On November 1, 2008, my life changed forever.
That was the day I drove to the Charleston Animal Society in South Carolina with a plan to rescue a dog. This wasn’t a rash decision. My wife and I had separated five months earlier and when she moved out, our two dogs went with her. As with many young marriages, there was no one reason or person to blame; sometimes you realize you want different experiences out of life.
Prior to meeting my ex-wife, I never had a dog or even thought of owning one. When we met, she already had a Jack Russell named J.R., then a few years later we adopted Cooper, a 2-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer. Growing up in a family that had cats, I found out very quickly that having one dog, let alone two, was a whole other ballgame!
It wasn’t until after they moved out that I realized how much I missed having a dog. The silence inside the house was brutal. The absence of hearing paws click along the hardwood floor left me frighteningly alone with my thoughts. Even with a support system made up of friends, family, and regular trips to counseling, coming home to the silence was dreadful.
I finally found myself at the shelter to meet Folly, a Black Lab puppy who was up for adoption. After our meeting, it was apparent that he was going to be more work than I had the energy for at the time.
As I was about to leave, I had this odd feeling that I should walk through the facility one more time. He was easy to miss the first time; out of at least a dozen or so dogs, he was the only one not barking. His name was “Tater” and he sat quietly in the back of his kennel, looking suspicious of all that was going on around him. I’ll never forget that look; it’s a look that he still carries to this day. After filling out the paperwork, we walked out of the shelter and I gave him his new name, Sully.
The next several years would prove to be very hard for me emotionally and the timing of Sully and I finding one another was serendipitous. Looking back, I still remember staring at him and feeling that he was just as scared and lonely as I was. Together, we formed a bond and a new journey began.
Six years ago we drove across the country when we moved to California. Since then, we’ve easily walked, run, hiked, climbed, camped, and driven over 100,000 miles and have been to 27 states and Mexico together. We’re a package deal and I love that!
Early on, I discovered that Sully was always camera-ready, posing stoically or jumping with excitement, reflecting my mood and emotions. It then occurred to me that this was my way of documenting my own life without having the camera focused on me. Because wherever Sully was, I was too.
After deciding to leave my job and start my own studio in September 2014, it was fitting that I name it after Sully. Again, this wasn’t a rash decision. The day will come and Sully will pass, but the impact he has had on me is something that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. Without him, I would not have healed as quickly as I did, or moved to California, or traveled, or…the list goes on and on.
It’s with that I bring you SeeSullivan, The Travel Diaries: Part 1, a collection of photos and journal entries from our first seven years together. We’ve had an awesome time, but our journey is far from over and the book has yet to be finished!
–Nate Beale, December 2015
This is one of the first photos of Sully, taken while visiting friends three weeks after I adopted him. He loved their property and enjoyed running through the woods with their dog, Jax. The “I’m-so-happy” look makes having a dog so special.
Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, 2008
Since the early 2000s, I had wanted to move to California but ended up moving to South Carolina instead. The plan was to stay there for six months; I met someone and stayed for seven years. On July 31, 2009, the divorce was final; on August 3, I tendered my resignation; and on August 29, we left Charleston and all that was home to us. Yet, it felt right to leave.
We cruised up the East Coast to visit with family before turning left and heading west. Before leaving my parents’ house we spent a day going through gear and checking the tents for leaks. It would be four years before either of us returned to my childhood home for another visit.
Seaford, Delaware, 2009
Checking the map after getting lost in Las Vegas during rush hour on Day 6 of the cross-country trip. The stress level was extremely high and the three-car caravan that we had to maintain was wearing on us. Sully kept his cool and you wouldn’t have known he had been cooped up in a U-Haul for six days, let alone traveling for the last two weeks. We would end up in San Diego the following day and begin a new chapter in our lives.
Las Vegas, Nevada, 2009
Photo by Karim Ghonem
Sporting his REI doggie backpack on Mt. Woodson in California. It only took two times of wearing the pack for him to make the association that it meant we were going someplace fun. We put that pack and harness to the test before upgrading to a new one with more bells and whistles three years later. To this day, he still gets amped up when the pack comes out.
Poway, California, 2010
Growing up both without a dog and not taking advantage of the outdoors, I was eager to make up for lost time. Taken at the summit of Sitton Peak, this was our first overnight backpacking trip. The nighttime temperature dropped below 40 degrees and we had to hike out the following morning in a very cold downpour.
As we broke down camp in the rain, Sully sat watching us intently. He didn’t whine or seem restless at all. Instead, he sat at attention, like a sentinel, waiting for us to move out. It was in that moment that I realized it didn’t matter what were doing as long as he’s with me, he’s happy.
San Mateo Wilderness, California, 2010
A roadside stop to view the wildlife on our first trip to the desert. We would purposely veer off course and go off-roading to drive through washes and down old mining roads to the slot canyons and explore.
Anza Borrego Desert, California, 2010
Photo by Sourav Dey
Sully’s first experience in the snow while on the Garnet Peak Trail. As soon as he was out of the Jeep, he was running around in circles, torpedoing into the deep snow, and having a blast. It was so much fun to watch because he couldn’t contain himself!
These mountains are less than an hour drive from downtown San Diego. When we left the house that morning, it was 65 degrees and sunny. An hour later it looked like this; 40 degrees with a foot of snow on the ground and starting to snow again.
Laguna Mountains, California, 2011
Photo by Sourav Dey
There was a two-year stretch where I was required to travel a lot for business. The result was that we weren’t able to get out of town for the extended trips like we were accustomed to. One of the many things that make Southern California an awesome place to call home is that we have hundreds of local hikes to choose from. Even though we weren’t leaving town as much, we still had a ball and spent a lot of time hiking South Fortuna Mountain and other trails with friends and their dogs.
Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego, California, 2012
In 2013, after a very long period of cranking out work at my then agency, I decided that it was time for a break. We spent 16 days driving cross country and back. Visiting friends along the way, many of which neither of us had seen since leaving Charleston, the trip would end up being another life-changing experience for me. Out of all our time on the road, we only had to stay in a hotel four times.
While stopping in New Orleans to visit a friend, I opted for a dog-friendly bed & breakfast that was within walking distance to the French Quarter. It was a warm night and we found a bar with outdoor seating where we ate Gulf Coast oysters and caught up while Sully took it all in from under the table. This photo was taken the next morning on the doorstep to our room as we were preparing to hit the road again and head toward Orlando.
New Orleans, Louisiana, 2013
Taken that same day along the panhandle of Florida, I had to stop at the first site of a Dunkin’ Donuts. Growing up in the Mid-Atlantic, then living in Boston, you live and die by “The Dunk.” This photo defines not only my love of Sully and Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s also a fine example of clean design and product placement.
Crestview, Florida, 2013
A very special moment: Almost five years to the day that I had adopted him, we visited the very doorstep I brought Sully home to in Charleston. He hadn’t been home since we left for California four years prior. As he got out of the car he quickly ran up to the door and sat waiting to go inside. It was one of many moments during our cross-country trip that I sensed something was happening and big changes were about to take place.
James Island, South Carolina, 2013
Photo by Trey Hayes
Rest stop en route to Denver from Kansas City. I didn’t know it at the time, but three days later while passing through The Rockies, we’d be stuck in some of the worst driving conditions I’ve ever seen.
Burlington, Colorado, 2013
The original plan was to leave Denver and make it to Utah, then Las Vegas, then home. But after our three hour snow-filled driving ordeal through Vail Pass in Colorado, I wanted to get someplace I knew well. Having frequently traveled to Vegas for business, I felt more comfortable there than I did at some roadside motel. Even after 14 hours of driving I was up at 6 a.m. the following morning, hoping to get a photo of Sully in front of “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.
I kid you not, there was only one other person at the sign when we got there before 7 a.m. We walked up and snapped some photos without interruption. As we were leaving a bus pulled up with a large tour group. I’m not huge on Vegas by any stretch, but Sully in front of the sign is iconic to me. And to know that we had it all to ourselves was priceless.
Las Vegas, Nevada, 2013
Later that same day, we finally made it home to the bungalow. All told, we were on the road for 16 days and drove almost 7,000 miles through 18 states. While driving somewhere along I-70 in western Kansas, I had this feeling that one of three things was about to happen: I was either going to leave San Diego, meet someone special, or find a new job.
The following morning, as I walked into the coffee shop near my house, it was quickly clear that moving was not an option. At that point I had been in San Diego over four years, but more importantly, Golden Hill for two-and-a-half. That morning at the coffee shop, I truly felt like I had found my home and a place that I loved.
Golden Hill, San Diego, California, 2013
Less than a month later, we were back on the road en route to the San Francisco Bay Area. On the heels of our cross-country experience, this trip was something I felt like I needed to do. We were going to spend Thanksgiving with friends who moved there several months prior. I was beyond sad after they left San Diego because they had become family to me. And this particular Thanksgiving was special because it was going to be our fifth consecutive one together.
It was because of Sully that I even met this couple. Shortly after moving to San Diego, we were out hiking and passed them on the trail. They commented on Sully’s backpack and we ended up talking the rest of the hike. We exchanged contact information and have been friends ever since.
During our visit, we made it out for several hikes, including the one seen here from the Marin Headlands looking toward The Golden Gate Bridge. All told, Sully and I had traveled over 9,000 miles over a six-week period.
Marin Headlands, California, 2013
Taken in early January, Sully’s expression, the joy you see, was a reflection of my own happiness. It was back to the outdoors for us and we started the year off right by regularly getting out on the weekends. More importantly, I had met someone and this was our first hike together. The feeling that kept tugging on me during my cross-country road trip was slowly taking place.
Looking back on it now, I can say that hike set the tone for our relationship and we’re still happily together as I write this.
Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego, California, 2014
While trying to stay close to home for several months, some friends and I decided to do a short-notice, overnight backpack in the San Gabriel Mountains. Even though temperatures dropped to the low 50s at night, daytime temps were above 80 degrees and we almost ran out of water on the trip. Having the summit all to ourselves the next morning, even for a brief moment, made it all the more worthwhile.
Ontario Peak, San Gabriel Mountains, California, 2014
Photo by Kevin Farnam
In less than a five-hour drive, you can be in the small beach town of San Felipe, located on The Sea of Cortez in Baja. Some friends had been making the trip down there for over 10 years and invited me multiple times, but this was the first one I was able to make happen. It’s usually a large group and we rent an entire building of condos for the weekend.
What I remember most from that first trip: Enjoying beers and fish tacos on the Malecón immediately after arriving and how happy Sully was running off-leash on the beach with the other dogs the entire weekend. It was obscenely hot that trip, but that first night makes me smile every time I think about it. As Sully stands on our third floor balcony here, it captures not only the view but also the vibe of Mexico.
San Felipe, Mexico, 2014
I had been restless ever since coming home from the 2013 cross-country trip and needed to find my next adventure. So I decided to plan a trip to Wyoming to climb the Grand Teton. I had read about a particular climb and guide service in a magazine a few years back and was looking to find someone to do the trip with. Even though, we had only been dating for a few months, my girlfriend, who is an avid outdoors person, jumped at the opportunity.
She suggested that we drive instead of fly to Wyoming and we started planning a two-week road trip that would allow us to bring the dogs and camp along the way. I really wanted to see the University of Oregon campus and Heyward Field where Steve Prefontaine, the 70s track superstar, made a name for himself. As a way to pay homage, we did a short run on campus and found the track, a timeless and beautiful facility. I love this photo because it’s a great example of when a candid moment makes the best photo.
Eugene, Oregon, 2014
As to be expected, the Pacific Northwest showed us lots of rain and cloudy skies. While both driving and camping along the coast of Oregon, very little could be seen of the water and beautiful rock formations that make up the coast. When we first arrived in Seattle the weather looked to be more of the same with little hope of it changing.
But the rain did stop briefly and we made the most our one night there, enjoying an outdoor dinner downtown with the dogs. Shortly after taking this photo of Sully at Pike Place Market, it started to drizzle but somehow waited until we got to the car before it began to downpour. Even so, we both came away from Seattle wanting to go back for another visit.
Seattle, Washington, 2014
Anyone who’s ever been to a National Park in America with a dog probably knows that they’re not that dog-friendly. Even so, with the help of the staff at the boat rental facility in Glacier National Park, we had one of the most memorable moments on our trip.
With backcountry trails being off-limits to dogs, we resigned ourselves to walking the paved paths along the lakes inside the park. While at Lake MacDonald we found a kiosk that rented canoes, kayaks, and rowboats but chickened out in asking if we could rent one and walked away.
Knowing that it could be a regrettable decision, we turned around and went back to the kiosk, asking if we could rent a canoe and take the dogs out with us. To our surprise, they said that no one had ever asked them that and provided that if the dogs didn’t jump out of the boat they didn’t mind. Both dogs and humans had a blast and I scored one of my all-time favorite photos of Sully and I in the process!
Glacier National Park, Montana, 2014
Photo by Amber Elam
We ended up traveling to seven states and driving 4,000 miles on the trip. As we made our way from Montana to Wyoming, we would periodically pull off at turnouts and rest areas to take in the scenery. Behind Sully, you can see why they call Montana “Big Sky Country.”
The finale was supposed to be summiting the Grand Teton but we were shutout after getting blasted with snow and ice at base camp the morning of the summit climb. It was very disappointing; leaving the two of us upset which led to some tense moments as we broke down camp later that morning. However, the disappointment was short-lived. Once we picked up the dogs from the kennel and began the two-day drive back to San Diego, we were happy to be going home.
Roadside Turnout, Montana, 2014
I’ve had my fair share of middle-of-the-night trips to the emergency vet but none of those situations prepared me for what happened the day before this photo was taken. We were out hiking one of our favorite trails when Sully was attacked by two dogs who were off-leash. Though etched into my memory, trying to put what happened into words is tough.
What I can say is this: It was the most chaotic and terrifying two minutes that I’ve experienced thus far in my life. Sully yelping while trying to get away from the dogs; the helplessness I felt as I tried to intervene; the anger that seethed inside me as the dogs’ owners were too slow to react; the sadness that hit me as I saw blood coming from Sully. This was happening not only to a dog but my best friend. With two quarter-size puncture wounds on his left hip, a smaller one under his chin, and lots of bruising from his neck to his lower chest, he didn’t whine once the entire mile-long hike back to the car.
Even knowing that he was going to be fine with no life-threatening injuries, I laid on the floor with him in the vet’s office sobbing uncontrollably.
When I look at this photo, I don’t see any of that though. Instead, I see a very resilient dog who’s handled all of the highs and lows better than any human could. To him, none it matters as long as we’re side-by-side, we’ll both be just fine.
Golden Hill, San Diego, California, 2015
Water, a stick, and me to throw it…there’s nothing he loves more and his expression says it all. This was our second trip to the Northeastern Sierras this year, but first during the warmer months. We took full advantage of being close to the lake and when we weren’t retrieving sticks, we were in the canoe enjoying the peace and quiet. I don’t think we were ready when the time came to leave and go back home. We’ve been looking forward the next trip ever since.
Lake Almanor, California, 2015
Photo by Amber Elam
Packed and ready to hit the road again with my best friend.
To be continued…
Joshua Tree, California, 2015
There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful and appreciative of the friends and family who have supported me both personally and professionally along the way. The list is long and if I’ve missed someone, it was not intentional.
To my parents who allowed me the freedom to think for myself and make my own decisions at a very young age. My older siblings, Jenn and Chuck, who looked after me in youth and continue to do so as adults. Collectively, they played an important part in making me the person I am today.
From the East Coast, I’d like to thank: Trey and Lindsey Hayes; Colby and Kara Chisholm; Jessica Turner and Jennifer Dease; Charlie and Amy Spears; Dr. Jeannine Monnier; Skip Gardner; Bob, Barb, Trevor, and Dana Young; Michael Ruthsatz; Kevin Jefferson; Carlisle and Lisa Carter; Jeff and Donna Neese; Mike, Jennifer and the Boland family; Thai and Melissa Trinh; Maureen Cavanagh; and Chris Dorsel.
From the West Coast, I’d like to thank: Nat Vinbury; Rachel Newton and Eric Joyce; Brian and Lauren Clulow; Peter and Liz Gotfredson; Pallabi Sanyal-Dey; Nicole Mitchell; Walter Wang; Amanda Williams; Dr. Christine Osterlogh; Linda Clark; Tim Mantoani; Kevin Toyama; Cam Fomby and the staff at Counterpoint; Gabe and Monique LeMons; Craig Sommerman; Jessa Carson; Bryan Saunders; Nicole Armstrong; Heather McMillian; Tripp and Sara Graham; Mark and Erika Doty; and Scott Gummer.
A very special thanks to Sourav Dey, Victoria Scavo, and Amber Elam. They’ve truly made the last few years some of the best and have helped turn SeeSullivan from a concept into reality.
Most of all, I would like to thank my strange and wonderful dog, Sully. He’s my best friend and I love him so.