I’M FROM HOUSTON. All of the death scenarios I ever considered were usually in the context of extreme heat, car accidents, hurricanes, some bad Chipotle or the police. But here I was on a hike, about as close to dying as I had ever been.

I was in Montana, on the Highline Trail to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park. The night before, I had seen some fellow hikers walking back to the trailhead, headlamps streaking through the darkness.

Mike Brown quit his job, outfitted his van for adventure, and discovered freedom and the power of simplicity in the Pacific Northwest

I distinctly remember saying to myself, “What kind of fool hikes 13 miles at night, especially in bear territory?!”

It took me until the next day to realize I was going to be that fool. I needed photos of the glacier when the sun was at its lowest. A 13-mile hike that close to sunset means a lot of hiking back in the dark.

“Well, this is going to be humbling,” said I to me.

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Actually, it was all fine and good, until a storm decided to roll in on my trek back. This storm included hail. This was no picnic, and I honestly felt like giving up a few times. Freezing, exhausted and paranoid, the only thought that kept me going was, “I need to get these pictures on the internet!”

The hail soon stopped, but the rain was constant and the darkness had come much, much sooner than I had planned. And bears were now all around me the whole way down (in my mind, anyway). I also managed to get lost several times on the trail because the rain was so heavy. It was hell.

But the endurance from that nightmarish hike proved valuable, because the scariest journey in my life helped produce the mentality I was trying to continue to foster with this little life sabbatical.

During the span of about 14 months, I lived in a self-made van conversion, traveled the United States, photographed remote landscapes, met the quirkiest of people and learned aspects of myself I never knew existed, including some I would’ve preferred to remain ignorant of.

This adventure through our American outdoors has awakened and inspired a drive in me to share my experiences with the world of living life to the fullest, while continuing my journey as abundantly as possible.

From a macro point of view, the experience of journeying through the Pacific Northwest versus every other major national and state park has been life-changing and career-directing. I have taken huge steps in breaking free from what I used to consider a normal and safe life by quitting my job, living in a vehicle, not depending on money for my happiness and enjoying the art of photography as life.

This is the life I want to continue to live — and hopefully inspire others to live — as I now call Washington home.