Have you ever come across a photo that stops you in your tracks? One that immediately transports you from your mundane job at hand to a world of wonderment? You become so enthralled with the photographer that you must follow their journey until the bitter end. Well, this is how I crossed paths with photographer and motorcycle enthusiast Daniel Schechner. Daniel and his friend Adam Struble decided to load their bikes and travel from Burlington, VT to Southern California and back beginning on July 9, 2017. They shared their 47-day experience on Instagram using the hashtag #danielandadamseeamerica, and Daniel brought along his Leica M6 35mm film camera and ten rolls of film to document the trip, which turned into Finding America. Finding America is a 70-page hardcover showcasing Daniel’s depiction of the 10,000-mile journey. Please take a moment to get to know the man behind the lens.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: My name is Daniel and I’m a 25 yr old photographer based in Burlington, Vermont. My passion for photography started at a young age, as did my passion for motorcycles. My urge to travel has been brewing for years, and my lack of exposure to the American countryside constantly taunted me. In July of this year, I decided to hit the road on my Harley with my best friend Adam. We started the journey in Burlington, Vermont on July 9th. We travelled 9,885 miles through 18 states, four time zones, and two countries in 47 days. Many years in the making, this trip was bound to be the most epic and difficult adventure of my life.
"Self-portrait of me taken 2 minutes after we arrived back home in Vermont at the end of the 47 days / 10,000 miles."- Daniel
What inspired you and Adam Struble to take this journey?
The inspiration for this journey stemmed from a desire to see America. To taste the different cultures, experience the abrupt and extreme climate changes, see some of the most amazing landscapes in the world, and suffer enough to truly start questioning what the point of it all was. I felt stagnant for years, stuck in the same daily routine that always just felt mediocre. I knew that taking off with the bare essentials and a very general route would be exactly what I needed to gain a new perspective on where my life was headed and why.
How long did it take to get everything ready to leave?
Mentally, it took years. Physically, it took a few weeks of planning, and gear testing. Only once we actually set a departure date did we really start making shit happen. It was hard to minimize an entire life to the size of a couple of duffel bags, it became crucial that every item we brought served a purpose. The process of simplifying was so rewarding for me, it showed the potential of simplicity needed to be happy, making me realize that the less stuff I have, the more liberated I felt.
Did you camp a lot? If so, best spot to lay your head?
We camped the majority of the trip. From KOA’s, to Ma & Pa campsites, to side of the road pullouts. I think one of my favorite spots must have been right outside of the Sequoia National Park. We found a campsite in Kings Canyon and were able to carefully pick our favorite spot from over 12 unoccupied sites during peak tourist season. After some pretty frustrating experiences trying to navigate these massive places with thousands of other tourists, RVs, and motorcycles, it was refreshing to find something secluded and cost-free with such ease.
Photo of Adam - "day 21 - idaho, nevada, california. made it to san francisco yesterday. once in a while i take a step back and realize just how far this little machine has already taken me. the feeling is overwhelming. it's been 21 days and we've traveled over 4,500 miles. the long days are becoming easier, and i am starting to feel more comfortable on the bike then off of it. feeling the abrupt temperature shift as soon as we got near the ocean was powerful. you are so exposed, you can't help but become part of the landscape around you and constantly adapt with it. a few days in the bay area, then we make our way to yosemite." - Daniel
Did you experience any issues on the road? If so, were they easy to work out?
We managed to make it all the way to California with only a couple of very minor incidents. About halfway through our journey Adam crashed on Hwy 101 in California. He was somehow able to get out of it with only a few minor bruises, and the bike took minimal damage. Funny enough, I had gifted him a guardian bell in Ventura only two hours before the crash. After realizing this, we decided the “cup is half full” approach, declaring the bell in fact protected him in the crash, and was not the cause of it. We were on our way to LA to meet a friend but after the crash we kind of decided LA sucks, and we didn’t want to go there anymore. I had a bad feeling about going there from the start. After so much time in nature, I dreaded the idea of being in a giant urban environment. We headed towards Pasadena for the night. By the time we found a pullout on the side of the road, we realized Adam’s stator had stopped working. Truly the icing on the cake that day. I ended up bump-starting Adam from Pasadena, California all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, as we slowly tried to figure out an affordable solution. Of course, it had to be the hottest stretch of our journey with temperatures reaching 110 by noon on most days. But, looking back at it now, there’s nothing I would change. Every push made the ride that much more rewarding.
What were some of your favorite roads to travel on?
As expected, nothing really beat Route 1 on the California Coast. Besides being surprisingly cold, that was definitely one of the most enjoyable roads I ever got to cruise on. We spent a few days in Santa Cruz, and the coastal views there are something else. Regardless, everything we were experiencing felt so new and exciting that it really didn’t matter where we physically were, and some of the best roads we found were completely unplanned.
What piece of advice would you recommend to somebody thinking about taking a road trip like yours?
Don't hesitate, if you are thinking about doing it, just make it happen. You don’t need too much money, or too much stuff. It’ll teach you patience, perseverance, acceptance, and commitment. I suffered the majority of the trip, constantly having mental battles with myself, and a good amount of physical fatigue on a daily basis, but in the end all the physical pain I felt, and the mental battles I had, translated into something that is now engrained. The struggle was what made the adventure, and what created genuine memories and moments that I will never forget. When you plan everything, you set expectations for how things will turn out, and I think those expectations can be trouble. When you let things happen spontaneously, you find yourself in places and situations you would never have found otherwise, and those moments are exactly what creates a life-changing journey that carries you forward in life.
Tell us a little bit about your new book “Finding America”
My newly released photo book titled “Finding America” is a 70-page hardcover culmination of my visual experience on this trip. I wanted to create something that would share what I felt along this trip, and hopefully this book does just that. All photos were taken with my 35mm film camera, and I approached the documentation with a slow and observant perspective. No images wasted, no extra shots taken. I limited myself to 10 rolls of film because I wanted to really think twice about why I was photographing the things that I was, I wanted to feel like every image was intentional and served a purpose. The first edition of the book is limited to 50 copies and available through my email - firstname.lastname@example.org
How can our readers see more of your photography?
You can find more of my work through my website at www.danielschechner.com. I have affordable archival prints available in a variety of sizes. You can also follow my current and past endeavors on Instagram @lifeintheboonies.