Finding Home

It's 7pm and I'm in the window seat of a small plane, taxiing toward the runway. The sun is falling from the sky, and golden light is spilling onto the wing. The landscape blurs as we pick up speed, and I feel the wheels lift. We're flying. To Atlanta. Then Paris. Then Cairo, Egypt. A new country, a new continent. A new home. Sort of.


There isn't any one place I call home. This will be my 32nd official address change, and it will change again when I relocate to Seattle this summer. A lot of people assume I grew up in a military family. The truth is, I was raised in a small midwest city, where life was pretty predictable. It wasn't for me, so I moved away when I turned 19. I became a restless transplant, and I guess I've been one ever since. In a way, home has become the road.

Two weeks ago, I was at home on the road. I was driving a car that wasn't mine, in a place I had never been, with someone I had only just met. Land Rover had organized an epic Utah experience centered on the launch of the new Discovery, and we were lucky enough to be invited along for the ride.

Some of us were meeting for the first time when we pulled into the parking lot at Whiptail Grill just outside Zion National Park. A few of us had traveled together before, and it was amazing to catch up on missed adventures with friends both old & new. We agreed to meet up that night and paired off to chase the sunset. There were six of us, and three SUVs. I was driving with Ravi, who I had just met that afternoon.

Road tripping is an art. The music, the vibe, the snacks. Windows down, a/c blast. Topics of conversation. We all have our preferences, and finding people you can road trip with is like finding gold. Luckily, we discovered right away that we had similar taste in music while testing out the premium sound system. Next, we opened the sunroof. Dropped the windows half-mast. Gummies for snacks. Most importantly, we both wanted to stop every 5 minutes to take photos. It was a match. We would be roadies for the next three days.

After winding through the high canyon walls of Zion National Park, we settled into our cabins at Zion Mountain Ranch. The sky was turning pink over the field outside my porch, and I could see the silhouettes of buffalo grazing in the distance. I grabbed a jacket and joined the group for a dizzying array of gourmet eats and a few hours of great conversation. Day one was legend. Day two would be even better.

"Go, go, go!"

The walkie came to life as sand flew past my driver's side window, propelled upwards from the spinning tires below. I already had the pedal to the metal. I couldn't give it any more gas. I could see the spot where I had previously gotten stuck just up ahead, and my tracks from having to reverse down the dune. After a brief moment of doubt, I felt the wheels gain traction and I flew upwards to join the rest of the Land Rover squad. We were learning to off-road on the Coral Dunes in Kanab, Utah. It was both awesome and terrifying, but mostly awesome. The Land Rover team coached us through turns and wildly steep descents, familiarizing us with the various built-in driving features. As we made our way through the park, I was amazed at how well the Discovery navigated such diverse and difficult terrain. After a delicious picnic on the dunes, one of the instructors took us out for a drive and showed us how it was really done. Basically, Land Rover is badass.

That afternoon we drove from Kanab, Utah to Amangiri Resort in Big Water. I wasn't prepared for Amangiri. It was next level luxury. The entire resort was a minimalist's dream of white stone, concrete walls, natural timbers and clean edges. My suite had it’s own outdoor lounge and fireplace with a stunning view of the desert landscape, and a koi pond at the front door. Wandering the open-air corridors of Amangiri was like strolling through a James Bond scene, and I never wanted to leave.  


There is something about the desert that always lures me back. Maybe it's the golden light or all the wild, unobstructed space. The open roads and the rolling thunderstorms. Maybe it's the star smattered skies and the warm desert winds. Whatever it is, it draws me in. This time was no different. For two days, we explored the winding roads around Big Water, Utah.  We kayaked to Lone Rock on Lake Powell and built a campfire together on Saddle Mountain. At sunrise, we rode a hot air balloon over the massive rock formations at Amangiri. At night, we met for dinner under the stars and stole glimpses of Saturn with a local astronomer. We got to know each other over post-sunrise breakfasts and poolside chats. I felt inspired on so many levels by the people in our group. As creatives, we shared different strengths and perspectives. As fellow adventure seekers, we found friendship and community.

The next morning, we woke up early to catch sunrise at Lake Powell before driving back to St. George, Utah. The sky was a beautiful pastel pink before turning to a rich crimson hue. It was the perfect ending to an incredible trip. As we drove back toward Amangiri with Lone Rock in the rear view mirror, I knew I'd be back. It's hard to stay away from a place that feels like pure magic. After four unforgettable days in the desert, it was time to find our way back home. Back on the road.

Chasing Light in Death Valley

This past weekend, I drove down to Death Valley and Alabama Hills to link up with some friends and adventure together for a few days.  I've lived in California for three years now, and this was my first time exploring the area. I was struck by the diversity of the landscape. I had expected mostly sand, but found slot canyons, salt flats, sand dunes and rocky terrain. And only a few hours away, the snowy base of the tallest mountain in the continental US, Mount Whitney. This is a quick clip I pieced together of our trip, including some RED footage from my friend Mikai Karl.

Song is 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers

La Push, Washington

La Push, Washington

I don’t know what day it is. Only that it’s the first day I’ve ever started my own campfire. I’m alone, in La Push, Washington.

La Push, Washington

I stood on the beach today at sunset. Watching people balance cameras while wearing knit hats and flannel shirts – teetering out onto massive logs, silhouetted together against a crimson sky. I saw the same scene I had seen five years before. The same rock formations in the distance, the same haystacks and mossy green trails. I was frustrated; for some reason I wasn’t able to tap into the same elation, wonder or adrenaline I have carried in my memory for the last five years. It was strange. In some ways, I have felt that way this whole trip.

Olympic National Park, Washington

I came to the Pacific Northwest hoping to revel in gloom, green and fog, and I’ve had nothing but blue skies and sunshine. But then again, camping in the rain would not be the epic, effortless experience it is now. I am warm, dry, and content by this campfire I somehow built by myself.

I haven’t felt any marked highs, any notable lows. Everything is fluid, easy enough. Beautiful enough. Everything here has stayed the same, it seems I’m the one who has changed.

Cape Flattery, Washington

Five years ago, I made this same trip. One of my two weeks’ coveted vacation as a retail manager – I needed as much nature as I could cram into seven day’s time. I booked a flight to Seattle and drove a rental car to the Columbia River Gorge. It was pouring rain, it was the beginning of November, and it was perfect. During that trip, I blew through Portland. I didn’t even stop for coffee. I wanted trees. Mountains. Rivers. Waterfalls. Falling leaves. I found what I was looking for, in both Washington and Oregon. But the trip was bittersweet. I experienced such a rush of life in that far too short, abbreviated time that I flew home and put in my two weeks.

Ruby Beach, Washington

Ruby Beach, Washington

I just couldn’t stay another day in Kentucky. Nothing was wrong with Kentucky; it was just that everything was right with Washington. The fog, the green, the beach, the mountains, the remote forested towns and outdoor air. After agreeing to stay on board with Abercrombie and assist through the Christmas season, I finally told my manager in January that it was time to leave. I interviewed with a major retailer in Seattle and was offered a contract set to begin in two weeks. And then Abercrombie countered with an offer in Italy.

Cape Flattery, Washington

Cape Flattery, Washington

Hoh River Rainforest, Washington

I wonder what life might have been like if I had moved to Washington instead of Italy. If I had amassed a collection of hipster clothing and English speaking friends instead of a closet crammed with Abercrombie and a Facebook newsfeed that is becoming harder to read as I forget my Italian. I guess I will never know. But it doesn’t really matter; I am here now. Happy. Not broke. Traveling. Camping on my own. Scrawling incoherently onto this piece of moleskin paper. It’s practically impossible to read. I just think too fast. Or write too slow. I don’t know. Maybe one day I will type it up so that it actually survives my chaotic, scribbled life, and can be looked back upon someday, sometime. I just didn’t think whipping out the laptop around my epic campfire would be kosher. I’m having a real, raw camper moment. And everyone around me is going to sleep. Lights out, fires out.

Stars out.

La Push, Washington

John Muir Trail

Video footage of our 240 mile trek through Yosemite National Park, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, King's Canyon National Park, and to the summit of Mount Whitney at 14,496 ft. Ten mountain passes, 23 campsites, 8 alpine dips, and thunderstorms for days. The most epic views I've ever seen, and some of the coolest people I've ever met.

Havasupai, Arizona
Photo by Taylor Michael Burk

Photo by Taylor Michael Burk

I could hear the wind as it whipped through our small cluster of tents, and carried what it could from the rim down to the canyon floor. It was 2am, and someone’s phone alarm had just gone off. I was snug in my sleeping bag, more than comfortable in my tent. I peeked out from my little cocoon and looked up at the stars, visible through the mesh fabric. I didn’t have my contacts in, so everything was pronounced. The stars were larger than life, blurry and brilliant with light. We were perched high above the south rim of the Grand Canyon floor, camped at the edge of an outcropping, suspended nearly 1,000 feet above the ground below. It was the middle of the night, and it was cold. I searched around until I had found the one outfit I would be wearing more or less everyday for the next four days, and stumbled out into darkness. Just as I did, the tent took flight. 

I grabbed it by the frame, and tossed my bag inside to keep it in place. I didn’t have a lot of practice breaking camp, and the wind was an unexpected twist I hadn’t prepared for. Eventually, I had everything tucked into all the right places, and our group began descending from the trailhead. Our fearless leader, Mina Lee, spaced each of us out so that our headlights formed a trail of light down the winding path to the desert floor. I fell so many times I lost count, no doubt interrupting an otherwise flawless photo op. It was 10 miles to Havasupai, and we had four days of supplies and gear tucked into our packs. 

More than 188,000 acres of broken plateau, steep canyons and red rock on the western edge of the Grand Canyon’s south rim comprise the territory of the Havasupai Reservation. The village of Supai, home of the Havasupai tribe, lies at the base of Havasu Canyon, a remote outpost that can only be reached by hiking, horses, or helicopter. Population: 208. 

A steady stream of blue-green water led us to upper and lower Navajo Falls, then wound along the trail to a dramatic 100 foot drop-off; Havasu Falls. Havasu Falls is hard to describe. After 10 miles of dust and desert, you descend a short ways from the trail and straight into an explosion of turquoise that literally stops you in your tracks. And it is only the beginning. Because Havasupai is paradise. From that moment on, the water only gets bluer, the trails greener, everything is dreamier.

We had arrived ahead of the weekend crowd, and the creek side campgrounds were deserted. I can’t remember how many of us there were, maybe 20. We lined up our tents and strung up our hammocks along the banks to the water’s edge, where the creek plunged 200 feet below to the base of Mooney Falls. It was only ten in the morning and I was already exhausted from the previous 48 hours of driving, chasing light and barely sleeping. I passed out in my tent for at least a few hours, then wandered down to Havasu Falls to watch people I had just met throw themselves from a rocky ledge beneath a crazy high waterfall. I liked them already.

The next morning, I unzipped my tent and peered outside. Green trees, blue water. The sun was still behind the canyon walls, and the air was cool. It was barely six in the morning. I shuffled out of my sleeping bag and reached around for my contacts. I couldn’t bring myself to put on my shoes. I was on my fourth pair of hiking shoes in the past six months, and each pair had torn up my feet worst than the last. I counted seven open cuts, blisters and wounds between the two feet. I packed a small bag and walked barefoot over to the group, wondering how far I could manage without shoes. Nha and Victor, two people in our group who also happen to be registered nurses, intercepted me and bandaged both feet. I sat in total awe and appreciation, and realized I had a lot to learn before my 24-day backcountry trek through the Sierra Wilderness.

We descended down the steep stone trail that twisted left, right, and then down through a winding, narrow tunnel. The spray from Mooney Falls soaked through our clothes as we clung to the wet, rusty chains and wooden planks hammered into the red-rock canyon walls. One by one, we dropped to the sand from the suspended ladder at the base of Mooney and waded out into the turquoise blue water. It was becoming harder and harder to believe we were in the Grand Canyon, in the middle of a massive desert. 

We regrouped near a series of small cascades and began walking through the stream, away from the campground and toward the confluence. All around us stood jade-colored trees and tall canyon walls. We climbed up onto a trail chiseled into the canyon wall, and inched along its edge single file, one by one. The trail wound downstream some three miles, crisscrossing the creek at times and narrowing into a footpath through a jungle-like cottonwood oasis of dense vegetation. The colors were so vibrant, everything was so green. 

Three miles later, we reached Beaver falls. We were a group of cliff jumpers and adventure junkies, so together we explored the falls and its various departure points. We lingered at the edge of a 60-foot cliff, fixated on the stunning sapphire pool below. It was a long way down, and the water was so clear it was difficult to know how deep it really was. Mina made the trek down to test the water depth and shouted up at us. It was too shallow, just barely overhead. 

Photo by Nicolas Escobar

Photo by Nicolas Escobar

From there, the group split. Half of our group turned back to the campground, and the rest of us continued toward the confluence, where the creek collides with the Colorado. It was another 4 miles deep into Narnia, and rain clouds hovered in the distance. My feet were in a wild amount of pain, but I was a full ten on the content scale.

Our group was smaller now, maybe 10 of us in all. It was late afternoon, and the clouds were turning a dark shade of grey, floating overhead. We had 12 miles to cover and just four hours of daylight. Collectively, we had zero sleeping bags and very little rain gear. We stopped briefly to assess our snack situation, and then decided to push on toward the Colorado. 

Sometimes there was a trail, and sometimes we wandered back into the water and walked waist-deep through the blue. As we neared the confluence, the canyon walls rose into two massive towers of perfectly smooth rock, winding downstream in flawless tandem. 

The canyon walls narrowed, and the water level rose. The cold water splashed up onto my chest as I gripped my camera overhead, and I focused my efforts on keeping my camera dry. I was wearing sandals, and the rocks underfoot were shifting with the current. I moved slowly, and carefully, until we had passed through the narrows and the sound of the rushing Colorado echoed off the canyon walls. 

We spent an hour, maybe two, climbing around the banks of the confluence, eating almond butter and taking pictures. The sun was just beginning to set when we decided to hike back, and the clouds had eased up overhead. We took the upper trail, and peered down into the narrows as we bypassed them on the cliff. As we hiked, the long shadows spanning the canyon walls disappeared with the setting sun and everything grew dark. Before long, the canyon was dark as night as we plodded upstream with our pant legs rolled high, unable to see the water but sure that it was there. The only visible light was that of our headlamps, assembled into a small train of light moving slowly through the water.

Photo by Alisa Ongbhaibulya

Photo by Alisa Ongbhaibulya

We had covered nearly four miles when Mina stopped and pointed her headlamp toward a wooden ladder propped up against the canyon wall. Together, we climbed single-file high above the stream, and followed a trail to the base of Mooney Falls. It was late when we came crashing into camp; exhausted, hungry, too happy to care. I dove into my sleeping bag, and fell asleep to the sound of rushing water outside my tent, making its way to the Colorado in the night. 

The next morning, there were tents everywhere. It was Saturday, and the weekend crowd had arrived. Our mini oasis by the stream was overrun with hammocks, tents and packed picnic tables. One passing camper told us there was an hour wait to descend the ladder to Mooney Falls. We passed the time at Navajo, and climbed around the top of Havasu. We tied up the Tentsile over the water, and hunted down hammock overhangs. At night we fired up our Jetboils and ate by the stream, sharing our dehydrated meals and tossing glow sticks across the table. 

By Sunday night, the crowds had gone, and we had Havasupai to ourselves again. Most of us had only just met, but I knew when we said good-bye, it wouldn’t be for the last time. The next morning we rode out on horses, and decided the adventure wouldn’t end there. We piled our stuff into two cars, and hit the open road.