4,000 miles of thoughts

Today I close the book on another chase-cation. This was my third year officially scheduling one, and each year I've been offered countless opportunities, some of which I've missed, however I've gotten better at filling in that space with other things that make me smile. This year, especially, I found myself smiling more than any trip I've taken in the past.

Out of the past fifteen days, I chased a total of four. I found myself running around Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota twice. Not exactly where I was expecting to chase, but hey, a chase is a chase. One thing that I found bizarre about those days was I barely took out my camera to shoot, and I mean barely. I reviewed my SD cards when I made it home and I have a grand total of thirty six images from those four days. Honestly, it is what it is. I'm not fretting over it and for once, I have zero regrets about it. Every year, I choose two things to focus on personally, one with my own self, and one with my photography. My two focuses this year have been: - Don't have regrets.

- Learn to put the camera away.


There was one moment from this trip that truly made me feel accomplished with no regrets. Many chasers I am sure can dwell on what day I'm about to talk about- some with joy, others not so much. Regardless, I've found it to be a chase day that although I didn't chase, it reminded me that I am making progress.

Last Monday (May 23rd), there was arguably the tornado of the year near Morton, Texas. A massive, dust cluttered wedge sat gracefully for many chasers to witness, while I sat in my car, heading to the Valley of Gods in Utah. I was joined with three of my friends, Isaac, Kaylan, and Jonah as we realized what was happening. "Don't open Twitter," "Just turn off your cell service," and "We are fumbling so hard," were some of the phrases we exchanged with each other in the vehicle as this tornado was occurring. We were sitting under clear skies during our chase-cation, missing one of the most beautiful tornadoes of 2022. Not the greatest feeling for about 15 minutes. A quiet, slightly tense car ride ensued until we reached our destination.

Once arriving at the Valley, we pulled over and stood outside in the baking heat. We finally broke our silence and shared our feelings of frustration, yet reminded ourselves that we are still in Utah, about to tear it up on some gravel roads while blasting music and flying our drones. How can you complain about that? Sure, we missed a tornado, but it wasn't our first time, and it won't be our last. We are far from perfect. Semi-jokingly, our group chat's name was already given the title Washed Storm Chasers.

For once, I found myself not regretting what I had missed. This was growth for me. Major growth. Thinking back to just last year, I remember sitting in my car screaming at myself as the Sycamore tornado in Illinois was occurring while I was a mere two hours away. I've missed tornadoes before, I continue to remind myself. I would rather focus on what's in front of me and acknowledging that I am here. At the time of the Morton tornado, I was staring at monoliths as the sun grazed their peaks for brief, fleeting moments. I completely forgot about the wild weather we missed.

I look back on how my trip played out overall and I can only help but smile and reminisce on some of the memories I made when I reminded myself to put the camera down. Since I took up photography seven years ago, I've been utterly addicted to the sensation of creating something with the click of a shutter. I've fallen in love with the ability to craft my own form of art that is unique to my perspective and feelings, and offer it for the world to see. What I began noticing, however, was I became too invested with looking through my viewfinder. I missed moments through my own eyes because I was so focused on capturing the shot. I have images to show for it, but in a way, I lack some very fond memories that others have because I would rather choose to change my ISO than enjoy what was in front of me. My goal for this year, especially this trip, was to keep my camera in my bag and soak in the views, and soak in the good company around me.


I don't need to be shooting all the time.


On our way back to Colorado from Utah, we chose to take a scenic route. We trekked across i70 and then south through Breckenridge to view some towering mountains and winding roads while trees stared us down on each side, seemingly waving to us as we drove by. One reason we chose to make this route was to stop along the way. It was a seven hour drive, yet we expected it to be maybe nine or ten. Don't get me wrong, we stopped briefly, but only once or twice. Other than that, I kept my camera in it's bag as I soaked in the beauty around us. It's a memory I'm holding close to my heart moving forward, and a memory that one day I hope to tell my kids about. After all, aside from the views, I had more friends to see, and some to meet for the first time.

Upon arriving back in Colorado, I finally had the chance to see someone that I had been eager to meet for nearly half a year.

Since the moment we connected for the first time, Lisa and I developed a close friendship over the previous handful of months leading up to May. We found ourselves cracking similar jokes, seemingly mirrored music tastes, and a connection like no other when it came to persuading each-other's lives with the phrase, "we ball," no matter the circumstances. To finally meet Lisa in person was a favorite memory from this trip that I am so glad I was able to make. Although we only had roughly sixteen hours together, we exceeded our expectations of fun for the limited time we had together. Margaritas, music videos, a 6am wake up call to get coffee and diet coke all cobbled up into less than a day, made this the highlight of my trip. I'm already looking at flights to Texas to wreak havoc on her home. All in all, my favorite memory of my chase-cation didn't involve my camera, and it didn't involve storms.


It simply involved people.


I won't ignore the fact that my goal of this trip was to chase storms. I didn't intend to chase as little as I did and see zero tornadoes, but reiterating my previous point: I have no regrets. I found smiles where storms weren't and that's what I believe chase-cation is all about. Finding smiles during the in between.

I'll forever cherish the time spent in Utah with my friends blasting The Incredibles soundtrack, or racing to Colorado in the midst of a snowstorm, throwing a football around at a random Nebraska gas station, praising the arrival of cinnamon rolls for hotel breakfast, or the countless hours spent in the car just talking, laughing, telling stories, and going through McDonald's drive-thrus. I still have thousands of photos to sift through and edit, but that will come with time.


For now, I'm simply going to appreciate. I'm beyond privileged to chase Mother Nature's fury, travel this planet in search of new landscapes, and surround myself with good people wherever I go.


4,000 miles later, I'm home, still smiling with no regrets.



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