Russ Gutshall, Joel & Caroline, Dana & Joe
Fascinating people are never hard to find, you only have to ask a few simple questions to unlock the unique elements of who they are. I have always been inquisitive, too much so for my own good. I tend to dig for details until I either turn someone away or consume more than I can possibly digest in one sitting. This weekend was spent with many folks from around the U.S. at the Idaho Panhandle Rally. Tucked neatly into a beautiful valley surrounding Sandpoint, Idaho, the IPR opened its second season in fine fashion under a mix of weather and good vibes.
Lingering around my product tent, observing the goings-on as I normally do, thinking about all the things that might be going wrong somewhere in my work world, a man approached and we began to chat. I instantly recognized his camera as a serious tool, and as we spoke about health, a Sportsmobile, country club culture and Alaskan wildlife, a curiosity began to evolve surrounding this man’s contribution to our world and his demeanor suggested there was a story hiding within that was reluctant to surface. I pressed on, learning more about a humble, accomplished wildlife photographer and world traveler who had seen so much more than I.
Russ Gutshall has carried his camera through Denali National Park for about 20 years, carrying a coveted permit to do so and capturing some of the most stunning footage of wildlife in the park we have ever seen. His story, however, is not just about being a photographer, it is about growing up in Michigan and living in the south and capturing wildlife in Alaska and sailing to Antarctica while cheating death. Everyone has a story that is greater than our first greeting, and the time taken to learn of it is worth the investment.
The young couple in front of me seemed reluctant to be there, casually awkward in their demeanor and almost shy. As we exchanged a few pleasantries, I recognized her accent to be European and (annoyingly, of course) inquired where she was from. She was French, he was Mexican, they met at a garage rock show near San Francisco 8 years ago and are now married and traveling as their finances allow. We spent quite a few hours together, talking about spirituality, 4x4’s, backpacking and LSD all while sharing a campfire’s warmth and hospitality. I hope we will have the opportunity to gather with Caroline and Joel again as I already value the interaction we had and crave more for the future.
Dana & Joe approached Ian in the booth and struck up a lengthy conversation. I was unaware of who they represented, however soon came to learn they were the founders of Mule Expedition Outfitters in Issaquah, WA. A fabled and desired destination in the northwest, Mule has become the gold standard of vehicle outfitters and incredibly well-respected for their quality builds, selection, and in my opinion, creativity. The first time I saw MULE was at NWOR some years ago - They brought a massive MAN-like truck that turned into a stage that was practically overwhelming, but so impressive, and featured throughout the entire event as a monument to their unique mindset and thoughtfulness in building a vehicle. Dana and Joe are not typical owners - they are real. There didn’t seem to be any massive ego or inflated persona surrounding them, rather, they were straightforward and so likable it was comforting to get to know them if even for just a few minutes. This rapidly growing industry is rampant with testosterone-driven personalities, yet they defy the trend. Joe and Dana built a business from a passion for old Synchros, those unicorns of the VW world that are so highly desirable and cherished, and they continue to challenge the norms of vehicle-based travel in a professional and elevated manner. Meeting folks who are seeing success from their honest and innovative efforts reminds me that passion for your work is not necessarily a bad thing, but an extension of yourself, but not one to be solely identified with.
The point of this post, I suppose, is to suggest that we walk by, through, and around so many people every day without ever knowing them truly. We often make assumptions as to who they are, what they do, or even not at all out of a sheer will to avoid the encounter. But what do we miss in the process? I have always been inquisitive, wondering whose story might emerge, fascinated by their travels and meanderings, their ideology, and even their politics. Call it my curse, but I carry it with me as a tool for learning and exposure to a world I have so minimally seen. Next time we meet, be prepared to have me inquire, or run in the other direction at sight of my bald head approaching. If I see you run, it will only make me more inquisitive!