I had given up a comfortable existence for one of uncertainty, risk, and inevitable discomfort and strife. It was a bold move.
“What the hell am I doing?” I said to myself as I sat alone in my van. I was dirty, tired, stressed, out of money and almost out of hope. “Is this worth it?”
I had been alone for seventeen days, living in a Wal-Mart parking lot in the rain. I had spent my last bit of credit on the $6 per gallon cost of fuel to get to British Columbia, banking on getting to shoot with a few hotshot adventure athletes. They had a different plan, and I no longer had any way to remove myself from this situation and move on. Even if I did, where would I go?
Six months earlier I was relaxing on the couch in my mountain-top loft after a great day of snowboarding. I had regular income, a community of friends and a bathroom. I had a life. I had given all of that up to chase a dream and live a life in photographs, stories and my own meaning. I had given up a comfortable existence for one of uncertainty, risk, and inevitable discomfort and strife. It was a bold move.
The investment in myself was paying dividends that I wasn’t sure my psyche could handle. My van had become my ticket to freedom and fulfillment as well as my own prison. It was in this moment, within the confines of El Guapo’s muted gray interior, that I knew I was beginning to lose it.
Self-doubt is one of the nastiest, most underhanded beasts one can ever encounter. It can break anyone, and it was doing it’s worst with me. I’m not sure there is any way to describe the feeling of utter desperation, loneliness and failure. It might be one of those things you just have to experience.
It was in that same moment of downward spiraling misery that I also had my own burst of clarity. Confidence and believing in myself, no matter how difficult the task, is what got me in that position in the first place. Surely it would get me out. It would have to. In fact, it was the only thing that could.
I could decide who I would become. I could give up and let the boat sink, or I could be a positive, persistent man on a mission that would never give up and never allow himself to reach this level of self-pity again.
As if my Dad knew exactly where I was in my head, he told me, “It’s about now that the boat starts leaking. Bailing is good exercise though.” I realized that I was at a crossroad in my life where I could decide who I would become. I could give up and let the boat sink, or I could be a positive, persistent man on a mission that would never give up and never allow himself to reach this level of self-pity again.
It was time to buck up and put on my big boy pants. I am not a quitter and I never have been. Inaction gets you nowhere, so whether I had somewhere to be or not didn’t matter. Opportunities would not present themselves without me first searching them out. I needed to go, then I needed to keep going.
That turned into the underlying theme during my time on the road, and still is today. Getting in the van and driving became a metaphor for my life. Driving meant moving forward, always forward.
I went on to spend another two and a half years rolling the highways of North America full-time, pulling into friends’ driveways whenever possible, but mostly figuring things out on my own. I was on a mission. No matter how difficult or overwhelming my ambitions seemed, there was only one way to accomplish them; by moving forward.
I do want to clarify that my time on the road wasn’t all tribulations. I had some of the best times of my life so far while living the nomad existence. I was free. I went wherever I wanted to go, explored whatever I wanted to explore, and shot images of whatever wanted to shoot.
On December 25th, 2002, I held my first real camera, and before finishing that initial roll of film (yes, film), I understood the power of the world I had just entered. My life would never be the same. I held the opportunity and responsibility to actually capture the experiences, the feelings and emotions, the excitement and disappointment that can come and go within the same fleeting moments. The same unexpected and impactful moments that had shaped my life as a child.
I now live in Lake Tahoe and have dedicated my life to documenting the people, places and activities that embody those elemental relationships I have described. Whether it is sea kayaking in Prince William Sound, Alaska, standup paddleboarding at Great Falls of the Potomac, carving fresh backcountry lines in the West or dropping waterfalls in Mexico, I will be there with a camera in my hands, smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach.
Photography ©copyright Trevor Clark
I met a number of amazing people whom I still keep in touch with. I had a surreal (and completely friendly) moment with a humpback whale while kayaking in the waves off the Oregon coast. I learned how to kiteboard. I spent a lot of time with my younger brother. I was almost arrested several times for living in my van. I visited all 50 states in the US by the age of 26. I lived in my van in the middle of Manhattan and on a 10,000-foot peak in Utah. I honed in on skills that would become my life’s work. I learned about myself. I lived.
And thanks to the van, and my investment in myself, I will keep doing so.
I wish I could say the moment of weakness described above was the only time that happened, but I would be lying. The truth is, I had a lot of those moments, though none as bad as the first. While most people thought I was on a carefree holiday, I was actually putting myself through a test of will and perseverance, and in the process, was able to build a career, a business and most importantly, a person I am proud to have become.
I no longer live in my van, but I still take El Guapo for a spin almost every day. And every time I sit in that driver’s seat, grip the steering wheel like an old friend and turn over the ignition, I remember all of the lessons my four-wheeled friend has taught me. For that, I am thankful. Without those early lessons I would have never realized that we truly do have a choice in how we live. We have the power to decide, even when the situation is looking grim.
“Every search begins with beginner's luck and every search ends with the victors being severely tested.” - quote from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
So, was it worth it?