Scott and Jill hiking in Gros Ventre Wilderness outside Grand Teton National Park.

I guess it’s fitting I’ve chosen today, a holiday named for a martyr, to explain how our blog died. Or, more accurately, how I killed it.

It’s Valentine’s Day, 2011. Jill and I have been back at our home in Phoenix for a month. We traveled to 35 states (and one U.S. territory) during the past year, but our blogging stopped back in October, somewhere near the Texas-Louisiana border.

We never documented our travels across the Deep South, Atlantic Coast, New England, Great Lakes, Northern Rockies or Pacific Northwest. We failed to chronicle chance meetings with benevolent strangers and rewarding stays with old friends. Encounters with rattlesnakes, gray wolves and grizzly bears went uncatalogued. Ruminations about regional food, mountain trails and camping gear went unshared. The whole promise of the blog, inasmuch as there was one, went unfulfilled.

Scott in one of the tunnels of the Castillo de San Cristóbal Spanish fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The fault for this rests with me.

Last January, a week before we set out on our journey, two of our closest Phoenix friends treated us to a sendoff dinner at Jill’s favorite restaurant of the moment. At meal’s end, after the plates were cleared but before the last sips were drained from our glasses, our friend Stephanie — who is notorious for posing big-picture, put-life-in-context questions — leaned across the table, locked her eyes to ours, and asked, “OK, what is the one thing you hope get out of this trip?”

Jill and I paused, considering the scope of the question. I answered first, saying that I looked forward to leaving behind workaday responsibilities for a life lived spontaneously. I said I hoped to attach personal memories to names on maps, to see at least one new place every day and to temporarily approach life with abandon. It was a stream-of-conscience ramble that could have been distilled to six words: I just want to have fun.

When Jill sensed that I was done, she waded into her own reply. She said she looked forward to practicing her art in concert with mine — that we had spent our respective professional lives taking photographs and writing words, but we had never worked on a project together. She said she hoped we could develop story ideas for magazines, which might — who knows? — lead us to new careers as freelance travel journalists.

“Wow,” said our friend Laura flatly. The perfect yang to Stephanie’s yin, Laura is notorious for making cold assessments and sharing them (among friends, at least) with minimal reheating. “You do realize you have completely different expectations, right?”

If we didn’t before, we did then. After we parted ways in the parking lot, I’m sure Laura must have turned to Stephanie and confided, “They’re doomed.”

We weren’t. But our blog was.

Jill's square feet in an Eno hammock at a state park in Bardstown, KY.

The best blogs are written by journalists and aspire to journalism; their intent is to enlighten and, sometimes, entertain. Other enjoyable blogs are written by regular folks and aspire to sincerity; these blogs bridge distance between family and friends in a more artful way than Facebook, with journal-like writing and digital snapshots.

Jill and I hoped our blog would fall somewhere in between. But I wasn’t sure we could pull it off. Correct that: I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Not every week. For a year.

It’s not like Jill and I didn’t discuss this. I told her that I worried our different styles of working — her: passionate, ambitious, headlong; me: reflective, meticulous, meandering — might clash out on the road. This worried her, too. At the least, we worried I would slow her down; at the worst, we worried I would drive her nuts.

I ended up doing both. As the country unfurled before us, day by day, I struggled to keep up with my end of the blog bargain. Worse, I lost the desire to try. This devastated Jill, who worked her ass off to build the blog and was proud of the posts we’d done so far. She felt a responsibility to our followers and regularly checked our blog stats, tracking how many hits we were getting each day. More than once I caught her doing this in the car, on her iPhone, as pastoral countryside passed by outside her window and the CD we were listening to began to repeat.

As the blog posts fell farther behind our travels (we blogged about California from Florida), Jill’s anxiety and my guilt swelled in direct proportions. However much fun we were having  each day — and we were having lots — the subject of the blog seemed to worm its way into our conversation come nightfall. It had become a weight, a thing, a cumbersome monkey stretched across both our backs.

Jack didn't think canoeing the boundary waters of Ely, MN was a good idea.

The blog needed to die, but I couldn’t kill it. Not alone. Like some sort of doomsday device, the blog’s detonation required two keys. I do not recall the precise moment Jill finally turned her key — maybe it wasn’t a moment at all, but an incremental process — but I’m thankful she did it. We traveled lighter thereafter. Had we not amputated our figurative 12 legs, I’m not sure our literal 12 legs could have keep moving.

When friends chided me about the dormancy of the blog, I used to joke that I was on the verge of emblazoning a T-shirt with the words “FUCK THE BLOG” and wearing it every day. When people ask me if I’m going to write a book about our yearlong honeymoon, I tell them that, if I do, it will be titled “How a Traveling Couple Learned to Stop Blogging and Start Living.” Jill realizes my jokes are a means of conversational deflection, but she does not think them funny. The blog is a more sensitive subject than either of us have ever let on. (Until now.)

Despite the blog’s premature death, it was responsible for some of the most memorable days of our trip. Once, just to catch up on a few posts, we decided to stop in Natchez, Miss., and spend several days working on the blog in a motel. Only we didn’t stay in a motel; we stayed at the Mark Twain Guest House, on the shores of the Mississippi River. Our room sat atop the Under-the-Hill Saloon and had once been part of a brothel. It was furnished with a four-post bed and an antique card table. Each morning, Jill sat in the former and I sat at the latter, blogging away. The room’s big windows and french doors afforded views of the river, and we opened both to let in the breeze. Around sunset we would walk the dogs along the Big Muddy, and we whiled away the nights listening to the stories of the saloon regulars.

We had similar stop-to-blog experiences at a roadside hunting lodge in Mobridge, S.D., and a lakeside motor lodge in Detroit Lakes, Minn. At the latter, I never even cracked open my computer. I chose to read a book by the lakeshore instead.

Tilson Boshears, 3, convinces his dad to jump in the lake on Halloween. The lake temperature was 64 degrees.

Just because we didn’t blog about every place we traveled to doesn’t mean I’ll forget them. I won’t. And just because the blog didn’t turn out the way we thought it would doesn’t mean this past year wasn’t the best year of my life. It was.

I’d like to say I have no regrets about our decision to abandon the blog, but that would be a lie. I regret not compiling a full record of our time on the road. I regret not finishing what we started. And, most of all, I regret letting Jill down. Jill loved reading my blog posts. I should have kept writing for her, if for no one else. I guess that’s what I’m doing at the moment, because I don’t know that anybody really cares about one more dying star out here in the infinite blogosphere. But Jill does, and I think she could use a little closure. It’s the lamest Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever given her. (Which is saying something when you consider the list includes a used tire and a plush hedgehog.)

The one silver lining in all this (for me, anyway) is that while I stopped immortalizing our adventure in words, Jill never stopped documenting it in photos. She has thousands of them. Maybe tens of thousands. It will take her months to sort through every one. If you’re wondering whether she will post the best of those images here, the answer is no. She has a new blog, one that I can’t bog down with my sludgy prose. You can find it at jillrichardsphotography.blogspot.com.

As for this blog, maybe I’ll finish it one day, for the sake of posterity or future progeny. But I’m not making any promises. If there’s one thing I learned from this once-in-a-lifetime journey, it’s that I really suck at this whole enterprise.

On the flip side, I’m damn good at honeymooning.

A late-night campfire in Wyoming.

— Scott

17 Responses to “Our trip had legs. Our blog didn’t.”

  1. Hey Scott,

    You’re a really great writer, it really is too bad that you were not able to keep up with all the destinations, but I can appreciate how difficult it is. I enjoyed reading what may be your “last” post.

    Hope you and Jill are well.

    Cheers,
    Mike

  2. […] their pups.  With great intentions they did manage to keep up with it for a while but as in the featured posts living got in the way.  I love the unapologetic tone here.  Especially after I took last week off […]

  3. Abigail says:

    This is a lovely post, I would like to feature it on our blog. I have been blogging 4 years and on the road almost 3 of those. Sometimes the stress of adding content takes away the joys of sharing. I still take vacations from writing.

    Abigail
    TheVanGelders.com

  4. When your posts showed up in my Reader, it was a special treat. I couldn’t wait to open them and see what you two were doing. You also sparked many conversations (some of the rather heated) – how do they manage to have so much fun? Why are they able to fit so much more into their days? What should we be doing differently? In the end, I completely understand your decision and applaud you for putting the blog down. This was your honeymoon, after all. Had you tried to keep it up you’d have have a list of missed opportunities and regrets to show for it.

    It’s been a pleasure. I hope you’ll stay in touch.

  5. Stephanie says:

    In a time where words are written for top ten list readers and photos are snapped without regard it was truly refreshing to follow your blog.

    And so, yes, I missed it.

    We looked to your 12 legs (especially Jack’s) for inspiration and to live vicariously. In its own way, it was an invitation to all of us, the living-life-planned-types back “here” to adventure spontaneously.

    I do not blame you for all that went unshared. Rather, I commend you.

    I, for one, am not in love with being behind my computer. I didn’t even have the scenery, mountains, sunshine and leaves clapping in the wind to compete for my attention like you did on the road.

    You guys chose to make “right now” a richer time. Seems like a good call seeing as it is the only thing we are ever really promised and all.

    Maybe my question at Gallo Blanco should have been, “Do you guys have any idea what this journey holds?”

    I knew at that dinner that the future of the blog might be questionable, but I had no doubt that whatever the year became it would be perfectly you two. And it was.

  6. Hm. Very interesting.

    Welcome home,
    B

  7. Greg Lewis says:

    Congratulations. For stopping the blog. Sometime early in your adventure, I reminded Jill that there are times when one must put the camera down; that it can come between the photographer and the experience. As you have discovered, the pen also intrudes. For those of us who feel compelled to record the events before us, coming to that place can be a challenge. But as you found, there is a freedom in it and one can, perhaps, enjoy things at a new level.

  8. pamela says:

    i love this post. i love this blog, finished or not. it is good to have closure. and i’m happy jill is blogging still so we can keep in touch with bits of your days.

    there is something to be said for leaving these types of things behind. i think way too often in status updates, and i take too many photos with the blog in mind. i want to go back to living without all of that, but my heart hurts to think of not doing it anymore. i am happy that facebook and blogging and laptops weren’t around when we were traveling and living abroad. it is a hard balance, i think, to live and explore for yourself and also constantly feel the challenge of wanting to record and explain every experience to your readers. my brother in law calls the facebook/blog/constant documentation of everything “the death of nostalgia” and i think he may be on to something.

    we adore you 4. save us some seats at jill’s favorite restaurant this summer.

    • Jill says:

      Pamela, another tragic sidenote to the blog’s demise is that we didn’t get to document our time with you and Luke and Mateo in Lansing. It was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip. Your approach to parenthood (and life in general) inspired lots of contemplative car talk and even a little soul searching. Thanks for sharing your front porch, your kitchen and your neighborhood. We can’t wait to return the hospitality back in AZ.

      And tell your brother-in-law to rest assured: As long as there exist sappy Southern guys who would rather revisit old photo albums and letters (and even blog posts) than update their facebook status, nostalgia will not perish.

  9. Mike Van Liew says:

    Scott,

    I’ll be honest, complimenting you hurts me. You represent everything that I’m not but aspire to be. So naturally I have a disdain for you. It’s like the older brother who is just a little better in every way… “If only he wasn’t around then I would be top dog”. That being said, you are a damn good writer and I’m sure you know it. With my busy schedule and multifaceted life, I can’t say that I “missed” your blog. It was another one of those things that fell out of sight and out of mind. However, reading this post brought me right back and reminded me what I had been missing. Like that girlfriend you lose and suddenly the little things she did started to make themselves known. Where is my smoothie in the morning? Man I really need a back massage. Damn, my laundry is stacking up. Yes, you’re like an ex girlfriend… heck, your hair is long enough. But I’m not taking you out to dinner any time soon, I have a new girlfriend.

    Jill, your photography is amazing but I’m sure you’ve heard that plenty. It definitely made up for the lulls in Scott’s verbose posts. (See, I just had to take one last stab at you Scott).

    Blog or no blog, its great to see you’ve made it back safe. Don’t stop snapping and writing.

    Mike

    • Scott says:

      I’m like an “older brother who is a little better in every way”? I’m floored. Surely you meant to type “a lot better”. Alas, I already have a little brother who idolizes me (or at least he used to, before I put the f-word in the above post), and I can’t handle another. So you’ll need to go back to admiring/disdaining a super sibling whose name actually ends in Van Liew. (I’m not even going to touch the ex-girlfriend metaphor.)

      Seriously, Mike, those are some kind and thoughtful words, and we appreciate them. They almost make up for that time Jill and I stood outside for two hours in the cold in Roosevelt Row waiting (in vain) for your standup act to take the stage while a parade of emo kids, hippies and weirdos took turns warbling their favorite cover songs into the night. Almost, my friend, almost.

      Whenever Jill gets around to editing her sixteen gazillion photos from the trip into a slideshow for friends, we’ll definitely make sure your name is on the guest list. Bring your new girlfriend. I could use a back massage.

  10. Kelley says:

    I believe I was one of the people who badgered you to finish it, but maybe you didn’t want to write because there was so much – maybe too much? – to say. Just in our conversations, you had so many stories that to journal all of them must have been a little overwhelming, especially when the time to do that took away time from the actual trip.
    But you should know how much the posts were enjoyed, as much for the photography as the writing, and in fact, the photo of Jack in this post needed no caption. Jill’s photo said it all (and I started laughing out loud, literally).
    In any case, who cares? We’re glad to have you guys back. :)

  11. Pamela Norman says:

    Lovely words, Scott. You guys are amazing + inspiring. Does it feel strange to be **still** now?

  12. Rita says:

    Ahhh, what an incredible romantic gesture!

    I admit, I did miss reading your blog, but you as far as I know, you only get one attempt at this life, and hooray for you for living it and not writing about it.

    I know that you both will cherish the memories you’ve made on your year-long honeymoon, and I wish both a lifetime of unblogged life experiences/memories.

    Love and peace,
    r.

  13. Scott and Jill,

    While I sincerely missed your writing and Jill’s beautiful beautiful photos I appreciate the choice you made, it’s apparent that it was a tough one particularly when the one you love more than anyone had so many hopes riding on it. The reality is whether published or not the memories made will last a lifetime and lifetime that’s guarenteed to be a wonderful unique one as long as you two are at the helm.

    Your friend,

    Justin Kase Conder

  14. Dylan says:

    Proud of you both. And neither one of you owes anybody jack diddly. Your blog, in all its incomplete glory, brought Amy and I a lot of laughs, but more moments of pure wonder and awe at what you were doing. Complete it at your leisure, or not at all — it has been, and will continue to be, a colossal success, and an impressive monument to your incredibly unique first year of marriage. Ride Free, Scott and Jill, Honeymoonmasters Extraordinaire.

Leave a Reply