Photographer and filmmaker Andy Best is known for his sense of adventure. We even told you about how he gave up most of his possessions to live out of his camper on a never-ending road trip through the United States and Canada. Best has since settled down to Bend, Oregon as his wife is expecting their first child, but even with fatherhood approaching, Best has never lost his sense of adventure, and it’s never more apparent than in his new film, ‘Still Wild.’
Best and an expert fisherman, an ecologist, and studying geologist set out in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta to locate three indicator species of a fresh water ecosystem. What does that exactly mean? Well, fish and bird life are the barometers with which we measure the health of our planet’s ecosystems and sensitive natural habitats. So by studying various endemic species such as the American dipper bird, bull trout, and pure-strain westslope cutthroat trout, scientists are able to give an update on the health of the planet, essentially.
But as Best said, if you are going to be studying these species in such beautiful terrain, you may as well have fun doing it. “Getting outside and experiencing our wild places reveals what we have and what there is to protect.”
After the team wrapped up their adventure, they all headed home to their families and every day lives. Little did they know, however, that all their lives would drastically change. Chad Kendrick, founder of Treeline Outdoors and a close friend of Best arrived home to be with his wife as she gave birth to their first child, a boy appropriately named River. But only three months after his son was born, Chad went to the doctor to discuss a rapid loss of strength and mobility in his arms and legs. Soon after, the heartbreaking news came back.
Chad Kendrick had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS.
His family immediately began investigating treatment options, and found some hope in stem cell treatments in a California. They started a GoFundMe campaign which has allowed Kendrick to begin treatment. But as anyone who knows someone with ALS is aware, the road is difficult to say the least.
That’s when this film became more than a conservation film to Best. He became obsessed with helping his friend and getting the word out about the devastating effects of ALS. I sat down with Best to discuss the film, his relationship with Kendrick, and how this has changed his approach to becoming a father.
You made this film with Chad, without knowing his future diagnosis with ALS. After you found out about Chad’s condition, how did that change what this film meant to you on a personal level?
Everything changed. It’s hard to describe and perhaps I am over feeling during these types of moments. I describe Chad’s personality and love for life as extremely contagious. He’s one of those humans that you just have to be around. He loves this planet we’re on and humbly takes care of it. You could almost say I try and take him farther into the world than he wants to be, as he never wants to be a face. For his brand, for a movement, for anything. He does however want to lead by example and does. Therefore, even if this question could be answered in a thesis, it’s been the journey with Chad that makes this hard for me. It’s hard for me to even type these words, just know it’s affected my life in every way.
It is quite obvious that Chad’s diagnosis with ALS is in your mind all the time. You have been a huge advocate of the Kickstarter campaigns to help him get the experimental treatment that could stop the disease’s progression and you even started a clothing line where all profits will go to the Kendrick family. Where did that idea come from? Have all the efforts been able to help at all?
The hats were a friend’s idea. Then the idea of #CapForACause kicked off to help Chad, but then will morph into helping many other causes we are passionate about. We’re really just trying to be creative. Chad is part of this amazing outdoor community and is too humble to ask for anything, so taping into this industry was a way to spread the message of his diagnosis and ALS as a whole. There have been many fundraisers all over the world by people he’s touched. We’ve collectively raise a lot, but it’s never enough. His newborn son River has never been held by his father which is so heartbreaking when you really think about it. So I vowed that while I have full use of my body, I’m going to use it to help keep a good human on this planet.
The last scene of the film shows Chad after the diagnosis and the effects of ALS had set in. It shows Chad in his element, fishing…enjoying the outdoors. It is obvious from this clip Chad is a fighter, and will continue to fight to return to his home in the great outdoors and to his wife and son. Tell us a little about Chad’s personality and how he has been since his fight began.
Chad is all heart. Days are tough, and there’s no sugar coating it. However, due to his steadfast and free flying soul he’s taking this journey in stride. He fights for his son, for his wife, his family, and this beautiful world. A couple examples: As I’ve served him dinner, helped him dress, or held water to drink from his straw, he looks at me and says, “If and when I get past this, I’m going to be a force to be reckoned with, boy.”
Chad has carried me across many rivers while filming him and during my last trip to see him I returned the favor. When picking him up out of his boat I reminded him of this past and told him it was my turn. He laughed and reminded me to remember of my sexual orientation. Never a dull moment with this guy!
There literally aren’t enough words to describe the inspiration that Chad has given me over the years , not to mention the hundreds of emails coming in from people sharing how he’s impacted their life one way or another. It’s powerful.
You are about to be a father. I can’t imagine that this project and fighting alongside your friend as he battles hasn’t changed your perception on life. How has the last 8 months changed your approach to your travel schedule, work/life balance and fatherhood?
Yup, indeed I am about to be a father. It sounds so strange, but I’m stoked. It just means I have to be better. The last 8 months of my life just about claimed my life. I’ve been battling many things, but this little lady is going to pull me from the fire. I’m gearing up for an exciting next chapter that the whole family will be part of. Travel is part of my job, but there will be many new opportunities to travel as a family. The last two years living on the road, working in beautiful places all over the world, dealing with every stimulation imaginable, has really shown me that life is fleeting. There’s never the perfect answer…just do it. I’ve shifted gears and started getting into the sport side of the job. I grew up an athlete and am going to be diving into many new things in the coming years. All to get to where I want to be in life, spiritually and mentally. Most importantly, I can’t wait to show my little girl that you can be a badass, powerful, strong woman in this crazy world. And that no matter how many times you get knocked down, there is always going to be fight left in you. She will give em hell, just like my dear friend Chad is.
All photos provided by and used with permission from Andy Best.