When we told our daughter Abby that we were moving, she expressed the typical concerns of any nine year old facing change…what about my friends? where will I go to school? etc. When we added that we were moving into a Winnebago RV for a year long road trip, she was, for the first time ever…speechless. With the exuberant encouragement of our friends (who secretly THOUGHT we were crazy), and the reluctant support of our family (who KNEW we were crazy), we sold most of our things, packed up the rest and moved both our family and thriving photography business into a 24 foot Winnebago View. At best we were destined for the biggest adventure of our lives, at worst we would return with our careers in shambles, our family in financial ruin, and quite possibly permanent emotional damage from 365 days spent within the confines of 150 square feet. We did our best to anticipate what the future would bring and minimize our risk: we eliminated all debt and monthly expenses (except the cell phone) and booked as many photography jobs as we could in advance, but ultimately the entire endeavor was a monumental leap of faith.
At first, life on the road was just like any of our other countless road trips over the years (except that life in the RV was WAY more comfortable than our old 4x4 pickup truck). We spent the majority of our days kayaking and climbing (with a good deal of work intermixed to keep our bank account in the black) and managed to tic one extraordinary adventure after another off of our bucket list. As we progressed through our year of adventure, I began to notice some changes slowly taking hold of each of us.
The most profound change for me, was my newfound ability to get a full night’s sleep. Regardless of where we were and how much noise was around us, I was finally able to sleep, night after blessed night, for the first time in over a decade. And being well rested allowed me to take on more during my waking hours leading to a happier, healthier and more successful me. Looking back, I equate my previous life to a hamster running in a wheel, frantically scrambling from one imaginary destination to the next - to be more, to have more, to do more. And really, none of it made me any happier - just incredibly tired. Shifting to a nomadic lifestyle enabled me to identify and prioritize goals that were meaningful to me and start working toward them: 1) quality time together as a family, 2) a career as a writer/photographer, 3) regular adventures kayaking and climbing in the wild. And once I was focused on the really important stuff, and let the rest go, I slept like a baby (and still do most nights). Not to say that life on the road is without headaches and hassles, it’s just much easier to deal with them after a good night’s sleep.
Peter, on the other hand, works hard, plays hard and sleeps hard, and always has. His personal transformation has manifested in his willingness to take risks in his career that were incomprehensible in our previous life. Over the past decade, his sense of responsibility to provide for his family and chase the traditional markers of success: nice cars, gym memberships, music lessons for Abby, designer clothes, etc., left Peter in the habit of playing it safe when it came to our livelihood. Rather than chasing his dreams of traveling the globe telling the story of wilderness expeditions through his images (think National Geographic photographer), he opted for the more proven career path of wedding and portrait photography (for which he is incredibly talented and thoroughly enjoys). However, his desire to travel and photograph adventures has always lingered. The past four years on the road have allowed him the freedom to be in the places where cutting edge athletes are pushing the boundaries of whitewater paddling and he has become one of the go-to-guys for paddlesports imagery. But even more exciting, is that many outdoor industry brands are now asking him to turn his lens inward and tell the story of our personal adventures and develop content to share through their social media networks. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we could make a living by photographing, filming and writing about our days in the wild doing what we love the most.
Abby, for the most part, has been a happy and willing participant in this life altering experiment. She is very task oriented, and the academic transition from public to online school was relatively painless. Once she figured out what was expected and how the program worked, she charged ahead, and even skipped a grade in both math and English. But the best gift of this life on the road has been the thousands of unexpected experiences that have surprised us along our journey. We have watching grizzly bears feed on salmon right outside our RV window, kayaked with whales and dolphins in three oceans, explored caverns and rock towers in the desert, and backpacked through the wilderness. These are the formative moments that leave an imprint that last a lifetime, and were what we craved most while planning this new lifestyle. The true impact of just how much our nomadic lifestyle has changed Abby struck me a couple of weeks ago as Abby took the stage in front of 250 adults and shared her recent experiences on a record setting descent, kayaking the Colorado River, 280 miles through the Grand Canyon. I sat in the front row and watched in awe as my 13 year old daughter shared stories and videos that captivated the sizable crowd for almost an hour, and culminated in a tear-filled standing ovation. It was at that moment that I realized the profound transformation in Abby. No longer is she the shy little girl who would get off the bus everyday, overflowing with emotion about the turmoil at school. That soft-spoken child has been replaced by a confident and charismatic young woman who is ready for just about anything the world has in store for her.
As we set out on this journey, we were simply trying to avoid any permanent damage while we chased a crazy dream, but now it is now clear that this road less travelled has been our saving grace, rescuing our souls from the treachery of mediocrity. I have no idea what the future holds for us, but can’t wait to fire up the Winnebago and discover what lies just over the horizon.
You can follow along on the most recent Holcombe adventures on social media @PeterHolcombe and @adventurousmiss.