Thursday, September 15, 2011

hiking26: a beautiful journey

hiking26: a beautiful journey

Today's post is a special one.  I asked this month's featured sponsor, Ron of hiking26, to share the story of his project with my readers though a guest post.  It's a beautiful and interesting story, and the journey upon which he is about to embark is both unique and inspiring.  As someone who loves nature, adores art, and is about to get married in a vintage wedding dress(!), I find the the concept of the project - which combines exploring nature with art and rescued vintage/used weddings gowns - incredibly captivating.  I hope you enjoy it too!  Be sure to check out the information at the end of the post about how you can get involved too!  - melissa

What do you get when you take the guy out of the city, remove the socialite from the scene, yank the stage from the entertainer, then stick him in a blue collar job and suppress his creativity? Well, if he’s the mustached Mr. 26, you end up with an explosion of the unimaginable (and utterly undefinable) trekking of the west documented via odd photographs across your computer screen. This is the story of hiking26.  The plan: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, from April through October, 2012. 26 weeks, hiking 2600 miles, while wearing 26 wedding gowns. Performance Art Insanity, defined.

Ron moved from Saint Louis, Missouri six years ago with a mission to live the simpler small town life and enjoy the great outdoors of the inland northwest. With a goal to explore, he dubbed himself the Northwestern Adventurer.  While life guided him to places he couldn’t have anticipated, he settled into a job as an industrial painter and sandblaster. On his time off, however, he would hit the back roads photographing nature to share with those who cared to watch life through his eyes. For years, people would refer to his online photo albums as "living vicariously through Ron's adventures."  To one-up the enjoyment factor, he began throwing in the unexpected.  Let's just say that Mattel surely never expected Bridal Barbie to be tucked in the depths of a 30 pound pack in the backwoods of a northeast Washington county.

After subtle prodding by many (and mom) to do more with his eye for photography, Ron played it safe, made excuses, and blocked any attempts to motivate the thought stirring in his brain. This changed, however, when a series of events led him to a concept-turned-project that would come to be known as hiking26. It began in Canada with a dumpster full of vintage clothes and "garish" worn-only-once wedding gowns that he felt the need to rescue, and the subsequent trouble he encountered crossing the border with them.  Then, while backpacking into Hells Canyon on a hot July 4th afternoon, the irresistible idea came to him to pull one of those gowns out of his pack, and pose on a precipice.  Suddenly things started to come together.  The urge to move to Portland to reconnect with art and his creative side - and to hike from the Mojave Desert Flats to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevadas along the 2650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail - surfaced.  It was time to abandon this small town life, job, and insurance, for something bigger.

While the crazy idea for this gowned journey felt right for Ron, there were logistics to consider.  The first challenge?  Money. The cost of hiking the PCT would ring in at a minimum of $5,000 for 6 months of food and replacement gear on the trail.  In looking for solutions, someone suggested he get a sponsor.  But who would sponsor the idea of "The Gowned Guy/Man with Mustache Goes for Hike?"  A friend and growing mentor pushed for more thoughts on this.  Why the gowns?  Why that particular hike?  How could the dresses, the hiking, and the photography be tied together in a way that made raising money for this "out there" project make sense?  Three weeks of solid research into the essentials of the PCT, and countless hours lost in thought on how to tie these concepts together, brought on the answers. 6 months = 26 Weeks. The PCT is just over 2600 Miles. Find 25 more dresses to make 26, and there was the name.

There were other challenges too, however.  The collecting of gowns would be more difficult than anticipated, as would raising even more funds to cover shipping costs.  And introducing the concept of hiking26 in a way that was able to grab attention would be difficult as well.  But Ron continued to brainstorm, and the pieces started to come together. The collection of gowns did as well. 

Thusfar, the assortment of "rescued" wedding gowns ranges from vintage to strange to incredibly, unhikably heavy (although excellent for portrait fun!).  And what does Ron think of wearing these previously abandoned dresses?  "I admit I’ve always found myself enthralled by the beauty of wedding gowns. They’re so fluid in motion, whether down the aisle or down the runway. Even on a dress form adorning a shop's front window, a gown emanates fantasy and illuminates dreams.  The often-detailed construction of such a masterpiece, combined with the selection process of the bride, her family and bridesmaids, and the intense amount of time that is sunk into this the one garment - it leaves me feeling that it's a great shame for it to be packed away in the back of a closet somewhere."

With plans for the big hike falling into place, Ron doesn’t go anywhere without a wedding gown stuffed in his backpack or tossed in the back of his truck. (He says he never knows when a photo opp might turn up!). On a trip to Portland one damp afternoon, he stopped to photograph railroad tracks in the Columbia River Gorge. The signature photo that resulted from this - entitled 'Momentum' - brought upon the realization that there was even more to this project than a gowned border-to-border hike.  From goofy to dramatic, the photo collection, like the dresses, is growing into a hodge-podge of strangeness that has allowed him to finally feel like he's found his (bizarre) niche in life.

In the end, this odd whirlwind of an idea is a tale to tell all.  It is a book telling of a strange adventure and a bad idea, of mountains conquered (figuratively and literally), and of a dream. Picture it!  A gallery, 26 photos, 26 points on the trail, in 26 Wedding Gowns. Next to each photo: the actual dingy, torn and tattered gown Ron donned along that stretch of trail.

"I’ve never been comfortable being referred to as a photographer. But I was gifted with my grandfather's eye for photography, I dream larger than life, and view the world a bit differently than most others. It's my great pleasure to entertain anyone that enjoys a view of the outdoors, life on the back roads, and a little sense of humor on the side. It’s these traits that borne and propelled the concept of hiking26, and I hope, with the MUCH appreciated help of everyone who's enjoying this with me, that they'll become a part of  'team 26' and help make this a reality."

Amazing story, right?!  If you'd like to help Ron advance this exercise of performance art into a reality, there are several ways you can get involved.  First, help spread the word!  Visit his website, like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter

You can also help with fund raising by purchasing one of his awesome hiking26 logo tees, right here.  And if you have other ideas, or a cause or charity that could possibly be involved with the project in some way, contact Ron.  Finally, you can donate a gown!  Check out the guidelines right here.  In Ron's words, "make your wedding dress immortal, and give it a second chance at life!"

Kudos to you Ron, for seeking out such an uncommon and creative dream, and working so hard to make it a reality.


  1. what beautifully fun photographs! i would so donate a wedding gown, if i had one. i borrowed the one i wore, a million years ago.

  2. wow! what a great project! We love kooky things like this. I would totally donate my dress since i have two!

  3. What a killer idea!! And how awesome that he's putting it into place! Hope to follow along with his journeys on his website. So cool to learn of this.

  4. Melissa you did a wonderful job with this story. I love it! I can’t wait to see Ron’s reaction. He is going to be thrilled. For all you who read this follow him on Facebook and be sure to check out hiking26 the movie on his website.

  5. Ron - you are one rad dude! I love your quirky style and your photography is gorgeous. I will be following and supporting as i can! Looking forward to it.

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Melissa! :)

  6. Melissa, I think I love you. This looks fantastic. Thank you, and JULIE too =-)

  7. This is a fabulous story and so glad you decided to post it! Following you and him.

  8. I love this project idea! So creative, weird and beautiful. Will definitely be spreading the word.

  9. Fabulous story and idea! Thank you for sharing this, I hadn't heard about it but now I am a fan! :-)

  10. Awww, Ron you rock! Thanks for the comments everyone! Be sure to help spread the word and support this incredible venture!



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