Virginia a Butterfly Effect
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
A question I'm unavoidably asked often is, how do I travel so much? I'm almost positive anyone on Instagram with a feed as colorful as mine is in the same boat. Regrettably, a response to this is never as simple as warming my thumbs up and typing out a one paragraph answer, so I try to avoid this. Not because of the lack of detail I'm able to provide during a short encounter but the lack of weight my words hold. When you deeply understand the commitment it takes to concoct a life suitable to your desires, quick fix situations seem trivial. I look at this paradigm similar to the old adage, good advice is rarely popular. I didn't get to where I am today because I sought extravagant vacations. I got to where I am because I prioritized and figured out the ingredients crucial to the way I wanted to live. I accepted the fact that I was a student of life and there are many out there far more advanced than me. By working to let go of my ego, I inadvertently accepted that my dreams were possible.
When I reached this stage of development in my later teen years my already quick witted and spontaneous attitude was catapulted to new heights. I vaporized the concept of perfectionism and was free to create, evolve, and improve through error. This meant embracing my gritty personality first and following a path towards what I love most, like my passion for the outdoors, my appreciation for the earth, and my love of art. I decided the best way to combine the three was to get involved with road trip culture that I adamantly followed for years; I needed to test it out for myself. I didn't have a reliable car, I didn't have fancy gear, and I didn't even have much knowledge of what I was getting into. What I did know, was that I had a spark and idea for what my life could be so I knew I needed to start to migrate my inner desires into action as quickly as possible to lead a life I could be proud of.
At an early age I was keenly aware when people's words didn't match their actions and this conundrum partially inspired me to put together a media-first road trip with the aim of prioritizing action over fear or circling thought. I decided it was time to revisit all the conversations I had with good friends about our aspirations to take trips together. At the ripe age of 20 I was unsurprised when I was only able to recruit my friend Wesley to come along for the ride. To get started, my arrogantly vague plan comprised of taking my old beat up 1993 Honda Accord across the country from Wisconsin to Washington D.C to Virginia and back again. I had no scheduled hotels, activities, or people to meet, just a few ideas of what I wanted the trip to look like. Fortunately, I had one friend who was up for the challenge. You can bet I was taking the trip regardless but in the end, what is life when it isn't shared with others? While the act of spending time with loved ones is undoubtedly a key ingredient for a happy life, I also realized when you're young it's important to grow, learn, and pursue your highest self even if that means separating yourself from the pack. This ideology has been crucial in moving the needle forward for me because it's been important to realize everyones timeline moves along at a different pace. The more you follow pack mentality and compensate for your social circle's timeline the slower you'll be able to evolve.
We set a date, packed my trunk full of travel essentials and set out to explore a world not yet available to us. I really wanted to get into the hiking sub-culture so I made sure to come up with a plan to carry all of my gear. My setup included a back-support-less school backpack full of clunky items, a non-compactable 2 person tent, a massive Walmart sleeping bag not suitable for any occasion, and a jerry rigged shoestring system to tie it all together. You could say I was ready for anything the road life could throw at me. With no cruise control capabilities and an open road in front of us, I knew I was on to something. I loved the feeling of freedom out on the road and the endless possibilities that come with it. Travel is often forced improvement while you're away. You're forced to think of your life during long car rides, layovers, and flights. You're thrown into unfamiliar environments forcing yourself to be more open and accepting. During travel, your day is always changing which forces you to be more flexible and to roll with the tides. Of course at the end of it all it's important to realize you don't need travel to evoke these positives reactions, you just need to be aware of how travel changes you as a person. Everything you've learned along the way can be applied to where you are right now. Be open, spend time clearing your mind, and always be mindful of your own patterns.
Our first stop was Washington D.C. but to relax the jitters of a 16 hour drive we found a nearby park to set up my tent and take a nap. It was one of those annoying moments where I was beyond tired but also too excited to move forward with my day to be able to fall asleep. So instead I just shut my eyes and tried my best to rest before heading into a bumbling July 4th weekend in D.C. We were now tourists so we did what good tourists do, we visited all the popular sites like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, Smithsonian, and the Air and Space Museum. This consumed the majority of the two days we were there and all we had left was to relax and watch the fireworks in the National Mall courtyard. It was really amazing to see all of these world famous sites in person and after having spent years learning about them in books and other forms of media.
Being that I was rookie traveler and I was thirsty for more locations, after the fireworks ended, I decided there was no time to waste and we high tailed it back through thousands of people to catch a subway ride back to our car parked outside the city. With nightfall upon us and without even grabbing a bite to eat, we were off to find Virginia Beach. 200 miles on the road, a southern waffle house pit stop, ten coffees, and a pack of cigarettes later we made it 30 minutes before sunrise. We enjoyed the sweet release of freedom after being cooped up in the car all night to prancing around a warming beach which felt like our own little slice of paradise. The ambient weather, the sounds of the early morning ocean, and an unforgettable sunrise came together as one big delightful greeting. From a photography aspect, my young creative brain blew up in excitement from the new environment and magnificent lighting we were blessed with. Still running on no sleep, I zipped around trying to find the most interesting angles and settings to capture the perfect shot. At the time I'd always ask myself, If I had to represent this exact time, space, and feeling with one shot, was I happy with the final composition? With good luck and great weather, it was time to set up the tent and pass out to the sound of waves. For anyone that hasn't tented on a beach before it is a magical experience and is one way to embrace a true feeling of freedom.
After a couple blissful days of beach bumming it, body surfing waves, and even getting thunder-stormed off a beach, It was time to head west to the McAfee Knob trail head. This was going to be my first backcountry mountain experience and I could hardly wait. Carrying a seed passion for the outdoors, Wesley and I trekked our way 4 miles to McAfee Knob. A perfect way to experience the Appalachian Trail for the first time, the lookout was a complete stunner on yet another beautiful warm summer night. It was also the day we met the myth, the man, and the legend that went by the trail given name, Edge. A tall strong burly school teacher with some respectable values, went on to explain each year during summer break he would spend three months thru hiking the Appalachian trail. At the time I remember thinking how insane that sounded but as each year goes by I find myself closer to planning the trip myself. Similar to the sunsets we were experiencing the entire trip we woke to yet another breathe taking sunrise showcasing all of her glory across god's green earth.
In conclusion, how do I travel so much? I prioritize. I don't make excuses. When you talk to me, I don't say things I don't mean. When I dream, I don't limit myself. I seek out people that make me feel good. I live on my own terms and set a tempo that works well for my timeline. It doesn't matter where you come from and it doesn't matter what you know, it matters in how much you're willing to give. The greatest joys in life can often be found by taking a leap. Reading my journey today won't quickly change anything but it could be a powerful little butterfly if you're willing to to let it move you.
Nick Uthe is a travel photographer, writer, and digital entrepreneur in Salt Lake City. He is the Owner of outdoor apparel and media brand GrandTaiga, and a Contributor for Outside TV, and HUMANFITPROJECT.
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