The Pikes Peak Guy climbs the mountain of success
Twelve years ago, Shaun Daggett was at a job interview in Colorado Springs, and although he declined the position, the company told him to think about it for a while -- a suggestion that ended up changing his life.
Photo by The Pikes Peak Guy
With time to kill before his plane took off, Daggett decided to take a drive up to the small town of Woodland Park, roughly twenty miles northwest of Colorado Springs.
"The minute I got there," he remembers, "I called my wife and kids and said we're moving to Colorado."
Daggett and the rest of his family were soon living in the rustic little town that had taken his breath away that lazy summer afternoon. And not much longer after that, Daggett developed a serious obsession with a nearby landmark. In Pikes Peak -- the second-most visited mountain in the world -- Daggett saw much more than a national marvel. He saw a life-force, one that molded the community below and captivated its residents in the process.
"You'll see a person who's been living in the community for thirty years pull their car over on the commute home from work and take a photograph," Daggett says. "The mountain looks different every single minute of the day. In the morning it's a different mountain than it is in the afternoon."
It was this realization that became the bedrock for a project that would consume his life for an entire year: He decided to take a photo of Pikes Peak every day for 365 days straight.
To complete this endeavor, Daggett purchased an old beater truck that got a meager twelve miles to the gallon. By the time June 2011 rolled around, Daggett had put over 33,000 miles on it, as he drove to the mountain every day to photograph Pikes Peak for a book he titled 365 Days of Pikes Peak: The Journey. "I'm not the first person to think of this idea; I'm just the first person who's been kooky enough to go out there and do it," Daggett confesses.
Those who dislike waking at 4 a.m. to take a hike before going on to work might agree with Daggett's self-assessment. Then again, if they experienced the ethereal splendor of a glossy, tangerine sunrise high atop Pikes Peak, they might reconsider what they deem crazy.
Often the balancing act of chasing the perfect picture while also dealing with real life was Daggett's biggest challenge. His job allowed him to work flexible hours, but he still had children to care for, as well as an engagement that took a backseat to this project. "I'm still engaged three years later," Daggett reports. "I couldn't go anywhere or do anything with my kids. The time we spent together that year was them tagging along with me on photo shoots."
And in retrospect, his family life was the least of the obstacles. "Until you actually do something like this, you really don't know what you're getting yourself into," Daggett explains. "There's no days off -- no holidays, no weekends, no sick days. It doesn't matter if the dog dies or if the car breaks. Weaving the project into life was challenging, to say the least."
Still, every day for an entire year, Daggett got his photograph. Often it required eccentric methodology. Daggett would regularly hike to remote locations. Sometimes he'd have his son drive him around the mountain while he hung out the passenger window, camera to his face, index finger on rapid-fire. If he couldn't find the right angle on a shot, he'd ask for permission to be on someone's lawn at a certain hour of the day. He was dedicated. He wasn't just going to survive his undertaking; he was going to conquer it.
Photo by The Pikes Peak Guy Daggett gets creative with a cumulonimbus.
"My personality is exactly like this project: extreme," Daggett admits. "When I decide to do something, I don't just go through with it, I give 110 percent. If I run every day and get to the point where I can run five or six miles, I say to myself, 'I'm gonna run a marathon.' This was a marathon of photography."
But it was a marathon that wouldn't follow a straight course. Daggett knew that his project would unfold in people's laps in a chronological fashion, and he didn't want any more repetitiveness than necessary. After all, he was taking a picture of the exact same mountain 365 times in a row.
"I was on a mission to chase down the most beautiful moment the mountain had to offer," Daggett says. "If I did a sunrise shot one day, I sure as heck wouldn't do a sunrise shot the next day, or even a sunset. I didn't want back-to-back orange photographs."
From hundreds of photos taken each day, Daggett would select only one to use in his book, and post it on his website by midnight. In no time, he had built up a Colorado cult following; his Facebook page was receiving "likes" by the hundreds.
"I created this anticipation," Daggett remembers. "As the pace started to grow, there were literally thousands of people waiting to see if I captured that sunset, overcame that snowstorm and found an angle that was different from the day before. People were tuning in. It was like a reality show on Facebook."
And it also helped move his book project along. Unlike most novice authors, Daggett didn't seek out a book deal; instead, he created a publishing company backed by a campaign on Kickstarter. Each Kickstarter campaign must have a funding goal and deadline; it's then up to the campaign creator to spread the word and obtain enough pledges to meet or surpass the funding goal. If the goal is reached before the deadline, all credit cards are charged and the campaign creator receives the money; if not, the project doesn't receive a penny.
Daggett's Kickstarter campaign succeeded. In fact, it was the third-highest funded project of its kind in Kickstarter history. Fourteen people pledged $375 or more, while 132 people each pledged at least $75. Those who contributed received limited editions of the book, which Daggett felt an obligation to publish with great haste. "People had given me their hard-earned money that was sitting in my bank account," Daggett he says. "I couldn't make them wait an extra day."
Soon after its release last October, 365 Days of Pikes Peak: The Journey abruptly on Amazon.com's "Hot New Releases" list. The first 250 limited-edition copies sold out before even hitting stores. The book weighed five pounds, stretched two feet across when opened, and cost $100. Similar to Pikes Peak, the book was a sight to behold.
"I wanted a trophy for people to have on their coffee tables," Daggett explains. "After they stuck with me for so long, I wanted people to be proud to own that book."
A year later, 365 Days of Pikes Peak: The Journey is still selling. Last month, Daggett released a paperback version of the book that sells for a quarter of the price of the hardcover book. Of the 66 customer reviews on Amazon.com, 64 have given it the highest possible rating of five stars. Daggett's Facebook page now has over 4,000 "likes."
Photo by The Pikes Peak Guy Pikes Peak against a purple backdrop
"I call myself the most unlikely author," Daggett says. "The fact this worked, the fact it actually got on the shelves at Barnes and Noble -- it's remarkable. I still shake my head in disbelief that it actually happened."
Daggett has reached the summit. Being the Pikes Peak Guy is now his full-time job. Aside from taking photographs, he gives speeches, advises others on how to get creative projects started, hosts gallery showings, signs autographs and gives back to his community.
His book has affected people's lives like he never would have imagined, he says. Fans have approached teary-eyed and trembling, thanking him for everything he's done. As a self-proclaimed "ordinary guy," Daggett can't help but be humbled.
"This has been the most profound thing besides the birth of my kids to have ever happened in my life," says Daggett. "When a soldier from Afghanistan walks up to me and tells me that he'd sneak away to find a computer or a cell phone so that he could check my website to bring him home for just one moment -- it gives me goosebumps."
The last two years have been a whirlwind; Daggett says he's "still going like a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest." But occasionally he takes time to reminisce about what he calls "the journey" -- only to remember how rugged the experience truly was.
"If you look at the picture from August 13, 2010, and think it's really neat, what you don't see is that I was stalked by a bear that night in the middle of the forest," Daggett reveals.
On another occasion, Daggett wandered to the top of a snowbank, which crumbled beneath his feet and sent him spiraling down a ridge. He thought it was fun at first, then he realized the disintegrating embankment was his only way out. Daggett brainstormed. He remembered gym class as a child, which inspired him to collect sticks in an effort to "pegboard" his way out -- and it worked. Had it not, Daggett maintains that "nobody would have ever found me on that ridge. I would have been stuck there forever."
Then there are the more lighthearted events. Like the time Daggett was mauled --not by a bear, but by a barber. "I went to a chain salon and the girl that was cutting hair that night was drunk," Daggett recollects. "She gave me a haircut that was just unbelievable. In the end I had to shave my head. There was just no recovering from that haircut."
Soon fafter, Daggett found himself caught in a snowstorm. It was spring, so the snowfall was soggy. The wet flakes began caking on his camera. With his backpack several hundred yards away, Daggett was forced to remove his beanie, exposing his newly bald head, to use as a cover for his camera. Realizing he had only found an ephemeral solution to a more serious problem, he then decided to remove a layer of his clothing that he would wrap around his camera so that his beanie could once again cover his now frosty noggin. That's when it occurred to Daggett that he was in over his head, so to speak.
"There I was in the middle of a blinding snowstorm, shirtless, and I realized: My cheese has finally slid off my cracker," Daggett confesses. "This is the epitome of this project. How ridiculous I must have looked standing there in a snowstorm, bald head, with my T-shirt wrapped around my camera."
Bad barbers, beater trucks and beautiful sunrises -- it was all part of the surreal journey that became a reality. "I lived a whole lifetime in a year," Daggett says.
On to the next climb.