Music. Film. Photography. Art. Fashion. Lifestyle. Event calendar for all things awesome in Salt Lake City. Enter Salt Roads. This innovative cultural aggregator site launched just last week and I was fortunate enough to be featured on their photography beat. Co-founder Sean Crossland interviewed me about travel writing and my insatiable sense of adventure. He asked excellent questions...and a few answers are things that not even long time readers of this blog know about me. Well done, Salt Roads.
Check out the full interview, along with photos from my adventures, on the Salt Roads site.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I was born in Washington state, grew up in Southern California and Utah, and have lived in Salt Lake City for 15 years now. I’ve traveled my whole life and feel most at home when I’m in motion. My first trip abroad was to Russia when I was 15. I remember standing in front of Saint Basil’s cathedral thinking, “This can’t possibly be real. If the world is actually this beautiful, I have to see all of it.” I’ve built a professional career as a college administrator, but I usually follow that statement with a qualifier about my real life as a creative soul, traveler, photographer, and storyteller.
Q: How did you get into travel writing?
A: It’s a tale of total dichotomy. I’m working at it very intentionally now, but rewind a bit and I actually stumbled into it. Technically I’d been doing it for years and years, but I woke up one day and realized…oh, this thing that I do is actually a thing and it’s called travel writing. I’ve been blogging since 2007, and tweeting and instagramming since the moment each platform was released. I’m an inherently communal person and an ethic of shared experiences is hardwired in my DNA. Sharing my travel experiences is simply an extension of my obsession with building and organizing communities. Poet Mary Oliver sums up my mantra perfectly: “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
It wasn’t until December 2012, when I was sailing the Danube River eating copious amounts of gingerbread, that I fully and finally realized I needed to do this and only this forever. I met Ralph Grizzle, creator of The Avid Cruiser website, who happened to be on assignment on my ship. It was the perfect storm. I’d been timidly flirting with the idea that my life (and identity, if I’m honest) no longer needed to be defined by a stressful 9-5 j.o.b. I’d been toying with the notion that creativity was no longer a luxury, but a state of being I needed to achieve and maintain daily. He followed me on Instagram and proceeded to challenge me throughout the trip to consider taking what I saw a hobby more seriously. You can read more about our serendipitous meeting here. Fast forward to May 2014 and I’m on assignment for The Avid Cruiser in Alaska, writing daily Live Voyage Reports, and living a dream so surreal it’s still difficult to articulate. I’m currently in hot pursuit of the life of a full-time travel writer. Alaska inshrined the dream and there’s no looking back now.
Q: I know it’s impossible to pick a “favorite trip,” but share one recent memorable experience that stands out for you.
A: I recently spent a week in the Hopi lands in northern Arizona. We were there partially for a cultural immersion and exchange, and partially to serve the different villages and clans in any way they requested. The experience was profound in ways we never could have anticipated (as with all good travel). We cooked dinner in the homes of tribal elders each evening. We were blessed by a shaman in a sunrise ritual involving their sacred white corn. We learned about dry farming and helped a youth group plant seeds for the upcoming season. We sat in the living room of the famous potter Alice Dashee and listened to her tell us about her process, about how the spirit of the clay collaborates with her in the creation of her work. We were invited to a baby naming ceremony and were the only non-Hopi there. I stepped outside to capture a photo of the sun rising over the mesa, not realizing at the same moment that the young mother was walking to the edge to whisper the chosen name of her child. Only the mothers, and Father Sun, ever know the full Hopi name of their children. She caught my eye on her way toward the sunrise and smiled, nodding that I could carry on with my photo. The image of her silhouette against the sun is far and away one of my most beautiful travel memories. We were invited back this July to witness the Home Dance of the sacred Katsinas. We were among only 6 non-Hopi in a crowd of about 4,000. We were up at 4:00am and the first dance started as the sun rose. It was 115 degrees by 10am and he last dance finished after sun down. It was sacred, private, ceremonial, even somber. Absolutely no photos were allowed, so this travel experience will truly live only in my memory.
Q: Traveling as much as you do, you must have had a few bad experiences on the road, too? Care to share?
A: Everything from getting spit on, screamed at, and a machine gun pointed at my head by an angry Russian soldier in St. Petersburg, to sleeping alone overnight on the floor in a completely empty LAX. Of course airlines only lose my luggage when I travel abroad, never domestically where it would be quick and simple to replace everything. Teeny tiny French elevators are not made for Americans and their rolling luggage. Getting stuck in one for hours while the hotel owner is out to lunch qualifies as a near death experience in my book. My hotel in Venice flooded overnight, but that’s par for the course in a city build on pilings in the middle of a lagoon. I’ve shared hostel rooms with some purely insane people in my time and subsequently witnessed more thought-they-were-being-sneaky public sex than I care to admit. The real lesson though: Everything that sucks in the moment is simply a story to share later on. I don’t actually believe in bad travel experiences, I believe that all experiences simply come in varying degrees of awesome.
Q: What’s the one trip you have to make in the next five years? Why is it so important to you?
A: Denmark. No hesitation. My grandpa was born and raised there, coming to the states at age 23 to start a dairy farm and milk delivery business in Iowa. I’m researching my family history and have been for years. I dream of retracing his steps, and generations of steps, through the farms and churches and shores of Viking homeland. I still have all sorts of family there and part of the adventure is finding those people. Every true vagabond soul knows there are places in this world that even though you’ve never been, it’s home. That’s Denmark for me.
Also high on my list, to be the only civilian on a cargo ship delivering mail and fishing supplies to the remote fjords of Norway, to the tiny pristine villages only accessible from the sea. That needs to happen.
Whether you live in Salt Lake City or not, check out the Salt Roads site!