This post was contributed by Producer Emily Hibard.
Chris Wren has been my Dad’s best friend since 7th grade. They both grew up in Downey, California together and the rest is history. Literally. You can fill volumes with all these guys did:
- fixed bikes
- climbed mountains
- scuba diving
- spear fishing
- road trips
- hang gliding
- rounded the horn of South America
- sailed the Strait of Magellan
- traveled the world (slept on cardboard boxes and then, later, 5 star hotels)
- married wonderful women
- ran businesses
- had children and loved their families
Since my Dad and Chris were joined at the 501 Levis, Chris played a big role in my childhood. They both loved sailing, and I grew to love it too. Too young to know my way around a sailboat, I remember being in my life jacket, tied to the mast. I could walk around the deck as I pleased, climb up on anything I wanted to, and if I fell over, they’d just pull me right back up.
On some sailing trips, we’d be off the coast of who knows what, out in the middle of no where. They’d get out the rifles and let me shoot the horizon. I remember thinking it was a bit silly to shoot the horizon, but I didn’t know anybody else who got to shoot the horizon, so I rattled off a few rounds…Dad and Chris laughing the entire time.
A number of years ago, Chris was diagnosed with leukemia, just after he finished customizing his 2002 Toyota Land Cruiser. An adventurer, Chris had a lifetime of road trips planned. He swapped out his road tires for off road tires, then added aluminum under armor, custom aluminum bumpers, a second gas tank, a second battery, storage systems, after market lights, and topped it off with a roof-top tent and “batwing” shade system.
His leukemia was bad. Really bad. But, the doctors were able to get him some really great treatment and it went into remission. But, it left Chris with impaired vision and totally unable to drive.
In 2017, Chris Wren rang my Dad and told him to come get the Land Cruiser. He knew that although he’d never be able to take his dream truck on another adventure, my Dad would. My Dad and I drove from Los Angeles to Tecate, California, then walked over the border to Tecate, Mexico, to meet Chris.
It was pretty emotional for me. There we were, being handed the keys to somebody else’s dream. The 3 hour drive home was pretty quiet.
Fast forward to 2018 and I decide to do a documentary on Dads. I wanted to highlight some really great Dads, including my own. When I told my Dad what I wanted to do, his eyes lit up and said “For my part, I want to drive to the shores of the Arctic Ocean and go kayaking!”
I was just planning on sitting him down and asking him a few questions, but a thirty-seven hundred mile road trip to the Arctic? Um. Okay. Somebody is extra.
(And here’s an example of just how “extra” he is – I asked him to wear his black fleece jacket to our photoshoot and he shows up like this…then proceeded to drag his chair, side table, sextant and rifle on over).
But, as it would turn out, driving to the Arctic Ocean was the greatest idea!
We filmed the other 19 Los Angeles Dads with their families, at work, with their communities, and then sat them down and asked them what it was like being a Dad. But for my Dad’s “part,” we packed up Chris Wren’s custom 2002 Land Cruiser and hit the gas pedal.
For everybody wondering, it takes about 30 days to drive from Los Angeles to the Arctic Ocean (specifically, to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada).
My Dad drove, my mom navigated, and I was in the backseat, surrounded by Pelican cases full of equipment, suction cup mounted GoPros, and a Zoom H6 to capture the sounds of the Arctic.
For those of you who have already seen the documentary, you’ll now fully understand the backstory of the Land Cruiser and why, in the narration, I mention that a guy named Chris Wren built the truck.
Just before Father’s Day, when the documentary was released, I sent it to Chris. I was curious what his reaction would be. After he watched it, he called and shared what it was like watching his pride and joy roll up to the frozen shores of the Arctic Ocean. He also got a kick that we mention him by name. It was a short, tender conversation.
On September 11th, I received the call that Chris had passed at home, surrounded by family. He may have dreamed of driving a Land Cruiser all over Earth, but his real adventure is just beginning.
Rest in peace Chris Wren.