Planning out a months-long solo cross-country road trip could feel daunting.

But Boone native and Raleigh-based photographer Cynthia Viola of Cynthia Viola Photography found that it naturally all fell together for her.

In 2018, Viola set a goal to learn or do one new thing every month — it could be swimming with dolphins, sky diving or trying a new food.

“I love to try new things,” Viola said. “I think it kind of allows me to be creative in new spaces. It’s very easy to get stuck.”

With this mentality, Viola committed to fulfilling one of her life goals: a cross-country road trip. She said that North Carolina winter didn’t lend itself to many photo shoots, so she decided then to visit her friends in southern California and book photo shoots there to make the most of her winter.

While planning her route from North Carolina to California, she realized she could make a bigger trip out of the drive.

“Oh, I know somebody in Nashville, Tenn.,” Viola said. “Oh, I know somebody in Memphis, Tenn. Oh, I know somebody in Oklahoma. Once I started figuring that out, I realized I had a place to stay just about every single place along the country.”

Viola made her way from place to place with some pre-planned photo shoots, and some impromptu photoshoots, bartering a photo session for a night crashing on a family’s couch.

Some locales were purely for fun. Viola’s friend visited her in Joshua Tree, Calif., to hike and camp, and drove with her to Phoenix until Viola’s friend from Raleigh met her in Phoenix and drove with her to Austin, Texas.

Viola’s adventurous spirit has always been a part of her. Growing up in Boone, Viola said she used to play in the woods behind her house, go four-wheeling, mountain biking and hiking with Dad. Her playfulness and love of nature has only grown since then.

When Viola was in Arizona in January, she was trying to figure out what exactly to do next on her trip. The Grand Canyon was a given, but she put feelers out on her social media and asked for recommendations. Several people suggested to visit Sedona, Ariz.

She took the internet’s advice and headed to Sedona. In the midst of her online research, she saw an opportunity for a sunrise yoga hike on a cliffside.

“I said, ‘That! I’m doing that,’” Viola said.

The sunrise yoga hike was 30 degrees, Viola said, but “totally worth it” for the beautiful views.

The notion of balancing uncomfortable moments with moments that make them worth it is something Viola has become accustomed to working as a wedding photographer. She said she loves being able to witness couples’ “highest happy moments,” while also being able to help them through stressful moments just before their wedding. Viola said she can refer back to her psychology degree from Lees-McRae College to counsel a bride or groom going through a momentary pre-wedding panic.

Viola first started wedding photography still as a student, when one of her friends asked her to take photos of their wedding after seeing a photography project Viola did for class.

“I was like the photographer of all my friends in middle school and high school with disposable cameras and such,” Viola said. “Two hundred-some weddings later, I guess I’m a wedding photographer. It worked out.”

Viola has been based out of Raleigh for the past 10 years shooting weddings, family photos, bar and bat mitzvahs, head shots and the occasional corporate event. Now she splits her time among Raleigh, Boone, Charlotte — where her three younger brothers live — and wherever a wedding takes her for the weekend.

As for what’s next, Viola plans on learning 12 new things every year. She hopes to take another cross-country road trip, too.

“It’s this grand adventure that I got to take two months, get some work in, get some adventure in,” Viola said. “(I) got to see some old friends; make some new ones. I could totally see myself doing it again as well.”

To keep up with Viola’s photoshoots and adventures, visit her photography website and read her blogs at www.cynthiaviola.com.

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