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Just Off The Beaten Path: A Philosophy for Wandering


Editor’s Note: “Off The Beaten Path” is a metaphor and not meant to imply going off trail or wandering where you’re not supposed to. It’s a philosophy for keeping your eyes open big and wide for the moments that make up the journey and let the destination sort itself out on it’s own.

Have you ever been on Facebook or Instagram and stumbled upon an emotionally captivating image, only to look at the location and realize it is a place you’ve previously visited but don’t recall? It makes you stop and wonder: where was this and how did I not see this while I was present? Some brush these questions aside and credit the anomaly to the expertise of the photographer, photo editing, or skills of someone who has explored the location in greater depth. In a world where everyone is pointing their cameras in every direction, more and more individuals are attempting to find a way to make that moment different than those who have previously experienced it. People want to make the moment theirs.

As a photographer, I often find myself clamoring about trying to capture locations in a unique perspective that sets me apart from the many others that have visited the same location. At some point in my career, though, I discovered that while the “main attraction” is captivating, the moments in between are those that are most fulfilling to take in. This is true of more than just photography, as it extends to life as well.

horsesFar too often, individuals are so compelled to see the main attraction that the beauty of the journey goes forgotten and is left only to those curious enough to explore the beauty just beyond the eye of the normal person. It’s far too much of a simplification to say this can be remedied by simply looking harder but, in actuality, this is exactly the case.

These rare, few, and beautiful moments can be found by anyone and everyone simply by going just off the beaten path. That’s not to say you should rush off onto the next adventure and run about aimlessly through the brush looking for “that moment.” I mean this metaphorically. By the beaten path, I simply mean the charted course, and the plans you’ve set for yourself. Sometimes, as I’m walking, something catches my eye and I stop and wonder whether or not that small moment or adventure is worth my time. I wonder if it is worth veering off the charted course of which I have already allotted a specific time frame.

beatenpath1More and more, I have found that some of the best moments I have photographed have been those that came completely unexpected – the ones I had to work just a little harder to obtain. Whether that was walking a few meters off my charted course, or taking a short pit stop to take in the beauty of a location next to the road I was traveling on, I have found that the best way to make the best of any journey is to listen to that small childhood curiosity that occasionally consumes your thoughts. As a child, it was quite easy to listen to this yearning because we knew so little about the world around us. Now as adults, often times we allow our certainty to govern our decisions rather than answering the call to adventure in the back of our heads.

Merriam-Webster defines adventure as, “an exciting or remarkable experience.” Individuals tend to look to the attraction as this source of excitement, yet there is so much beauty to be taken in along the way. Often, our eagerness to arrive at the destination cultivates an objective view of the journey, as simply an intermission before the main act rather than the subjective, volatile and individual experience we ourselves create. So the question arises: Why take a trip when you can make one?

beatenpath2Often, our eagerness to arrive at the destination inhibits our ability to enjoy the moments before. When visiting a new attraction, it is quite easy to allow the excitement and novelty to formulate a perspective that the state of the location you are in is always so. It’s quite easy to forget that you’ve journeyed to a place at a specific time, under unique weather conditions, and with a select group of people or even just yourself. In this way, you’ve taken advantage of a unique moment in time not shared by all who have walked the same path as you. By simply taking a moment and appreciating all of the factors that have culminated to bring you to that moment, you have already set yourself apart from the many others so blinded by the goal that they have forgotten the joy of their own journey.

Be sure to snag one of the 100 permits a day from Tallulah Gorge State Park to get this vantage point.
Be sure to snag one of the 100 permits a day from Tallulah Gorge State Park to get this vantage point.

So on your next adventure, consider every moment memorable by taking in something that will help you remember each moment. Whether you’re applying this train of thought to make your photography more individualistic, or simply to create more memories along your adventures, the message is the same. Explore your curiosity. Don’t be afraid to work just a little harder to get a different perspective. Everyone has seen the beaten path, so explore the one not everyone has taken. If most people hold the view that the small unbeaten path is not worth their time or holds too much uncertainty, then making the decision to walk it already makes you a part of a small group of explorers looking to make the most of every moment. While I advocate to wander and be different, it is important to keep in mind the rules and regulations of the parks you visit.

As always, take in, don’t put out. Leave no trace and keep wandering North Georgia.