Notes from the Road 1

As I sit here in the back of my van, watching the sea, wetsuit drying from the day’s surf, it seems as good a time as any to write down my thoughts, meditations, musings, and takeaways from the first half of this European adventure. I first dared to dream about a road trip years ago, when I bought my van. A few interesting years, and one pandemic later, I dared to give it a go. And so began an anti-clockwise loop of Western Europe over the course of two months.

In the five weeks since leaving home, this 30 year old VW T4 and I have travelled due South, covering over 2000 miles, via France, Spain, and Portugal. Together we have traversed coastal roads, mountain passes, and narrow lanes in search of new experiences, friendly faces, and some nice waves. I’m thrilled to report that those boxes are being repeatedly ticked. I’ve driven through some stunning rural places, soaked in the local sights, both bold and beautiful, met some incredibly friendly folks from around the world, and scored the best waves of my life.

Like any good adventure, there have been a couple of hiccups. Mechanical gremlins on the van (with days lost to waiting on parts), electrical systems not playing ball, and realising there’s a long list of stuff I didn’t consider bringing or building, alongside an even longer list of stuff to leave behind next time. 

There’s also been some big wins, like getting my first hang 5, fixing the aforementioned mechanical gremlins myself, and discovering that kitchen roll makes for a really good diffuser for overly eager LED lights. I’ve also found my daily rhythm, how to pack my life away into a small van each day, keeping all the important things in reach, utilising every inch of space to the fullest. It’s been absolutely excellent.

Importantly, I’ve had the chance to temporarily take the word “professional” away from my photographer’s title. It may only be for a little while, but simply letting the beauty of a scene, the wonders of natural light, or the kindness of a smile guide my lens has been so life-giving and relaxing. I’ve had days where I’ve taken over 1000 images, and I’ve gone days without using a camera at all. It’s been so great, especially without the self-induced pressures and unhelpful thought processes of old weighing in. No expectations. That was the aim, and I’m happy to say I’m sticking to it.

On reflection, I’ve needed this for a long time, longer than I originally thought. Stepping back from the way I’d been doing things for many years feels like a refreshing new chapter. My hope is that, with time, I rediscover that child-like fascination with photography again. The flames that once burned so brightly are currently smaller, gentle embers. 

I count myself lucky and thankful for 10 years of fun, explorative and joyful photographic experiences that did a fine job shielding those embers from ever going out, and I’m grateful that this trip is allowing me to hear the light crackling of wood and to smell the smoke again. Like seeing a hint of swell on the forecast after a drought of waves, I’m feeling hopeful. 

Sometimes I think every chapter of my life could be encapsulated by a cliche camping or surfing metaphor.

This career wide reflection goes beyond the every day struggles we artists come across; the self doubt, the over critical eye, comparison to other artists, the internal monologue of “why did they land that job instead of me” “their images are nicer than mine” “they’re working more than me” “their instagram has a better following”. On this trip, I am graciously afforded the time to go deeper, seeing past the view of others and working on the self, at least for a while. Figuring out how I tick, and why I take pictures. 

I’m seeing how my life and career both lovingly intertwine, and resentfully repel one another. A tension that I see as intrinsically vital - yet bloody annoying at times!

There’s an underground humming that I can’t quite shake. Tremors of “what ifs” and “maybes”. Being so far from home has given me the opportunity to look back at life in the UK from a birds-eye-view. Evaluating, pondering, wrestling, conceding. This is my chance to be carefree again, relive those youthful moments of my early 20’s in snowy Canada, and seek the simple life. It springs up ideas of selling everything I own and moving far, far away. Surely we’ve all had that thought at some point, right? But even if I had the guts to try, would that throw away the years of hard work so far? Maybe I’ll change my day-to-day when I get home and find new rhythms, or maybe I’ll slip unconsciously back into familiar patterns. Time will tell.

I’m left in a strange sense of limbo. Here in the Algarve I’m currently as far away from home as this road-trip will take me, both geographically and in duration. It’s a weird feeling, to think that I have to start making my way back. I’ve had some of life’s questions answered, but a couple more have presented themselves in their place. Perhaps that’s how it goes. Maybe by never answering them all we are leaving room for the unknown at every corner. I’m taking it as a good thing either way.

I’ll be leaving Portugal in a day or two, slowly winding north, and leaving the warm sunny coastlines behind in exchange for the natural beauty found in-land. 

Thank you God for your grace and provision over this road trip. Bring on the next few weeks.


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