Appeal photographer shares journey around world
Appeal Staff Writer
In Rick Gunn’s latest e-mail home, he boasted, “been there done that.”
“I did it!” he exclaimed, with more exclamation points than would be prudent to print.
The South Lake Tahoe man (former Nevada Appeal photographer) was celebrating having cycled across 1,900 miles of Australian desert, but the sentiment could have referenced a larger accomplishment.
Since Gunn left from the Golden Gate Bridge in July 2005, he has ridden his bike through 31 countries, taking photos and writing stories along the way to share his experience.
“It’s been important to me to tell these stories because it is all too easy to forget that each decision we make in our personal lives is capable of having a profound effect outside of our lives, outside of our communities, outside of our borders. To offer a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that the way we eat, shop, consume and vote can have a severe effect on many we may never see,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I’ve always hoped that by the telling my stories of these deeply personal encounters in the world, it may motivate some to switch off that TV set, and switch on their motivation to help find sustainable solutions to these problems.”
His stories and photos have been printed in several publications including g the Nevada Appeal, Tahoe Daily Tribune and on his Web site rickgunnphotography.com. Calling his trip the Wish Tour, he’s encouraged readers to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The 43-year-old moved to South Lake Tahoe from Castro Valley, Calif., 15 years ago to attend a junior college. He never left, citing a “severe, unending bout of outdoor enthusiasm.”
He worked four years as a photographer at the Tahoe Daily Tribune in South Lake Tahoe, then 10 more at the Nevada Appeal in Carson City.
In addition to documenting local news, Gunn also traveled regularly, visiting 16 countries – traveling mostly by bicycle – and providing slideshows for the community upon each return.
And he always dreamed of cycling around the world – a dream he dedicates, in part, to his mother.
He was 18 when his mother died. Her last wish was to visit Europe, and she did. But when she got there, she was too sick to travel and had to quickly return home.
“I learned a powerful lesson: Be awake and alive and pursue your dreams,” he said in an interview before he left. “In a certain sense, part of her will see the world now – and that part is me”
Although his original intention was to cycle 20,000 miles around the world in two years, Gunn’s plans have since changed.
About halfway through the trip, his 8-year-old Labrador retriever, Tucson – or “my buddy,” as Gunn most often referred to him – died.
So Gunn decided to extend the journey.
“I might as well get everything done I wanted to get done,” he said in a telephone call. “Now, I’m coming back in May.”
He plans to cycle along the Australian coast to Sydney, then fly to New Zealand and cycle the north and south island. From there, he will fly to Canada and bike from Vancouver back to where he started at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Be the change
As Gunn’s journey has taken him to remote corners of rural solitude and to polluted, overpopulated cities, he has noted similarities.
“What has constantly amazed me has been the similarity of people around the planet, be they white, black, Muslim, Catholic or Bhuddist,” he wrote. “I have learned that the vast majority want to be free, to live in peace, to love, to care for their families, and practice their spirituality in a world free of violence and oppression, just like you and me.”
Despite differences in politics, ideology and culture, Gunn said, there were few barriers.
“I have generally been welcomed everywhere,” he said. “A lot of it has been magic.”
He told of breaking down on his bike in the Middle East and a Muslim man taking him in and “bending over backwards” to care for him.
It hasn’t all been magic, though – some of which he attributes to his “gangliness and sizable nose.”
“In all of Indonesia,” he said, “you will rarely find a white person in some of the villages I rode through. I would have hundreds of people pointing at me.”
He said he walked into a store once and a woman fell back against the wall and slid down it in laughter at the sight of the 6-foot, 6-inch lanky American.
“You want a cup of coffee and everybody is pointing at you and making a sign to their noses,” he commiserated. “It was cute at first ….”
But those are the small challenges.
Although he’s fulfilling his life’s dream, Gunn said it has also “tried me more than anything else in my life.”
Seeing the poverty, suppression and other despairing conditions around the world, he finds it hard sometimes to fight being depressed.
But he clings to the idea: Be the change you want to see in the world.
So as he travels to new places, he tries to schedule one to two days where he can spend volunteering. He’s worked at schools, orphanages, historical sites and planted trees.
“Unless I’m actively walking the walk, being the change, it doesn’t do much good to just identify the problem without trying to be part of the solution.”
And he hopes others will follow suit.
“Through my camera and through my words, people get the chance to look beyond their lives and redirect the way they look at the world, and maybe see if there’s something they want to do to help,” he said. “We are all one human family, and the success of our nation, (and the human race for that matter), is inextricably linked to the success of all nations. The failure of a child to live free from hunger, disease and poverty is not a failure of an individual nation, but the failure of the greater world community.”
The worst question, Gunn says, is, “What do you plan to do when you get home?”
“Continue shooting and writing,” he answers, and adds in sarcasm, “earn a degree in advanced alcoholism.”
But he is sure of one thing: “I miss home drastically,” he said.
Traveling through much of the industrialized world where forests have been cleared to make room for factories and streams are a dumping ground for sewage, he said, has given him a greater appreciation for his Lake Tahoe home.
“I’m an outdoors person, always have been. To be out here in decimated forests, it’s been hard,” he said. “I love my homeland. The wilderness we have there is precious.”
He also misses his family, friends and the dog he’ll never see again.
“My life has changed,” he said.
Once he gets home, he plans on spreading Tucson’s ashes near Snow Lake, a place they frequented.
Other than that, his plans are ambiguous.
“The hardest part will be understanding how to continue what I’ve started,” he said. “How do I come back and still make an impact. For years, I’ll be pulling apart the threads from this trip and putting them together.
“Right now, I’m overwhelmed emotionally and mentally. I set out to learn about the world, but have mostly learned about myself.”
• Teri Vance is features editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 881-1272. Vance is away from her desk just now studying for a master’s in journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, but she can be reached at the number above.