YEAR OF THE DONKEY
Seems fitting that I'm sitting here in a United lounge at the SFO Airport, some 60 flights into the year, writing a recap on what this year has looked like. Luckily for me (Greg), this airport has felt like a second home after flying so much throughout the year (just kidding that's so sad).
To clarify some things out of the gate, 2017 is in fact year of the chicken, not donkey. Donkey isn't even one of the zodiac signs, but horse is and that's the year I was born. So close enough, right?
If you're unfamiliar with Yeehaw Donkey, what we do, who we are, what our favorite colors are, then let me fill you in real quick so you have some context of what 2017 meant to us. As 2016 began to wind down, Adam and I had a year of occasionally working together with some success. Enough to where we thought it'd be worth it to join forces full time, bill under the same company, and make it a bit easier for the clients we were working with. So with that in mind, Yeehaw Donkey, a name that still makes the people at the bank laugh, was born. It wasn't until our last few days down in Patagonia that Adam laid eyes on a sign post while we were out walking and subsequently threw down a few sketches in his journal. With some proper tweaking, that became our logo. This was our first year of running a business together, our first year of fully committing to the outdoor industry, Adam's first full year of living in Seattle, my first year of not photographing weddings, and damn did we learn a lot. We set out to continue photographing campaigns for brands like Chaco and prAna, but that quickly developed into offering more of a full service product that relied quite a bit on video. The workload stretched us to our limits and to be honest probably too many high-stress moments for what we were doing. But fast forward 12 months and we've got a portfolio that I'm particularly fired up about.
In no particular order, this year brought us to Hawaii, Chile, Argentina, Utah, Arizona, California, British Columbia, the Yukon, Alaska, Iceland, Cuba, Ireland, England, Indonesia, Nicaragua, and Japan. We biked from San Francisco to Alaska in 8 days, hiked the "southernmost trek in the world", snorkeled off the coast of a tiny island in southern Japan, ran 330 miles around the Big Island, and maybe flew a few too many times.
Below is a collection of our work and trips, photos and videos that highlight what we've accomplished and where we've been throughout the year. I had no specific goals in mind for this year besides growing Yeehaw Donkey and it's wild to see where we've gone. To any friends, family, or clients reading through everything, Adam and I are both forever thankful for your support and believing in what we set out to do.
This one is quite a lengthy read, so buckle up. Without further ado, welcome to the year of the donkey.
"Friendship is so weird. You just pick a human you've met and you're like, 'Yep, I like this one,' and you just do stuff with them." - Bill Murray
For some reason we've become friends with this crew in San Francisco who enjoy punishing themselves by running multiple 6-mile segments with little sleep. For three days, we crammed 13 friends into a rental van and drove/ran the Big Island of Hawaii. We slept on picnic tables, enjoyed road-side massages, watched Andy climb some sketchy palm trees, and enjoyed some sweet sweet views. Most importantly, we all hold special memories of Gil pooping on the side of the road after his run. 330 miles later, we landed back in Kona and celebrated in the random parking lot we began the run in.
Literally a day before leaving for Hawaii, we found ourselves on the phone with CLIF Bar pitching this trip. Somehow we managed to pull it together and it became our first job both for 2017 and with CLIF. The film below gives a short glimpse into what this trip was about, why it's so special for all of us, and how we'll all say yes to the Love Bus (even if we're not runners).
Flying over lava in Hawaii? Double check.
I don't know about you, but I've become a master at convincing myself certain things are a good idea and worth jumping into. Case and point, Iceland. Our friend was talking about how cheap flights were from Seattle in February so obviously this seemed like a good idea, right? A few weeks later, Steph and I found ourselves circling the island in the winter, gaining nearly 15 minutes of light EACH DAY we were there.
"Technically Icelandic horses are considered ponies."
That was more or less a direct quote from the folks we went to ride horses with. But ask Steph and these horses are full sized animals. To be fair, the two in this photo were a little too curious and wouldn't stop following us all the way back to the car. Then they proceeded to nibble on the door handle. Felt like we were being surrounded by wild beasts.
12 days in Iceland and not one clear night to catch the northern lights. We came out here without much of a plan (seems to be a pattern) but ended up getting to see some of our favorite places together. Heck we even tried some fermented shark and surprisingly didn't throw up!
Days after one of the larger storms in Tahoe, we found ourselves rendezvousing with the Outbound Collective and CLIF Bar for a weekend of madness in the snow. It was our first true backcountry experience and thankfully we had a rad team of people helping us along the way. We all spent two nights tucked into this hut after a few miles of skinning in, full of songs, hearty food, and a warm fire. The next two days were spent running laps in THE BEST powder I have had the pleasure of snowboarding in. A bit tricky at first, but after getting the hang of it, we were cruising.
To the right (or below on mobile) is a short video we produced as a part of this campaign. Little did we know we'd be heading to Joshua Tree, Moab, and Nicaragua with the same crew a few months later.
Patagonia has felt like a dream destination for as long as I can remember. Not necessarily from the standpoint of it being a climbing mecca, but because it felt like such a wild and remote place. A spot of land where you needed to earn it's respect by throwing down some wild travel time and commitment.
So five flights later, myself, Adam, and three friends found ourselves feeling extremely out of place as we made our way through Chile and Argentina.
We made our way from Punta Arenas up towards Torres del Paine and over to El Chalten. But what stands out the most was our week spent down in Isla Navarino, a somewhat large island directly south of Ushuaia, Argentina. The Dientes Circuit is named the southernmost trek in the world. We spent 5 days walking this wild landscape, searching for trail markers and eating the most absurd assortment of meals we pulled together at a local market.
Let's travel to the end of the world.
Below is a short film produced for prAna and their Fall 2017 line. The primary purpose of this trip was to photograph part of their fall line and the images have been used online, print catalogues, and a few in-store prints.
Within days of getting home from Patagonia, we were back on the road headed for Joshua Tree. Again meeting up with the Outbound Collective and CLIF, we spent a few days exploring areas around the park, quickly becoming humbled by the legendary grading system for bouldering in the park. Our time was filled with hackysack, rock scrambling, a bit of trad climbing, and finding the best vantage points for sunset.
Baja [bah-hah] noun - a peninsula in NW Mexico where you'll find an abundance of tacos, vans, & surf
It's here in Moab where you'll find a guide by the name of Tim. He may rip on a mountain bike, but his true talent is pineapple upside-down cake in a cast iron skillet.
From San Francisco to Anchorage in 8 days...on two wheels
Every now and then I'll get these emails popping up with Andy titled something like "Only open when you're feeling sassy." Earlier this year, that message contained details of the ultimate bike-relay - San Francisco to Anchorage - 3,300 miles in 8 days. Six riders, one dog, 20-mile segments, a sprinter van, and lots of CLIF Bars. We spent the night before the ride building a makeshift bed in the back of this van that would somehow sleep 5 guys since that would be the make or break for energy levels. Day and night, we made our ways up CA-1 into Oregon and Washington, through the Canadian border, up and down the mountains in British Columbia, along the lonesome Yukon roads, and finally somewhat downhill from the Alaskan border to Anchorage. This is a road trip I've always wanted to take but I never expected moving 20 miles at a time. After the trip, the following months were spent cutting together a film about these guys and their journey up north. Nearly 20 hours of footage condensed down into a 6 or 7 minute film titled, "3,300 Miles To Go".
The following series of images and video might tip the scale as our favorite job/experience of the year. For nearly 10 days, we traveled to Indonesia alongside a team of journalists, paddlers, climbers, and producers to explore the potential of eco-tourism in the area. We focused on two islands - Sumba and West Timor. Our time in Sumba was spent paddling the northern shores, watching Sasha put up first ascents on 50-foot cliffs over the swelling ocean as we watched from up top and in boats. We learned how the locals produce handmade Ikat cloth, hand-dyed, illustrated, and sewn. We stayed in a beautiful village, camped on the beach, and wandered crowded markets. I highly encourage everyone to check out https://prailiu.org/ to learn more about the area we stayed in and see more examples of the weaving.
After a short flight from the airport in Sumba (and puking alongside Chris Brinlee Jr. in the back of a pickup truck), we arrived in West Timor and made our way to the mountains. This area is home to Mama Aleta and a community of people who fought local mining companies through years of sit-ins and peaceful protests. Although huge pieces of their home mountain were essentially sliced in half, the area presented itself as a potential climbing mecca. We spent 3 or so days living with this community, hearing stories from Mama Aleta, trading songs and dances with the kids, and bolting two new routes on the wall. We're still exploring the potential of building the area to withstand small groups of destination climbers, proving that a sport like this can help save land from extractive industries. Check out http://www.samdhana.org/ to learn more about the Mama Aleta Foundation and the work they've put in to save their home and land.
(Above) A short film produced from our time in Indonesia. Definitely worth the watch as this was my favorite film we worked on all year. (Below) Trading Indonesia for Nicaragua. We made our way down to Central America with the Outbound Collective, CLIF Bar, and some badass athletes to surf + volunteer our time for some demo work at a local school. We worked alongside Hope Corps, a local non-profit to the area, to help break down a wall and prep a portion of the school to expand the band room for the kids.
August seemed to be the month of water. After living in Seattle for nearly two years, I never realized how easy it was to get a permit for crabbing and take advantage of the PNW. We loaded up some kayaks, bought some crab pots, and set them off the shore in Bellingham. Two hours later, we had nearly a dozen Dungeness crab that were promptly enjoyed on the beach. Lesson learned for how to have even more fun in the summer.
Washington huts, river-side camping, Arizona desert, and Hawaiian waves. We traveled near and far over two weeks, producing a one-minute film and photo series for Chaco's 2017 Holiday campaign.
For nearly a year, I've been trying to make my way up to central British Columbia to paddle the Bowron Lakes Circuit. After a failed attempt last summer, we managed to grab permits for the west side of the circuit while shooting the story for BC Tourism - 4 days of paddling some wild Canadian wilderness with Steph and our pretty much professional canoe paddler friend, Natalie. The first day we were brought to the window of the canoe rental shop and told "No way you're getting out there today." The wind was ripping straight down the lake, sideways rain, and no way of hiding from it along the shore. Well we couldn't really not start that day, so we slowly but surely made our way through the waves and rain until we reached camp. The following three days were full of clear sky, the occasional wind, wild blueberries, a massive waterfall, new friends in the hut, a perfect sunset on our last night, and probably the coolest part - a female moose moving through the water, feeding on tall grass.
To round out the international theme for the year, we were fortunate enough to spend three weeks traveling in Japan for Chaco's Spring '18 line.
Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Koyasan, Kawayu Onsen, Osaka, Iriomote
Thankfully we met this amazing couple before heading out (http://ippei-janine.com/) who happen to be photographers, explorers, jewelers, and some of the kindest people we've met. They helped us with our itinerary for the entire three weeks, invited us to their home for THE BEST fish we had in Japan, assisted in a bit of damage control when we missed one bus, helped navigate the Tokyo subway system, and most importantly shaped our trip to be as memorable as it was.
Japan was better than I expected in every way possible. The food was one of my favorite parts - never a bad meal except for some odd tofu and root veggies in Mount Koya. People were kind, helped us around the trains when we needed a point in the right direction, and made us feel so welcomed in their home. We moved from the busy city and lights of Tokyo to Kyoto for a few days. We wandered through bamboo forests, fed deer in Nara, and stumbled upon a few Geishas as they made their way out to work at night. From Kyoto we moved out into the less-crowded mountains, areas where some of the first monks came and spent time in Japan. The weather cooled and our days slowed down a bit from the busy lives in the city. Finally we took a taxi to a train, hopped onto a plane, then a bus, then a boat, then a car. All in one day. We spent 5 nights on this tiny island off the coast of Taiwan called Iriomote Island. Ippei warned us of coconut crabs, pit vipers, blue octopus, endemic worm things, and plenty of other things that could kill us. Our days were filled with river and waterfall explorations, snorkeling off the coast, and trying really hard to find a place to eat that would serve 5 Americans who couldn't say anything in Japanese besides "Hello", "Thank you", "What's your recommendation?", and "Delicious!". Hands down my favorite part of Japan (besides spending time with Ippei, Janine, and their daughter, Jasmine).
*Since this work isn't released until spring 2018, we're still in post-production and don't want to give much away. But stay turned for some super fun photos and videos from Chaco in the next few months.
I don't consider myself a climber. I certainly enjoy it and it's been fun getting to photograph from ropes this year, but my skill doesn't extend much beyond that. Why I chose to agree to try and climb a big wall in Zion with Mike, I'm still not sure. It was somewhat of a simple plan - carry the haul bag up with us, bivy on a ledge on the fifth pitch, finish the final three pitches the next morning and rappel down. Well turns out googling "How to follow aid climb a big wall" the night before trying to aid climb a big wall should have been a sign. We had a slow start to begin with, but eventually made it up the first pitch. As the route started to traverse under a roof halfway up the second pitch, I managed to jam my ascender (twice). Long story short, I got a bit stuck, Mike came down to help a bit, and there was no way we were making it to the fifth pitch before dark. Once we called it and made it back down to the ground, we debated sleeping at the base of the wall or eating our half pizza and catching a ride back to the visitor center. One by one we watched the buses leave until we realized there might not be any more. Then the wind picked up. And Mike commented it smelled like rain. Which lead to rain. Heavy rain. And lots of lightening and loud cracks of thunder that rumbled through the valley. We somehow hitched a ride from an employee who was driving through to see if anyone was stuck. I am so so so thankful we did not stay up on that wall.
Pre-dawn on Mammoth Mountain with the snowcat crew
The last few days of the year were spent exploring the very southern border of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an area that's been in the news quite a bit recently.
Well everyone, that's pretty much the work we produced as Yeehaw Donkey in a nutshell. 2017 was an important year for both Adam and myself. It was a learning year beyond what we could have imagined and I've very thankful for that. As we settled into the last month or so of the year and started conversations about what 2018 will look like, Adam and I realized that running a business together took a toll on our friendship. Maybe it was more than we anticipated when joining forces in the beginning of the year. It was a challenge. And stressful. And at times no fun at all. So we decided to prioritize friendship over running a business since that's what brought us together in the first place. It was fun to grow this company together through the year, but you know what's more fun than that? Growing a friendship over years and years and not wanting that to fall apart.
That leads us to how 2018 is shaping up to look. We're separating as business partners but staying as friends. Adam will continue expanding into potentially new areas of photography and I'll continue growing Yeehaw Donkey into the wild beast it can be, primarily focusing as a small-scale production company. It's not easy to split ways or share the news, but we felt it was important to end 2017 and begin 2018 with full transparency.
And that my friends, is the end. Many thanks for everyone who scrolled through the photos, read the words, and watched our films. Here's to kicking ass in 2018, making new friends, getting lost in new places, fighting for public lands and the places we deem important, remembering why we do what we do, and loving people.
Most importantly - look good, have fun, be safe.
My gift to you for making it this far is this beautiful clip of Chris Brinlee Jr. having a dance-off in his underwear with one of our drivers in Indonesia. I'll let you decide who the winner is.