A Detour Into Something Big

Dear Friends,

Sorry (again) for the long silence. Connected States is being repurposed, in a way. Or you might say I'm going to be using it for a bigger mission. I've always wanted this project to be a way of making the world (and the U.S.) a better place, and this is my attempt to do that. 

That video is a quick summary of what I'm getting myself into. You can find more information here: www.27Monuments.org

The plan is for more than 6,000 miles in less than four weeks, plus a ton of exploring, shooting, and editing. I'm worried about the sleeping thing (as it's nearly 3am while I write this and I need to hit the road first thing in the morning), but I guess I'll figure it out. 

In the meantime, please do follow along over at Instagram, and there's a Facebook page for the project as well. And if you yourself have been to any of the monuments currently under threat, please post photos of them on Instagram and use the #27Monuments hashtag. Let's spread the word and see if we can save these amazing places.

Thank you, as always, for reading. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming after July 10th... or after I've slept for a few days after that, anyway.

-Brent
June 14, 2017
Salida, CO

27Monuments.org

Chasing the California Double

The California Double (proper noun)
1.     The act of both surfing and snowboarding in a single calendar day.

There are very few places on this planet where it is possible to snowboard (or ski) and surf in a single day. Most of these places exist in California, owing to the state’s unique topography. The state has the world’s tallest mountains relative to their proximity to the ocean, with the King’s Range mountain in Northern California being the steepest rise. In other words, there are some very tall mountains very close to the coast.

I started surfing about 12 years ago and snowboarding roughly 8. This is a late start by California standards, but I grew up in the Berkeley area, which is about an hour by car to the nearest surfable beach and three or more hours to Tahoe. Further, none of my friends were really into either sport, and I didn’t really start doing either of them until I moved to Brooklyn. When I found surfing it was immediately like finding one of those missing puzzle pieces in yourself, where you say, “Oh wow, how did I not have this in my life?” Snowboarding took a few more years to warm up to, owing to the icy conditions in the Northeast and the associated painful falls. but once I did get into it I started fantasizing about doing the California Double.

There’s something about the Double that just doesn’t seem possible. The images we’re fed in pop culture are of surfers at the beach in the summer time wearing boardshorts and bikinis, or snowboarders high in the cold mountains, ripping up some powder. These places seem so far away from each other, and they seem to happen in opposite seasons, but in California, that’s just a misconception. In fact, there are places up and down the state where the two sports are only a few hours from each other (Lake Tahoe and Ocean Beach, Ventura and Mountain High, etc.)

When I first moved to Los Angeles in August 2013 I thought for sure I’d check the Double off my bucket list that first winter. I surfed once or twice a week, which was more than any period of my life up to that point, and I bought a season lift ticket for Mount Baldy, a paltry 90 minutes out of Downtown LA. But nature refused to cooperate.

It was so hot and dry that year that Baldy never accumulated enough snow to open. A year later Chevrolet approached me about a press trip where they would try for the California Double, starting with a surf at San Onofre State Beach in Orange County, and then we’d drive their new Chevy Tahoes up to Big Bear. Just a few days before the trip, however, Big Bear announced that they were closing for the season due to lack of snow. Foiled again by the drought.

I started doing the vanlife thing shortly after that, which made attempts even harder. For one, I spent a ton of time driving around the country, nowhere near the ocean. The other problem is that my van, Ashley the Beast, isn’t winterized. That means that if temps drop below freezing the hoses and tanks connected to my water system (toilet, sink, and shower) could freeze and crack, causing thousands of dollars of damage and eternal mildew hell.

Enter this winter. Tons of snow in the mountains, and warmer temperatures during the day. That meant I could probably do a day trip in the van, as long as it wasn’t too cold, and last week the conditions lined up perfectly. I was able to find $30 lift tickets for Mount Baldy on Liftopia.com for the next day, and I asked my friend Natalie if she was up for a quick mission. I picked her up at 7am on March 1st and we started heading east. We hit some traffic so decided to stop for breakfast, but even with that we were pulling in at Mount Baldy just after 10am.

Baldy certainly didn’t have a deep snowpack, and it had clearly been melting and refreezing a lot since the last time it had snowed, but the resort was virtually empty and the terrain was actually really fun. Steeper runs like Skyline were an absolute blast, though there were a few icy patches, which I found the hard way (see video).

This winter I’ve been using my first ever custom snowboard, made by Wagner Custom in Telluride, CO. I swear, this thing is magic. It’s only 158cm long, but it has a wider profile and a setback stance, which allows it to be maneuverable in tight spaces like trees but it also provides enough float to allow me to glide through powder. It had been a champ in the light fluffiness of Aspen and Park City, so I was eager to see how it would handle the crusty hardpack.

Generally it sliced through all but the most solid sections. There’s something about having a board made for you. It’s the first board I’ve had that feels like an extension of me. Because I know exactly how it’s going to behave, I don’t have to think about the details of what I’m doing as much, and I can actually express myself through the lines I carve. It’s an amazing feeling.

I honestly could have stayed out all day, but I had to be back at the beach by 5pm for a photoshoot, so we hit the road at about 2:30.

Even with afternoon traffic in LA and stopping to drop Natalie off, I was able to get to Sunset Beach by 4:45pm. The waves were very small — two-foot at best, which is especially challenging when you’re riding a smaller board (mine is a 5’ 8” Rusty DWART with Varial Foam, making it lighter and floatier than other boards its size, but still). I probably would have found better waves at the Venice Pier, but my appointment was at Sunset, so that’s where I had to go.

I paddled out with maybe a dozen other surfers, and I was able to get a handful of tiny waves. They were nothing to write home about — each waves was a closeout and just a few seconds long — but I’d been waiting for so long to complete the California Double that I was overjoyed anyway. I used the same GoPro that I used for the snow (the Hero5 Session), but when I started playing with the surf shots in Lightroom I found them to be more interesting if I made them these high-contrast, high-grain shots, almost like they came from an old, beat-up film camera.

In retrospect, I think the better way to do the California Double would be to reverse the order. Surf in the morning, at first light, when the sun is just coming up and there’s no wind, ideally on a day with a bit more size. Then jump in the car and head to the mountains. By the time you arrived the sun would have softened the snow a little, which would make it more pleasant. Then you could board all the way until last chair, grab some dinner in whatever funky little down, and make your way back to LA after the traffic dies down. At least, that’s how I’m going to try and do it next time.

As imperfect as it was, I’m still so happy to check this off my bucket list. I’m such a huge, unabashed, totally impartial fan of California, and it was a real joy to finally experience one of the unique things it has to offer.

As always, thanks for reading.

-Brent Rose
3.5.17 Malibu, CA

I Was Rescued by the People Trump Wants to Ban [Updated]

I’ve spent the last nineteen months living in a van, driving around the country, and looking for stories to tell. I’ve put more than 40,000 miles under my wheels, talked to hundreds of strangers, and taken many thousands of photos and videos. Yet I haven’t written anything about this trip since before last year’s presidential election.

I’ve accumulated a massive backlog of stories I want to tell, but it felt wrong to release them before I addressed the elephant in the room. It would have felt frivolous, and yet I struggled with how I wanted to tell this particular story. Then it just landed in my lap. Everything I am about to tell you is true and is presented without exaggeration.

I fired up my van (Ashley, The Beast) Friday, February 10th, after having not started it for a week or so. Within a few minutes some lights popped up on my dashboard. I was on my way to Berkeley for a last-minute passport renewal, and then I was supposed to drive to LA that night for a charity race in the morning, Stoked.org’s Trishredathon (snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing). When I got back to the van from the passport office, it wouldn’t start. I called my emergency roadside service provider but there was a long wait time, so I stood by the van holding a pair of jumper cables.

Many cars saw me, made eye contact, and then drove on. These were primarily white people, which wasn’t something I really paid any attention to until two Mexican guys in a pickup truck passed me, stopped, reversed, and asked if I needed some help. We popped our hoods, attached the cables, and the van came back to life. I shook their hands and thanked them, they said they were happy to help, and they drove off.

Not wanting to waste any time, I jumped back in the van and started to head directly to my trusted mechanic, Erik, at Precision Motors in Oakland. Google said it was only 15 minutes away. Unfortunately, five minutes was all the van could give me before it completely shut off in the middle of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way — a busy, three-lane street — just before a freeway entrance. It was 4pm on a Friday. Cars were honking. I managed to make it to the far-right lane, but it was clear that my alternator wasn’t getting power to my battery, so even my hazard lights were dimming. I stood behind the van and tried to wave people around me, holding the jumper cables again, and again calling for roadside assistance.

After a few minutes, a man driving a small Toyota Matrix pulled up and asked me if I wanted a jump. I said, sure, if he thought it was possible. He pulled his car in front of mine, but there was no way to get our two batteries close enough. So, we put my van in neutral, and together we managed to push the five-ton Beast 50 feet back until it was lined up with a driveway, which he was able to reverse into. We attached the cables, and we waited for my battery to charge we started talking.

His name is Ismail and he came from Afghanistan. He has been living in California for more than 20 years. He’s married, he has four kids, and he is a devout Muslim. While we were waiting there another Muslim man, this one from Eritrea, walked up and decided to offer his opinion about what might be wrong with the van. He waited around until the van started and stayed running and then he bid us a nice night. Ismail, however, insisted that he follow me all the way to the mechanic, just to make sure I got there safely.

Our tiny caravan took off, and again, after about five minutes the van limped to a dead stop in the middle of MLK, in an even worse position than the last time. Ismail again, pulled up along-side me, and we began coupling the batteries again.

A horn started blaring behind me. It was a young white man in his mid-to-late twenties. He shouted, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” and gave me the finger. Baffled, I gestured to my popped hood and he sped into the intersection as the light turned red, nearly hitting someone making a turn. In the car directly behind him there was a young Middle-Eastern couple. I said I was really sorry for blocking them. The woman, wearing a hijab, gave me a sympathetic look and told me not to worry. The man smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and said “Good luck!”

I know this is starting to sound like a made-up liberal fable, but I swear to you on everything I have ever loved that this is 100-percent true.

I thanked Ismail again, for the tenth time, which only seemed to embarrass him. He said, “Look at it this way: I should be grateful to you, because you gave me an opportunity to help somebody.” I was so overwhelmed by this that my throat started to tighten.

Another start, another five minutes of driving, and another breakdown. This time I managed to coast into a parking lot on 29th Street in Oakland. We were only half a mile from my mechanic, but by now it was after five, and my calls were going to voicemail. I thanked Ismail again, and said that the van would be safe there until Monday, and that I would be able to jump it later. I didn’t want to take any more of his time.

“Listen,” he said. “It is part of my religion. God commands that we help each other when we can. I can’t always help people with money or anything, but it’s a Friday afternoon, I’m finished with work, and so I have plenty of time. Let’s drive to your mechanic and see if they’re still open.”

I hopped into his car. As we drove he pointed out a mosque that he used to attend. I asked him if he was worried about what is happening in the country, especially with sentiments and policies around foreigners and immigration. He said “Well, worrying never does any good, and besides, God protects us,” but then he reconsidered. “It’s like if you were going to a national park, and there are a few bears in there. I could be eaten by a bear, and that’s okay. I’d be dead, I don’t mind. But my kids… I worry that something could happen to them, and that I wouldn’t be able to protect them.”

My mechanic (also an immigrant, incidentally, but from Switzerland) was still there and said he would wait for me. Ismail and I drove back and jumped the van one last time. This time it made it all the way into the mechanic’s bay. I ran back out to thank him again. I gave him my information and asked him to please be in touch. He wanted to know how I was getting home and he said he wanted to wait so he could drive me. It took me a solid two minutes to talk him out of it. I promised him I would be okay and I thanked him over and over. We shook hands and finally said goodbye.

*****

In my time of need, the only people who stopped and helped me were the very people that our new administration seeks to keep out of the country. A pair of Mexicans and a Muslim from a “terror-prone” country. Without them I might have been stranded for hours, liable for who-knows-how-much in towing fees, and in real danger being hit by another car. They really rescued me today. Ismail, especially, put himself and his car in harm’s way to help a complete and total stranger. A white man in a white van. It didn’t matter who I was; he just saw that I was another person that needed help. I can’t help but think: Isn’t that the exact kind of behavior that we want to encourage? Isn’t that what we want to teach our kids? Isn’t that what the platonic ideal of a U.S. Citizen does? For the Christians out there, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

This project, Connected States, was designed to be apolitical. It was built on the premise that we have more similarities than differences, but that we’ve gotten too caught up in our political division to see it. Politicians certainly helped to seed the divide, the media exaggerated it, social media amplified it, and before we knew it we were doing it to ourselves, too. Dividing ourselves into camps. Preparing for war. Good vs Evil. Sane vs Out-of-Touch. Real Americans vs Fake.

I didn’t think that those differences were as stark as we as a country had been led to believe, and I set out to prove it with this project. When I met strangers in restaurants or bars or trains I very deliberately didn’t bring up politics. I would ask about their lives and their families. What were their favorite places they’d ever been, and to where did they most want to go? I asked for food recommendations and for tips on local beers, sights, bands, parks, and campgrounds. There were always a lot of laughs, and I found that if I was friendly and genuine and asked the right questions, people would open up no matter which state I was in, or whether I was in a big city or a minuscule town.

One of the few times I talked politics with strangers it instantly backfired. It was a good experiment, and it supported my hypothesis. I’d just pulled into Nashville, TN and had accidentally landed at a dive in the middle of nowhere called Santa’s Pub. It was a karaoke bar inside a trailer way out near the fairgrounds. I figured this couldn’t be where “it” was happening, so I decided to have a beer while I figured out where I actually wanted to go, but within just a few minutes a stranger came up to me because she liked my T-shirt (“I Hella Heart Oakland”), and she dragged me over to her table to meet her husband and their friends.

They were two married couples from Nebraska, just in for the weekend as a mini-vacation away from their kids and jobs. We spent the next two hours buying each other beers and laughing until our cheeks hurt. And then I started explaining the trip and how I was purposely not talking politics. They all thought it was a great idea. And then one of the guys couldn’t help himself and asked, “But just out of curiosity, which way do you vote?” I hesitated, but we were having an honest conversation, and besides, I wanted to see what would happen, so I cautiously admitted that I lean left. “Ah, that’s funny,” he said. “I guess we kind of lean right.”

And nothing was the same again. We remained civil. We pretended it wasn’t a big deal. But we only talked for another ten minutes or so, and the color of the conversation had changed. I could see them leaning back a bit more, looking at me through more skeptical eyes, and I realized that I was doing the same in return. Burgeoning friendship: ruptured. And for what reason? We were the same people we’d been for the last two hours of laughter and camaraderie, but now we viewed each other through different lenses.

All that is to say that I was convinced that for the majority of us this perceived great divide between us was imaginary. It was what we projected onto each other. And to some extent, I think there is still a lot of truth in that, but I realize now that I was naïve in allowing myself to believe I was seeing the whole picture.

* * * * *

Well, now that I’ve broken my own rule, I might as well break it all the way. I would like to talk to you, Trump voters, if any of you are still reading this. I offer my hand. I come in peace, truly.

I think I get it, why so many of you chose Trump. I think you felt ignored by our government, and I think you viewed Clinton as the status quo, which hadn’t been working for you, and you couldn’t imagine being swept under the rug by the system for another four years. Trump promised to change things, and I think desperation persuaded you to believe him. I don't believe that excuses voting for him, because so many of his stated intentions were always so fundamentally un-American and unconstitutional that any one of them should have been an automatic deal-breaker, but I think I understand, at least.

But here’s the thing: I get that you think our political system is broken. It is. I get that you see the growing gap between rich folks and poor folks and you feel like it’s impossible to get a leg up. The great majority of Americans agree. But what I don’t get is how you could believe that Donald J. Trump is the person to fix these problems.

Do you remember how you called Obama an elitist because he liked arugula lettuce and Dijon mustard? Well, you just elected a man who literally lives in a golden tower, who prides himself on not just being elite, but on being the most elite. This is the man you elected to take care of the working class. A man who put himself in that golden tower by exploiting the very workers he says he’s going to help. I’m sorry, but personally, I think you’ve been tricked by a legendarily shady conman. I think he took advantage of your desperation, and I think he exploited you to get into power. I promise I would love to be wrong, and only time will tell, but in the meantime, we as a nation, as a group of citizens, as Americans, need to come together if we’re going to try to make our country truly great.

The problem (or, one of the problems) is that we’re still caught up with who won the election, specifically whether it was “our” team or “theirs,” and that is counterproductive for all of us. You know how when you’re watching a basketball/football/hockey game and your team commits a foul, you kind of pretend that it didn’t happen or that the refs were being picky? Well, when politics become a team sport we turn a blind eye to the truth in just the same way. We decide that something isn’t true because we don’t want it to be true. Because it doesn’t line up with our side’s world view, or with our desires.

But that’s not how truth works. The truth is that while it seems that we are divided into two teams, in reality we are just one big group of people: Americans. Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Libertarians alike should want to know about Trump’s finances and his conflicts of interest, not because it aids one team’s argument over another, but because it’s in the best interest of every single individual to make sure the government isn’t screwing them over. And the same holds true for the way we must protect our so-called American Values. Well how about this for one of our most-American values?

The poem on our Statue of Liberty reads:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Those words, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, are the United States at its greatest, at its strongest. It says we are unafraid. We are brave enough to have an open door. So, tell me, how does that jive with banning the families of the men who helped me last week?

When you see your government acting against the very things your country stands for, it’s your responsibility to do something about it, regardless of whether or not you voted for that particular administration. I hear so many say they voted for Trump purely over economic reasons. Personally, I think his ideas are bad for the economy, but time will tell, so let’s focus on right now. I say that you, as someone who voted for this administration, have a greater responsibility to hold it accountable. It doesn’t matter if that means you find yourself in agreement with “the other side,” because if you see your government doing something that you know is wrong, it’s up to you to say something. As Trump’s constituents, your voice matters more. You have more power than the liberals who voted against him. It’s in his (and the others who were voted in) interest to keep you happy. And I know that many of you aren’t happy with some of his decisions already, because I’ve talked to a number of you who voted in hopes that he would help the economy, but disagree with a lot of the other things he’s doing.

And so when the administration attempts to ban Muslim immigrants and refugees from seven of the most desperate, war-torn countries, I want you to let them know that that’s not what you want, or why you voted for them. When they plan to spend countless billions of dollars on a wall that is nothing more than a symbolic gesture, I want you to tell them that’s not why you put them in office. When the president attempts to appoint a billionaire with no experience as the Secretary of Education, or a White Nationalist political advisor to the National Security Council in a role typically reserved for generals, you should be every bit as outraged as the liberals, because these foolish choices impact you every bit as much. When he puts a gag-order on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) you are just as at risk as Democrats. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water.

* * * * *

I’ve harped on this point a lot in these stories I’ve been telling from the road, but I’m going to repeat it because this truth keeps revealing itself to me over and over again: Our commonalities outweigh our differences by a massive margin. It doesn’t matter whether I’m talking to a white born-again Christian at an evangelical church in Texas or a brown Muslim at a Bangladeshi wedding in Michigan. We all want prosperity and opportunity. We want health and safety for our kids. We all want the United States to be great, to be a beacon, and to light the way for the rest of the world in freedom, in justice, and in the way we treat our people.

If we are going to achieve that we need to come together and look out not just for our own, but for each other as well. That was the lesson I saw so clearly again the other day, when strangers went out of their way to help me, a person who looked and talked differently from them. A person who, for all they knew, may have voted to keep their families out of the country. They put humanity first, and that is America at its greatest.

* * * * *

Ismail and I, the first of three times he jumped my van. Oakland, CA. Friday, February 10, 2017.

Ismail and I, the first of three times he jumped my van. Oakland, CA. Friday, February 10, 2017.

I honestly didn't think I'd ever hear from Ismail again, even though I'd given him my card and begged him to get in touch. He seemed so genuinely embarrassed with my gratitude that I thought he wouldn't write out of fear of me thanking him some more. Luckily, that wasn't the case. Well, he admitted to being embarrassed, but he reiterated how happy he was to help and he only wished I would have let him do more. It was a short, sweet note and I hope it's the beginning of a long friendship.

So now I've finally got all that off my chest, and I hope that will release the blockage of updates. Thank you for indulging me. In my next entry I'll resume talking about adventure, vans, and life on the road. In other words, now back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Brent Rose
2.16.17 in Los Angeles, CA
 

UPDATE: 3.5.17

I expected, and was looking forward to, some feedback from this post, and I knew not all of it would be positive. And it wasn't. Which is alright. But then a good friend — a Muslim woman, as it would happen — reached out and said, "...your last piece, while I know it came from a very good place, was trafficking in a lot of problematic tropes and affected me in a way that I'm not sure you would understand. But as your friend, I want to help you understand. Can we set up a time to talk soon?" Of course I wanted to hear what she had to say, and upon hearing her out I felt compelled to write this update.

My friend's concern was that, primarily owing to the headline of this piece, it could seem that I'm implying "these guys should be able to stay because they are good people." That the reason that they should be allowed in the country is because they might prove to be useful. My friend knew that that wasn't what was in my heart, or what I meant, but I think her point is well-made. So let me just state this unequivocally: Their being allowed to stay in the U.S. is not an issue of "goodness," but of human rights. 

Further, she pointed me to a recent article entitled "Muslims Shouldn’t Have To Be 'Good' To Be Granted Human Rights" which was a great read and which makes the point far better than I can. I suggest you give it a read.

Going forward, I'm going to strive to do a better job with the way I present things, but I think the moral of the story is that, as a white person writing about issues that concern minorities, the best thing you can do is listen. 

Onward and upward.

-BR

Show Me the Way to Go Home

It’s time to head back home. Wherever that is. Where is that? California, I think. Los Angeles, I think. I think?

Well, even if it isn’t home in the end, it makes a good target for now. A bearing. So I’m heading that way. How?

A few weeks ago I was once again overwhelmed by the options in front of me. Paralyzed by them, really. There were so many places I hadn’t hit that I wanted to see. So many spots I wanted to see again. I was near Boston, thinking “Do I drive up through Canada, curving through Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto en route to Michigan? Or do I just make a beeline for the mitten? My Mi-Fi won’t work in Canada. It’ll add a few extra days to my journey across. Is that okay? Will I miss some opportunity if I’m not back in California by a certain date? Do I want to spend my birthday in the Bay Area? Will I stop somewhere, fly to Burning Man (can I score a ticket?), and then fly back?”

I hadn’t been moving enough. When I sit still, as it felt like I had been for a while, the walls of my scull become an echo chamber and the noise to signal ratio just gets worse and worse as I wait for some discernable insight to break through the din. Eventually you have to give up control; admit that there is no right route, or even best route. Or if there is, you’ll never know if the one you took was it or not.

Every time you’re confronted with a choice in life you make the best decision you can, attempting to choose the option you hope will lead to the greatest happiness, but you will never truly know what would have happened had you gone through the other door.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, because we always want to know, concretely, that we made the right choice. That we didn’t screw up, make a dumb call, and lose out on more happiness, success, wealth, love than we find ourselves with at present. But we will never know. Obviously, I’m not just thinking about the trip here, but my life and the decisions I’ve made along the way, but this trip has always been (if secretly) a means for processing my life, the decisions I’ve made, the consequences they’ve wrought, and the path that lies ahead with all its infinite forks.

Where was I?

I spent a ton of time in the Northeast during the early summer, using Gloucester, MA as my home base. My dear friends Eileen and Nathan live there with their baby, and they have a long, level driveway just perfect for the Beast. I became their roommate for the better part of a month.

In that time I was invited to join Nathan for a three-day songwriting retreat on Thatcher Island, a small chunk of land just off the coast of Gloucester with two picturesque lighthouses on it. Every night we’d climb to the top of the seven story lighthouses, pull out our instruments (and bottles of whiskey), and belt out a mixture of covers and originals we were working on. I was in among some top notch professional musicians, and I felt very much out of my depth as I switched between my guitar and ukulele, but they were generous and made me feel welcome. I even finished my first new song in several years. Maybe I’ll record it, #VanJamz style.

From there I shot off to Maine. I’d never been and I wanted to see Acadia National Park. It was as stunning as it had been alleged, but man it was crowded. Acadia is tiny park compared to Yosemite or Yellowstone, but the tourists love it in summertime. It was tough to take a photo without a dozen other people in my shot. I found myself scrambling down damp cliff faces by the ocean to try and get a little solitude.

I spent nights in Bar Harbor, which was beautiful and quaint, but it had to be the whitest place I’ve ever seen in my life. I was uncomfortable with the lack of diversity and found myself constantly wondering, “Jeez, guys, what’d you do with all the black people?” Also, as it turns out, overnighting in an RV is not permitted in town. I got away with it on night one, but around midnight of night two I got a knock on my door for the second time on this trip. It was an elderly cop cut from the same cloth as Andy Taylor. I’d answered the door in my underwear and he seemed so thrown and uncomfortable that he just told me to move along and park by the local ball field. Yessir, officer.

The third night was pretty special. It had been overcast since I’d arrived in Maine. Some plans with a friend of a friend had fallen through so I was just wandering around Bar Harbor when I looked up and there was a miraculous hole in the clouds. I ran back to the van and hightailed it up to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Arcadia. I was rewarded with a few hours of pristine Milky Way shots (my favorite is below). I passed out in the van for a couple hours and then woke up to shoot a timelapse of the sunrise (Cadillac is the first place the rising sun touches the U.S.).

From there it was back down to Boston for my brother’s Star Wars themed wedding / family reunion. After that, after sitting around paralyzed by indecision for a couple days, I decided to head to Canada, and once I was on that path a series of reunions ensued. First up was Katie and Michael who I’d worked with doing Bay Area theatre back when I was 19 (and then again at 22). Katie remains my favorite director I’ve worked with, and it was wonderful to meet the little humans they’d created together.

Then onto Montreal, where I stayed for two days, eating my face off. The first night I was there I found myself at a bar that was showing the Olympics. My bartender and I were chatting and I asked her if she knew a good place for me to park for the night. She consulted another bartender (whom I hadn’t even spoken with yet), who walked over, wrote down her address on a piece of paper and said I could park in the lot behind her apartment. Incredible trust from a total stranger. I stashed the van there then jumped on one of Montreal’s bikeshare bikes (called Bixi), and proceeded to weave around the city in search of poutine (not a euphemism). My phone died and I realized I’d forgotten the address where I left the van, so I just zigzagged back and forth along the beautiful streets until I found it again. It was a great night.

After that it was on to Ottawa to see my old friend Alexa and her family (it had been eight years), Toronto to see my friend Kaitlin (also eight years) and then back down to Traverse City, Michigan. TC was where I first felt like this trip found its stride and I was eager to see the friends I’d made a year ago, Brett, Holly, and Jen. It’s wild to see the changes that go by in just one year.

From there I blazed through the Upper Peninsula and then over to Stillwater, MN where my superfriends Dylan and Sheila were attending a wedding. From there, it was on to North Dakota. I’d opted to do South Dakota a year ago and fell in love with the Badlands, but I was curious about Theodore Roosevelt National Park a couple hundred miles to the north, so I made it a point to get there this time, and man I’m glad I did.

One of my favorite photos I've ever taken.

One of my favorite photos I've ever taken.

Like its brother to the south, Roosevelt National Park is full of badlands. Incredible, eerie, steep terrain with many colorful layers of soft rock and clay. But compared to the stark and arid Badlands NP, Roosevelt is far more lush. The badlands are topped with tall grass. There are trees, forests, and rivers. There are herds of wild horses and bison. The park is divided two: South Station and North Station.

I spent my first night in South Station and was rewarded with some incredible views. I found a pretty wonderful place to park, too. North Station, though, is what really captured my heart. It’s about half an hour further from the interstate and that seems to have kept the number of tourists far lower. There was more of a feeling of desolation there, and I loved it.

That night I attempted to hike the North Achenbach Trail (“aching back trail?”) in hopes of getting some milky way shots. It was a steep, sketchy hike and I kept loosing the trail as I ventured further down into the canyon. My plan was to hike down to the river, pull out my sleeping bag and pad, and then sleep under the stars. I had plenty of food and a pump to filter water. I finally found the more defined part of the trail and was making good progress. I was following little reflectors on wooden posts that appear once every 100 yards or so. I’d just past one and I could see two ahead that seemed to be right next to each other. I remember wondering why they’d put two marker so close together, and then it turned its head, and the markers disappeared.

It was a cat. It was a very big cat. This cougar (mountain lion) looked back at me and its eyes lit up in my headlamp’s beam once more. I could feel every hair on my body stand on end. It started stalking back and forth. I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to run away, because cats love chasing things. So I decided to make myself big and slowly big away. But first, I realized I wanted to take a picture of it. Because I am an idiot. I would have to change lenses. My other lens was in my backpack. My hand was shaking, but I managed to make the switch. I did not manage, however, to get a good shot because I didn’t have the wherewithal to better adjust my settings. The best I got was this video:

I made it back out of the canyon unmauled (plans of sleeping under the stars had been quickly abandoned). I made myself a strong Old Fashioned and then passed out in a van. I was woken early in the morning by a ranger telling me I wasn’t allowed to overnight there. I explained the situation to him and he was very understanding.

From there I headed north to Watford City, ND and met with Nick Ybarra, who has been maintaining the legendary Maah Daah Hey trail for the last four years and organizing bike (and now foot) races there. The MDH was a 100 mile long singletrack course through some very wild terrain, but now it’s been extended to 150 miles. Nick was the first to bike the whole thing in a single day, which is madness.

Maah Daah Hey trail, North Dakota

Maah Daah Hey trail, North Dakota

I pulled my Montague Swissbike X90 folding mountain bike out of my trunk and did the first 11 or so miles of it with Nick. It was pretty technical stuff and rough. Very rough (and I was rusty). But the views were just incredible. It zips along side badlands and over plateaus and grass covered buttes. We inadvertently ended up herding a large group of cattle out grazing.  By the time I was done my forearms were absolutely throbbing from gripping my handlebars so tightly. I couldn’t believe someone could do 100 miles of it in a day, let alone 150. Nick said he’s about to start offering a six day trip, though. 25 miles each day and camping in between. Sounds much more manageable and it’s definitely been added to my bucket list. Hopefully 2017…

After North Dakota it was time to hit Montana again, this time Bozeman, a place I’d missed on my first time through. I’d assumed the Bozeman was much like Billings (i.e. lots of ugly cement buildings everywhere), but I was surprised at how charming and quaint it was. I met a nice lady on Tinder who agreed to meet me for dinner, and then she and her roommate showed me the town for the next two days.  The highlight was a concert out of town and a place called Pine Creek Lodge. It felt like very authentic Montana.

Pink giraffe. Because pink giraffe.

Pink giraffe. Because pink giraffe.

The next day I hopped a flight to California, spent 18 hours shopping and packing, and jumped in my friend Glenn’s van and headed off to Burning Man. This would be my fourth burn, but my four had been spread out every three or four years since 2005. This year I’d written an article for Outside Mag about the best gear for camping at Burning Man, and I was getting to try everything out to make sure it lived up. The Shift Pod, the Exped mattress, the Goal Zero Yeti charger, they all worked fantastically.

My first few days at the burn were tough, though, and I found myself doing a lot of processing. I realized that this was going to be my “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” burn. I felt adrift and out of sync with the whole scene there. Come Thursday, though, I was able to relax into the not knowing, open up, and have a good time. It was bitter medicine, but it was what I needed.

What I didn’t need, though, was a sprained MCL, which I received on my left knee, during a limbo contest at Burning Man. See, I haven’t lost a limbo context in something like 23 years (damn you, Nitza’s baht mitzvah!), so there’s pride on the line. It’s also really fun to see people’s reactions because I’m tall and in my mid-30s and people don’t expect me to come in and snatch souls. Anyway, this time there was this one guy and he was really good, and he pushed me lower than maybe I’ve ever gone. I almost made it but juuuust tipped backwards at the last moment. As I was going down I made the mistake of letting my knee relax inward, it hyper extended, and I basically couldn’t walk the next day.

So, I'm back from #BurningMan slightly worse for wear. Here's the story: I haven't lost a limbo contest in something like 23 years. It's always been my weird, utterly useless superpower. So Friday somehow a limbo line breaks out at a party and I couldn't help myself. There was this one other guy there who was really, really good. I ended up going lower than I've had to go in years (well below the knee). This was the final height and we both failed to make it under, so we tied for first. And damnit look HOW CLOSE I was. (Thanks to @macniv for shooting this critical moment) But as I was tipping backwards I let my leg relax, and when I fell it hyper extended inwards and I felt a pop. Could barely walk the next day, and I'm pretty sure it's either an MCL or medial meniscus injury. So bummed, as I was finally injury-free and getting myself back into running shape. There's a silver lining, though. I'd basically reconciled with the fact that I was just going to limp around our camp for the rest of my time at Burning Man and that would be it. But on the night of the burn homegirl Vanessa knew of a rickshaw bike at her camp, and uber-homie @practice_makes_max volunteered to pedal me around all night (no small task in that rough, patchy dirt). And so I ended up getting to go out, see all the cool things on fire, chill on the legendary Dodo Bus for its final ride, and see all my friends. Basically, when you have amazing friends, who needs knees? #connectedstates #limbo #howlowcanyougo #apparentlynotquitethatlow #burningman2016

The next day was the day of the burn, too, which is kind of the culmination as far as partying goes. I was in a good headspace by that point, though, and I was happy hanging around our camp of loveable misfits (Camp Glenn Jones!) with whoever happened to be around. Our friend Vanessa knew of a rickshaw bike at her camp, though, and my longtime bestie Max said he’d pedal me around the desert.

It was the coldest night of the week, and I sat in the back of this rickshaw bundled up in a blanket, while Max was sweating in a t-shirt in front of me. I probably looked like a Make-A-Wish kid, but it allowed me to see the sights, meet up with friends, and have a great time. There really is nothing better than friendship.

Speaking of. Upon returned to my van in Montana I was joined by my dear friend Kathryn who’d flown from NYC to meet me. What followed was one of the most joyful legs of the entire journey. We laughed as we drove and dove deep into the murky waters of our lives. We hit one of the world’s greatest dive bars in Missoula and passed out near the co-op.

The next day contained one of the best reunions yet. When I was 19 I was bumming around Western Europe and I met up with Kathryn and her sister Maren (also my good friend) in London. They’d just come from France and had met a girl around the same age, and they’d decided to travel together. This was Jennie. She’d come to the Bay Area a year later, and we’d seen her briefly, but neither of us had seen her since. Sixteen years later, thanks to Facebook, we were suddenly showing up at her doorstep.

One of the things I’ve experienced over and over again with these reunions is that when you pick the right people to be friends with it doesn’t really matter how much time has elapsed since you last saw them: You just fall right back into it as if you’d seen them last week. Sure, there’s more catching up and feeling in details, but if the connection you initially had was real, it’ll feel just the same as it did a decade and a half ago, and that’s what happened here.

Kathryn and I ended up spending two wonderful days with Jennie in Moscow, Idaho before we moved on to Portland to see other friends, catch up with them, and feel again that no time had passed. Kathryn had brought her harmonium with her, partially through my misunderstanding just how big a harmonium was, and we made use of it. As I drove she would play and we’d sing. I introduced her to the song Butterfly Nets by Bishop Allen, which we decided to record before we hugged goodbye.

I drove down to Eugene, spending the evening with more friends I’d met a year ago when I came through. Reunions and reunions and reunions. The next night I pulled into the driveway of my mom’s house. That’s where it’ll live for the next few weeks while I let my MCL heal and figure out my next moves. And I still don’t know what those will be, exactly.

Today is September 15th. Which is my birthday, and it’s also the 14 month mark of this journey. I’m writing this on a plane to Colorado. I have a three-day press trip there with a two-day trip to Tahoe immediately following it. After that, the plan is to relax in the Bay, make some repairs to the van (replacing a window or two), make a couple videos, and get a ton of work done. After that, it’s looking like LA.

It’s funny, the original seed for this whole experiment was me going through a breakup two years ago and trying to figure out how I wanted to live my life. That’s when the concept of living in a van first emerged, but I was just thinking I’d live in it in LA and do short trips to visit friends in nearby cities. That was before the idea of the year-long road trip. Before I thought about documenting the trip. Before it became Connected States, in other words.

So there’s part of me that’s excited to try it. See what it feels like to spend most of the fall and winter in southern California. Push forward with trying to make some TV stuff happen. Maybe do some theatre again, which I’ve been missing. Or improv. Surf more. Re-establish some semblance of roots and community.

But there’s part of me that isn’t sure I want to stop moving. I remember how I started feeling stagnant and claustrophobic when I was in one place for too long. I don’t know if it’ll get that way again. Certainly, I’ll try to be smart about it, taking lots of side trips and going on adventures whenever I can, but I wonder if I’ve become addicted to the lifestyle I’ve thrown myself into for the last 14 months. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Connected States is not over; it’s just starting a new chapter. Updates will continue to come. I still have thousands of photos, videos, and stories I need to share. And I will, in one form or another. Some will be things I just touched on in this update, but really deserve the full treatment. So who cares if they don't always come in order. Linear storytelling is for the birds anyway.  In the meantime, thank you as always for reading.

-Brent Rose

9.15.16 Telluride, CO

P.S. Sorry so many embedded Instagram posts this month. Normally I like to use predominantly exclusive photography for journal updates, but it just wasn't in the cards this time. 

 

One Year of Connected States

On July 15th, 2015, one year ago today, I hit the road in a teched-out van. I didn't know where I was going or what I was doing, only that the journey itself was the destination I sought. And now here I am.

This whole time I've been telling people that I'm on "a year-long road-trip," because it was easier than explaining that I was just taking off and I'd figure things out as I went. Connected States isn't over, it's just hit a big mile-marker. If you ask me what the plan is now I'd be lying if I said I had any more idea than I did this time last year. For now, I continue on down the road.

Most of what I want to say I already said in the video above. I will add, though, that I regret not writing more and producing more video for this series. When Connected States started out it was a travel and tech series for Gizmodo, but Gizmodo is owned by Gawker Media, and Gawker Media is being sued by Hulk Hogan (and several others who are being helped out by billionaire Peter Thiel), and well, the budget dried up. Since then Connected States articles have appeared in a number of other outlets, including WIRED, Outside Magazine, Deadspin, and Conde Nast Traveler, but assignments related to Connected States became more sporadic and if I wasn't being paid specifically for a video it was tough to carve out the considerable time it takes to film and edit. Case in point, I just pulled an all-nighter to finish this video, and I have two more deadlines today. 

That said, I still wish I'd shared more video. I probably have over a hundred hours of footage at this point. The best stuff will see the light of day, eventually.

Even though the one year mark was arbitrary, I'd be lying if I didn't say that it felt good to hit it. I wasn't technically obligated to do it for that long but at least I didn't make myself a liar to all the people to whom I gave the one-year spiel. Or maybe I did, since I still don't know how much longer I'll go. I'll be tromping around the northeast for the next few weeks before I start making my way west again (I think) along a northern route (I think). We'll just have to wait and see where I end up.

Regardless, I thank you for reading, for your questions and comments, for your moral support, and for sharing my stories/videos/photos with your friends and family. You guys are awesome.

More soon, compadres,

Brent
July 15th, 2016

Where Does This Road End?

Today I’m going to talk about the dark side of #Vanlife. It’s easy to look though the lens of social media and see an idealized version of what this adventure really is. And I’m complicit in that. Most of us vanlifers are. We tell our stories through rose-colored Instagram filters. Well I’m going to try and set that aside for today.

Every time the 15th of the month rolls around I stop and reflect a bit. It usually begins with “I can’t believe it’s been X months…”. It really feels like I’ve just started. And maybe I have.

I originally said this would be “a year-long road-trip,” but here I am more than three quarters of the way through, and it doesn’t feel like I’m going to be ready to stop in a couple months. Of course, a lot can happen in 60 days, but that’s how it feels right now. There’s so much I haven’t seen, and there’s so much I want to see again. Places to re-experience. People to hug once more. Burritos to re-consume.

It probably helps that the trip keeps getting broken up by side adventures. I’ll be in the middle of the country then suddenly I have to fly to LA for a meeting, or San Francisco to shoot a video, or Colorado for a work trip. Each time I get to reconnect with good friends and/or meet new people. It breaks up the loneliness of the road. And there’s a good dose of that. But it is a good dose. It feels healthy. It feels right. Mostly. It gives me a chance to check in with myself. Where I’m at on this trip, in my career, in my life.

I continue to struggle to find the balancing point between work and play. This has been a life-long struggle, but on the road it’s amplified. I have constant, easy access to novelty and adventure. All I have to do is step out of the van and start saying YES to things, and I’ll be challenged, invigorated, stimulated, scared. Knowing that’s always on the other side of the door, it’s hard to stay inside with the blinds drawn and stare into my laptop. But that’s part of the mission, too. I’m not on vacation. I’m out here to share the journey. So here we are at last.

[Big Bend National Park, Texas]

[Big Bend National Park, Texas]

And what to say. I could do the traditional travelogue format, but it’s been too long since my last update, and I’d have too much ground to cover. Since my last update it’s been Marfa (TX), to Big Bend National Park, then New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Atlanta, Asheville, Raleigh, Miami, Sebastian Inlet, Jekyll Island, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington DC. Perhaps it’s best to save that for the eventual book.

Instead, I think I’ll talk about the hard things. Because to only show you pretty pictures and fun stories would be disingenuous. The simple fact remains: Even when your vehicle is a pimped-out van with so many creature comforts, life on the road takes it out of you.

You get tired of hitting your head on things. If I shaved off all my hair I’m certain that my scalp would be a topographical map of scars. You get tired of scrambling to clean up every little splash of water, because if mildew starts to form behind a panel your home will become a petri dish for mold, allergens, and stank. You get tired of cabinets inexplicably popping open while you’re on the highway, or finding out when you hit the brakes that there was that one goddamned thing you forgot to put away, and now it’s smashed on the floor.

You’ve always been a summer person, but #vanlife is undeniably more comfortable in cooler weather. You may not like bundling up or putting on the noisy propane furnace, but you have those options. In the sauna-like heat and humidity of the southeast there’s nothing you can do on days when you need to stay in and work. Unless you’re at a paid campsite with electric hookups, you’re not going to turn on your AC. It would kill your battery in 90 seconds flat, and you running the loud, stinky generator is rarely a good option. You’re also weary of bathroom rationing; trying to use your toilet and sink as little as possible so you don’t have to empty the holding tanks as often.

And then there’s parking. Downtown—any downtown—is pretty much a nightmare. At roughly nine and a half feet tall, there are almost no covered garages you fit into, and most metered parking spaces aren’t 21 feet long. But worse is trying to find that spot to overnight.

Some Walmart. Some where.

Some Walmart. Some where.

I wish now that I kept better notes, but I would estimate that I’ve spent the night in roughly 40 different Walmart parking lots across the country since this trip began. But then you get to a very unfriendly city toward vans, like Washington DC, and even the Walmarts don’t allow overnighting, and what do you do? You find some quiet-ish residential neighborhood, you try to wait until after 10pm to park. You pull up the shades quickly, you keep your internal lights down low. You try not to make any noise. If you listen to music, you use headphones. If you talk on the phone, you use hushed tones, and suddenly you realize, “What the hell, man! This is my home! Why am I tiptoeing around my own home like some fucking burglar?”

Except you know that if someone calls the cops on you, the police will come knocking, and they’ll tell you to move, or give you a ticket, or who knows? It’s only happened to me once (in Santa Monica, CA), and though the cop was friendly enough I’ve never felt the same in the van. I’ve never slept quite as soundly. Every voice I hear outside wakes me up or puts me on guard. Every car that parks behind me and leave the engine running for a little while before they turn the car off has me sitting up, listening. I’m always waiting for that knock.

And realistically, spending weeks on end without seeing a familiar face begins to take a toll. You start feeling like a weird drifter. You start getting more agitated when someone doesn’t write or call you back. It becomes more personal. The pangs and longings—for past lovers, for friends, for family—all become more acute. More concentrated. It’s all trapped between the steel walls you live in and it gets reflected back at you. That’s when you start to wonder what the hell you’re doing. Where does it stop? How does it end? What’s next?

And yet these experiences are the things I wouldn’t trade for the world. All of them. The soaring highs and the soul-crushing lows. They aren’t just a byproduct of the experience that I came for, they are the experience I came for. When it’s all over, and I still don’t know when that will be, these are the things that on which I’ll look back and reflect. These are the things I’ll grow from. Be it staying up all night on the beach talking to wondrous strangers or finding myself alone in my van, in a parking lot, and suddenly realizing I’m on the verge of tears over seemingly nothing. It’s the same shit that everyone deals with in life, it’s just a concentrated version.

I started this entry at the eight month mark of the journey. Then I ran away from it. Then I picked it up again at the 9 month mark, then put it down again. The same thing happened at 10. So I’m sorry it’s been so long between updates. This will be going live just one week shy of the 11 month park. Some of the delay was because I finally managed to get my Cuba/Kayak story published. Some of it was because I shot a whole second season of the videos series I’ve been doing for WIRED. Here are a couple of those episodes.

Crashing NASA's Astronaut Training


Seeing how virtual reality porn is made:

But the big reason it took me so long is that I didn’t know how to process THIS—these feelings, and the larger emotional arc of the journey—in realtime. I guess I needed to take a little time to myself and just feel it. And then recover a bit from feeling it. And then repeat that whole process ad nauseum until I couldn’t take it anymore and had to say something about it. So I guess that’s where I’m at, because here this is.

We may be early into June, but it’s already a manic-feeling month. I said yes to a last-minute assignment to cover the Summer X-Games in Austin. Then I fly back to the van for two days, then off to Colorado for the GoPro Mountain Games. Then the van for a week or so and back to the Bay Area and LA to shoot some video. Back to the van, and then a wedding in early July back in the Bay Area. Meanwhile I’m hovering around Virginia and trying to make my way north. I want to hit Maine in July, if I can, and be back in Boston for my baby brother’s wedding in early August.

After that? I don’t know. I’ll probably start making my way back west. I want to see Michigan again, and Montana. I miss the west. I’d like to hit Burning Man this year (though I wouldn’t take the van; it would never be the same). But all that is past July 15th, which means I’m definitely extending this thing past the one-year mark I’d originally set for myself. How far past it I’ll go, I honestly have no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out, with you.

As always, thank you for reading. If you’ve stuck around this far, you deserve some pretty pictures, so see below.

Love,

Brent
June 7th, 2016
Washington DC

 

How I Accidentally Made The First Official Cuba-To-Florida Kayak Crossing

Image credit: Cassandra Allred

Image credit: Cassandra Allred

The shortest distance from Cuba to the United States is about 90 miles across the Florida Strait. By the standards of human-powered sea travel, it’s extremely doable, and it has been done for decades by refugees aboard the most makeshift of watercraft, driven by desperation. In the peak years, tens of thousand of Cuban balseros staked their lives on the journey, in hopes of finding something better at the end.

The very shortness of the trip testified to the artificiality of the separation between the neighboring countries. The bodies lost in the waters of the strait testified to how real it was. Last year, as the Obama administration set about restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba after more than half a century of mutual antagonism, the outdoor-gear company Cotopaxi decided to mark the new era with a kayak expedition across the strait, a gesture of international outreach.

A friend who does PR asked me if I’d be interested in documenting the trip. In addition to writing about it, I’d have the chance to paddle along if I wanted. It felt strange to consider the voyage as a form of recreation or as a stunt, after all those who had braved the crossing before. No matter how hard the kayak crossing might be, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as hard as it had been for the men and women on boards lashed to inner tubes. But what did normalization mean, if not the taming of the strait?

[READ THE FULL STORY AT DEADSPIN.COM]

Back on the Road, Back in the Present

Let’s talk about now. 

Right now. I’m in Arizona, in a Walmart parking lot just outside Tucson. How did I get here? 

A lot has happened since the last travelogue style piece I wrote for Connected States. That post, was on gear testing in the wilderness of British Columbia, something I did all the way back in August of last year, and wrote about in November. After that I went to Cuba, a story I’ve struggled to find an outlet for. Then the Pacific Northwest. Then down through LA, to Vegas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Then back to LA and SF, and quick trips to NY, Park City, and Aspen. There’s a lot to tell, but I’m not going to tell any of it tonight. 

I’ve fallen too far behind in my posts, and rather than let the present moment run further ahead as I try to write about the past, that was never the vision for this journal or this trip. I want you to come with me, as I go, not read about where I was months ago. 

Sometimes you just have to skip ahead. So here I am, in the present moment. 

Somewhere just east of the Arizona/California border.

Somewhere just east of the Arizona/California border.

I’ve been gripped, recently, but overwhelming urges to simply drop everything and hit the road. The voice came loud in mid-January, when I felt like I’d been in the Bay Area for too long around the holidays, and zip, I threw everything into the van and headed south the next day. I spent some time in LA, I flew to Houston to do a piece on NASA, which you will soon see, and I headed down to camp in San Diego for a week. It was peaceful, warm, and idyllic. 

Yesterday evening I returned to LA, parked at a three hour meter in Santa Monica, and grabbed a quick bite with a friend. When we were done, I went back to the van, climbed inside, and closed the door. Suddenly my heart was racing. There was the voice again, screaming in my head, “Go. Go! GO! Get the fuck out of here, man!”

I had half an hour left on my parking meter. I knew the responsible thing was to stay in LA. That’s what my agents and managers wanted. What if an audition came up? What if I had to shoot a video last minute? My friend Max’s voice came to me. It said if I had to turn around and come back in a hurry (or fly back) I could just do that, but I bought this van because I wanted to be on the road. Good point, Max's voice. With five minutes to spare on the meter I reopened all of the blinds, looked up the route to Texas, and found a Walmart a few hours out along the route where I could spend the night. At 8:02pm, exactly as the meter’s timer ran out, I pulled onto the street, and headed toward highway 10. 

Those first few hours of driving east were weird, filled with trepidation. I couldn’t decide if I was running away from something or running toward something else. It felt somewhat out of control and I was relieved when I reached the Walmart parking lot safely. I immediately drew all of the blinds closed again, as is my habit, creating a little bubble for myself. I realized I still had some medicinal marijuana on me and I didn’t want to bring it across state lines. As a first-timer's gift, the dispensary had given me a pre-rolled joint made of shake from all their various buds. I asked the woman if the combined strains would completely melt my brain and she said pretty much. I typically prefer the mellower stuff, but sometimes you want to go out with a bang.

So I stepped out of the van, sparked the joint, and smoked half of it in the span of just a couple minutes. Then I flicked it and walked into the Walmart.

As the sliding glass doors slid open my eyeballs were blasted with bright lights and colors. It felt like walking into Disneyland. I walked up and down the toy isles, the hardware isles. I spent some time in bedding, contemplating whether or not I should spend a hundred bucks on a fancy new memory foam mattress topper for my bed. I tried to research it on my phone, but the internet defeated me. I fled the isle.

I’d giggle, then try to suppress it, and then giggle harder. I ended up buying some antifreeze and a roll of clear repair tape. I stepped into line behind a guy with a full shopping cart. He was dressed in casual but nice clothes. He was in his mid 40s, black, and peering at his iPhone through his glasses. 

“Oh,” he said to me. “If that’s all you’ve got you should just go ahead of me.”

“Oh thanks!” I replied. “You sure?”

“Yeah, man. I’m not some damn foreigner. Go ahead.”

“…I …um… thanks.”

Welcome to Walmart. Welcome back to the road. 

My current plan is loose at best. Tomorrow I hope to get to Marfa, TX, I place I’ve been hearing about for more than 10 years but never been to. I’ll spend a couple days there, probably, then I’ll visit some relatives in Kendalia, TX for a day or two, and then on to Austin. I’ve only been there while SXSW was going on, so I’m excited to be making it there before the circus comes to town. 

From there, I really don’t know. I’ll have to shoot some more Wired videos in CA in early-mid March, and I have another trip to CO planned right after that. I suspect I’ll leave The Beast in long-term parking in Austin or Houston, do my thing in CA, and then return and keep pushing east, but with my whole life up in the air at the moment there are no safe assumptions. You guess as best you can and you prepare to improvise.

Advice for places to go, people to meet, and things to see, photograph, and/or eat are all appreciated. And, as always, following on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter is the best way to stay up to date. Subscribing to receive this blog via email is good, too.

Glad to be back in the present moment with you.

-Brent
2.19.16 11:18pm
Tucson, AZ

Where The Hell: An Overdue Update

Hello, Connected States followers. Thank you for being a part of this adventure. Some of you may have been wondering, “Where the hell are Brent and The Beast? Why haven’t we heard anything lately?” Fair questions. Here’s what's up.

Way back in June I was told that I was being considered for a TV gig. In September I was told that I had booked it, and that we’d be shooting a pilot in L.A. in the fall. If you’ve wondered why so many of my Instagram posts have been coming from Southern CA for the last few months, well, that’s why. Or that’s most of the reason.

Those who don’t know me personally may be surprised to know that before I was a journalist, I was an actor. I’d be doing it since I was a teenager and it’s what I went to grad school for. Journalism came much later. I’d always been writing, but it was mostly limited to film scripts, plays, blog posts, and God-awful poetry (I’m so deep, you just don’t get it. Lay off me, mom!). Around 2010, though, my career in journalism started taking off much faster than my acting career was, and so I decided to go where the momentum was and embrace it. The idea was that maybe, eventually, I’d be able to leverage my journalistic success back into an on-camera career, and lo and behold, that’s what’s begun to happen. Maybe.

Booking the pilot led me to two amazing managers, Brian Stern and Ken Slotnick of AGI Entertainment. Brian and Ken led me to two amazing agents, Vanessa Silverton-Peel and Hans Schiff at CAA. Never, when I was banging my head against the wall going to open-call auditions in NY, did I dream that I would one day have such powerhouses for representation, especially by diverting my career away from acting, pursuing journalism for five years, and then slipping through this strange side-door by combining my two careers, but that’s how life works. Things never happen the way you expect them to.

All that is to say that I am again trying to go with where the momentum is, and that means mostly being near enough to Southern CA that I can swoop in for a meeting or an audition during pilot season.

Let me be very clear about one thing: CONNECTED STATES IS NOT OVER. In fact, I’m still very much in the middle of it. I’m still living in the van, I’m just exploring the urban side of off-the-grid living. I have accumulated a serious backlog of stories (including the Cuba kayaking fiasco, the Northwest, the Southwest, and the City of LA), and I’m hoping to start pushing those out, soon. I’ll supposedly find out whether that pilot will become an actual show in the next month or so, and even if it does I plan on continuing to live the #vanlife while we’re shooting. I didn’t start this trip as a stunt; it’s simply the way I want to be living right now, and I don’t see any of these career developments changing that.

So that’s the story. That’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. I had to fly to NY for some meetings, and I’m currently on my way to Aspen to test some new gear and check out Periscope’s GoPro integration. Sadly, Ashley, the Beast, is not with me for these trips. Why? I still have not found a good solution for winterizing the van. I love Ashley dearly, but she is poorly insulated. See, she has a full water system (shower, sink, and toilet), and just like the hoses and pipes in your house, if Ashley’s hoses and pipes freeze they will likely crack, which would lead to thousands of dollars of damage and a mildew-pocalypse from which she may never recover.

The only solution I’ve heard offered to this is to empty the water tanks and fill them all with non-toxic RV anti-freeze, but I’m not down with this. Because I’m living in it full-time, that would mean that I wouldn’t have a way to wash dishes or clean myself, and that’s a deal-breaker. I’ve contemplated blowing foam insulation into the sidewalls and roof and then installing a more-efficient diesel heater, but I don’t trust myself with an install like that and I can really shell out to have someone else do it. Even that wouldn’t guarantee that the black and grey water tanks (which are located underneath the van, on the outside) wouldn’t freeze and crack. Still trying to figure all that out.

I have continued to make improvements, though. For starters, I recently used a tool called the Whizzy Wheel to remove the majority of the decals from the outside of the van. Not only were they already starting to peel but they looked cheesy, making my girl look more like a plain old RV, instead of the high-tech van that she is. I also installed Philips Hue color-changing Light Strips, which I’ll be showing off soon in video, but suffice to say it’s one of the best additions I’ve made. Can’t wait to show you.

So, that’s the update. I’ve been humbled by the interest that people have taken in this adventure, and I promise that I’ll have more updates very soon. You can always follow along on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and I've finally added an option to subscribe to this blog by email. Keep following, and I promise I’ll keep it interesting for you.

As always, thank you for reading.

-Brent

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What It's Really Like to Ride in a Tricked-Out Red Bull Stunt Plane

The Red Bull Air Race just finished up its 2015 season in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago. Dreams were crushed, world champions were crowned, and a bunch of amazing planes did things that seemed to violate the laws of physics. I got to ride on one, and I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty much the most fun you can have with your pants on. 

[READ THE REST AT OUTSIDE MAGAZINE]

En Route to Cuba, Kayaking Back

I'm on a boat. 

I'm on a boat. 

I'm currently on a boat from the Florida Keys to Havana, Cuba. It was looking like it was going to fall through and then came together at the very last minute. Our plan is to kayak back to Florida.

The plan is to explore for a few days (or a week, depending on weather) and then kayak back.  It will be 113 miles from one port to the other and we think it will take between 30 and 50 hours of paddling. We'll be in tandem kayaks and yes, we will have support boats. I'm going to do my best to do the whole thing, but if my body gives out on me I won't have an ego about it and I'll let someone sub in for me, relay style. The team goal is more important than my individual goals. We're working with NOAA and are keeping a close eye on developing storms, so we're being as safe as we can be while doing something inherently unsafe.

I'm doing this with Cotopaxi as a part of their Challenge 113. You can read more about it here

You can track our progress live via Spot, if you're curious. Or worried (mom). 

Most likely won't have Internet at all in Cuba, but I'll have lots to share once I get back, and I vow to get caught up as soon as possible. I still have to tell you about Montana, Idaho, and gear testing in British Columbia. 

Wish us luck and good weather! 

Much love,  

Brent 9.5.15 just off the coast of Florida 

 

 

Good Friends, Badlands, and the Big Night Sky

There’s something magical about traveling alone. Yes, there are more risks involved, but it pays dividends in nimbleness. Eventually, though, you get tired of talking to yourself (or your GoPro), you have trouble following your audiobook, and you’ve been through all of your pre-downloaded music. Having an ally on your mission allows you push harder, try dicier things, and keep moving even when you break a rib while driving.

Let’s back up. [READ THE FULL STORY AT GIZMODO]

Disconnected States

Hey friends and lovely followers. I apologize for the slow updates. I've been camping way up north in British Columbia. Thought I'd have more internet up here and that I'd be able to post some updates from here, but internet has been incredibly sparse and very slow. I'm taking a ton of photos, though, and I'll have some great stuff for you as soon as I'm back in the States on Monday. Pinky swear.

In the meantime, the best way to follow along is through my Instagram, where I've been able to squeeze out the odd photo here and there. 

More soon!

-BR 8.21.15

Lessons from the Road: Part I

It’s been almost a month on the road now. One of the goals of Connected States was to see what lessons could be gleaned from a mobile lifestyle and then applied to a life more stationary. Well, 25 days isn’t so long in the grand scheme of things, especially if I’m staring down the barrel of another 340 or so, but it’s been long enough to make an observation or two.

[READ THIS UPDATE AT GIZMODO]

Six Days In Michigan: Art in Detroit to Surfing in Saginaw

Welcome back to the Connected States, the project that involves me living in a van for a year, driving around and telling stories. After going live last week I was absolutely overwhelmed by the positive response. I received so many tips, well-wishes, and offers of help that I haven’t been able to respond to them all yet. It was truly moving,

When we last left off I was in Iowa City, Iowa, which is not a very creative name for a city, so I moved on. By that point, though I’d left myself very little time. I needed to be in Detroit by 9:30am the next day so I could finally do my TSA Precheck interview, and Detroit was 490 miles away. I drove until I got very tired, whereupon I pulled into yet another Walmart parking lot and slept for 2.5 hours, and then kept going... [READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT GIZMODO.COM/CONNECTEDSTATES]