Category Personal

2023: A Year On My Feet

Lone Hiker on rocky cliff
Quoddy Head State Park, Maine. Photo by Max Fitzgerald

Last year, I set a personal goal to walk or hike 2023 miles. It was a last-minute decision, sparked by a desire to shape up before a five-day backpacking trip in Iceland. I didn’t want to be the guy holding everyone back. Despite the cold and snow, I was consistently clocking 5-6 miles daily by mid-February. My routine involved pitch-dark stumbles through our nearby woods, causing my wife concern for my sanity but keeping me on track even as many other goals slipped away.

The journey taught me several lessons. First, success often hinges on factors being within our control. Unlike some of my other goals last year, choosing to go hiking was entirely up to me. Second, embracing an identity rather than just a goal makes success more likely. I wasn’t just trying to hike; I was a hiker.

Flexibility was my third lesson. Breaking up walks into smaller segments allowed me to meet daily targets without being rigid. It didn’t have to be perfect, just done. The fourth lesson hit home as I saw others around me battle health issues. Staying healthy became a powerful motivator, pushing me forward even on tough days.

By year’s end, I logged 2356 miles – equivalent to 90 marathons or the distance from Portland, Maine, to Reykjavik, Iceland – underscoring my final lesson: the cumulative power of small, consistent actions. Not every day felt significant, but every step counted.

As 2024 rolls in, I’m ready for new challenges. Iceland, here I come.

Down East Maine forest


Brick by Brick

Seattle Shadows
© Brian Fitzgerald

Sometimes random events converge, seemingly by accident, and reveal a greater truth.

This week I jumped on a plane and flew some 3,000 miles to visit an ailing uncle—my father’s brother—at his home on Vashon Island near Seattle.  Along with my brother and two of my sisters, we spent time with him, sharing family stories, filling in gaps in our collective memories and laughing, a lot.  It was an impromptu visit, borne of a desire to connect with those who matter to me at a time of my choosing and not pulled by the usual forces of union and demise: marriage and death.  I didn’t even tell my friends living in the state because I wanted—needed—to focus on some family relationships long neglected. 

We, and I, had a great time. On the return flight, I came across a quote by New Zealander and writer Frank W. Boreham: “We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us.”  My trip made even more sense then.  

It’s a beautiful thought that our daily decisions—like that which led to me being on this very plane—are the very things that, over time, make us who we are. It’s easy to imagine that with each small decision, we are choosing to build our future selves, much like a building is built.  One brick at a time.

Erica Moody: Forging Art in a Maine Barn

Erica Moody with Elio, © Brian Fitzgerald

Erica Moody, a metal fabricator and artist, sits in the late-1800s barn that now serves as her workshop in Waldoboro, Maine.  

Moody has been working with metal for more than three decades. After years working in Boston, she chose to move to Maine to forge a simpler life—and the handcrafted serving utensils she is increasingly known for.  Moody uses traditional metal crafting methods to make spoons, knives and other wares from copper, brass and steel.  Her work has been featured in local and national publications, such as Bon Appétit and Saveur.

After years of working with large pieces of metal, her scaled-down workshop—filled with vintage machining tools—is the perfect place to create her one-of-a-kind spoons, coffee scoops, and knives.  It’s also attached to her home, built in 1854.  “To be close to home, to be able to work right here is everything. It’s why I moved to Maine,” she says.

Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery. 

© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


Metal Artist Erica Moody
© Brian Fitzgerald

Lessons Learned hiking the Great Barrier Reef

Brian Fitzgerald
© Brian Fitzgerald

Back in the cold dark of January I made a resolution to trek at least 2023 miles this year. The primary goal was to train for a five-day backpacking trip to Iceland in 2024. But it also seemed a surefire way to spend more time outdoors, another goal.

Crunching the numbers, I saw I had to average about 5.5 miles per day. Easy on a sunny day, tougher during New England’s infamous cold, hot, or rainy days. It often meant fragmenting the daily goal into multiple smaller walks, while braving snow or puddles. Surprising to me at times, I’ve managed to stay on track.

By last weekend I surpassed 1200 miles; the same distance, end to end, as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In East Coasters terms, it’s the equivalent of a New York to Miami road trip. Or—per Google—the width of the Roman Empire in its heyday.

All it took was daily dedication. Here are a few insights, gleaned from the miles traveled so far.

Consistency is King: Author and speaker John Maxwell once said, “Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.” Walking just a few miles daily may seem insignificant, but in a few months, those snowball into something noteworthy. Consistency morphs a goal into a habit that then pays compounded dividends.

Rise Early for the Win: Even on short, frosty days, I tried to squeeze in a walk before breakfast or school runs. On such days, I often surpassed my goal early in the day seemingly without effort. Whenever I skipped this routine, I found myself walking by headlamp after dinner, my family of skeptics warm and snug at home.

Healthy, Inside Out: The benefits of this simple exercise routine are remarkable. A good pair of shoes and a weighted pack are all it takes to feel fitter, evidenced by my newfound ease with hills and stairs.

Observing the Unseen: Slowing down has made me a keen observer. The city and my neighborhood seems more familiar now and I notice details of the landscape and city that seem invisible from the  window of a speeding car.

The Power of Linchpin Habits: My simple walking resolution has snowballed into a catalyst for other resolutions on my list. It’s less a goal and more a linchpin habit, spurring more creative work, better sleep, healthier eating, more family time, and boosted confidence that permeates my work and personal lives. It’s a reminder that success in one area can inspire success elsewhere.

I’m not recommending you try to hike the Great Barrier Reef.  But I hope my experience encourages you to discover a daily linchpin habit with its own compounding effects on your life.



Triumph Over Trauma: Isaac’s Journey


Male Cancer Survivor
Isaac, testicular cancer survivor. © Brian Fitzgerald


A recurring theme in my work has been narrating the stories of those who battle adversity, survive and even thrive despite the trauma or disease they’ve encountered. This piece is part of an ongoing series featuring men who bear the physical scars of their trauma.

Isaac, a native of Auburn, Maine, recalls experiencing a persistent dull ache in his lower abdomen during his teenage years and early twenties. As he attempted, yet failed, to complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail at 20, the discomfort continued. But he kept his pain hidden. “In my childhood, if you weren’t seen, you weren’t getting beaten,” he said. “So you never voiced any concerns.”

At 22, Isaac received a diagnosis of testicular cancer, a disease often affecting younger and middle-aged men. The prospects for recovery can be favorable if the cancer is detected early.

The following years were a blur of chemotherapy sessions, numerous surgeries, including a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection in Boston requiring an incision along his entire abdomen. His weight plummeted from 180 to 110 pounds, his body branded with two feet of surgical scars. Faced with an uncertain future, the 23-year-old grappled with the harsh reality of potential permanent disability.

But for Isaac, resigning to such a fate wasn’t an option. “I could have been milking the system like some people, but what kind of life is that? There are people who legitimately can’t care for themselves, but I’m too stubborn,” he said. Instead he returned to school to became a certified nursing assistant, a role he maintained for the next eight years.

A decade after his initial attempt, Isaac made his way back to the Appalachian Trail. This time, he embarked on his journey from Maine, and after eight months of backtracking, pausing, and restarting, he finally completed the hike.

“Things have happened to me that I didn’t choose,” he reflected, “but I tried to find my own way.”

First, Give Value

Dairy farmer with cow and son
© Brian Fitzgerald


I was raised by Irish Catholics, which might explain why I have a deep-seated belief that anything good in my life must be accompanied by an equal-or-greater amount of suffering.

Not a great belief, as beliefs go.  But here’s one that I’ve found is completely true: if you want to receive  good value or get good results—satisfying assignments, great clients, a good paycheck—then you have to first give great value.

What does ‘value’ mean?  It means doing your best to be remarkable in your work, your attitude, your professionalism. It means that before you offer help, you ask how you can help.  It often means giving more value than others expect.  For photographers, it means going that extra mile on a shoot: looking for an extra angle, taking creative risks and pushing for something different once you’ve satisfied your client’s stated needs.  Sometimes you’ll end up with images that surprise you and delight your client.

If you consistently do this and have the attitude of giving more than you are getting, you’ll find—like I have—that you get an amazing amount of value in return.

It starts with you.

Leave Room for the Muse

Maine Brewer
Behind the scenes,Peter Bissell, Bissell Brothers Brewing, Portland, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald.

When I hire a skilled professional—like the folks who installed my bathtub last year (really sorry about the non-code stuff you found and then had to correct),  I like being able to trust that they know what they are doing and can be left to execute the vision as they best see fit. My role generally consists of leaving the room or my house entirely and then showing up hours or days later for the big reveal.

The hands-off, “pro knows all” approach is one that some of my clients take when hiring me, and it works very well for certain types of projects where the outcomes are very clear and precise. But my favorite type of work tends to be more collaborative and made better through creative give-and-take during the process rather than just beforehand (Good examples are my editorial coverage of Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ campaign and the Fish + Game Changers project for the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries).

It’s fun working with agencies, who might have art director types who work closely with me to ensure the vision is evolving in the right direction. Evolving is the operative word here, because almost every remarkable project I’ve worked on has become that way because the creative partners—the client, the art director, and me, the photographer—are willing to start with the vision and then go where it naturally takes us. You have to be open to creative influence, or as author Steven Pressfield might note, you have to leave room for the Muse to do its work. Flexibility and creative collaboration are sure ways to elevate the final results of any photo or video shoot. Rigid, blinders-on thinking are sure ways to kill the creative magic.


2023 in 2023

Maine Hiker
Maine Hike, © Brian Fitzgerald

My usual approach to annual goal setting involves a week in December carefully outlining each one in detail . Later I appreciate their thoroughness even as I find them, forgotten and largely unacheived, when cleaning out my desk drawers in late November.

This year I decided I’d try fewer goals with less moving parts: challenging, but best of all, easy to remember (and stick to). Then I identified one linchpin goal that in one way or another serves as a catalyst to getting other priorities done.

This year, it’s health: to be specific, being more active. To be even more specific: walking or hiking 2023 miles by the end of 2023. That’s an average of over 5.5 miles every day of the year, come rain, snow, ice or heat, often carrying a weighted pack. Easy. Right?

There’s a method to the madness. Next year (summer, 2024) I’m planning a weeklong backpacking trip to Iceland with friends. The hikes aren’t technical or steep but I do need to be able to lug a heavy pack and food for five days of hiking. Being in good shape means the trip won’t feel like slow torture.

I’m already past the 250 mile mark, on track so far.  A few things are clear already: I feel better when I spend more time outdoors. I’ve observed things when walking streets I never did when traveling those same neighborhoods at car speeds (sometimes not great things, but always interesting).  And I can get to the water’s edge at Portland’s East End beach from my downtown studio in 15 minutes (faster if I push a bit).

With that, it’s time to hit the bricks. What’s your linchpin goal in 20H23?