Dirt Road Dreams
Some of you probably know that I grew up in Oxford, NY. Located in the Chenango River valley, Oxford is smalltown USA. There are less than 4,000 people and I graduated with (I think) 54. We have two traffic lights now-four if you count the blinking ones, and at one time I believe there were more cows within the village than there were people. Bragging Rights were everything to us!
We were raised somewhat sheltered. Not in a sense that we didn’t have access to the problems of the world, but we were definitely raised in atmosphere free of racism, gang violence, etc. If I had to guess I’d say the demographic was 98% white, but we weren’t raised with that distinction of race being what defined us. We were just people, kids.
Back then we didn’t have online gaming, and if we wanted to FaceTime each other it meant we met up and hung out. I had a beeper for God’s sake. What we did have was an amazing river to fish, uncountable numbers of ponds, streams, and public land to roam, and gas money. We bombed around every speck of dust on miles and miles of back country roads, many of which would turn to grass and lead to places untouched by the modernized world, These places had codenames. Westy’s, Richmond, Twin Bridges, Whaley’s, Ingrahm, CC Trail, the Fire Tower, Balsam. All places you could say that would identify when to be there, and what you could expect to do.
A typical day would involve swimming, fishing, bonfires, Pink Floyd, four wheel drive, and often, sunsets at Strawberry. Strawberry was a highpoint not far from my house where you could see beyond the entire valley. The clouds turned to blue on the horizon, and it would look like the ocean. I remember being able to get 95.1/95.5 the Nerve there, a radio station out of Rochester that played new music that wasn’t pop. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, STP. Grunge was in. It was 1994. We all had long hair, and we were living the Dazed and Confused lifestyle without trying to. We were free. Too free.
I can’t tell you how many times I watched the sunset at Strawberry, how many times I jumped in the pond at Lobdell’s, or how many times I listened to Stairway to Heaven and argued over whether or not the solo in Comfortably Numb was better. We would look at the sun dip beyond that horizon and all dream about what we wished we could do. We could only wish. There was no opportunity. No chance to have a dream and reach for it.
Reel Bragging Rights
Fast forward 25 years. I’m sitting at my desk editing video. I have 3 kids upstairs playing, well two are playing, one is just a crying mess but he’s just 2 and that’s what they do. I’ve written a book, survived some really hard things, laughed, cried, won, lost. But all of it has culminated to this point, as I prepare to depart for the greatest journey of my life halfway around the world. I told myself I was going to do what I loved because I wanted to prove to my kids that it was possible. That anything was possible if you wanted it. To some that’s a career choice, maybe to other’s it’s a personal relationship.
I think looking back I wanted to prove it to myself as much or more than anything or anyone else. I wanted to know that I was talented enough to do it. To turn any body of water I wanted into an office. And now, while I am filming my first official TV Show, I can say that I’ve done that. Reel Bragging Rights was my idea, and now it will air on The Sportsman Channel 4 days a week starting in January 2019. I created Wild Outdoor Media and I’m surrounded by people that are incredibly talented, and whom I consider to be wonderful friends. My life isn’t perfect, but I keep trying every day because that’s how I got where I am. And as long as I keep trying, then I have hope it will keep getting better.
Back where it began
Why am I telling you this? Because I was installing a new roof rack on my SUV and had to stop to go back home for a birthday party. Back to the dirt roads, the fields, the air. Back to where Dainer nearly killed me on his motorcycle, back to where we cooked bananas at Chad’s house. And, either by pure chance or subconscious wandering, I ended up back at Strawberry at sunset. This time with my family, and driving the truck that I would have only ever thought would exist in a pipe dream there in that field.
My heart got heavy and I was quiet, I wish we all could’ve had the same outcome. I miss the friends I had that are gone, and the ones that are “gone”. My thoughts drifted back to my youth, to a moment when I could see two directions in front of me. I chose one, and watched as many of my friends chose another. Part of me is the same kid playing hack in that gravel.
I wanted to go back in time and tell him he can do it. That he can make it. To not give up on himself, to not make the bad decisions he was going to make. To just believe in himself even when nobody else would. That one day his dream would be a reality. And that maybe it would be enough for the other kids sitting on that hill to know there was lane.
Part of me will always be that kid.
Me and my rig at Sunset at Strawberry