as many of you know, I grew up poor in Oklahoma. Dad was a pastor and so meager was his salary, that he actually took a second job – working out in the oil fields, so that the 4 of us [Alex hadn’t come along yet] could eat. this was something that stuck with me throughout the years – seeing him come home in his shirt and tie, kissing Mom, shooting a few hoops with me, grounding Ashley for whatever it was she had done that day that deserved a grounding, and then changing into his stained overalls and heading back out.

a few years later, when I got the illegal scholarship to attend a prestigious Christian school, our friends, The Richardson’s, brought over a box of nice used clothes for me to wear – since my jeans with patches and G.I.Joe t-shirts wouldn’t exactly suffice at a preparatory institution like the one I was headed to. so there I was, in a borrowed outfit, in a school where everyone else seemed rich.

long story short – we were poor.

and when you’re poor in Oklahoma, you dream of a world outside. there was this trip to Europe that the school offered and I remember the look in my parents eyes at the dinner table when they told me that $2000 was $1900 more than our family had. they could tell how bad I wanted to go – my grandpa met my grandmother while they were both working at the circus, so gypsy is in all of our blood – but I simply couldn’t – we didn’t have any money. simple as that. we also grew up without a television, which meant I never got to see National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Lawrence of Arabia or any other films of that time that at least gave the novice dreamer some context.

what I did have, though, were parents who took me to the library every Saturday morning. what started out as Hardy Boys novels [my parents will still comment to this day how quickly I would go through them – reading one in the few hours we were there, then taking 5 more [the limit] back home for that week] turned into Robinson Crusoe, Jacques Cousteau, and anything having to do with pirates or buccaneers.

and then… one day, I picked up a periodical with a yellow border – National Geographic.

from that moment on, I was ruined. the very first thing I remember seeing were the floating markets of Thailand, then the pyramids. The Eiffel Tower and black people in Africa with things in their ears, lips and noses. at that very moment, longing to travel became an obsession, which soon led to collecting maps – something I still suffer from. you should see my diaries, a running commentary of an idealistic lotus eater – spending hours upon hours drawing points of interest and then figuring out ways to get there. could I go overland from Russia to Alaska? what sailing route could be done to hit the South Pacific Islands of my adolescent daydreams – stopping off in, of course, Easter Island? even now, as I reference a map for this post, I made a mental note to the specifics of getting a boat through the Panama Canal.

all of that and all of this from that magazine with the yellow border.

now -flash forward 20+ years and I’m rooftop in Sucre, Bolivia. I had just visited an amazing monastery and was about to post a photo from the top of it when I get a notification on my email. one of those ‘pingback’ notifications you get when someone links to your blog:

I sat there, before clicking the link it came from and lit a cigarette. I did this because there had been a rumor – a rumor– that someone, some organization had picked up my story, video and photos of being the first person up on Machu Picchu for 2012.

that someone was the magazine with the yellow border.

on top of the page was the name National Geographic.

and below that was my name.

I cannot describe what that felt like, I really can’t.

I read and re-read the story I had written like it was the first time… and it was.

the last time I did it was when it was on this weathered computer, with nothing above my name and title but a few options for font and spacing. but this time, well… you already know what had changed.

it was thrown up online and never in my life have I welled up with so much love and appreciation for my friends and family. the comments, the shares, the reposts and retweets. the private notes sent, the silly little thumbs-up that usually seem so trivial, upped my day with each tiny hit. my Mother emailed back to say that ‘she and Dad were so proud, they were going to have a steak dinner that night to celebrate!’ [which – knowing what you do now, is huge]. different people prefaced the link with different things about my adventures – and, again, I sat there stunned.

that night, I sat quietly in the pub corner and tried to take it all in – a punk kid who barely finished high school, snuck his way into a career in radio, bummed his way around the world for a few years, lied his way into China and then spent 6 months in SE Asia, India and Nepal paying dearly for the arrogance he accrued in Shanghai. someone who splits his adult life between travel and Facebook. a kid who comes from an amazing family, has good teeth and a circle of friends who have lifted him up time-after-time in his sojourns…

basically – the least-deserving candidate to have been published in the traveler writer’s dream, but for some strange reason, I was chosen as that guy.

you know, since I can remember, I’ve struggled with religion – a large part of it having to have been forced upon me, another begin the judgement of others that follows it, the final being how unbelievably fucking dull so many that claim to worship are… but I’ll tell you one thing – you simply cannot have a life as blessed as mine, with constant gifts like the one I write about now, without knowing someone up there has an eye on you.

it could be The Man Himself.

it could be Pierre.

my grandfather.


it could be anyone.

whomever it is, though, I thank them. with as much gratitude as I thank those who have fed me, clothed me, bought my photos and read my little book – people like yourself.

the magazine with the yellow border didn’t tell me how amazing I am. the magazine with the yellow border told me how amazing I’ve been treated by those around me.

and if you’re one of those people… thank you.

I owe you many more stories like this in exchange for your kindness and generosity. and – brothers and sisters – with my recent yellow boost, you can be damn sure there’s going to be a lot more.

and very, very soon.