California Road Trip


January 2015 I embarked on an incredible journey to California to create art and collaborate with the best people. I’m writing this blog to tell the great story I lived and I may oddly add a lot of details! This is my first blog so I am very excited about it! I hope you enjoy!

Day 1 (Monday) - Leaving home

It was Monday morning, I got 6 hours of sleep the night before due to packing and preparing. 6 hours is a decent amount of sleep but not nearly enough for what I was getting myself into. I woke up at 10:00am, and went to work from 11:30am-5:00pm. My entire shift I was so excited and scared. My shift ended and I picked up a few coffees while leaving work (I work in Target connected to Starbucks) to stay alive for the crazy car ride ahead of me! I got home, packed and loaded the car, and mentally prepared myself for the journey ahead. I left home at 7:00pm not truly knowing what to expect from any of it. I drove and drove for 15 hours straight BY MYSELF (only stopping briefly for gas and to pee) to the first destination, which was Northern Alabama to pick up my lovely friends Jessy and Jessie. I had music, I had coffee, I had food, and I had Jesus keeping me awake and alive the whole way there.

Day 2 (Tuesday) - Arriving in Alabama and a snowstorm in the mountains

After driving all through the night and into the morning, I arrived at Jessy’s house around 11am. I was greeted with smiles and hugs, I was so happy to arrive and see my friends, but at the same time I was completely exhausted from driving for so long without a break. We loaded up the car and took off for California. I let Jessy drive and I finally got a chance to get some sleep in the back of my car. There was a whole lot of driving that went down, it was an estimated 32 hours and 3,000 Miles from Alabama to California. It was a fairly boring drive during the day (how would I know, I was sleeping.) However, that night and into the next morning we experienced some crazy snowstorm in New Mexico and Arizona, which frankly I didn’t know they had snowstorms. We were driving at night amidst an off and on storm that slowed us down a bit. We saw some really crazy weird things, like a billion semi trucks lined up on the right side of the highway with their hazards on and we just zoomed right past them, all confused. Then we saw a semi trucked flipped over. It was all just kinda creepy and scary driving in the mountains at night in a snowstorm.

Day 3 (Wednesday) - Accident and arrival to Santa Barbara

Weird stuff continued to carry on like the highway being backed up due to one little car that was stuck in the snow, but nonetheless we kept driving. Something really scary happened to us: We got into a small accident. We were driving and it was a bit snowy, but we had 4-wheel drive on so we thought it was all good, but it wasn’t. We hit a patch of snow and spun out on the highway, hitting the side rail and ending up on the left side of the road with a semi truck just barely brushing us a 60mph. I was asleep, so I woke up as this was happening. We stopped, evaluated things, and everything was fine so we continued on and drove more carefully. A lot more driving occurred. During the day we saw the most gorgeous scenes I dream of every day. Mountains and beautiful terrain that stretched as far as I could see. We crossed the state line for California screaming, “YAY WE MADE IT!” But we still had hours to our destination. We drove through LA and got stuck in traffic, which was fine because we were just happy that we made it this far. We arrived in Santa Barbara and everyone was waiting for us! Cierra Benavidez and Chris Rivera, whom I met via Facebook and followed their work, and Peter Jamus and Vinny Balbo whom I had known back in Minnesota. Hugs, smiles, and laughter consumed us. A few of us went out to eat at this place I wanna say was called “super cucos” but who knows. We went back to Cierra’s place and we all stayed the night there.

Day 4 (Thursday) - Exploring Santa Barbara

This day was filled with adventure. We went to a lot of awesome locations in Santa Barbara. We woke up nice and early and drove to the top of a mountain called Lizard’s Mouth, my car (Douglas) wasn’t havin’ it. Atop Lizard’s Mouth there was crazy atmospheric perspective all around. You could see mountains, the ocean, and the channel islands in the distance. Right then and there the trip was more than worth it. We wandered around the rocks for a bit and took some great photos.

Brother's mountain

My first conceptual piece created on the trip was a self-portrait with Vinny Balbo titled “Brother’s mountain.” I first had this idea when looking out the car window at all the mountains on the drive into Cali and thinking about meeting my new friends.

After Lizard’s Mouth we drove to a nearby forest location with cool twisted trees, where I also jumped into a batch of cacti and got poked! Ouch! After the trees, we stopped at Cierra’s place quick to drop Peter off so he could take a nappy nap before his plane ride. We then went to Leadbetter beach where I saw a lot of things I have never seen before, including a seagull eating a crab, a pelican with about a 6 foot wingspan that flew within a few feet above our heads, a starfish, a baby crab, a sea urchin, and a baby seal! All sorts of crazy new creatures! We spent some time by some rocks by the water that were covered in muscle clams. I asked Vinny to lay on the rock and maybe get a little wet, he was like, “nah” but then I explained my vision a bit more, and he insisted on going all out for the photo, and here is the result:


After Leadbetter beach we went went back to Cierra’s house and departed with our beloved Chris Rivera. Chris is a hilarious and lovely man and I am glad to have met him. It’s surreal meeting someone you only know through Facebook that lives 3,000 miles away. After that, we brought Peter to the airport and departed with him as well. It was great seeing Peter again and I’m glad we got a chance to shoot together. Hah! Every time we saw a plane in the sky after that we yelled, “NO, PETER! COME BACK!”

The last place we visited that day was Santa Barbara Shores County Park at sunset. We trekked through a magical forest with the sunset gleaming through trees. It certainly was magical compared to Minnesota forests!

(Photo by Cierra Benavidez of Cejae Photography)

It was a crazy long day of adventuring and creating art with beautiful people. We got back to Cierra’s house and said our goodbyes. It was so sweet meeting Cierra in person and I’m so thankful to have spent the day with her <3

We then drove back to Los Angeles and stayed with Vinny!

Day 5 (Friday) - Abandoned Zoo

Staying at Vinny’s house was awesome and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we got good sleep! Our first adventure was to Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). We were looking around for cool spots to shoot a dance video for Vinny. We found this amazing spot, but unfortunately got kicked out. We found another awesome spot and filmed a video there which you can view HERE:

The next place we went was the abandoned zoo in Griffith Park. I was really excited about seeing it because I’ve heard about it and I love abandoned structures. I recognized certain parts of the zoo from photos I have seen from other photographers like Joel Robison and Rob Woodcox, hah!

We didn’t really take any concept photos in the ruins at all, but we did come up with some ideas in a forest nearby. Haha! Jessy and I had this photo idea for Vinny to get almost nude and wear some leaves that Jessy had fashioned together. While Jessy was taking photos of Vinny, I scouted around the forest for a nice scene to place Vinny in. I saw a nice tree and decided to climb it. Looking down, I knew I found my scene because of that artistic feeling within me. I instructed Vinny on how to lay and pose while Jessy and Chris (Vinny’s awesome roommate who joined us for the day) gathered leaves, twigs, and vines to consume Vinny in. I shot a few photos and it was complete! I knew then that this photo was going to be a winner and it’s definitely one of my favorite photos I have ever taken. I must convey sincere thanks to Vinny Balbo for everything he has done for us over the coarse of this trip, from housing us to being engulfed in seaweed for our silly photos. I couldn’t thank him enough.

This day was only getting better though, and guess what we did next? That’s right, WE CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN. One of my favorite things to do in this world is climb mountains and I was stoked to climb the magnificent Bee rock before us. There was a path that led to the mountain, but as we got closer, the path sort of dwindled away leaving us with no specific coarse to follow. Things were getting wild and the mountain got steeper. Luckily I found an umbrella to use as a walking stick of sorts. We all scavenged and stumbled up the mountain but alas, we made it to the top, all sweaty. We took off our shirts and enjoyed the view from atop the tall Bee rock. My creativity and adrenaline was still flowing, so naturally I thought up some concepts. We found some gorgeous white flowers, of coarse I needed to use them for a photo. I had Jessie put on a new dress a just bought off of Etsy, and here’s what I came up with:


(Top) Art piece created at Bee rock

(Bottom) View from Bee rock

The day was accomplished, so we hiked back down Bee rock and wrote our name on the day.

Day 6 (Saturday) - The tree of life

Chris Koehl (Vinny’s roommate) who is also an incredible dancer, told us the night before about this place called ‘The Tree of Life’ that we should check out, and hey guess what? IT WAS ON TOP OF A MOUNTAIN, so naturally I was stoked about it. We hiked up to the Tree of Life that morning. The road we had to park on was a realllllly steep hill and I drive a stick shift, and if you know anything about those two things then you know that it can be an EXTREMELY difficult situation and very scary! Luckily I know my car pretty well and was able to avoid trouble. The hike was fun and when we made it to the top, we saw that lonesome tree that survived a fire upon the hill. There were a lot of people there which I wasn’t too hyped about, but we managed to find a less populated area to take some cool photos. Here’s a photo I took to remember our time and this moment by. Under the tree there were 2 boxes full of paper that people had written anything they wanted to on, and there was even extra paper for anyone to write something new. It was a really nice place and a wonderful idea.

(Top) At the tree of life

(Bottom) View of LA from the Tree of Life

Our next adventure was to meet-up with dear internet friend Katie Elster. We picked up Katie at her college campus and headed down to Santa Monica. We didn’t have a whole lot of time to hang with Katie, but I think our time was well spent. We enjoyed some food at the beach, took some lovely sunset photos, and then took Katie back home, but not before getting a group selfie.

At night we met up with fellow photographers Ethan Coverstone and Cameron Sarradet which are some of the nicest dudes I have ever met in my life. They invited us to join them for a fire at Dockweiler Beach. We talked and hung out for a short while. Some high schoolers were burning christmas trees at a fire pit nearby, so naturally we went to go check it out. Of coarse I brought my camera with me and it quickly turned into a great photo op.

Vinny and I stood amongst the flames and as I snapped photo after photo, I could feel the sparks slashing my face and singeing my hairs. While all this was happening, a girl was screaming in the background, “I KNOW IT’S A COOL SHOT, BUT GET F#$% OUT OF THERE!!!” Worth it.

Day 7 (Sunday) - Last Day in California

The last adventure in Cali was with Cameron (Left) and Ethan (Right).

Just look at these studs lookin’ all hip an what not. We walked around LACMA (again) and got some food at the trucks. I took an awesome video of Vinny that you can view HERE:

Haha! Something weird and slightly embarrassing happened to me: After we said our goodbyes to Ethan and Cameron, we got back to my car and I couldn’t find my keys. I checked my bag and I thought I had left them somewhere. I called Ethan to see if he had them, but he didn’t so he and Cameron came back to help us look for them in all the places we were. By the time they got back, we had already checked most of the places that we were and talked to security at LACMA and everything. I checked my bag again and they were right there! I am so silly and now I am posting this for everyone to see because I don’t care. But it just goes to show how kind these two guys really are. They came back to help even just for a moment. I’m glad to have met them and I know I’ll see them again someday.

Well, our time in Cali was coming to a close. Chris Koehl was a hero to us and let us borrow some of his oil changing tools before we headed back where we came from. We got everything ready to leave and said our goodbyes. It was very emotional. Vinny was so good to us.

We hit the road.

Day 8 (Monday) - Meteor Crater and lots of driving

I drove hours and stopped at a gas station where we all kinda fell asleep. This happened twice actually! Haha, we lost some time but I was so exhausted from our adventures.

Before the trip, I marked one place I wanted to stop at in Arizona called, ‘The Meteor Crater.” We didn’t stop there on our way in due to time crunch, but on the way back I made my way to it. It was very creepy driving in the middle of the desert in the bitch black morning. We had reached the Crater and it was fenced off WITH BARBED WIRE FENCE and that pissed me off. The stars were more than beautiful and we were so close to sitting on the brink of a massive crater. I’m just glad we got to witness the stars in the middle of the bitch black desert.

We stopped at a gas station during the day to get gas. It ended up being abandoned and burnt down so we took some photos! We also saw a lot of abandoned house, barns, and even a town a long the way.

Day 9 (Tuesday) - Arrival to Alabama and driving home

Jessy and I pretty much split the driving back home in half, we each drove for about 15 hours. We arrived in Alabama to drop off Jessy and Jessie. I was sad to see my friends go, but also scared because I still had about 16 more hours of driving to do by myself. Jessy was nice and sent me off with some food and water. It was a great adventure with these two, and I know there will be lots more ahead.

I departed my friends and was on my own now. I stopped at a gas station in Missouri where gas was only $1.55. WHOA! Anyways, the first 10 hours of driving really weren’t that bad, but the last 6 were just terrible. It kept feeling like I was getting closer, but I still had a long ways to go. My back hurt and I was uncomfortable. I didn’t have any sort of energy supplement this time except some food, water, music, and Jesus. I got caught in a snowstorm in Iowa and it was really hard to see, so I lost some more time.

Day 10 (Wednesday) - Almost there

I had been driving about 13 hours now and I was more than ready to be done with it. I was driving on a highway in Iowa/Southern Minnesota (not sure) where the speed limit was about 60mph, and all of a sudden the highway turned into a road of a small town where the speed limit is 30mph. I was slowing down when I got pulled over by a cop. He said I was going 42mph (I was slowing down), and I told him straight up, “Look officer, I have been driving for about 12 hours straight coming from Alabama from California and I am exhausted.” I was so nervous and scared, not only because I was trying everything I could to stay awake and alive while driving, but because now I had the potential of getting a $120 speeding ticket (that’s the minimum in Minnesota) after spending so much money on this trip as is. Thank God he just left me with a warning. What a terrible ending to an amazing trip, but I would do it all again in a second if it meant I get to do something great like this again.

I arrived home at about 3:00am on Wednesday morning and went straight to bed with work the next day. The next few days after, my body would be shaking as if it were still driving.

In retrospect, I would say that this was one of the best experiences I have had in my life. I thrive and flourish when creating and being around creative people, I can literally feel the positive change within me that this trip has done for me and it dwells on. I am so thankful for each and every person that I interacted with on this trip. This time will dwell in my heart for the days on <3

Thank you for reading this blogpost!

Live inspired.