“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so we just kept rolling under the stars.” – Jack Kerouac, original scroll copy of On the Road
Of all my travels with esteemed photographer and close friend Chris Brunkhart – South America, Europe several times and even an assignment to cover the World Putt Putt Golf championships in Orlando, FL – it is the long, lonely drives through the American West I recall with the greatest fondness. Hours spent hurtling over the American Serengeti beside long haul truckers, past eerily lit and sequestered government research facilities and racing throngs of elk in remote Montana valleys. With Hendrix/Miles/Pink Floyd wailing over a battered CD player, often with friends – Matt Donahue; Mike Parillo; Jamie Lynn; Ari Marcopoulos; Craig Kelly; Tex; Tony Welch; Mike Estes; Dan Peterka; others – we’d break down everything from art movements, to Supersonics vs. Blazers, to Gibran vs. Kerouac. From places to live and projects to attack, to stories we would tell – with his images and my words.
The hours would roll on, the truck stops and cow towns would blow past and Art Bell would fill our heads with aliens and Sasquatch. Eventually, we’d land home in Portland, Bellingham, Ketchum, Brightwood… wherever our respective rents were being levied. Without fail we would all arrive more enriched, more compassionate, more knowledgeable and ultimately more alive. This being the true measure of time well spent; in the moment with real friends.
Chris, Ari, Jamie Lynn and I went on to create a movie (“The Walrus Dreams”) and help launch frequency. Chris created three books of his stunning work and we both engendered accolades and awards for our efforts. But it is those big yellow moon nights, sprinting across the Great Basin in rental cars and our own jalopies and pointing towards the wall of mountains in the distance – always towards the mountains – that remain fast. A holy quietude settling about the world; a feeling that anything could be done always permeated those drives.
In the late summer of 2014, when my wife Jessie Lu and I both learned Chris had been diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer, our hearts reeled and we offered whatever support we could. He told me at the time that he was going to fight it for all he was worth, and like the rest of his commitments he was true to his word.
The following summer, he continued to thrive, marrying the love of his live Ezekiel Martin in a beautiful ceremony on a beautiful July day in downtown Portland, OR. For those who knew him, it was as much a victorious affirmation of life itself as it was for love. In an industry which had been solidly homophobic from the start, Chris had come out confidently as a gay man, changing a lot of hearts and minds along the way. Additionally, he had beaten a tough drug addiction, the kind that doesn’t usually favor the combatant.
A few weeks ago, Zeke reached out to friends, letting them know Chris was in decline. I couldn’t believe it and we continued to text and email about a flyfishing project, meeting up at the upcoming Mt Baker Banked Slalom, and printing methods for digital presses. We were both fighting to keep moving forward.
In the end, I am deeply proud of how one of my oldest and best friends both lived and died.
To Chris Brunkhart, whose bravery far outshone the most daredevil of snowboard stuntmen, and whose talent and passion remain as vast as the Western night sky; we love you my brother.
– Jeff Galbraith
Photo: “After a surf trip to Neah Bay, WA, we stopped at this bridge for a little swimming hole fun. It was about 70 feet to the water, and with the stillness of the surface, the distance looked more like 150 feet. It may have been a little much for me, but standing there in my boxers I felt obligated to jump. Jamie Lynn on the Olympic Peninsula, WA.” – Photo and caption Chris Brunkhart.