The following was a working journal for the first part of the A Life Alive trip - in total we filmed for five full months; from Oklahoma to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. The documentary is currently in post with release slated for late 2016/early 2017. To inquire about sponsorship, please see my Contact Page. - Forrest
Hi, my name is Forrest Mankins. I’m a 25 year old photographer from Oklahoma, and I’m on an adventure. It’s always been a dream of mine to travel; to pack a bag, a map, and a camera, and to see where the road goes. To follow it to new places, new people, and to experience a different side of life. I’ve traveled the U.S. a fair bit in the last year, something like 40 states, and as time passed that little dream in the back of my mind began growing. What if I actually packed up and left? What if I took a chance and followed my passion? It is a great uncertainty to leave comfort, steady pay, and normality to wander, but there is great freedom that comes with a full tank of gas, an open road, and an open mind, and I chose that freedom. On December 7th, 2014, I packed up my 1984 Toyota Land Cruiser and left home. This is my adventure; this is my dream.
A Life Alive is a call to action. Everyone has a dream; you have a dream, and I think it’s worth pursuing. It’s easy to postpone our dreams until “Someday,” but the reality is that we aren’t guaranteed any time in this life, and we deserve to pursue happiness. This is about overcoming and realizing the power that we all hold to take control of our lives. We can accomplish anything if we put our mind and our hands together. With the help of Always Empty Creative, we are creating a documentary about the trip, its purpose, and the people and experiences along the way. It will be as close as we can get to letting everyone come along with us.
Here's the story, continuously updated:
After a short night of restless sleep, I woke up and had coffee with my dad. We had spent the previous day getting the Land Cruiser ready; thermostat, oil change, fluids, the normal stuff. I picked up Garrett, filled up the tank, and we took off. We took 35 up to the 70, and headed west into Colorado.
Here's the background on the Land Cruiser. It came into my family in 1999 (I was 10) from a friend of my dad's. He couldn't get it to run, and was tired of it. My dad, being the mechanical and general genius that he is, had it running in almost no time. He completely rebuilt the entire vehicle mechanically, and later put a 2" lift on it. It was the vehicle that my two older sisters and I learned to drive, and our way to high school. Once a year we took it to Colorado to roam around in the mountains, and in those long drives on dirt roads, it became a part of the family.
"Hey man, what's up? I just sent you a photo of a weird looking vehicle. Want to go live in it with me for a couple weeks? Oh yeah.. I'm leaving in four days, do you have a passport?"
This is Garrett Danz. He's from Oklahoma like me, and I've known him for a few years now. He's been in L.A. producing and directing music videos for the past three years. Done pretty well for himself, and worked with a lot of well known artists. Long story short, he got burnt out on the music industry, and decided to spend the winter back in Oklahoma to create a documentary. The words above are from that phone call, to which he replied: "I'm down." We met up that night in Tulsa and talked, turns out he was looking for an idea, and I was just starting mine.
After staying in Denver, we took 287 into Wyoming, stocked up on groceries in Laramie, and headed towards Yellowstone. We drove into the night, talking about the project, creative struggle, life, and the land. Upon finding the South entrance to Yellowstone was closed for the winter, we continued West to Jackson, and slept a couple of miles outside of town. Garrett has been in L.A. the past three years making music videos, and was a little apprehensive about sleeping out in 19° weather, but I gave him an extra sleeping bag and blanket, and he was just fine.
Sleeping in the Land Cruiser is actually pretty comfortable when you're in a sleeping bag (my bag is a North Face mummy bag rated to 0°F) and using a Therm-a-Rest for insulation. The part that's a little hard is taking all of our gear out of the back of the Cruiser and putting it in the front front seats and on the roof rack. It usually takes about 15-30 minutes depending how dark it is, and how tired you might be. I woke up about an hour before sunrise to see the hills above us covered in Bighorn Sheep. While packing the stuff out of the driver's seat into the back, this guy came down the hill and walked around us a few times. It's easy to spot a Land Cruiser fan.
We headed north to Big Sky, Montana for a couple of nights, and camped as far up a forestry road as the snow allowed.
After a few nights in Montana, we decided we wanted to see a bit more of the Tetons, and headed South, back to Wyoming. Knowing our former camp spot near Jackson was relatively safe, we stayed there once more and headed East at about 4 AM. We hit a large snow storm, slowing us down to about 30mph for the next 30 miles.
The roads were icy and snow covered, but I was hoping the storm would break at sunrise. Garrett might have opposed, but was still asleep in the back, so I didn't bother to asking.
As quickly as they appeared, they were gone. The storm started up again, giving us almost whiteout conditions and even scarier roads. I found a pullout along the Snake river and started breakfast.
Eating on the road is a different affair, replacing stoves and tables with a camp stove and tailgate. Noodles, a can of spinach, and cup of instant coffee costs under $2, and tastes pretty good when it's freezing outside. The storm got even worse, so we jumped inside and waited it out.
After about 5 hours of whiteout and waiting around, I took a closer look through the ice on the back window, the storm was finally leaving, and a powerful view awaited.
We finally saw the Tetons. After a lifetime of seeing photos of them, the experience in person was a reminder that nothing beats an experience. Going and doing always trumps all. These experiences are things that no one can ever take from you.
Alex and Morgan are incredibly talented, kind, and funny guys, and they made their home ours for two days.
As we started the journey west again, Garrett and I stopped in at the Ennis Cafe to treat ourselves to lunch. As I soon discovered, the place is owned by Darlene and husband Jack; they've been running it for the past 30 years. As of January 1st, 2015, they are retiring, and finally getting to go do what they want: to travel and spend time with family. They are some of the most gracious and warm people I've ever met, and I wish them the best.
We drove I-90 West through Butte and Missoula, and stayed the night with my great friend Cody Rhodes in Spokane. First thing in the morning, we loaded up and headed North and East to Sandpoint, Idaho. We drove up Schweitzer mountain and did some longboarding in the snow. I booked a hotel room with some reward points I had previously acquired, and we charged batteries, cleaned equipment, and were reminded why we don't watch TV. TV sucks.
I-90 ends in Washington, so we the 5 North for a while and made it to Sumas, two blocks from the U.S./Canada border. We stayed with my longtime friend Kristen and her parents Nina and Dwayne in town. Nina cooked constantly, making us punsit and lumpia, and Dwayne told us his story about coming to America from Korea and being adopted. Also with us were Lisa and Liam from Coldsmoke. They housed and fed us for two nights.
We drove towards Mount Baker, up and up, navigating switchbacks in the steady rain. The top-heavy Cruiser likes to take things slow, so you just kind of settle in with it. On top, the rain turned into snow, huge snow. We hiked around a bit and headed back to Nina's; she'd kill us if we missed dinner.
We continued North, up to Whistler for a few days to shoot the Coldsmoke Film Awards, my first time in Canada. Not much exploring happened, but here's a couple shots.
The unhappy border patrol let us back in, thankfully. Back in the land of phone service and miles per hour, we stayed another night.
Driving West to Larrabee State Park the next morning, we got a peace sign from a Westfalia headed Eastbound. Turns out it was Chad from @LivingTheVanLife, and we met up and compared rigs after a little hike on the coast. He's been doing this a lot longer than I have, and it was great to talk to him a bit about the lifestyle.
So we started out counting the days, not for any real reason, I guess it's just a human thing to do. But this is December 22nd, the 16th day of being on the road. This was kind of a melancholy day, we didn't really talk about him leaving, you know how it goes. I'm sure he pretty excited to see his family and girlfriend for Christmas, though. Can't blame the guy. During this time Garrett filmed all the footage for the A Life Alive documentary trailer. He flew out of SEATAC, back to Oklahoma, and is currently creating the trailer. He's not gone for good, and will be back soon to begin filming the actual documentary. He's always down to let me wait 5 hours for a mountain top to appear from the clouds, or to take a random backroad looking for cool places, and most importantly, to live off of noodles and instant coffee. It felt like a last day, but in reality it's just the beginning of this whole project.
Garrett flew home, and I spent the early morning drinking coffee and re-organizing the Land Cruiser. Steve and Hunter at K2 invited me to tour their headquarters in Seattle, great guys and an admirable company. They were surprised to find out I didn't ski or snowboard, but offered to teach me if I ever changed my mind. Most kids growing up in the Midwest don't do a whole lot of snow sports, unfortunately. Hunter recently bought an Fj62, same as mine only two years newer, fuel injected, and a lot quicker.
I drove down to Portland and met up with Brooke, we drove down the gorge a little ways and had happy hour sushi.
I stayed with one of my best friends K.C. in Tualatin, and we caught up on life in general.
I hit 26 West for the coast after buying some Christmas lights and coffee. I drove through Cannon Beach and looked around a little, then headed up to Seaside, where K.C.'s family had generously invited me to spend Christmas Eve with them.
I didn't quite realize it until it happened, but I really needed this. Family is the most important thing in life, and even though I was 2,000 miles from mine, being welcomed as such into the Dundas' household was a big morale boost.
4:53 AM, Christmas morning. I woke up to the usual Oregon rain on the windows, and rolled over. It's hard to get up sometimes when it's cold, wet, and windy out, but time is a nonrenewable resource, and sunrise waits for no man. I popped the hatch, threw up the lights, and welcomed my first Christmas away from home.
I spent the day driving around the coastal range, and found a great road going up the Nehalem river in Tillamook and Clatsop counties. I drove for hours with the windows down and the heat blasted, and found a road leading up the mountain. I was hoping to find phone service, and I lucked out up top. I called my mom, my dad, and my sisters, and listened to their accounts of the day. It was the best gift to hear their voices.
After getting back to Portland, Brooke and I figured it'd be a good idea to drive up towards St. Helens and get some fresh air. We loaded up a few essentials last minute, and took the 5 North to Washington.
We drove down old logging roads as the rain gently started and the light ran out. It was good to be out of the city. After another hour of driving up towards the mountain, we found an old trail leading off into the woods and turned down it. Unmarked pullouts are always great when you sleep in your car, and sure enough, it wasn't long before we were parked and setting up the Land Cruiser to sleep in. It was dreary out, even by Washington standards, so we strung up the Christmas lights and ate a dinner of noodles and Sriracha. Pretty typical.
It was so good to be out of the city that I think we both fell asleep before 7. Woke up and made breakfast out of the rain on the tailgate. We drove down and walked through the Ape Cave, then headed South.
I touched on this above, but before this trip, the Land Cruiser had become the vacation driver, scarcely being driven more than a couple times a year. As I started putting some serious miles on it, different things started working again. Sticky door handles, windshield wipers, cranky hubs, all became reminded of their respective purposes, and seemed to come back into service whole-heartedly. While this "Renaissance" of sorts was great, not all faired so well with this new usage. It was a couple of days after St. Helens, and I was driving down some old Northwest backroad with the heater on and the window down, just the usual. I stopped for lunch on the side of the road, and while checking the oil noticed a fine film of fresh power steering fluid sprayed over the driver's side of the engine. "This is not good. Not good at all," I thought, holding a sandwich in one hand and wiping off the other on my jeans. I'd been adding fluid here and there since I left, the reservoir had a small leak and liked to be ran a little low, but this was different. I topped it off again and headed East into Portland. I called my dad and he confirmed my suspicions. "Pretty soon that thing is going to hand grenade, and you're going to be stuck for real. Best start finding a new one."
After a few days of unsuccessful phone calls and emails (the closest pump I'd found so far was in Pennsylvania, and unavailable for shipping), my good friend Tom at Adventure Ready gave me a call and told me about a buddy of his who owned a shop up in Mukilteo; specializing in Land Cruisers. Seriously? This type of thing exists? He gave me a number and told me to ask for Tor. "You know, think Nordic gods." I called Tor, and he said I could come in as soon as I could get there, and that they'd fix me up. I jerry rigged a piece of cardboard to stop the pump from spraying power steering fluid over the whole engine, and headed north.
I took it easy heading north, stopping every hour or so to check under the hood. 200 miles, 3 hours, turns into 4 hours in the Cruiser. My buddy Erik, a makeup artist from Marysville invited me to crash on his couch.
The next day I pulled into Torfab. For a guy who loves Land Cruisers, seeing about 40 of them in various states of modification is a pretty great site. I met Tor and mechanic Josh, and they got right to work. These guys do anything and everything from restoration/maintenance to customization, engine conversions, and more, so they're incredibly busy at all times. I found out that there is an average wait of a few week wait just to get in the shop. They had me in and out in a couple of hours.
I'm not writing this as an ad or anything else of the sort. When you live in your car, being broke down is really tough. Tom, Tor, Josh, all these guys banded together out of pure kindness to get me back on the road. I can't thank them enough.
Adventure Ready: www.adventure-ready.com
While leaving Mukilteo, my friends from Anchorage had landed in PDX. I hopped on the phone with Mikey, told him to bring the crew up to Rainier, and took the 5 south though Seattle and Olympia. I found a state highway east, filled up the tank, and left town. The road wound through hills and valleys, the kind that forces you to find a new radio station every couple of minutes. The traffic started thinning out the farther east I went, and eventually it felt like I was the only person on the road. When the last radio station said goodbye I rolled the windows down, welcoming the wind and afternoon sun in with me.
I drove East and South, through Randle on 12, hoping to find a spot for us to camp at. After talking to a local, I found out that almost everything was snowed in, so I turned around and headed to Morton to meet up with my friends. It was already 5 PM with little light, so we drove up to Rainier, only to find it closed (rookie move). We spent the next couple of hours looking for spots to camp. After finding cell signal, I looked for the closest National Forest, and we tore off into the night.
We backtracked from Alder Lake east on the 12, then dropped south on 7 into the northwest corner of Gifford Pinchot Nat'l. The first pullout we found looked more than good enough, so we made a fire and put up tents. We stood around the fire for as long as we could, roasted some hot dogs, told stories, then called it a night.
We woke up and took our time getting around, gates at Rainier didn't open until 9, so we enjoyed the quiet and waited for the light to get down to us to warm up. We drove back up to the park around 10 and spent the day looking around.
Shot entirely on an iPhone 6.
After getting back from Rainier, good friend Harlen Foley called me up. "Hey, howya been? Want to come down to California for a week, travel around, and help me shoot a race?" I'm pretty sure I said yes halfway through the sentence, Harlen runs a website called ATVRiders.com and spends his free time traveling around the country shooting landscapes. I flew into SFO and met up with friend Chris, we hung out at his apartment talking for a few hours until Harlen picked me up. It was a Monday, and we didn't have to shoot the race until Saturday, so we shot around the bay area the next couple of days.
After a couple of days near the bay, we drove South and spent Thursday night in Cayucos at my friend Kelsey's house. I met Kelsey last May in Yosemite when she came up to visit. I don't know anyone as warm and as kind as she is, and it was a good reminder of the qualities we should all strive to hold in our character.
Harlen had left early Friday morning to do photoshoots for different racers already out at the track, so I met up with him that night, and got ready for the next two days of shooting.
Sunday came and it was time to fly back to back to Portland. After all, I was really missing the Land Cruiser.