molt, montana, dirt road, rural

Lonely Montana Backroad

This road leading from the tiny town of Molt to the even tinier town of Rapelje offers views of five of Montana’s most spectacular mountain ranges. In addition to the Crazy Mountains, shown here, one can see the Pryor, Beartooth, Snowy, and Little Belt Ranges.

rural montana road, mountains, eastern montana

The wide open country of eastern Montana reveals miles of rolling, grassy hills, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.

This road is just one of hundreds of Montana backroads. At first glance, these dirt roads look incredibly boring. Long, straight stretches between dilapidated towns with nothing but dirt for miles. As you begin to notice the details, however, you can start to piece together what life is like way out in the frontier. You may see a pickup truck spreading a giant bale of hay out for a hundred or so cattle. You’ll almost certainly see a weathered barn falling apart. And if you pull your car over to the side of the road to get some pictures, you’re likely to see a rancher pull up just to make sure you’re ok.

montana fence, ranch,

Every turn on an eastern Montana dirt road offers surprises to the traveler. Sometimes, the reveal is a forty-mile vista across prairie to the slopes of mountains. Sometimes it’s just the little details like the grain of a weathered fence post.

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me why there are boots on those fence posts (a common sight in Eastern Montana ranch country).

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Finding Inspiration on the Road to (and from) the Wild and Scenic Film Fest

I TRY TO SPEND as much time on the road as possible, whether it’s going across the state to see family, or crossing state lines on an epic trek. There are a lot of reasons I’m attracted to long-distance travel. One of the best is that no matter what I might be worrying about, there’s nothing I can do about it while driving. This allows me to let go of a lot of stresses that I carry with me. It’s the letting go of the everyday that allows stories to come to me.

I’ve been toying with the idea of posting ideas that hit me on the road on my twitter feed with some kind of an #dailyidea hashtag. That didn’t happen when I went to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival last week, but I did want to share some of the places that served as inspiration while I was off gallivanting.

1. Nevada

On the road through Nevada. This is the first time I've been on this road. Who knew Nevada was so beautiful?

On the road through Nevada. This is the first time I’ve been on this road. Who knew Nevada was so beautiful?

I’d never been on this highway before. Long and wide-open, Nevada has a sense of the Old West that competes with Montana’s. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was held in Elko a few days after I passed through. I’m already working on a screenplay set in the old west (kind of a departure for me), but I found myself thinking about famous cowboys and outlaws while driving through this wild landscape. As the dry landscape rolled by, my brain began constructing a bio-pic about Doc Holiday, the sickly dentist who fought along-side the Earp brothers at the OK Corral.

2. South Yuba River, Nevada City, California

I did get out to explore the South Yuba River on a trail that reminds me of an enchanted fantasy tale.

I did get out to explore the South Yuba River on a trail that reminds me of an enchanted fantasy tale.

I’m not sure who could walk this trail along the South Yuba River, and not be transported to another world. Soft ground beneath the feet muffle footfalls into silence. Trees seem to bend in overhead making a magical corridor. Then the trees part to reveal an almost other-worldly green river. This “enchanted” place inspired the film festival that I’m here to be a part of. Almost any magical story could be set here.

And, yes, the South Yuba River really does really look like this.

And, yes, the South Yuba River really does really look like this.

3. Ocean Park Motel, San Francisco, California

San Francisco's first Motel. Imagine what kind of stories could come out of this place.

San Francisco’s first Motel. Imagine what kind of stories could come out of this place.

I hadn’t intended on continuing all the way to the coast when I started out on this trip, but that’s the great thing about travel: Sometimes you just end up places. And this Motel (San Francisco’s 1st) is a destination all its own. Ocean Park opened in 1937, and has been no stranger to drama over the years. According to the newspaper article reprinted by the motel, “In its early years the Ocean Park attracted the ‘hot sheets’ trade…” aka “trysting lovers”. I’m sure that each room could tell true stories that would make any plot I came up with seem bland. But that didn’t stop me from imagining a noir detective uncovering an insidious plot hatched in room #7 (or, perhaps, being uncovered by a gorgeous femme fatale.)

kyle dempster badass adventurer

7 Things I Learned from the Best Travel Film Ever Made [Matador Network]

7 things I learned from the best travel film ever made

WHEN I FIRST SAW “The Road from Karakol” at 5Point Film Festival, my brain had already been numbed by dozens of killer films about people radder than I could ever dream of being. A film about a superstar mountaineer who rides his bike through Kyrgyzstan to make first ascents? Sure, I’ll sit through that. I expected to see a remix of the usual, highly produced “I went there, and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but I did” movie that we’ve all seen so many times before. Visually stunning, but predictable.

What happened onscreen, however, was a shaky, handheld mess of footage, bad audio, and an opening scene of Kyle standing in front of the camera naked. From there, what unraveled in front of my eyes was a story that was deeper, more real, and more alive than anything I’d ever seen. [read more and see the film here]

*Update: Kyle Dempster passed away in a climbing accident in 2017. He was a nice guy and a true adventurer. I only met him once, but he welcomed me into his circle easily, as someone who grants friendship easily. I miss him, along with the rest of the adventure community.

Lost Photos Project

Engineer on Mount Washington’s Historic Cog Railway waits for the signal to begin moving forward again.

Recently, I’ve been forced to switch hard drives, leading me to the unenviable task of cleaning up my files. I knew that some day this would happen. What I didn’t know was the treasure chest of unlooked-at photographs buried in there. I had folders of pictures from trips around Maine that I knew existed, but had left behind as new projects came up. In most cases, the images hadn’t even gone through the usual process of digitally organizing them. Embarrassingly, some entire folders hadn’t even been looked at—or hadn’t been looked at in so long that they appeared new to me!

Stream flowing under the autumn leaves in the Maine’s White Mountains National Forest.

I’ve decided to go through them, organize the images and post them in my flickr account. Some of the real stand-outs will also go to my stock agency for sale.

The fist two batches to make the transition are from a trip into New Hampshire’s White Mountains and a drive through Acadia National Park (both with my parents.) Both sets of photos yielded pictures that reminded me of the effect of a great image to transport the viewer to another part of the world. Some photos came up that surprised me. There have also been pictures that have sparked my love of photography again.

A wave crashes against the rocks in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sorting through many of those “lost” files. As those pictures go up, I’ll be posting them here.


JC’s Special Sauce (Arteries of America)

Real travel is when you put yourself in a position where the unexpected happens. Which is something I sometimes do accidentally.

While driving around Dallas with the cast of “Paulie & Me” and Donna, our awesome Keller-Williams real estate agent guiding us through potential sites for a brewery, we happen by a restaurant called Sol Irelandes. The restaurant’s host runs outside to say hello to our guide and ask if she’s coming in for a bite. We look at each-other and silently agree. What the hell, it’s lunch time and the scent of chipotle wafting from the little Irish-Mexican restaurant is making my stomach ache for something with a little kick.

Click HERE for the rest of the story.

Paulie and Me

“Join Paulie and Loren, long-time friends and hilarious duo, as they embark on a journey to build a microbrewery. Together, they hit the road to meet America’s top beer gurus, and learn what it takes to craft unique beers.” This is the tag line of a new TV show I’ve been working on for the last few months. The show is currently “in-development” (what TV-land calls a show before it has anything to show). Today I head to Dallas to film something to show the rest of the world and begin the process turning “in-development” into “in-production.”

This might be a great place to throw in some background on the show. “Paulie & Me” is what’s called a “Follow-doc” reality show, meaning the camera crew is going to follow these two friends as they work on building their brewery. This is something I happen to have a little knowledge of, having written articles on beer and breweries. In fact, that’s how I came to be part of the show. After Loren and Paul read my Matador Network article on breweries around the US, they contacted me to act as their on-camera brewery expert. Obviously, I’m not an expert on the building of the brewery, I more closely resemble an expert on breweries around the country. Why have a breweries expert? Two words: Road Trip.

That’s right, these guys, who don’t know anything about building a brewery, but love beer and want to craft it, are going to hit the road to see how breweries really do their magic.

This first shoot is to get some footage for the website, but when it’s done, it should show this friendship of opposites in its natural (and funny) habitat. These guys have been compared to “The Odd Couple” being polar opposites, Paulie being loud, unkempt and perpetually late, and Loren being routine-oriented and quiet. I don’t know how they’ve been friends for twenty years, but I guess it works for them. What it means for me is that, no matter how much Loren (or any of us) plan the day’s events, it will almost certainly derail without warning.

New Video: Montana Roadtrip in 1,062 Images

Pompey’s Pillar to St. Mary’s Peak – 1062 Images in Two Minutes

Watch video

This short film takes us on a hard-charging road-trip through 847 miles of Montana’s backroads from Pomey’s Pillar, east of Billings, through Yellowstone National Park and ending at the lookout tower at the top ofSt. Marys Peak just south of Missoula.

I grew up in Montana and have lived in one part of the state or another for most of my life. The distances are so vast that people I meet back east can’t really comprehend it. They would say, “You would drive five hours each way FOR A WEEKEND?!” when I told them about quick trips home to visit my parents. It’s those same distances that make life in the drivers’ seat almost inevitable. I cherished sitting back, putting some music on and letting whatever stories I happened to be working on at the time bounce around in my head. The mountains and rolling prairie often produced bolts of inspiration…

(Read the rest of the post HERE.)