This past fall I produced a cross country tour with my partner in crime, photographer Amanda Leigh Smith for hatter, Cate Havstad. I will be writing more on the lessons learned and experiences that forever changed us all, but for now the travel log I wrote for Live Fast Magazine is a great place to start.
Throw a hatter, a jeweler, a photographer, a writer and a pit bull named Charlie into a giant 4×4 truck. Next, pack in 30 cases of beer, 20 bags of coffee, enough camping supplies for the basics, and just the right amount of “can do” attitude. Now, attach a 32ft Airstream trailer built out into a mobile workshop for making custom western style hats and you have yourself The Hatter and The Hound Tour.
From Colorado to Tennessee, myself and three other ladies spent three weeks rolling down the highway — hell bent on blazing new trails, totally naive to what was about to unfold. From the awe inspiring Rockies of Colorado to the two-steppin’ honky tonks of Nashville, the trip was full of scenery that blew our minds, strangers whose stories warmed our hearts, and incredible hospitality that saved our asses.
The expansiveness of the Rockies, painted with the changing colors of the autumn aspen and kissed by starry night skies will leave anyone in awe. We began our tour cross country at a ranch outside of Rifle, CO. With over 800 acres of range land to explore, our wide eyed appetites for adventure were welcomed by Matt and Lindsay, strangers made quick friends. We rode horses at sunset through the deep west facing canyons, drank sun tea and bourbon under the shade of the massive barn, star gazed under the September blood moon, drank coffee on the rickety porch, and ate lamb chops around the lodge dinner table with our gracious hosts. We had no idea what to expect when we showed up to our first stop on the tour, but after three nights we knew Matt and Lindsay set the bar sky high with their ranch hospitality and down to earth warmth and generosity.
Departing early on the third day, we left our new friends with a couple of bags of special Havstad Blend coffee roasted by our friend Drew, a case or two of beer, and hit the road.
We stopped for lunch in the picturesque town of Delta. With its quaint downtown and storybook antique stores, we spent a little time meandering the main drag before picking up a bottle of whiskey for the road (a road trip basic we had yet to stock up on) and continued on our way. Winding our way through the golden hues of the Uncompahgre Forest and the canyons around Telluride, I realized I’d never seen anything quite like the fall colors of Colorado. We all joked the majesty was, “ Too much!”. As the day drew to a close we decided to post up at a trailer park outside of Mancos and in the morning packed up early to explore the Mesa Verde National Park before heading south for more adventure in New Mexico.
Mesa Verde was magical. Nestled directly into the sides of cliffs, the dwellings of the pueblo people were built mostly during the 13th century. We reveled in the antiquity of their remnants and the reminders of people living in villages like the Cliff Palace and Long House. The dwellings, with archeologists tinkering away at their walls and foundation, restoring and working to preserve what was left, showed us all how much history is in our own back yard while giving us a scope and sense of place in time — reminding us all we are here for a short period and only get one go around on the road trip of life.
Flying down the highway in New Mexico we made only one quick pitstop in the tumble weed town of Cuba while hightailing it as far south as we could before stopping for the night. We pulled into a truck stop well after sunset outside of Alamogordo with less than half a gallon of gas left. Amanda, Rachel and Cate cozied up in the trailer for the night while I crawled into the back of the cab and used the 25-ish cases of Deschutes beer and a camp pad for a bed. As we dozed off to the sound of truck brakes and highway travelers, we all had one thing on our mind. We hauled ass south today for a reason — we were on a mission to catch the colors of the early morning sun hitting the rolling hills of White Sands National Monument.
The beauty of the sunrise at White Sands was unparalleled to anything we saw throughout our whole trip. The pastel pinks and blues hitting a pure white horizon of sand gave us all another one of those, “Too much!” moments. We found ourselves laughing, giddy and wide eyed. We kept looking at each other, asking, “WTF!? Can you believe this?! Look where we are! It’s TOO MUCH!
If Colorado and New Mexico gave us a snapshot of the ridiculous natural majesty in the states, than I would say Texas gave us a glimpse into caliber of community and amazing people this country has to offer. We spent our first night on a ranch just outside of Menard, with new friends Jason and Sarah. Complete strangers, Jason saw on Instagram we were passing through and offered up his humble Texas ranch for the night. Living and working out of the same home with their three boys and dog Lincoln that Sarah and her father had grown up in, both extended a warm welcome to fellow makers and adventure seekers. In the morning Jason, owner and sole craftsman of Texas Heritage Woodworks showed us around his workshop and talked about making the decision to do his craft full time. He spoke of the joys and challenges of taking the family on the road to trade shows and fairs, and the desire to give back and provide a space for the community of makers and artists that have been so supportive of him. After fitting Jason for a custom hat in the morning, Cate, Charlie dog, and the three of us piled into the truck for our next stop, the bright lights of Austin, Texas.
Pulling up to the parking lot of the White Horse Saloon in Austin, we realized Dennis O’Donnell our host and owner, had, like most people, greatly underestimated the actual size of our rig. With only two parking spots coned off it would be a tight squeeze to say the least for our nearly 50ft beast.
But like the boss bitches we had learned to be, we figured it out and backed that baby into the lot like pros. We spent the next three days exploring Austin’s eclectic streets and neighborhoods. We spent the nights making new friends on the open patio at the Yellow Jacket Social Club down the street, listening to old-timey folk music, dancing and drinking whiskey punch at The Hard Luck Lounge and talking music and community over beers and more whiskey with Denis at the White Horse.
Waking up the third morning, haggard AF (which I think is inevitable when you are literally sleeping in the parking lot of one of Austin’s most well know bars), we started hitching up the trailer to head out of town.
Blurry eyed and not quite awake Amanda came over to help Rachel and I line up the trailer hitch. Without thinking about it she looked to see if the hitch was lined up — unfortunately she looked with her hand, and not her eyes.
Let’s just say this — there is nothing like an emergency room visit after a trailer hitch accident resulting in the bloody loss of a fingertip that will make four girls pull together, quick.
Barely making it out of Austin alive, our next stop was with leather worker, Leslie Crow on her restful ranch an hour outside of town. We spent the next two days recovering from our Austin antics, enjoying home cooked meals and talking together on her front porch. We mused about everything from the struggles of staying in creative ownership of your life, to the responsibilities we felt we had as females and artists to continue to grow and nurture the sacred values of our communities and craft. We fed the goats, the pot belly pigs and the mule. We looked in amazement at her hand made leather work, listened to Waylon Jennings spin on the record player and spent the golden hour just before sunset exploring the many colorful buildings and structures speckled around the property. But most of all we all, we took a much needed respite from what had been a whirlwind of a tour thus far.
Leslie is one of the most beautiful, strong, grounded and inspiring women I’ve ever met. Again, a stranger made friend, we all drove away on the third morning feeling over the moon lucky to have cross paths with such a unique soul.
After Texas, we decided because we were now down a finger tip we would b-line it to Nashville, Tennessee. Blazing through Arkansas, we stopped only long enough to grab a bite at a trucker’s enclave, Nick’s BBQ and Catfish outside of Carlisle. After our server told us a complete stranger bought us our dinner, really the only memory we left Arkansas with was it’s surprising generosity.
We rolled into Memphis’ historic Beale Street early enough in the morning to have the whole iconic street to ourselves. We walked down the street spotted with music notes similar to the Hollywood stars, remembering greats from Otis Redding to Three Six Mafia. After BBQ and a quick stop by Sun Records, we rolled towards Graceland with Paul Simon serenading us in the background only to see what a tourist shit show it was and decide to keep on truckin’ to Nashville.
Nashville was our longest and most relaxing stay, giving us the time to explore the area and connect with the booming community of music lovers and creative makers. After getting the trailer in through the chainlink gate by the skin of our teeth we pulled into Drew Park’s river house — an old biker bar he turned into his home and restful retreat on the outskirts Music City. Sitting on the edge of the Cumberland river we spent the first night and much of the following week drinking rose and watching the sun set over the downtown skyline while boats and barges carrying coal and sand slipped silently down the river. During our stay at the river house Cate fitted Drew as well as a few other guests that stopped by to say hello, including Kasey Musgraves who stopped by and got fitted for the custom hat she ended up wearing during her County Music Awards performance.
We hung out and caught up with friends and locals during a popup event at Imogene+Willie, explored the country side and grabbed lunch at the diner/grocery store/music venue in Leiper’s Fork, a little town south of Nashville that resembles something out a movie. Again, we ran into new friends, Butch Walker and some buds out for a Sunday ride on the rolling hills of Tennessee’s green pastures and farm land. During the week we enjoyed cocktails at Oak Bar at the historic Hermitage Hotel with Drew before heading to Skull’s Rainbow Room for dinner, a swanky jazz bar where you can listen to a sweet dude named John tickle the ivories and serenade you with timeless jazz and blues classics. We honky tonked at Robert’s on Broadway. We ate all the tacos at Mas Tacos. We devoured the farm to table food at Ralph and Daughters. Nashville was the perfect note to end the tour on. It felt like coming home but to a place we had never been.
The connections, the people, the landscape, the conversations that will never leave the cab of that giant truck — there was no way we could of imagined the adventure and homeyness to be found on the open road. We all learned you just need to grab the few essentials and head out, trust — ready and willing for what the road will bring.
Words: Claire Everson
Photos: Amanda Leigh Smith