Tag Archives: Jeep

How Living in a Jeep Changed me as a Person

DSC_0049 13I was reading this article by the tremendous people at Outside Magazine, about “How to live out of your car,”  (there are some great tips in there) and it got me thinking about the trip I took with Outdoor Life’s help in 2010, fishing my way across the country.

I did not, at the time… “plan” to live out of my vehicle when I left. I was working a great job that I was lucky to have, but couldn’t shake the feeling that… there’s an entire country out there of drop-dead gorgeous stuff that… I might never see. I was dealing with some problems that I’ll not get into, but suffice it to say… I felt an urge to move, go, escape, travel… anywhere.

With a bare-bones budget and nothing but a road map full of places that I’d been dreaming about for the better part of 20 years, I put everything that I owned in storage and headed for Maine in late May.

Now… I’d set up trip itinerary of places to fish, things to see and friends I’d had that I wanted to visit, but planning an itinerary for a cross-country road trip is like making a plan for what you’d do if your house caught on fire: It might ease some anxiety prior to the actual event… but rarely is it something you can execute in practice when the time comes.

I did see the things I’d hoped I would (Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, the Grand Canyon, The Pacific, the Florida Keys), I got the chance to fish with a rock star, and I even lived with a marine artist named Pasta for the better part of a month (it got to the point where he started saying: “I’ll see you ‘home’). I lost about 40 pounds and grew my hair out for the first time in my life.

Prior to that trip, I was a quiet, soft-spoken guy with a lot of anxieties about the little things in life (‘Did I wear this shirt already this week?’ ‘Am I coming down with a cold?’) and to some degree I still am.

But on that trip, more people helped me than I ever could have imagined would prior to undertaking it. Anglers from Maine down to Florida and out to California and up to Oregon had me stay at their houses, introduced me to their families, and took me fishing.

I’ve always been a religious person, although I’ve come up short of that definition more times than I can count… but I’ve always believed in God.

What that trip did, the way it changed me… was that it gave me a faith in other people that I’d not had before then. It also reassured me that you don’t need to know how something is going to work, you just need to keep trying everything and believe that it will. My idea of Divinity changed from some all-powerful master on high watching our every action… to a collection of souls down here on earth that, more often than not, want what is best for not only them… but for all of us as a group, together.

That’s what I brought back from the road, and I carry it with me wherever I go today. It has been a saving grace in the days that were to follow.

If You Can’t Laugh at Yourself…

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A bison in Yellowstone

I think one clear and definite sign that we’ve started down the wrong path is when we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m serious about my attempt to start a magazine you’ll love, and you can help me here, and I think it’s incumbent upon us all to address the evils (like melanoma) that enter our lives, but if we can’t laugh, then I think we’ve lost something essential. When you’re sleeping in your Jeep in parking lots, attempting to raise money to find  a cure for skin cancer, or soliciting help to that end… it’s easy to get lost in your head and become a little more serious than anyone should be. Moments like these, I assume, were God reminding me to slow down, take a breath, and laugh out loud.

Seattle Wader Thief: My first attempt at a far-reaching, country-wide fishing expedition came thanks to Outdoor Life, who got behind my project Fish America. I was in Seattle, fishing with a great angler and artist named Chris Senyohl, and we were putting on waders before casting a few flies into Puget Sound. Chris and a friend had brought a black lab along for the trip, and it stole a wader boot I hadn’t yet put on. If you can picture me half-running and half-hopping, chasing a dog with my boot in his mouth, you might laugh as hard as everyone else was until the dog finally got tired and dropped the boot.

Embarrassed by Clarence: On that same trip I had the amazing, unforgettable opportunity to fish with E-Street Band saxophone player Clarence Clemons in the Florida Keys. Now, this would be an intimidating prospect for anyone… but at the time I was already a Bruce zealot. I’d been to more than ten shows, dragged friends, family and borderline-complete-strangers to shows, and… for better or worse, gotten Springsteen’s now-legendary Fender Esquire guitar tattooed inside of my right arm. Chris Miller, the guide with whom we were fishing, had seen the tattoo. When we finally made it out from Islamorada with Clarence and his brother, a storm came up and forced us inside. Rain beat down on the boat as we sat around waiting for it to pass. Clemons told stories that involved people like Keith Richards, who you constantly had to remind yourself was… yes… “the” Keith Richards, and I for the most part kept my mouth shut. Then, someone remembered the tattoo… Chants of “Show him!” started up as I looked for places in the boat to hide. Finally, I rolled up my long sleeve and Clarence started cracking up, recognizing the image immediately. When he caught his breath, he finally said: “You did that to yourself… you DID THAT TO YOURSELF!”

Have you Seen My Phone?: On that same journey, at the end of the night, if weather allowed, I’d typically climb onto the top of my Jeep Wrangler, in whatever parking lot I was living in, and try to take in a moment to appreciate my good fortune, look at the stars, and call home to assure my family that, yes, I was still alive. I’d then say a prayer that I wasn’t discovered by any law enforcement figures in the middle of the night, crawl into the back of the Jeep, and try to get a few hours sleep. One morning, when I woke up, I couldn’t find my phone anywhere. Frantic, I emptied the Jeep before I drove back to the marina where I’d fished the day before and scoured the parking lot. I asked inside if anyone had found an Android phone. Keep in mind this was my one connection… back home… to guides who I’d hoped would help later on in the journey. It had all my saved numbers and a number of photos from the road. I emptied the entire inside of the Jeep and was frantic and distraught at the prospect of having lost it. I opened my laptop, sent an e-mail back home that I’d lost the phone, drove to the marina where I was set to fish the next day, and tried to sleep that night. When I awoke the next morning I climbed on top of the Jeep to grab a rod from the Thule rack where I’d been keeping them… and there it was. The phone had somehow, despite two trips down different roads, stayed on the top of the Jeep.

Bison Encounter: If you drive through Yellowstone Park in Montana in December, you’ll notice two things. First, you’ll likely be the only human being driving down the one remaining open road, and secondly, bison are a lot, lot larger-looking up close than they appear on television. When you pay to enter the park you’re given a tag to hang on your mirror to show that you’d paid the fee. Driving through the park, I stopped and wondered if it’d be alright to get a little closer to the aforementioned bison for a photo. It was about 0 degrees and there wasn’t another human being in sight. I pulled to the side of the road, grabbed my SLR, and cautiously took a few steps in the direction of a monstrous bison, that stared at me without an ounce of fear or trepidation. I took a few shots and got back in the Jeep and continued through the park. You know where it tells you, EXPLICITLY, not to exit your vehicle in the presence of bison? Yep, on the back of that tag hanging from my windshield.

I’ve been lucky to take two trips since that first adventure, and now they have the purpose, thanks to all of our sponsors, of raising money to find a cure for melanoma. I suppose since those four examples came from the first trip… I might speculate that I’m getting a little…

…No, I won’t jinx it.

 

Bucket-List Fishing Destinations: Places I’d love to Visit

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An atlas and a Jeep… all you really need.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

By now it’s probably no longer a secret that a great deal of the motivation behind this effort, apart from raising money to cure melanoma and the desire to build you a great fishing magazine, is a love of exploration and travel.

I’ve tried to wax poetic about some of the places I’ve been blessed to see (and I HAVE been blessed), but the thing about traveling is… the more you do, the more you want to do. Each destination is seemingly a little bit closer to a place you’ve never been, and only increases your desire to get there… some day.

I thought it would be interesting to compare bucket lists with my fellow fishermen out there, so I decided to share some of the places I’ve never fished, but would love to, and see if you guys had any thoughts, suggestions or ideas about getting there, and what to do if and when I do.

Alaska: This one is a place I’ve been dying to visit for as long as I can remember. My father was stationed in the military in Alaska during the Cold War, and used to talk about the natural beauty of the place. He’d mention the polar bears, the endless summer days and the kindness of the native people. I’ve had a few friends who got the chance to visit, and that’s only made it worse. Suffice it to say, it’s the number-one place on my “to-go” list, and hopefully one day I’ll get the chance.

California Bassing: I’ve been to California, and have done some saltwater fishing out of San Diego, but I’ve never bass fished in the state that has now become (almost more so than Florida) America’s number-1 bass-fishing destination.

Cuba: There’s something, I think for all of us… more tempting about a place that we can’t go. Certainly… there didn’t seem to be much empirical evidence to suggest that the moon would be a very interesting destination, but the fact that nobody’d been there undoubtedly motivated the first space pioneers to make a lunar landing. And by that same token, the fact that Cuba has largely been off limits to American anglers for decades makes it all the more alluring. Reading too much Hemingway has filled my head with images of enormous marlin off the coast, but as of late I’ve read some pieces that suggest that their bass fishing is every bit as good as their saltwater fishing, if not better.

Minnesota: I’ll admit off the bat that I’ve never been much of a walleye fisherman. We don’t have much in the way of walleye in Upstate New York, and I’ve barely traveled through the Midwest. But when a group of anglers are as passionate about a fishery as Midwesterners are about their walleye, I always assume they’re onto something I’m ignorant of. I’ve read a great deal about the boundary waters and their beauty, and it doesn’t take much to inspire me to want to visit a place in the first place… so there you have it.

Michigan: I’ve been lucky to have fished in 36 of the lower 48, and I’ve at least traveled through many of the other 12… but I’ve never once set foot in Michigan. When you consider that I’ve been a Hemingway fan for the past decade, and Hemingway wrote passionately about Michigan, perhaps it’s understandable that it’s a place I’ve always wanted to go. The pictures of the beautiful trout and salmon, of course, have made this desire even worse.

I’m not terribly concerned that places exist that I’ve not yet traveled to, but would love to visit. I would be terribly concerned were that not the case, however.

 

The Real Reason Behind Catch a Cure: Coming Clean

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The sun sets over an Atlanta highway in 2010.

Alright, it’s time I fessed up, came clean and leveled with you guys and gals that have been reading this blog. I’ve taken to the road under false pretense, claiming a grudge against melanoma and a desire to build, with your help, the best fishing magazine you’ll ever read. But there’s more to it…

I left out a key component: The Road. Since I turned 16, nothing has given me more joy, relaxation, hope, inspiration and faith than the American open road. My best memories are behind the wheel, I’ve dealt with the hardest times in my life by just putting the key in the ignition, and when it seemed like there was little else, there was always something on four wheels with at least a little gas in the tank, an invitation to everywhere.

My first vehicle was a 1996 Chevy Beretta. For those of you who think this is either a gun, or a car that doesn’t exist, I’ll give you a brief primer on the now-extinct Beretta: It was a sports car for people who couldn’t afford sports cars. Mine was a hand-me-down from an Uncle, and while it was a two-door with a V6, it wasn’t exactly a Corvette. But at the time, it felt like one.

When it became apparent that all my fishing gear would never fit in a coupe, my parents helped me upgrade to a used regular-cab Dakota. Here again, if you’re new on the road, you might be going… “Wha…?”

Because, you guessed it, Dodge has stopped producing its mid-sized Dakota. It was a great little truck, but it has gone the way of the Beretta.

Finally, realizing that I needed a vehicle that I could live in, if I was going to fish the entire country without paying for motel rooms, I became a Jeep guy, which I remain to this day.

I’ve tried on numerous occasions to contact Jeep, hoping to enlist their support for my effort, but haven’t had any luck. Still, I can’t help but be a walking Jeep commercial. These vehicles are everything they claim to be, and I’ve tested them to the limit. I’ve had my Wrangler buried in snow in Wyoming, mud on things you’d only call “roads,” to be nice in Florida and Alabama, and most importantly, I lived in one for more than 200 nights from Maine to Montana.

I have never been able to articulate what it is about the open road that calms me down and makes everything in life seem, if not ideal, then at least manageable, but I know when I meet a person who “gets it.” My uncle, Charlie Jones, drives an 18-wheeler back and forth from Upstate New York to Harlem several times a week, and used to drive all over the country before opting for a more local route, and his father before him was a truck-driver. All we need is a road map for hours of mutual amusement. You can try to describe the beauty of the Oregon Coast, the strange feeling of staring into Mexico that you can get in some parts of Texas or the sheer Majesty of the Florida Keys to someone who has never been, but it’s much more rewarding to just talk with someone who has, to just point to a map, nod, smile and say some guy-thing like: “Oh, unbelievably beautiful, for sure…”

Being born on the East Coast, the 3,000-mile expanse to another ocean always seemed to me like a dare, a challenge or an invitation. It seemed as though we were born on the starting line, and a gun went off when we were handed our license for the first time.

But if driving across the United States, or down the beautiful East Coast, has an exact antithesis, it’s a race. There are more beautiful small towns, amazing beaches, breathtaking views and unique communities in America than you could visit if you had a lifetime and spent only a minute in each.

The truth about the road, or what I’ve found, has nothing to do with America and everything to do with you and who you are. When you’re traveling from place to place, town to town, from Maine’s rocky shoreline to San Diego’s beautiful harbor, you discover something that most of us search for our whole lives: Yourself.

The road allows you to be anything and anyone, and at the same time forces you to be something, someone. You cannot hide unnoticed in a cubicle on the road, you cannot lock a door and stare at a television: you move, interact, introduce and become.

At the same time you are introducing yourself to the amazing people of each huge city and small town, they are introducing yourself to you, by forcing you to become just that. Behind the wheel, on the road, you are not an employee or a boss, you are not a son or a nephew, you are not a neighbor or a tenant: You are, and you only are, yourself.

You choose when and how to define yourself with each interaction, introduction and discussion and while the beauty of our country defies description and should be something everyone tries to see all of at least once, the best, most liberating and beautiful thing about the American open road is that it allows you to become who you are, who you’ve been underneath all along, and who you were always meant to become.