John Dunaway – The Life and Times of a Merchant Mariner

John Dunaway – Life and Times of a Merchant Mariner


John Dunaway at sea

John Dunaway is a Texas-based merchant mariner who spends six months each year traveling the world as the captain of large cargo ships. Whether cruising the calm, warm waters of Central America or avoiding Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, John’s goal is the same: deliver the cargo efficiently while ensuring the safety of his crew—quite the responsibility for a 32-year-old. When not at sea, John is an avid bird hunter, surfer, and all-around adventurer who uses his downtime to explore everywhere from Jackson Hole to Canyonlands to Antelope Island with his wife and young daughter. Thanks to a talent for photography and writing, John has gained a huge following on Instagram, where he documents his exploits on his account, AbstractConformity.

So you might be asking, what does a ship captain have to do with mountains and/or prairies? Although John may spend most of his time on the high seas, far away from the American West, you’ll notice that his optimistic perspective, focused sense of purpose, and thirst for adventure parallel the attitudes and outlooks of many of my previous podcast guests. Also like other guests, he is well read, a deep thinker, and has a genuine conservation ethic thanks to his close connection to the natural world. Although the objects of our affections may be different, our underlying values and priorities are surprisingly similar.

After almost a year of recording this podcast, I was excited to switch it up a little with this in-depth conversation with John about a subject that was fairly new to me. We start by covering the basics of his job—how one becomes a ship captain, particulars on the size of the ships, and details of day-to-day life on a 90-day ocean voyage. Then we dig deeper into some of his thoughts on leadership, his rituals and superstitions, how fatherhood has changed his outlook, and how he manages the pressure that comes along with being responsible for a massive ship, his crew, and the cargo. He also tells a few crazy stories from Africa and India, and he shares some insights from his recent trips around the American West. As usual, we discuss favorite books, films, and thoughts on conservation.

I found this to be a fascinating conversation, and I’d love to hear what you think. If you have a moment, please shoot me an email and let me know your thoughts. As always, thanks for taking the time to listen; hope you enjoy.

Photos courtesy of John Dunaway


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

3:00 – How John describes his work
4:20 – Details on the ships
5:40 – Length of the typical ocean voyage
8:35 – How John became a ship captain
10:25 – A typical day on an ocean voyage
12:40 – John’s morning routine
19:00 – Superstitions on the ship
21:00 – Details on the crew and boat
22:15 – How John leads his crew
25:20 – Comparing leadership methods of old-timers and younger captains
27:20 – Ernest Shackleton
28:40 – Common misconceptions
30:35 – Most dangerous areas John has visited
31:00 – Adventures with Somali pirates
33:50 – Robberies at port
36:15 – Getting a gun shoved in his chest in Mumbai
38:40 – John’s early years in Brazil and Texas
39:10 – Family ties to ships and the ocean
41:00 – John’s decision to pursue ships as a career
41:55 – John’s advice to young students at the Merchant Marine Academy
43:45 – How fatherhood has changed his perspective
49:30 – How John became a well-known photographer
54:45 – Background on John’s ability as a writer
58:00 – John’s recent adventures in the American West
1:03:30 – What was most striking about the American West
1:07:30 – Favorite books
1:10:15 – Favorite documentaries
1:11:00 – Best piece of advice he’s ever received
1:12:30 – Biggest challenge facing the oceans today
1:15:00 – John’s request to the listeners
1:15:40 – Connect with John online
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Tyler Sharp

Tyler Sharp is an adventurer, sportsman, conservationist, and world traveler with a gift for telling stories through images and the written word. While he may be best known for his photography focusing on Americana and Western lifestyle, travel, and adventure, Tyler has built an impressive resume that includes filmmaking, directing, writing, and creative strategy. His work has taken him to some of the most spectacular and far-flung regions of the globe, with an emphasis on East Africa, Montana, and his home state of Texas.

As a devoted hunter and fisherman, Tyler has chased game in some of the world’s wildest regions, giving him a global perspective on the importance of natural resources, game management, and sustainable hunting practices. As you’ll hear in our conversation, Tyler has thought deeply about the practical and ethical implications of hunting and fishing both abroad and here in the American West. His sincere devotion to conservation and adventure shines through in his work and has made him the go-to photographer for iconic brands such as Filson, Cabelas, and Stetson, to name a few.

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Photo by Tyler Sharp

Tyler and I met up in Estes Park, Colorado, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, for a fun conversation that could have gone on for hours. We discussed his beginnings as a professional photographer, which started in earnest when he moved to East Africa just out of college—he’s got some intense stories from his travels that include run-ins with lions and leopards. We covered his thoughts on conservation, and how his time traveling abroad has given him a clearer understanding of conservation issues facing the American West. Then the conversation took an unexpected but interesting turn when we chatted about his commitment to Kung Fu (yes, Kung Fu!), meditation, and eastern philosophy.

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Photo by Tyler Sharp

Be sure to check out the episode notes for the full list of topics covered, because we touch on a lot.  This is a wide-ranging conversation that takes many surprising twists and turns.  Hope you enjoy!

All photos courtesy of Tyler Sharp


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:40 – How Tyler describes his work
3:40 – Tyler’s niche in the creative world
4:25 – Tyler’s background
5:35 – Heading to Los Angeles from Texas for college
7:00 – Post college adventures in Africa
8:10 – The shock of moving to Tanzania from LA
10:30 – Learning how to “grease the wheels” in Africa
11:25 – How time in Africa changed Tyler
13:20 – Threat of people versus wildlife
14:10 – Craziest experience in Africa (spoiler alert – it involves a lion!)
20:40 – Showdown with a leopard
22:20 – Transition from Africa to American West
24:15 – His choice to focus in on his passion
26:30 – Specific actions that have allowed Tyler to separate himself from the competition
31:10 – Tyler’s personal brand
32:00 – Tyler’s conservation ethic
35:00 – Discussion about conservation and hunting
39:00 – Hunters and others coming together to save public lands
40:00 – Details on The Modern Huntsman
41:55 – Blowback from posting hunting photos online
44:35 – Importance of having conversations versus fighting
46:30 – Tyler’s definition of “conservation”
50:00 – Kung Fu and other martial arts
52:50 – Physical and mental benefits of Kung Fu
56:00 – Favorite books
1:00:50 – Advice to take better landscape photos
1:03:50 – Favorite place in the West
1:05:30 – Tyler’s request of the listeners
1:09:50 – Connect with Tyler online

Camrin Dengel – Slow Living in the American West

Camrin Dengel – Slow Living in the American West


Camrin Dengel is a professional lifestyle photographer who lives and works on the quiet side of the Teton Mountain Range in Teton Valley, Idaho. Her work focuses on a broad range of subjects, with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture, hunting, fishing, and life in and around her mountain community. In her work and leisure, Camrin is a devoted proponent of slow living, and she strives to approach her profession and life in a manner that is intentional, simple, meaningful, and positive.

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Photo: Camrin Dengel

Growing up in Valdez, Alaska gave Camrin a unique perspective and toughness (she calls it “stubbornness”) that have allowed her to pursue her passion for art full time, while staying true to her ideals and enjoying a slow-living lifestyle. She attended college on a running scholarship with the intention of becoming an engineer, but decided midway through that art and photography were her true calling. After graduation, she moved straight to Teton Valley where she has built a life and business centered around documenting the people and places that make the American West such a special place to live.

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Photo: Camrin Dengel

I’ve spent a lot of time in Teton Valley and can honestly say that Camrin’s work captures the landscapes and lifestyle more authentically than any artist I’ve ever seen. She is obviously a talented photographer, but she is also a super-interesting person who has managed to sidestep a good deal of the “busyness” and distractions that dominate many of our lives. In our conversation, we discuss her career trajectory, and also her love for the community of Teton Valley. We dig deep into the idea of slow living, and she offers some thoughts on ways for people to adopt a slower, more intentional lifestyle. As usual, we discuss favorite books, documentaries, and challenges and opportunities facing the American West.

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Photo: Camrin Dengel

This is a really fun episode full of lots of great info. Be sure to check out the episode notes for links to everything we discuss. Hope you enjoy!

All photos courtesy of Camrin Dengel


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:30 – How Camrin describes her work
3:50 – Good example of Camrin’s work
5:30 – Teton Valley explained
7:25 – How she ended up in Teton Valley
8:30 – Transition from adventure photography to lifestyle
9:50 – Thoughts on slow living
10:45 – Ways to live slowly as effortlessly as possible
13:25 – Being intentional with social media
14:20 – Advice for adopting a slower lifestyle
15:30 – Growing up in Alaska
16:35 – Unique aspects of growing up in Alaska
18:50 – How Alaska shaped Camrin’s perspective
20:05 – College years in California
21:15 – From engineer student to artist
23:15 – Time with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council
24:35 – Similarities between fisherman, ranchers, and farmers
27:10 – Camrin’s definition of conservation
28:00 – Thoughts on fishing and hunting
31:45 – How Camrin developed the confidence to follow her passion
33:15 – Role models and mentors
35:10 – Other possible career paths
36:45 – Advice to aspiring photographers
39:00 – Photography advice
40:30 – Book recomendations
41:20 – Slow living resources
42:45 – Favorite documentaries
44:20 – Surprising activities
48:00 – Favorite place
49:20 – Ideas for off the beaten path experiences in Alaska
51:00 – The insanity of the Mt. Marathon
55:15 – Biggest challenge facing the American West
57:30 – Request of the listeners
58:50 – Connect with Camrin online

Ben Masters is a filmmaker and conservationist whose work explores some of the most important conservation challenges facing the American West today. He was the mastermind behind the award-winning documentary Unbranded, which tells the story of Ben and his three buddies who ride wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada as part of an epic five month-adventure. The film also examines the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse Program, a well-intentioned, but now controversial, government program created to protect the wild horses that roam the western U.S. For those who love the American West, Unbranded is one of the best documentaries in recent memory—it combines hardcore adventure with important conservation issues, all while accurately capturing the true beauty of the American West.Unbranded - film

Conservation is the common theme running through all of Ben’s work, and his passion is fortified with a deep knowledge of natural history, public lands, and policy issues related to the American West. His expertise recently earned him a spot on the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, the group tasked with solving the challenging issues surrounding the program he profiled in Unbranded. His most recent film, Pronghorn Revival, is the story of Texas wildlife biologists capturing and relocating a struggling herd of pronghorns (i.e. antelopes). Not one to rest on his laurels, Ben is working hard on more conservation projects to be revealed in the coming months.

Unbranded - cliffWhen we recorded this episode, Ben was less than a day away from leaving on a multi-week guiding trip to the area around Yellowstone National Park, so I really appreciated him making the time to chat.  In just under an hour, we managed to cover a wide range of conservation-related topics: the BLM’s Wild Horse Program, invasive species in the American West, thoughts on hunting, as well as Ben’s personal background, favorite books, favorite documentaries, and a crazy horse stampede story… with plenty of other intesting subjects thrown in.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Unbranded. You’ll love it.  In the meantime, enjoy my conversation with Ben Masters.

All photos courtesy of Ben Masters


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Episode Notes

Topics Covered

3:05 – How Ben describes his work
3:35 – Ben’s upcoming adventures
5:40 – Overview of Unbranded documentary
7:45 – Genesis for the idea for Unbranded
9:45 – Overview of the BLM Wild Horse Program
10:15 – Natural history of horses in North America
14:20 – Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act
17:16 – Ben’s thoughts solving the wild horse challenge
21:10 – Political challenges surrounding wild horses
23:45 – More North American natural history
24:55 – What “conservation” means to Ben
26:00 – Ben’s personal connection to conservation
27:40 – Resources for understanding the history of conservation
29:00 – Conservation challenges facing the West in the next 20 years
32:10 – Ben’s thoughts on hunting and conservation
33:45 – Cautionary tale of Texas Screwworms
36:30 – Overview of Pronghorn Revival
38:35 – Favorite books
40:20 – Favorite documentary
41:30 – Ben’s work with veterans
42:23 – Hobbies that Ben enjoys
43:48 – How Ben learned the art of filmmaking
45:00 – Craziest outdoor experience
47:50 – Ben’s favorite place in the West
48:40 – Ben’s request of the listeners
51:30 – Connect with Ben online

Information Referenced

Stephen Smith – Adventures in Photography, Motorcycles, and Ranches

Stephen Smith – Adventures in Photography, Motorcycles, and Ranches


Stephen Smith is an agrarian, adventure, and lifestyle photographer who has successfully combined his love of ranches, farms, motorcycles, and travel into a full-time career in professional photography. Thanks to his artistic eye, hard work, persistence, and willingness to take risks, Stephen has successfully created a niche for himself in the crowded arena of professional photography. (Check him out on Instagram.)

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith

He is obviously a naturally talented artist, but it seems that a great deal of Stephen’s success can be traced back to the fact that he is committed to putting himself in unique—often difficult, uncomfortable, or scary—situations that allow him to capture one-of-a-kind experiences and perspectives. Among other things, he has worked on a 90,000-acre Colorado cattle ranch, taken a five-month solo motorcycle trip through South America, and put in time at several California and Colorado vineyards, all while constantly shooting photos and refining his craft.

Stephen’s solid understanding of agriculture and years of adventure are evident in his work. His images are as authentic as they are artistic, and he knows how to capture the true spirit of a person, place, animal, or experience in a fresh style that creates a genuine connection with the audience. I came across Stephen’s agricultural photography several years ago and was immediately drawn in. (And keep in mind, I can be a bit jaded when it comes to ranch photos—I look at them all day as part of my job.) I have been a fan of his work ever since.

I was super-excited to finally meet Stephen and learn more about his work and personal story. We had a fun (and funny) conversation and covered a wide range of interesting topics. We dug into his connection to agriculture and talked in depth about how ranches and farms play an important role in land conservation. We talked about motorcycles and some of his adventures. We discussed the importance of international travel and his lessons learned from immersion in foreign cultures. We obviously chatted in detail about photography, as well as an insane bear story that you definitely need to hear.

Cool guy. Thoughtful conversation. Crazy stories. Great episode!

All photos courtesy of Stephen Smith


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Episode Notes

Topics Covered

3:55 – How Stephen describes his work
4:55 – How he decided to focus on agriculture as a photography subject
7:45 – How long he’s been shooting photographs
10:00 – Lesson learned from starting with film photography
12:00 – Stephen’s time working on a Colorado Ranch
16:00 – Overview of holistic range management
19:15 – What “conservation” means to Stephen
22:30 – How his deep understanding of agriculture is reflected in his work
26:00 – Some examples of extraordinary agricultural operations
31:00 – Economic benefits of holistic management
32:30 – Stephen’s love of motorcycles
36:00 – Connection between motorcycles and agriculture
37:00 – Five-month solo motorcycle adventure
42:30 – Lesson learned from traveling and living abroad
47:10 – Books on motorcycle adventures
48:30 – Recommended motorcycle trips through the West
50:00 – Upcoming Mexico motorcycle adventure
54:30 – Big breaks versus a slow grind
58:00 – Advice to young photographers
1:03:30 – Favorite books
1:05:20 – Favorite documentary
1:06:40 – Thoughts on surfing
1:08:45 – Simple advice to be a better landscape photographer
1:13:00 – Insane story about being chased by a bear
1:20:20 – Favorite place in the West
1:21:10 – Biggest threat facing the West
1:24:10 – Stephen’s request of the listeners
1:26:00 – Connect with Stephen online

Information Referenced

With the east coast covered in snow and a storm scheduled to hit the Rockies on Sunday, here are a few suggested articles and a video to keep you entertained if you’re hunkered down.  Enjoy!
  • ‘Unbranded’ Sheds Light on Wild Horse Issues in the West, Outside Magazine – I had not heard of this film before stumbling across this article, but I’m hoping to watch it in the coming weeks.  The article delves into many of the issues that I find interesting – adventure, ranches, political issues about western land – so I have high expectations for this film.
  • How Two Filmmakers Cracked the World’s Most Bizarre Trail Race, Outside Magazine – After reading the article above, I fell down the rabbit hole of linked sidebar stories and saw this one.  I love running long trail races, but the Barkley Marathons is crazy even by my skewed standards.  Also, I’m always intrigued when filmmakers can make running through the woods for 30+ hours interesting, so I’m excited to check out this film soon.
  • Stewardship with Vision, Western Landowners Alliance – Western Landowners Alliance is a cutting-edge organization and an excellent resource for all things related to ranches, land ownership, and issues in the West, and I highly suggest signing up for their email list.  They periodically release informative videos about their work, and this is the latest one.  Very well produced and informative.
  • Town Milk Put Tarboro on the Map, Our State Magazine – My wife came across this article from Our State Magazine, a great publication that focuses on unique, upbeat stories from our home state of North Carolina.  This one focuses on one particular aspect of my hometown of Tarboro and even has a quote from my grandfather, who was the longtime mayor and town doctor.
  • Why You Should be Talking About Work All Holiday Season, Ryan Holiday – One of my pet peeves is when I meet people who get annoyed when I ask them what they do for work.  Most of us spend at least half of our waking hours working, so why wouldn’t we want to talk about it?  Maybe their work is mind-numbingly boring, they’re no good at it, or possibly a combination of both.  Ryan Holiday, an extremely smart author and thinker, tackles the subject.
  • This is Your Brain on Nature, National Geographic – I’m a firm believer that spending time outdoors is good for everyone, whether you’re running 100 miles or simply sitting on a bench in a park.  Proximity to open space and nature is one of the main reasons I live here in Boulder, three blocks from the trails.  The article examines this idea in full NatGeo style, with a thorough analysis and stunning photos.
  • Deconstructing urgent vs. important, Seth Godin – Wisdom from Seth.

Go Broncos!  Go Panthers!

Head over to the Mountain Khakis blog to read my latest blog post “Fly Fishing Adventures in the Vail Valley,” where I discuss some of the unbelievably fun fishing on Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch.  As you’ll read, the ranch’s 2.5 miles of Brush Creek is some of the most coveted private water in the Vail Valley, and it has rarely been fished.  The combination of its healthy riparian ecosystem and lack of fishing pressure makes it a unique, productive, and fun brown trout fishery.

Fly Fishing Adventures in the Vail Valley

Also, if you haven’t already, check out the 4-minute video we produced about fishing on the ranch.  We follow a local guide as he fishes the creek for the first time and manages to snag a beautiful, nice-sized brown.

 

We just released our new video for Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch that focuses exclusively on the ranch’s private fishing.  It was a blast to film, and I think it came out well.  Enjoy!

Fly-Fishing on Brush Creek

 

I’m excited to finally release the new promotional video for Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch!  After two long days of filming, one crashed drone, dodging two intense lightening storms, and lots of false casts with my fly rod, the video is complete.  Special thanks to Will Fowler at Camera Head Media for all his hard work and artistry– I think the video tells the story of the ranch perfectly!

I’m very excited to announce my newest listing, the 1,516-acre Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch located just south of Eagle, Colorado.  It truly is a one-of-a-kind property: 2.5 miles of private fishing, trophy hunting, hay production, and adjoining BLM land, all located 7 miles from the Eagle County Airport and a short distance from Vail and Beaver Creek.

Head over to the Mirr Ranch Group website for all the details:

Hardscrabble Mountain Ranch

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