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When people ask me why I enjoy hiking alone in the mountains or backpacking solo in the desert, I struggle to find the right words. My lifelong journey with nature is deeply ingrained—it’s been my unwavering companion throughout my life. The outdoors has gifted me countless moments of exploration and revelation. Each venture into the wild fills me with awe and wonder as if the natural world itself beckons me forward.

It’s as if the natural world is a dear friend who is always there for me, providing solace, comfort, and adventure. Being out in the wilderness also brings a sense of freedom, away from the constraints of modern society. I can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of daily life and connect with something much more significant and extensive than myself. It’s a humbling and grounding experience that I cherish deeply.

Finding Solace in the Outdoors

As a young child, the outdoors became my refuge—a sanctuary where I could escape the turbulence and conflict of home life. The rustling leaves, the whispering wind, and the sunlight filtering through the trees in the grove around our homestead offered solace. It was a place where I felt safe, where danger seemed distant, and where my imagination could roam freely. Little did I know that these early encounters with nature would shape my life’s path.

I received my first camera when I was five years old. My mother had entered my name in a contest at the local Rexall Drug Store, and I became the proud owner of an Eastman Kodak Brownie Box Camera. The biggest challenge of using the camera was replacing the film. You had to unwind several inches of the film roll while keeping the rest tightly wound to prevent exposure and then attach the film to the spool.

Roots on the Farm

Growing up on a farm, the rhythm of the seasons dictated our days. Spring brought the promise of new life as we planted crops—rows of corn stretching toward the horizon, soybeans nodding in the breeze. Summer meant weeding under the scorching sun, our hands stained from the dirt. Fall arrived with a symphony of colors as we harvested the fruits of our labor. And winter? Winter was for repairing the buildings, upgrading the farm machinery, and tending to the livestock, their breath visible in the frosty air.

Our farm wasn’t just a place of toil but an outdoor classroom. We learned about life cycles, resilience, and the delicate balance of ecosystems. But beyond the practical lessons, there was magic—the way dew clung to spiderwebs at dawn, the clanging of the milk machines in the pre-dawn darkness as my father milked the dairy cows, and the dance of fireflies on warm summer nights. There was also the thrill of riding bikes to neighboring farms to play with friends or go into town for simple pleasures like swimming or roller skating.

College Adventures on Foot

College life without a car meant I became an unintentional pedestrian. But this limitation opened up a world of exploration. I enjoyed finding new routes and paths—hidden shortcuts, tree-lined trails, and forgotten footbridges. My love for the outdoors deepened as I explored nearby forests, camped by moonlit lakes, and cast my fishing line into tranquil streams. Friends joined me, and together, we laughed around campfires, shared stories, and marveled at the stars.

Peaks and Deserts: A Photographer’s Playground

Over the years, my passion for exploration led me to higher altitudes, and I became an enthusiastic hiker and mountain climber. I have hiked Mt. Whitney five times, reaching its snowy peak that seemed to touch the sky. In the Andes of South America, I took in breathtaking vistas beyond words while breathing the thin air. Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro at -25 degrees Fahrenheit was the ultimate test of my mental and physical endurance. The Eastern Sierra, American Rockies, the Canadian Rockies, and the Cascades have all left indelible marks on my soul.

JB Hiking Profile

In 2012, I got caught in a sudden storm while descending Mt. Temple in the Canadian Rockies with my climbing partner, Colin. Although Mt. Temple is not the highest peak in Canada, it is a Class 3 & 4 climb with vertical sections and total exposure. The mountain has a reputation for being very dangerous, and more people have died climbing it than any other mountain in Canada. One of the most perilous sections of the hike is a vertical climb called The Chimney, a narrow passage where you cannot see anything above or below you. A single misstep here means a fatal 1,500-foot fall. As Colin and I reached The Chimney, we encountered two other hikers who were too frightened to climb down. I volunteered to climb down first and guide the others down. As I started the descent, I calmly realized there was a good chance I might not survive. But nature wasn’t ready to say goodbye that day, and we all made it down through The Chimney safely.

Anza Borrego - Clark Dry Lake - Blue Hour, Fine Art Landscape Prints

Yet, it’s the desert that surprises me the most. The arid landscapes appear lifeless, but that isn’t the case. Beyond the sunbaked surface lies a world of resilience, adaptation, and hidden beauty. In the desert, silence isn’t just the absence of sound; it’s a presence that envelops you like a soft shroud. The wind whispers secrets, and the shifting sands tell ancient tales. The fine sand muffles my footsteps, and the silence amplifies the rhythm of my heartbeat, connecting me to the land. I’ve come to appreciate the allure of the desert, even in extreme temperatures past 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not just about enduring the heat but embracing the extremity. The desert strips away distractions, leaving only raw beauty—the undulating dunes, the cerulean sky, and the distant mesas. The heat becomes part of the experience—the price paid for witnessing nature’s unfiltered grandeur.

Through the Viewfinder: Capturing Moments

And what about photography? It’s my constant companion. The camera hangs from my neck like a trusted friend. When people ask how I can enjoy backpacking alone in the backcountry, I think of the lens—the way it frames a sunrise over misty mountains or captures the vulnerability of a wildflower pushing through rocky soil. Photography is my bridge between solitude and connection. It allows me to share the untamed beauty I encounter, inviting others to see the world through my eyes.

My Lifelong Journey with Nature

So, here’s to the great outdoors—the steadfast friend who never tires of my company. I paint my life’s canvas with every step, leaving brushstrokes of adventure and introspection. And when I lift my camera, I’m not merely capturing images; I’m immortalizing memories, emotions, and the very essence of my existence. Join me on this lifelong journey, where nature whispers its secrets and the wilderness becomes our sanctuary.