From Mortgages to Mountains

How my dog convinced me to trade in my cubicle for a camera

Story and photos by Trevor DeHaas

2nd Lake Camp

It’s 5-something in the morning. My dog Kahlua and I are just opening our eyes after one of our coldest nights of camping. The sun is just about to rise over the jagged peaks on the horizon. I want nothing more to do than to stay in my sleeping bag, clinging to the last bit of warmth trapped inside. The day before, Kahlua and I backpacked 12+ miles into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington. We had a slight hiccup and I got us lost for over an hour, so needless to say I was physically and mentally drained. Laying in my tent covered in frost, I question if I’ve lost my marbles. My memory takes me back to a few months earlier when I was working full time at a mortgage investment company. Before I quit to road trip the cross country with Kahlua. I vividly remember the hot coffee and the warm space heater underneath my cubicle. I remember how easy life was back then. I question what I am doing with my life. Did I make the right decision by giving up my well paying job, my benefits, and my 401k?

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The questioning of my sanity is soon interrupted by the loud squeak of a marmot close by. Just like that, the last bit of warmth I was trying to hold onto vanished as Kahlua forced her way out of my sleeping bag. I started boiling some water to make some bitter instant coffee. I stood there waiting for my water to boil and watched the clouds turn into little pink cotton candy pieces. Then the sun started greeting the mountain tops with the warmth of its rays. The soft sunlight just bright enough to give a view of the mirror-like lake a couple hundred feet in front of us. Next to me is my marmot-chasing, tail-wagging, wet-nosed, furry best friend. It was at this very moment I screamed at the top of my lungs “YES!”

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I know it’s not your typical Yodel-Ay-Hee-Hoo, but that’s because I was answering my own question. Yes, trading in my life full of mortgages for a life full of mountains was the right decision. It wasn’t just the right decision; it was the best decision I ever made. Three years before, I never envisioned that I would have driven across the country twice with my dog. My dream was to climb the corporate ladder and make as much money as possible on the way up. I thought that kind of success would bring me happiness, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Two factors changed my whole perspective on happiness and inspired me to travel with Kahlua.

TK Gump

You’ve probably already guessed the first factor: my dog, Kahlua. Kahlua is a Catahoula Leopard mix who was rescued from a kill shelter in Alabama at 8 weeks old. Kahlua just so happens to be my partner in crime, my first mate, and my southern bell. Before Kahlua, the only pictures I would take were captured using my cell phone and the only time I had slept in a tent was at a music festival. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I had never seen an alpine lake, never had been above 1,000 ft and definitely never climbed a mountain.

K Half Dome 1

Kahlua changed all of that. She helped me discover my love for photography, adventure, and the great outdoors. I was inspired by her lust for adventure and her happiness when she was out in the wild. I quickly fell in love with taking pictures of Kahlua and the various landscapes we explored while out on our adventures. Within a few years of having Kahlua, I upgraded from taking pictures on my cell phone to a professional camera. We visited our first national park (Acadia), and we went hiking, camping, and paddleboarding all over Pennsylvania. I couldn’t satisfy my hunger to be out exploring the wilderness with my dog. I had this crazy idea that I wanted to make adventuring with Kahlua a lifestyle. Over those next few years I started saving my paychecks for this wild dream I had. I kept telling my self “someday.” Someday I’ll quit my job. Someday I’ll follow my passions. Someday I’ll pack up my car and drive around the country. As much as I wanted it to be a reality, in the back of my mind I never actually thought someday would happen. That’s where my second motivating factor comes in.

IgA Nephropathy(IgA) is also known as Berger’s disease. IgA is a form of Chronic Kidney Disease(CKD). In layman’s terms, my body thinks my kidneys are a foreign object so it sends anti-bodies to fix the issue which causes inflammation and permanent tissue damage. There is no known cure for IgA. The end result is kidney failure which only has two solutions; a kidney transplant or to be on dialysis for the rest of my life. I was diagnosed when I was 10, so it’s not like I went in to the doctor’s office one day and just found out my kidneys were failing me. I knew it for quite sometime. What changed is that my failing kidneys were getting worse. They started having a harder time with filtering purines which caused me to develop gout. Despite being in stage III of CKD the only symptom that I really battle with is fatigue. Gout was my first “real” symptom and it changed my perspective on my health. When a gout flare up occurs it’s like a temporary form of severe arthritis. When I have a flare up, it feels almost like I severely rolled my ankle and impedes my ability to walk for about a week.

My kidney disease never really affected what I could and couldn’t do for most of my life, so I pretended it wasn’t there. Once I was diagnosed with gout, there was no more pretending. At age 26 my kidneys were only functioning at 50% of what they should. The reality that in another 16 years I would probably need a kidney transplant or dialysis scared the hell out of me. There was only one logical thing to do. Live the life I wanted to live. A life where I follow my passions, pursue happiness, and get outside my comfort zone. A few months after my gout diagnosis I put my two weeks notice in and just like that, Kahlua and I were hitting the open road to live as adventurously as possible.

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We spent the next 8 months traveling. I learned more about myself in those 8 months on the road than I had in the previous 26 years of my life. Three of the most important lessons I learned were:

  • Stepping outside your comfort zone should be encouraged. You’ll learn more about yourself when you are outside your comfort zone than you will inside of it.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t doubt yourself. Everyone will fail, it’s part of life. Don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from taking risk. Taking risk and failing helps us grow. In my experience, failure has been the best teacher I’ve ever had. Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.
  • A mistake can be a great teacher. When you make a mistake, it makes you smarter and helps you learn faster. Mistakes help you grow as a person, just like stepping outside your comfort zone.

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Now that our road trip is over, you may be wondering what’s next for us. We still do a lot of traveling and adventuring but we aren’t doing it full time anymore. We’ve settled in Santa Cruz, California, and I’m working in photography, doing a job I love.

Adventuring with Kahlua, following my passions, and exploring the great outdoors has given me a greater appreciation for life. I made a promise with Kahlua to give her a life full of tummy rubs, peanut butter, and endless adventure, and I don’t plan on breaking that promise anytime soon. I hope our story inspired you to explore more with your pup and to pursue your happiness! You can follow along our adventures on Instagram: @trevorandkahlua.

Peace & Paws,

Trevor and Kahlua

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