Photographs by} John Russo shot with iPhone
Portraits by} Ken Waller shot with iPhone
Interview by} Rachel Hill
Clothing by} Naked Cashmere
Q: It hasn’t been the best year for most people. How are you coping with the current situation?
A: The worst year indeed. First, I lost my mom (which was/is completely devastating) then the pandemic hit, then work stopped, then the quarantine. I was waiting for an asteroid to hit earth to be honest.
Q: What gave you the impetus to take this trip?
A: I think if I wasn’t a photographer I would have been a park ranger. I’m not joking. I have always been drawn to the outdoors. I would much rather be amongst Mountains, Oceans & Rivers than be in a city. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to take a road trip to see the National Parks of the Pacific Northwest. Having worked non-stop for the last 20 years, I could never find the time or focus to embark on such a journey. The silver lining of the pandemic was that it gave me lots of free time. After climbing the walls at home for 5 months I decided I had to do something to maintain my sanity. I bought a small RV, the Mercedes/Winnebago Revel and asked my friend Ken to go with me. We planned out where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. We were pretty spontaneous with our plans. We stayed in some places longer than others and just went with the flow. We didn’t put any pressure on ourselves to do anything. The main goal was to have a relaxing, non stressful, non agenda trip.
Q: So, you basically dove right into Van Life? Had you been RV’ing in the past?
A: I had never been in an RV longer than 15 minutes in my life. I always associated RV’s with older retired people. I thought it was “their thing”. I just got to the point where I said, “what the hell, I’m doing this”. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy, so yeah, I just dove in. I went to the RV dealership and bought it. It was basically Baptism by fire, but that’s just how I roll.
Q: So now that you own an RV do you still think they are just for older retired people?
A: Shame on me right! They are definitely for adventure seekers of all ages. The RV/Van Life subculture is huge. I had no idea how many people love RVing. It was so hard to reserve spaces at campgrounds because of the volume of people who took to the road during the pandemic. There are so many cool options for RV’s, but I think the Mercedes/Winnebago Revel is perfect for the me. It’s compact and has everything I wanted out of an RV. I love that it goes basically anywhere. We boondocked in some remote places, places that other RV’s simply can’t go. Another cool aspect of Revel ownership are the many Revel owner groups they are super supportive of each other. You simply post a question and you get in depth responses sometimes instantly. It’s amazing to see so many people connecting and sharing their ideas, stories, photos and tips with other owners.
Q: What were some of your favorite destinations? Highlights of the trip.
A: I loved everything about the San Juan islands. The ferry boat to get there, the quaint charming seaside villages. The idea of being in a remote place, especially in today’s hostile climate, is something that attracts me. It was such a magical place. I can’t wait to go back there. Yellowstone is, of course absolutely incredible and seeing Glacier National Park was mind blowing. The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are epic. I was blown away by their beauty. It’s so humbling to see these incredible places. A highlight of the trip was staying at my friend Jordana’s house, in Whitefish Montana. Whitefish is definitely a place I would love to have a second home. So many incredible lakes everywhere and the mountains are so green and beautiful. We met so many nice people there. It was always a bucket list item for me to see Mount Rushmore so I was happy to check that off of the list. The Badlands, in South Dakota, are insanely cool. I have never seen rock formations like that. Visually it was one of the unique places I have visited in my life. Another highlight was experiencing Sundance, Utah. I had no idea there was actually a place called Sundance.
Q: Did you stay in the RV the entire time?
A: We mixed it up by camping, staying at campgrounds and hotels. In the beginning of our journey we stayed in Napa at the Carneros Resort and then we ended the trip at the Montage in Deer Valley. Both are favorites of mine. It actually snowed 2 inches our last night in Deer Valley. It was an incredible ending to our trip.
Q: What did you guys do at night?
A: None of your damn business! Ha! We chilled and played Uno, Backgammon and cards. We listened to the sounds of Nature. We camped at the Ocean and by rivers so hearing the water was unreal. We had amazing conversations about life. We were never really bored at all.
Q: Is there anything you learned about yourself on this trip?
A: Geez, I could write a book about that. I learned that I worked my ass off and never really stopped to enjoy my life. It was always lunches, dinners, meetings, and work. My mom always said, “Jonathan you never relax”. She was right, I’ve always been the over achiever, constantly wanting more. I was so focused on success and the next shoot. I look back on it and think wow it went so fast. This break made me realize, I don’t want that life anymore. I only want to work with nice people and do jobs that have a zero-stress element. I want to spend the rest of my life enjoying my friends, traveling and playing tennis. Of course, Photography and Filmmaking will always be my passions, but I will not get back on that Hollywood train.
I learned that I don’t always have to go to Europe to have a vacation, there are incredible places here in the US to experience. Leaving the city and exploring small towns was so refreshing. I found people to be warm and welcoming. No arguing over political bullshit, just kind and friendly people who asked questions about our journey and actually listened to our answers.
I learned that not watching the News is the best thing EVER. The media pits everyone against each other. It fuels the fires of hatred in our society. Being disconnected from any sort of news outlet was also one of the highlights of my trip.
I could go on you know.
Q: How is it being back home?
A: I love my house, my friends and where I live so coming home is always a great experience. But I miss being on the road, seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. To be honest I can’t wait to load up the Revel (his RV) and hit the road. I’m thinking of doing the southern states next month. Why not right! This opportunity may never present itself again.
Q: Any suggestions to people who want to do a trip like this?
A: Don’t think about it, just do it. If you over think it and over plan it, it will never happen.