The past few months have been a blur. The hardest part wasn’t the 2,000 mile drive back, or even the unknown of how I was going to stretch the $87 I had in my bank account. It wasn’t much of an adjustment to wear a wetsuit again when I would go surfing in the mornings, it wasn’t hard to put a hoodie on when the sun went down. The most difficult thing about coming back, the hardest part for my brain to adjust to was, late at night, when it was dark, when the wind would blow in the fog making everything damp and grey, the hardest part was the silence. The stagnant, soundless, dark silence. The void between my own two ears became filled with the words - failure, quit, stop. That silence became so loud that it’s all I could hear. My reserves of nerve and faith in my own ability to be resilient were exhausted. Used up over 128 days in Mexico. My ability to be “ok” even when I wasn’t was finally spent. Those first few weeks back in California while topically pretty easy (I had a place to stay, thank you Josh for letting me crash on the sailboat), were not that easy. I felt so completely drained. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in about 5 months. I was just plain worn out.
I turned 30 in April, a couple weeks after I got back from Mexico. I spent the day up in the Muir Woods, assessing my life and the triple decade milestone I had reached. Alone on the coast, looking out at the Pacific Ocean, a few things came rushing back into focus. I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to stop. I only wanted to keep going, but I also knew that the way I had been traveling before wasn’t sustainable. I’m pretty good at flying by the seat of my pants 99% of the time, however, my new 30-year-old mature self knew something had to change. I needed a new plan. I needed help. I needed a team.
Through phone calls and favors. Emails and text messages I eventually came to the conclusion that more of my family and friends wanted me to succeed than to fail. The voices at night sometimes were echoed by people closest to me. I had someone I’ve looked up to my whole life tell me that I needed to give up on my dreams. Settle down, get a job, make money, buy into the dogma that is the “American Dream.” They hoped I had had fun but it was time to get back to life. A stable, economically viable life with more 401K contributions and less 501(c)(3) companies. Fortunately, my stubbornness (or determination, the line is a little hazy there too) won on that front.
This trip, this goal, was larger than a simple soul jaunt down the coast. It was evocative of the “big dream” that anyone can have in life. My trip is a metaphor, a challenge and a calling. I had some very difficult questions to ask myself. Was this worth it? Am I completely screwing up my life? Remember, less than a year ago I was a member of the military, employed as a photographer, had health care, expendable income, a decent haircut and a clear path to retirement. I happily gave all that up to live a life of uncertainty.
I let myself question everything. I weighed the options. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends. I talked to anyone who would listen. I also listened to all of those people. I took advice. I tried to let my own ego die a little more. After all of soul searching and late night ‘Bon Iver depression sessions,’ I made up my mind, I needed to take my own advice; anything in this world that I want I can have — I just have to work for it and sacrifice that safety net of “a normal life.”
My first and glaringly obvious step was to assemble a team. I kinda had a crew when I started the first time but it wasn’t uniform. We all had different goals and none of us knew exactly what we were trying to accomplish.
Myself and my producer Madeleine (Maddy) have, through trial and tribulation, materialized a new and focused goal; we will be filming an adventure documentary of a coastal overland journey from Deadhorse, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. Over 18 months I will be driving the Pan-American coast, surfing, shooting and discovering for myself what it really takes to make a dream come true.
But, that dream cannot become a reality if I go it alone, I can not do this by myself. When I was in Mexico, having my weekly mental breakdown, Maddy was there to offer guidance, reassurance and support. She never let me get too far off in the weeds with “what-ifs”. She was grounding, she was absolutely the greatest asset I had on the road. And she is just as much a part of this trip now as she was the first time. Working together we have gathered a team of trusted shooters, editors, and visionaries. Drawing from past travels, and past jobs, Maddy and I have a solid crew to document, edit, and produce a film that we hope will inspire, educate and empower people to go out in the world and see things for themselves.
We have been incredibly hard at work, writing proposals, drafting emails, and planning a route. We have a budget. We have a route and together we have become a group of creators so determined to make this vision a reality that every morning I wake up giddy to get to work. We have 10 months until I plan to leave.
May 15th, 2018 I will leave California in a new vehicle, with the goal of reaching Deadhorse, Alaska by late June. From there I will turn around and start the 18 month trip down the coast. Bringing along cinematographers for a few weeks at a time we will collect footage from life on the road. I will be shooting and writing as well, offering an inside and real-time update on how things are going. From Alaska to Canada, down the Pacific Northwest and into California, to Baja, mainland Mexico, Central America and across the Darien gap to South America finally arriving in Terra Del Fuego, sometime in 2020. At the end we will have a full length film about the trip that we will be showing on both the east and west coasts.
I’m excited, and I’m happy. This is what I want out of life and everyone that has become a part of the craziness feels the same way. Eyes on the prize and hands on the wheel, we will be chasing and catching a dream. Alaska to Argentina.
To my support network at home and abroad, thank you. I love you all with every fiber of my heart.
A new website will be up soon, and our Facebook/IG pages will be updated with progress until we re-launch. Make sure to check back in a few weeks, we will be releasing our pitch video.
Ross Ruddell, TRVLR