Family or Photography ? – Kevin McNeal

Eight weeks later and I am finally home. Every time I go away I realize that I am going down a road that is going to be full of surprises. Needless to say that with every adventure I go on it only gets crazier. Going away on photo trips are always a catch 22; I miss my family every minute of every day but I get to see the world and do what I love for a living. I cannot describe the feeling to be so torn between the two things you love most in the world. Does anyone else feel this way?

Every autumn season I make a big photo trip. This year I began in the Grand Tetons to catch the color just at the right moment. After ten days in the Tetons I moved on to the Eastern Sierras, which never fail to showcase amazing colors. I was fortunate enough to be teaching workshops in both areas and share this with some great people. I then hoped on another plane to go back East and visit the colors of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and then up into Canada to visit the Maritimes for a month.  By the time I finished I had seen a full season from start to finish. There is something sad about seeing the bare trees and the cold weather move in but I had to be happy I had fall color into November.

Like most trips there should be a law against people as dumb as me traveling alone. It is amazing I was able to remember to bring my camera and tripod ( I have forgotten all of these in the past). Unfortunately, the guy I was going with had to go in for unexpected surgery. A recipe for disaster was awaiting and like always I found myself asking what was I doing. I have now learned to recognize the warning signs to stay home.

So it starts on my long plane ride back East and I am sitting next to a guy that is coming off something. He starts shaking all over the place and rocks back and forth. Moments later I feel the seats get wet and I realize he has gone to the bathroom in his pants. Stuck in the seat and nowhere to go I look over to him hoping he would at least know. No such luck as he is now past out and I am in shock. Luckily for me the rest of the passengers were not having it and made him clean himself up. This was not the start I was looking for.

I finally land and drive all night to get to my destination. As I get closer I go in to fill up for gas as I am on empty. I go to reach for my wallet and realize it is nowhere. I search the whole car and no sign of it anywhere. So I am stuck in this no name town with no cell reception, no change to use the phone and no wallet. I then had to beg for money in the town to get gas money. I spent most of the morning asking people for money and finally made enough to retrace my steps. A day later I make it back to the airport and I find my wallet at the Pizza Hut I had hurried out of. That’s because I walked out after an hour and no pizza and they still wanted to me to pay for it or they were going to call the police. So here I am in the same restaurant I had told off the staff to go you know where and now I had to grovel for my wallet back. Talk about one of the most embarrassing things I have ever had to do.

So I am back on the road and heading to my original destination for the previous day. It hadn’t been two hours since I had left the Pizza Hut and I had placed my new iPhone in the console but in a cup of water as I was turning a corner. Can this really be happening I think to myself? Realizing that there is no hope for this phone I consent to the fact I am alone for the next four weeks without any way to connect to the real world. It is funny how we rely on our cell phones so much and you have no idea until it is gone how much you miss it.

As the trip progresses I really begin to miss my family and question whether this is the thing I want to do for the rest of my life. At this point it was even hard to pull out my camera and I all I want to do is go home. Days later I drop a Super Big Gulp over the gearshift and my iPod. Instantly I pull over on the highway trying to dry off the iPod but no luck and now no music for the rest of the trip. At this point all I could do was laugh. So I make my way to my sunset destination and realize at this point, things can only get better. I decide to make the best of it and take advantage of the opportunity I have been given. A sunset later and things are looking up as I got a great sunset and still have a working camera. Start up the car and I realize I can’t get my car out of park because I had fried the electrical system earlier when I dropped the drink. So no cell phone and no clue where I am, I grab my camera bag and start walking towards the nearest town. A couple hours later and I got lucky with a passerby who drove me to the nearest hotel. So the next day I get the car towed to a Enterprise with the belief I will get back on the road with a replacement car. The problem was I was now in Canada on an island called Newfoundland with no access to the mainland. The guys from Enterprise then explain to me that they are Enterprise Canada and not Enterprise from the States. This means I cannot get a replacement and I would have to rent a second car while the first was getting fixed. A week later and the car was not fixed. Not ideal as I was stuck on an island waiting and not photographing. As well the weather had turned and now I was sleeping in sub-zero temperatures. This is because I had run out of money and now I had to resort to sleeping in the car. I went to the local Wal-Mart and bought a sleeping bag and realized this was my home for the rest of the trip.This task proved harder then I thought and sleeping night after night in the passenger seat of a small car can be hard on the body.

The following weeks were filled with rain and snow and not much shooting. This is an experience I will never forget though. So I decide to head back to the States early to grab a cheap motel and shower. As I make my way across the border, I get stopped by the border patrol who flag me as a risk for being out of the country for so long. The border patrol slam me with question after question about how I can travel for so long and not be with my family. Hours later I get told I should get a lawyer unless I tell them where I hid the drugs. In disbelief I wait all afternoon in the holding room. I beg them to just check the car but they keep telling me they can play the waiting game. The only thing they tell me is that they will show leniency if I tell them where the drugs are before they take the car apart. Fortunately they gave up and checked the car coming up with nothing. Without an apology I was told to get back in my car and get the hell out of here. Back in the States I made my way straight to an airport to return home.

So did anything come good out of the trip? Well I can now say I have an appreciation for my family like never before. I now savor every minute I get with them. Like most people I appreciated my family but until you feel you might never see them again you will never know. I have also realized how tough I can be if the challenge presents itself. I had to reach deep down inside myself to keep going. In those last few weeks I have really learned who I am and what I am made of.

Sorry for the cliché !!!!!


~ by photocascadia on November 22, 2010.

12 Responses to “Family or Photography ? – Kevin McNeal”

  1. Good lord! Congratulations on surviving all this! I sure hope you’re not planning to deep-fry your turkey, considering the way things have been going for you…

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    – Jack

  2. Wow
    God bless you Kevin. Spend some time with your family and have a good holiday.


  3. Wow Kevin! I’m bummed I wasn’t on that trip with you…kidding. You really need to keep all of these photo travel stories close and put them together in a book. Stay safe and see you soon.


  4. Hi Kevin, have a good rest and enjoy a wonderful time with your family.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

  5. Wow what a story! You had enough bad luck befall you on that trip to last a lifetime. It’s inspiring that you trooped through it and good to hear a real life story about landscape photography. Landscape photography is hard work!

  6. Great Scott! What an incredible series of mis-adventures. Glad you were able to keep your sense of humor and are now home with your family.

  7. I recently had a disastrous trip home from the College World Series with my 16 year old son and his 17 year old buddy… Yet, after reading of your adventures, my trip seems like a page out of a travel magazine!

    I hope you got some great pictures!

  8. Kevin

    Wow what a trip and experience we you talked to Tim and I about the trip I thought it was nothing but shooting and a great experience glad you survived the ordeal

  9. Kevin, when you decide to do a book of your photography, I think you should include all the crazy stories that went into capturing your images at the particular locations.

    I am glad through all of this, above, that you were able to see the positive and laugh!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Molly Klein

  10. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry and you said you couldn’t write! Get yourself a proof reader for the minor stuff and keep going with your writing career. You can compliment it with your teriffic photography and with all the $$$$ you’ll be making you can take your famiy on your adventures. Then imagine the stories you’ll have to share like the time the family floated downstream in the rented RV…oops, forgot to put it in park! And the great photo locations you arrived at because of all the incidents. You are on your way!
    Happy safe Thanksgiving! Seriously, glad you made it home in one piece.

    If you haven’t read it, check out Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail”. You will definitely enjoy it!

    Lastly, if you ever get stuck in Vermont or Bar Harbor, Maine or down here in Santa Barbara, I have family that would be happy to lend you a helping hand.

  11. Wow what a story. If I had to take a guess what was wrong with the car that would not come out of park, I believe it was a 15 cent brake light fuse. Without this circuit the car will not come out of park because it does not know you have your foot on the brake. As for the iPhone going bad, you could buy a cheap GO PHONE from Wal-Mart then call AT&T from the GO Phone and have your iPhone account moved to the GO Phone. I am not saying these things to rub salt into your trouble but to help others that may run into a similar ordeal.

  12. Your story sure seems like “the photo trip from hell,” but, if those first twelve photos from your “just added” gallery are from that trip…let’s just say that I would gladly have endured some (Note to the Photo Gods: I said “some,” not “all”) of what you went through to get such images!

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