The Captive – It was such a silly thing, when all those tiny boats approached her. She had only been cooling her feet in the river when the tiny armada attacked. Now, it was too late to escape.
It sounds like the plot of a horror film, or a really tragic movie on the Lifetime network: woman packs up and drives off to spend her summer camping alone in the wilderness. I was endlessly warned about the risks. Hadn’t I read Into the Wild, didn’t know what was out there? Had I forgotten that bad things always happen to the protagonist in stories like this? Didn’t I realize that I was a defenseless, helpless woman, not only camping, but also camping alone? Was I crazy? Surely, there was some man out there waiting to harm me, stalking me like a hungry tiger. At one point I was even recommended to carry a gun. What if I got hurt hiking, or lost? Could I drag my broken body to safety or would I just die alone in the cold dark forest? What about bears? How would I stay safe amongst all these threats? There was so much to fear, so much to loose, was it really worth the risk?
Fortunately, I don’t watch too much television and Cheryl Strayed’s epic tail, Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trial, is one of my favorite books. Of course, like the beginning of any good adventure, there were moments when I thought, “wow, this could go really badly.” Instead of worrying, I tucked away my fears and started to plan. On a hot July day, I packed my car and headed out to explore America’s National Park system. I bought a season pass, and over the course of four months, I visited ten parks, camping in eight of them. I decided to stay in the public campgrounds, choosing running water, picnic tables, flush toilets, and pre-made fire rings over total isolation in the backcountry. During the day, I hiked and took photographs, in the evenings I read, cooked, and sat by my campfire. I went to bed early, got up with the sun, and although I was always aware of my aloneness, I never once felt lonely.
Alice – When Alice reached a certain age, she returned to Wonderland permanently. Everything that had been so disconcerting when she was young, she now found quite comforting, or not so strange that it couldn’t be solved by a cup of strong tea.
When I moved to Mexico two years ago, I had many of the same fears about traveling as a woman alone, only to have them disappear upon arrival. Yes, you do have to be cautious in Mexico, but had I heeded the warnings not to go, I would have missed out on one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Fears hold us back in so many ways, but through facing them we reap such great rewards. With this in mind, I knew that I had to trust in my instincts and see what was out there hiding in the woods. Now, sitting at my desk watching the days get darker and the December solstice approach, I long for my summer spent camping alone. Rather than as a terrifying, dangerous trip, my memories of summer are relaxed and carefree. I set out on this camping adventure, not only to breath fresh air and to sleep under the stars, but to change the course of my life and also my career.
I am a fine art photographer, and for the past five years I have been completely involved in creating a series of long exposure self-portraits. Last April, I finally completed the series and exhibited them as The Secret Garden. I was ready for something new, but my inner critic berated my every effort. I can still hear the chastisements, “it’s all been done before,” “nothing you do is original,” “your work sucks.” I believed it all, and I cowered. My anxieties manifested in my life. I cried, I fought with my boyfriend, I got depressed, I gained weight, and I was sure a complete breakdown was imminent. Things were getting really rough, when one day, deep inside my heart I heard the words: “the only way out is through.” At that moment, I realized I had to make every bad, poorly executed, derivative image I could think of, until they were all out of my system. I had to not only face my fears, but to live up to them and move on. This is when I decided I needed some alone time.
The Weather Girl – It pleased her to play with the weather. She enjoyed nothing more that watching raindrops splash and make rings in the pond. It was a great responsibility, being in control of the weather, but occasionally she did as she liked.
I packed up my home in Mexico, sold what I could, and gave the rest away. I said goodbye to the man I had been dating for over a year and headed back to United States. I thought it would all be harder than it was, but when I drove into that first National Park and pitched my tent, I felt freer than I had in ages. Every day I hiked, slowly building up from long walks, until one day I actually trekked sixteen miles and climbed and descended over three thousand feet. It took months to get strong enough, and I had some serious trials along the way, including running out of water more that once. Over time, I learned what I was capable of accomplishing. I began carrying a water filter and eventually anything under ten miles was a breeze. As I walked, my mind became clearer and more creative. I started having to stop and scribble down ideas along the way. My dreams were vivid and detailed. Soon, I was taking new photos almost every day. Not everything was brilliant, but it didn’t matter anymore because I had so many ideas that I could hardly keep up. I tore down my creative block and was suddenly swimming in pure inspiration.
It all sounds a little dramatic, and it was, right down to my car, which became a dress up trunk full of things scavenged from thrift and vintage stores along the way. I had props, wigs, and costumes. Occasionally, while wearing make up and dressed in a sparkly ball gown, I surprised other hikers as they passed by. Fortunately, I wasn’t always alone this summer and I can’t take complete credit for my transformation. After years of travel and living abroad, I felt like I had lost my photographic community. I was creating in a vacuum and it was indeed lonely. To remedy this, I reached out to photographers that inspired me and I took their workshops. It all started with the strobist Syl Arena at the Santa Fe Workshops, then I met Jenna Martin and Joshua Malik in Las Vegas, a few months later I became part of the Wild One’s community in Portland, Oregon, and finally, I met the inspirational Brooke Shaden in Hana, Hawaii. All of these teachers and everyone who came to participate in the workshops pushed me and inspired me to trust myself. I now consider them friends, and feel like a whole new creative world has opened up.
The Seeker – They had traveled hundreds of miles from their jungly ocean home. Now, high above the clouds, in an airless desert, they reached the mouth of the ancient crater. As the sun set before her, and the moon rose behind her, she knew that she must descend to the floor of the sleeping volcano and wait for the full eclipse. Then and only then would she know…
Many of the images I took this summer were really complex composites. This winter, as I edit them together, I get to re-live my summer adventures. These images are far and beyond anything I believed I was capable of creating and I am so excited to share them. I am proud of myself for facing my fears and heading out into the wilderness alone. I had a few adrenaline filled moments including almost stepping on a rattle snake, but when my car broke down, half the campground came together to get it started, and when I decided to stay in a hotel and abandon my camp for the night because it was raining and miserable, the rangers came to check on me the next day. I was safe. Every fear I had, felt unfounded in the end. Although, I always carried mace and spent many an hour late at night listening for them in camp, I was never lucky enough to see a bear.
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