of belief and support and thanks are worth more than paycheck that a job could pay.
There is a community now, a family of Wild Ones that has been created over these 8 workshops, it’s a family that may never be in the same room together but is still filled with the very best of traits. We are supportive, encouraging, talented, and bursting with excitement and respect for each of the other people in it. And the beautiful part of this community is that it’s not limited to only a few, it’s an open community of friends and photographers and supporters who just want a place to be themselves without judgement and to share happiness. It is because of this community, this family that I feel that The Wild One’s has been one of the most important and valuable experiences in my life.
We couldn’t have done this trip without you, some of you donated money, some of you let us stay in your homes or fed us or even just spent a few hours touring us around your city, some of you sent messages of support that pushed us to keep going and to believe in this project and for all of those things I say thank you. We couldn’t have done this without you.
I’m so proud of the last two months and more than ever I’m proud of being A Wild One.