Finding Purpose Through Photography

As the sun was setting on 2021, my good friends Greg and Nikki – people who constantly seek out adventures – invited me on one more trip before cold winter conditions reared their ugly head. In a year that contained a lot of personal firsts, they asked if I wanted to ride the White Rim Road in Moab. This was my first year of backpacking, so most routes were still unfamiliar to me and almost every trail is as exciting as the next. The only thing I knew about the White Rim was that it’s located in Moab – an area that always yields stunning photos. In a world that feels pre-apocalyptic, sometimes a weekend bike ride, with a focus on the shutter button, helps to reset my appreciation for life. Saying goodbye to the shitshow that was 2021, this ride was a time to reflect on what a struggle the year was for me, individually (and for everyone else), and how bikes and photography contributed to keeping me afloat mentally.

Documenting the towering geological formations of Southern Utah provides perspective on scale and length of time it took to create such landscapes. White Rim Road is a 100-mile stretch of dirt road located in Canyonlands National Park. It’s open to off-road vehicles, mountain bikers, and gravel riders. The road provides expansive views reminiscent of scenes from A Land Before Time. We utilized a support vehicle to carry water, food, and extra warm gear while alternating drivers whenever we felt like it. It was a no-pressure trip, which worked mostly in my favor because Nikki and Greg are badasses. They often participate in races that I can’t fathom doing…at least not yet. In the early stages of planning, we agreed to just enjoy the experience and enable me to focus on taking photos of our ride.

Without cell service in remote places like the White Rim, it’s easier for me to focus on taking photos. I forget about emails and the edits I’ll have to eventually make. It becomes only about the bike and the creative process. There’s nothing that makes me happier in this world than taking photos I’m proud of. I love how an idea materializes from a thought in my head into a tangible image. Buying a camera lifted me out of depression; it helped save my life. It helped me through a cancer diagnosis and my father’s passing. I want to be the best photographer I can be for myself and my community. I get energized to roll out new projects, ideas, and community building, with a focus on joy and creativity. I feel like I found my purpose through photography. Photographing on the White Rim trip offered time and space to reflect on how far I’ve come and how I’d like to reach future goals.

The first day on the White Rim, which was a Friday afternoon, Nikki and I rode through a stretch of Schafer Canyon that overlooks the valley floor. The first winding section looked like a gravel version of Lombard Street in San Francisco. My eyes continually wandered and I remember reminding myself to focus on the trail ahead. I wanted to photograph everything. I had to contain myself to ensure we didn’t fall behind schedule. After riding for 30 miles, stopping to take photos, and observing the scenery, we arrived at our first campsite.

With the sun setting, we set up our tents and prepared for dinner. Greg threw down on the grill making cauliflower tacos with pickled onions. As we relax, enjoy beers, and converse about how calm the conditions were, slight gusts of wind started to pick up. The sound of the tent flaps became louder and louder, and pretty soon we had to secure our tents with bigger rocks. We called it a night and packed up, but it was damn near impossible to sleep after we got into our tents. The constant flapping of the tent was unrelenting. I could see the dust entering the tent and it turned into a night of restless sleep. When we woke up, the views of the sandstone mesas lifted my spirits and I reached for my camera. After reviewing the images from the morning, I was happy with them, which was a feeling that overshadowed the shitty night’s sleep.

The second day accounted for the most milage and saddle-time of the trip. Greg rode 40 miles to the next campground and Nikki joined him about halfway. The views were full of long continuous roads with the La Sal Mountains off in the distance. The riding was fun, with nothing too challenging. But the scenery is what makes the ride! Greg and Nikki pointed out hoodoos near one of the cliffs – a name that was new to me. As we continued on the road, we saw the Green River below.

Everywhere I looked had the potential for a great photo. We arrived at the next campground near the river and it was significantly colder than the night before. Greg threw down again in the kitchen. With the sun going down, we started a fire, but it didn’t help. It was fucking cold. We were having fun shooting the shit at camp that night, shivering at the same time. I expected this to happen, but even with all the layers, the goosebumps on my arms let me know that winter had arrived. The next morning we rolled out and were pretty tired. It had been another night of pretty terrible sleeping conditions. As we packed up and headed out for the remaining thirty miles, or so, I looked forward to sleeping in my own bed. After months on the road, I visualized spending time at home.

This was my first full year of freelancing. I’m beyond fortunate to have had a busy schedule. Going into freelancing, my biggest fear was wondering if I’d be busy enough to make it work financially. With gratitude, I left the White Rim Trail with a need for rest so I can dream up new projects. I’m also not ready for winter yet or to quit biking for the season. I want to return to LA (SFV) to keep riding and photographing for the winter. I feel privileged that I’m able to photograph for a living, especially since I didn’t believe I could pursue this path when I was younger. This has always been my dream, and the White Rim was a testament that I’m on the path I’m supposed to be on. I’ve seen more than I was meant to see– I can’t wait to see more.