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Andy, and the American Southwest

This story is about life, death, family, and finding one's place in the world.

My Uncle Andy was the cowboy of the family. A few weeks ago, we learned he passed away at 72.

Sunrise in Kingman, Arizona (photo: Candie_N (Welcome Spring))
Sunrise in Kingman, Arizona (photo: Candie_N (Welcome Spring))

Nothing stops you in your tracks like a death in the family, even if you never knew the person as well as you would've liked.

Despite receiving the news over a week ago, his passing didn't hit me fully until this morning, after my parents had a chance to fly out there and hold a funeral for him.

A winding Road near Kingman (photo: Marcin Wichary)
A winding Road near Kingman (photo: Marcin Wichary)

The year was 1973, three years before I was born.

In his mid-30s, Andy left New York to start a new life in the American Southwest.

He chose Kingman, Arizona, a town of just 28,000 people located along the famed Route 66 highway, 85 miles southeast of Las Vegas and 165 miles northwest of Phoenix.

There he lived, at the edge of the Mojave Desert, for the next 40 years.

Andy's friends described him as an intelligent man, but that wasn't news to us. We've always known he had a genius IQ, which sometimes would make his life choices all the more perplexing.

I can't fault him for finding a place in the world he loved and having the courage and determination to make a life for himself there.

Subconsciously, perhaps, it was this independence streak in my Uncle which contributed to my desire to travel the world and have the courage to start a new life in Medellin more than five years ago.

Monument Valley (photo: Project 1080)
Monument Valley (photo: Project 1080)

Andy marched to the beat of his own drummer. He wasn't too good at staying in touch and had little desire to return for visits to the East Coast.

My best memories of him are from a family vacation we took to Arizona when I was around 11.

We flew into Phoenix and began our sightseeing in Scottsdale. From there, we traveled north, meeting him in Sedona.

Not only did he have the spirit of a cowboy, but he also dressed the part, complete with a hat and bolo tie. His car of choice was a VW Thing, painted camouflage green.

[All these years later, he still owned it, and it's still in running condition.]

Before accompanying him to Kingman, we visited some of America's most beautiful sites, including the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and the Painted Desert.

A 1888 Single Action Colt Revolver (photo: The_Gut)
An 1888 Single Action Colt Revolver (photo: The_Gut)

In his hometown, he brought a few guns from his collection over to our motel to show us kids.

At the time of his death, his collection numbered over 200, including 31 Single Action Colt Revolvers and numerous rifles.

Every Wednesday night, he'd get together with friends on the outskirts of town, holding target practice together.

They'd cook dinner over an open fire, debate politics, or talk about whatever was on their minds that week.

He even made his ammunition. And a lot of it, according to the company tasked with cleaning his home.

We waved goodbye to Andy in Kingman and traveled to Laughlin, across the Hoover Dam, and ultimately, on to Las Vegas, from where we flew back to the East Coast.

Related: How Spending Time Traveling Can Help with Grief

Shadow Puppets in Kingman (photo: tombothetominator)
Shadow Puppets in Kingman (photo: tombothetominator)

As much as I don't know about my Uncle Andy, I know he wasn't afraid to live on his own terms.

He found a part of the world where he felt comfortable and happy and committed his life to it. If I can take solace in anything, it's knowing he was happy there.

If there's one thing I try to do through this blog, it's encourage others to do the same, whether living among the hustle of New York City, the suburbs of Virginia, a desert town in Arizona, or another country altogether.

Andy's passing has given me pause to reflect on what matters most in my life.

And it's not all the minutiae I tend to get swept up in every day, like how much money I'm making, how many countries I've visited, or how many people are visiting my websites.

It's not whether or not I've crossed everything off my bucket list or planned the next trip to some foreign locale.

What matters most to me are relationships and how I treat others.

Is it with honesty, respect, and compassion? Am I helping people?

If I were to die tomorrow, I would want my family, friends, and readers to know I was happy here in Medellin.

In the years ahead, the city and country may change, but like my Uncle Andy, I now know how personally satisfying it feels to etch out a new life in a place that inspires one daily.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Robert Kung

Wednesday 7th of August 2013

Wow this article made me stop my work for a while and just think about life. Living life to the fullest, no matter where, how and when. Just do whatever you feel like doing, enjoy it. I'll keep following your posts Dave, very inspiring!


Tuesday 6th of August 2013

Beautiful post. It reminds me greatly of a college friend of my husband's. We haven't spoken to him in several years now, but I have never had more confidence that any person on the planet is doing what he loves and living where he loves than with this guy. It's great to see it in someone else, and it really motivates you to want to do those things yourself as well.

Kathy Pinsky

Sunday 4th of August 2013

I enjoy ALL of your blogs and posts. This story is especially fantastic due to the purpose it serves as a tribute to another human being. These hard or sad occasions in life are invaluable lessons, thank you for your reflections, beautifully done. Glad you are in love with Medellin, its evident in your work.


Sunday 4th of August 2013

Thanks Kathy, nice to hear from you :)

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

Wednesday 31st of July 2013

What a poignant post! So sorry for Andy's passing, but he definitely sounds like he lived life to the fullest!!!


Wednesday 31st of July 2013

Thanks Andi

nat merrill

Tuesday 30th of July 2013

Profoundly touching story. Very good of you to share this with us all. Medellín means as much to me as it does to you. I wish you the best of luck in Antioquia.


Wednesday 31st of July 2013

Thanks for reading Nat, and good luck to you too.

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