12:30 pm, October 22nd 2018, Sandpoint, Idaho. Bikes, Boards, Baggage, Booze, and Bodies. The van is loaded and pulling out of port. The direction is unknown. Agenda, equally obscure. And we like it. An intentionally agendaless journey is new but not unfamiliar. Being late October, the internal compass says we aim south to capture any shred of warmth still remaining in the low, angling sun. Suzanne, co-pilot and partner of nearly a decade, settles in with our new pup Suki and van life begins again.With life as layered and busy as it is, sliding in behind the wheel of Blanca (a 1999 VW Eurovan, current odometer reading 415,567, about half of that mine) has become my antidote to busyness. Somehow just getting out of town without too many crab claws (loose ends that grab you and keep you from leaving) is a success.We drive a mere 4 hours from home and find camp.Darkness falls. Tequila falls… into empty, receptive cups.A crisp IPA is cracked.Cooking a meal is a relatively low priority on night one as we bask in the excitement of being on the road, buoyed by a full moon dancing behind an eerie cloud cover and an opportunity to light paint.Our course meanders over days through the interior of Idaho, discovering remote vacant hot springs and uncrowded backroad locales that allow for maximum freedom. We are both surprised by the impact of wildfires as we snake our way toward Stanley Idaho, skirting the south edge of the Frank Church Wilderness (still the largest wilderness in the lower 48).I stop to capture the scene but the record-keeping-moment soon transforms to a painterly one. The landscape has become a quilt of life and death, blackened Standing Lodgepole Pine mixed with green regenerating ground cover and hints of fall color, divided by a bending deep blue ribbon of water. It’s raw and captivating.As we continue to surrender to the moment and try not get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s already day 5 of our 9 day trip. What is our plan? Where are we going? Our minds drift. We look at weather reports. Sun and warmth are desirable. We head West. More specifically, we drive towards the wide open space of southeastern Oregon where the population density is 2 humans per 500 cows per 100 square miles or something like that. Who cares about stats, it’s expansive and definitely pulls us into that feeling. That feeling of remoteness. Planetary if you will.One thing I have realized in my travels with Blanca in the West is that it’s not for everyone. I like it that way. I can tell it’s not for everyone because I hardly see anyone else out in the places I choose to go. I have learned it through my own experience and taking to heart the advice of Edward Abbey when it comes to dirt roads and exploration and getting “out there.”So one may ponder and wonder, this all sounds way too leisurely to qualify as work. How are you able to hit the road and just be free for days on end? The answer is choice. As a kid born into a line of inveterate travelers, it has become a choice and not anything based on luck or social status or anything else. It’s my work. It’s my life. I continue to make the choice. There is compromise for sure. There are also perspectives and responses I have endured over the years from “oh you are so lucky” to “must be nice” to “only wealthy people travel.” And yet my hope and goal in all of it is not to boast or display nor is it to amass an Insta following or assemble any cult. It is to share and inspire. It is for my children to see how their father lives and engage them in life on the road. It is for my friends to be stoked and curious and ask where is that, how do I get there. My intent is simply not to lead by example but to live by it.
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David Hanson is in the middle of a long-term documentary photo project near his Oregon home. Sherman County is a rural, sparsely populated county in the eastern rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. It's only two hours from Portland but light years away in terms of culture, politics, and way of life. The main artery through the county is Highway 97, which runs north-south down the east side of the WA-OR Cascade Range. In Sherman County, the towns along Hwy 97 are spread out at nine-mile intervals because that is an appropriate distance for a horse to travel in a day.
Ranching and wheat farming remain the backbone of the economy in Sherman County. Kids actually stick around and take over their parents' ranches. But other than high-tech windmills on the wide-open landscape, not a lot new has come to the towns, and much of the old has gone. There are empty storefronts and the high school recently shuttered due to lack of funds. Most people have to travel to The Dalles (45 minutes) for groceries and medical care. David is beginning to collect images of the daily life in these ranches and small towns that are both timeless and fading.