By Nikora Smith
There's one simple truth to Instagram: if your favorite photographer, who happens to be world-renowned and recognized, is holding an Insta-meet three hours away from you, you go.
I made a choice friend last summer by the name of Graydon, and we've kept in relatively good touch since; going out shooting a few times and keeping an eye on each others work.
As we both share a love and passion for the outdoors and capturing serene and connected moments, it's been choice getting to know him.
We also share an admiration for Chris Burkard, whose many accolades and projects are too numerous to name or number; I suggest you go to his Instagram and see for yourself. We respect his creativity, and I personally look to his photos for inspiration to push my own borders and skills.
I think Graydon and I found out on the same day he was holding an Insta-meet, and so without regard for girlfriends or work or other commitments, we knew we weren't missing it.
Think of passing up a chance to meet your favorite author or athlete ; not happening, right?
We met up on Thursday afternoon, hopped in my Jeep, and raced down to Glacier. We passed many cars and made it in good time, and even nabbed a prime parking spot to boot.
It was a rather peculiar day ; wind whipped the tall pines that encapsulated the little village of Apgar on Lake Macdonald, that played host to the event.
Generally speaking the lake was quite calm, but today it was a mirror image of its northern sister Waterton, with small white caps rushing onto shore and a healthy breeze that made any sort of styled hair pointless.
We spent some time beforehand attempting long exposure shots and chatting with some fellow photographers.
Like Waterton, there were many retirees and older tourists. Largely they had no idea who Chris Burkard is or why he was so popular.
It should be mentioned that the meet coincided with the celebration of 100 years national parks in the United States, so the village was bustling from that.
As 5:30 approached, we found ourselves talking to an older gentleman whose professional photography career was respectable and well-documented: he'd written and published a book on his adventures.
I've come to realize that trying to explain social media popularity to the majority of citizens 65 and older is a largely fruitless endeavour.
We attempted to convey just how good Mr. Burkard was, to no avail, when a flurry of motion in the water and a splash drew our attention to a very natural and unsuspecting swimmer.
It happened to be the subject of our travel: Chris.
A valuable lesson I have learned before was reiterated to me on our outing: if an opportunity to do something you might never do again becomes available, take it.
Take it and make it unforgettable. So we did.
We hesitated for a moment, but not having to time to change out of my pants into trunks, I busted down to my jeans and jogged to the end of the dock.
With a less-than-graceful splash and a grin, I split the surface of the water beside one of my heroes.
Graydon was close behind, and soon the both of us were swimming with Chris Burkard. And you know what? It was not the slightest bit intimidating or awkward.
As the meet progressed we met and made friends with other amazing humans.
A group from a photography school in Missoula, a lady who has a passion for Glacier, and a Ranger with a thick red beard are just a handful of the two or three hundred enthusiasts, hobbyists, artists, and stars that shared that evening together.
We continued chatting, trading details with one another and snapping candid moments.
The evening seemed blissful and surreal.
As it drew to a close and as we dried ourselves from a second swim we went for, a sense of community and compassion rested on me.
In an age where you can communicate with someone for ages and never actually meet them, it was so refreshing to connect through more ways than just a screen.
The evening finished, we said our goodbyes, got one last photo with Chris, and headed to Famous Dave's - a perfect end to an inspiring day.
Hopefully, very soon, the dreams we dreamed in that booth with bellies full of delicious barbecue will be our reality.