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Photo by Ross Gordon

February 4, 2009

Rag Traveler

Ride ’em, cowboy

How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? According to Mr. Owl, it’s three; it takes a lot more than three licks in my metaphor, which is about — at its base — finding the joy in life.

It’s been almost three months since I left home, and I’ve had enough experiences, good and bad, to satisfy most people for a lifetime. As I drove away from Louisville, my head was filled with ideas and dreams about what my adventure would hold. So far it has lived up to and surpassed my wildest imaginings. There are many reasons I decided to take on this epic journey, some of which include self-discovery, discovery of the world around me, certainly to take photos, to write stories about my adventures, and to escape the mundane existence of my everyday life.

No matter how good I have it, which is pretty damn good, I am one of those “the grass is always greener” people. I never seem to be satisfied with life as it is, and I will never be an “American dream” kind of guy — you know, a perfect wife, big house, three kids, a dog, an SUV. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not for me. Instead, I travel, searching for that elusive answer to the Tootsie Pop enigma.

My trip started off rough and uninspired. Leaving my usual routine, my family, my friends, and getting used to life alone on the road was difficult in and of itself. Central America had some fascinating highlights and beautiful scenery, but I felt as if I always had to watch my back, be off the road by dark, find a relatively secure hotel, block the door and sleep with a club and a knife just in case. Getting through Central America alive, while certainly in line with the odds, felt like a major accomplishment; since, that has allowed me to relax and focus on interests other than my personal safety.

Jerry (my car) and I have driven just over 11,000 miles and we are currently in Cuenca, Ecuador. Our relationship — as well as my love affair with photography and my creative drive — has been rejuvenated. Last week I met Chique (cheeky), a local rancher who has made it possible for me to live on a working ranch in Riobamba, north of Cuenca, to photograph Chagras (Ecuadorian cowboys). To prepare me for this opportunity, Chique took me horseback riding in the mountains just outside of Cuenca with some of his friends. Let me assure you that being from Kentucky has no bearing on one’s ability to ride a horse. I was kicked in the shin, I smashed my family jewels, I have saddle sores and I feel more or less bruised from head to toe.

I am, however, excited to learn about Chagras and to experience their lifestyle while taking pictures and continuing my quest to find joy, happiness and meaning in my life.

As for the age-old question about getting to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, well … the world may never know.