Finding Epic At Home

A scenic from Custer State Park in South Dakota. Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200 f/4, 1/1600 @ f/8, ISO 250.

I spent almost one month on the road and shot 2700 images of some the most amazing places within the lower 48 in the USA. Now that I am back to the daily grind of work and life in general and I am finding myself missing that cloud I was living on of having epic all around me and nothing pulling at me other than finding that next shot.

I went out this morning and there was a nice sunrise happening and I began to let my mind race to decide where I wanted run to so that I could capture the majesty I saw happening in the sky. I found myself cursing under my breath as looked around and felt trapped within the confines of where I live as the few traffic lights were “out to stop me”, and the buildings, the electric & telephone lines were in every shot that I could see. I pulled over and jumped out of the car to grab one shot when that little voice hit me upside the head and I asked “what am I doing”? I cannot compare where I live to life on the road, and as much as I would love to be in ALL of the majestic places at once when the light is “epic” I realize that I cannot, and even when I was “there” the light wasn’t always “epic”.

I wonder if what I am going through is normal for us photographers, and that is finding that spark to create amongst our daily lives after returning from such a trip. When I got out west I saw those gorgeous mountains up close for the first time I wondered to myself if I lived here would this ever get boring? I remember visiting NY many years ago and wanting to see the Statue of Liberty and no one could tell me how to get there and I thought how strange is that. I suppose though that is normal, people who live in areas take those areas for granted. My wife who grew up at Cape May NJ told me that when she was growing up she just thought it normal to have the beach so close and didn’t think much of it.

That was my weekend thought, Thank you for reading and if you have any of your own thoughts to share I’d love to read them.


Life On The Road

Our Honda Pilot with our Viking Travel Trailer.

My wife and I just got back from an INCREDIBLE 28 day road trip which covered 6655 miles and took up through 14 states. We went from our home in Virginia all the way up to the west side of Glacier National Park in Montana and we saw some amazing sights along the way!

Now I know this is a photography site, but I thought I’d take a moment to go over some of the things I learned while pulling a travel trailer with a V6 Honda Pilot since this basically was our maiden voyage into camping.

The first thing to know is I did my homework prior to purchasing both, the Pilot and the camper. The Pilot (properly equipped with a transmission cooler) can tow 5,000 lbs, and the dry weight of our camper is 3,200 lbs, so that left us enough wiggle room of 1,800 pounds for ourselves, our gear, clothes, and food to go into the Pilot and the camper. I also knew that because we were pulling with a smaller engine that we would have to watch our speeds and that going uphill would be slow going.

On the trip out I tried to keep the speed around 60 mph with us averaging 300-325 miles per day. That seemed fine for the first few days, but as we climbed in elevation and the temps warmed well into the upper 80’s bordering on low 90’s I had the warning light come on for “High Transmission Fluid Temp”. I immediately pulled over and opened the hood to release some of the built up heat. After about 15 minutes we were back on the road, and I tried my best to watch the temps and speed. In the end I found that by keeping the Pilot around 55 mph seemed to be the best, along with the “D4 Button” being used more.

The D4 button basically takes the vehicle out of overdrive and gives you a better gear for getting up hills. What got me on the trip out were the slow and long “slight” upgrades where the engine had the power but I didn’t notice that I was pushing a bit harder on the gas. After realizing that those hills were causing the transmission to work harder I did my best to utilize the D4 as much as possible.

Okay, the BIG question that researched prior to taking this trip, and one I am sure you have too… GAS MILEAGE. On the way out we averaged around 11.8 mpg while keeping it between 60 – 60+ mph. On the return trip while maintaining 55 mph I averaged just over 14.5 mpg and going through some of the flatter states I averaged between 16 mpg & 18 mpg!! I figure two things helped on this better gas mileage, one obviously being the slower speed, but second is the wind drag. I had some severe head winds going west, and hardly any heavy winds coming back east.

How did the Pilot handle the camper? I had purchased a leveling/sway bar prior to going, but decided against putting it on for this trip. I was worried originally about brakes and winds, but Honda doesn’t recommend using a sway/leveling bar. I may break it out of the box and try it on our next trip to see if there is a difference or not. I will add that coming down through Montana into Wyoming we did hit some cross winds, and some of the bigger box vehicles and tractor trailers (when they got too close) would cause the trailer to pull a little, but with the slow speeds I was going I had no issues whatsoever.

It takes two.. The first couple of days on the road were a learning and adjusting experience for my wife and I. This was our first time really camping other than a weekend away last autumn which was only an hour from the house. This time we were going to be hopscotching for 7 days across the USA, and that meant hitching up, driving for at least 6-8 hours, unhooking, setting up, and preparing dinner. Oh, and we had our spaz elder Maltese dog traveling with us, and when we would stop he wanted his stomach needs met for dinner which added to some of the stress. After the third day, my wife and decided that if we were going to finish this trip we needed to come up with certain “responsibilities” that each of us needed to do to help each other. So we talked and worked out what we each felt we needed from each other and from then on out the trip was smooth. Heck, on the return hopscotching it was a cool breeze (other than the stupid ball hitch *grrrr* LOL!).

We only made 3 campsite reservations prior to leaving for the entire month we allotted for this trip, and they were at West Glacier, East Glacier, and the Black Hills area. Everything else we went online around 11am and decided how far we wanted to travel that day and were able to locate a nice campground without any issues. We stayed at private campgrounds, Good Sam’s, and KOA’s. What we learned is that the KOA’s are generally a bit more money, but usually they have clean showers and offer some better amenities if you’re traveling with kids (swimming pools, put put golf, etc..). We also learned that the KOA’s have 3 levels, Journeys, Holidays, and Resorts. We found we liked the Journeys the best because they are more like traditional camping with people like us who aren’t needing all the bells and whistles. We tried to stay at a Resort at Mt. Rushmore, but we were put in 3…THREE!! crappy sites and then to top it off when my wife was trying to help me back in to the second two of the ‘backend’ maintenance guys were laughing at us instead of directing people to give us some space. In our defense, the space was TIGHT with a tree to the left and a ditch to the right. This was basically a tent site that they turned into a trailer site. We ended up leaving after one night, and in the end it worked out great for us as we found a WONDERFUL campsite close to town.

So to sum it up, you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hit the road as we saw tent campers, RTT (roof top tents), camper vans, and people like us. Oh, we also saw those who spent upwards of over $100K on their RV’s, but in the end we had just as good an experience because for us, the camper was just a place to sleep and cook some meals. It was the experiences on the road and the sights we saw that made the difference!! One other thing, speaking of sleeping comfort.. we decided to replace the cruddy foam mattress with a “Froli Sleep System” and a “GhostBed”… we slept better than in our bed at home!! I am NOT getting ANY sponsorship from these companies (but if they’re reading I wouldn’t pass any $$ up ~LOL!).

Thanks for reading! I will post soon about the places we saw! I will leave you with one of the images I captured from this trip.

A image from Swiftcurrent Stream near Many Glacier. Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8g; 25 sec @ f/9.