Rebirth of Wonder
In May 2017 I set out on a trip to the Owyhee Canyon region of Oregon with a crew to try and make a year-long vision of Eric Giovannetti's be realized. The Owyhee region is one of the most remote places left in the lower 48 and one of the largest unprotected areas as well. It is currently under threat of development from mining, oil and gas companies. One of the goals of this trip was to highlight just how remote and special the region is in hopes that more will join in to help protect it. It is becoming increasingly rare to find a place in the States where you find yourself truly in the "middle of nowhere" with no signs of humans for miles and miles. Our group spent almost a week here, with no cell phone service and human distractions, spending time interacting and connecting with the land and being reminded of how important places like this are.
If you are interested in getting involved in protecting the Owyhee, sign the petition and learn what else you can do at http://wildowyhee.org/
We drove all day to try and get somewhere that we weren't even sure we could get to. The whole way there the prospect of locked gates and impassable roads loomed over us. Months of planning for this goal with the all too real chance that it wouldn't be possible to even attempt it if the way was blocked. But yet, it worked. Nervously approaching unlocked gate after unlocked gate, having to cleverly bypass quicksand-like puddles that would suck car tires in instantly, somehow, we made it. We were greeted with clouds that seemed to speak to the uncertainties of the trip, not able to make up their minds towards sun or rain. And this was just day one in the Owyhee. The adventure was just beginning.
We were still buzzing from being able to check the most basic item off of our list; just get there. We were there. We made it. The light was fading and the prospect of tomorrow and the unknowns it would bring were looming, but it did little to dampen our spirits. We were present in the moment, transported through time to a place that looked as if a dinosaur would be spotted on the distant landscape at any moment. There were no signs of life other than some wandering cattle and birds singing to the setting sun. Our freeze dried dinners tasted far better than we knew they should. Day one of our Owyhee adventure was coming to a close, and in that moment we celebrated what felt like big victories, all while having absolutely no clue what the next week would hold and whether or not a place so remote and rugged would be forgiving enough to allow us to succeed.
We hiked. And hiked. And hiked. Day two of our trip was a balancing act of trying to manage our excitement of where we were, wanting to explore every turn and hidden canyon, and trying to keep the end goal in mind. Scouting and decision making were consumed with the constant battle of "Is this spot good enough?" and "What if we check those spots out a little further?" We had planned for long enough, and traveled far enough, that we weren't willing to settle for good enough. Knowing our time was limited and trying to be practical for what a four man team could accomplish was hard to keep in the front of our minds as the possibilities seemed endless. But as the day carried on, we knew we needed to make a decision. Two days of bad weather were ahead and keeping any doubts out of our minds was an ever present test of morale. Was what we traveled out here for even possible?
Day Three. The rain came. It wasn't a heavy rain, but it was enough to put the mission on pause. When the dirt in the Owyhee gets any moisture, it turns into a clay-like mud that can add 10 pounds to each shoe and slow your pace down to a crawl. So we waited. And waited. Every so often peering out of tents to check the distant horizon for any break in the weather. But there wasn't a break, and even though we knew the forecast called for two straight days of bad weather, we couldn't help but hope that the websites were wrong and the sun would overcome the clouds. We knew our time was limited in the Owyhee and we had yet to see if what we were planning would even work. So minutes felt like hours, and as hard as we would try to get lost in books and embrace the rest days, our minds were still buzzing with anticipation for when the weather would finally clear.
Day three came and went. We should have known that going to bed with hopes of clear skies would put the odds against us. Waking up on day four, looking outside to a total white out, we couldn't help but laugh. Our clear sky dreams were met with a frigid blizzard that would keep us playing the game of poke your head out the tent and check the horizon for hours to come. One day of full rest felt like a luxury and was almost welcomed. A second day of total rest felt like we were being put in time out, the Owyhee laughing at our idealistic thoughts that this mission would be quick and easy. Out there, every step must be earned. So we became kids again and did the things we all did before screens and technology became rulers. We threw rocks at sticks, we threw rocks at mud piles, we threw rocks at arbitrary spots in the water. And then, we stood around the fire for 7 hours, burning things and playing with sticks a bit longer. "Tomorrow we will begin again," we told ourselves. "Tomorrow, we are going to get this thing done."
An omen. A sign of hope. After two straight days of rain, snow, sleet, and everything in between, our periodic peeping out of our tents was starting to feel more ritualistic than optimistic. But then right when our dreams of sunny skies were starting to wear off, we were greeted with a rainbow that seemed to be the Owyhee letting us know that the coming days would be better. It's funny what things like this can do for morale. Almost instantly, the planning and preparations resumed. We had our rest. Our scale of time was beginning to lean towards "days spent" rather than "days left". So if we were going to walk away from this trip knowing we had accomplished what we went to do, then tomorrow would have be the day.
And then it happened. It was rigged. Somehow, the line went up on day five went about as seamlessly as you could ask for. No close calls, no near misses, no needing to think on our toes. Just a few hours of some beautiful anchor building, some uphill and downhill hiking, and it was up. For the sake of the story, I wish I could tell you that this line was some epic battle that took days and days of rigging to accomplish, but I'd be lying. With a little bit of luck and weeks upon weeks of planning, the dream was realized. An all-natural-anchor highline in the Owyhee region of Oregon.
For the next few days we basked in the beautiful weather and enjoyed the solitude that only a place like this could offer. And during those days is when I realized that by no means was this trip about the end result. It was about the collective suffering, the companionship, and the daily experience of being left speechless by a place that feels as if it contains an endless amount of stones left to be unturned. The name that Eric gave the line couldn't be more fitting to my experience. I left the Owyhee feeling creatively revitalized, like I have a new cadence to what drives me. It is my deepest hope that we will all continue to experience and not take for granted these moments that reignite our sparks. Let them guide you. Let them give you permission to dream. Let them help you remember those moments of wonder. With that, I give you "Rebirth of Wonder". A new 110 meter long highline, 90 meters above the Owyhee canyon, established by Eric Giovannetti, Torrey Piatt and Michael Vanderburg.
The text for this trip was originally written for social media and each day was "released" over the period of a week. I have added a little bit to it here and there to help add to the blog format, but for the most part this is a very raw retelling of our adventure as I wrote it right after we returned from the trip in May 2017. My goal was to utilize this trip to help myself and hopefully others as well refocus on the power of storytelling and the patience that is required to see something through. I had been feeling a lull in creativity before the trip that was brought on by my own inability to ignore outside influences and pressures and listen to what it is that brings me fulfillment.
The week spent on this trip, disconnected from everything other than the present, allowed me to come back feeling creatively rejuvenated. It helped me to refocus and drown out the noise to gain better clarity on what it is within photography that fuels my passion and brings me joy.
A huge thank you to Eric Giovannetti for his vision for the trip and for Torrey Piatt and Michael Vanderburg for making it such an incredible trip.