Eighteen strangers, traveling in three vehicles for 49 days to 22 states, 21 cites, 10 national parks (a total of 27,000 miles); four emergency room visits; endless mechanical problems—all while consuming 1,176 cups of coffee, approximately 1 million PB&Js, and just 35 home-cooked meals.
Those are the essential statistics from Mallory Nolte’s summer of 2020. It all added up to an experience the Wilmington University senior calls “life-changing.”
Nolte, a Video and Film Production major, was the official videographer, vlogger and drone operator for the Zoon Garden Promotional Tour, a cross-country odyssey that promoted “The Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation.” A social critique of 21st century America, it’s the debut novel of 27-year-old Jordan O’Donnell, who wrestled and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Virginia Tech before working 2 ½ years for the FBI. The “Animal Farm”-like allegory tells the story of Clarendon Zoo and the dogmatic wolf and sheep tribes that trigger its downfall.
Nolte came across the gig while searching the internet for a summer internship after the job she had lined up was scuttled by — what else? — COVID-19. Having recently received her drone operator certification through WilmU, she applied for the job and in May became part of the team. She almost immediately began making and editing videos and a trailer for the tour from her parents’ home in Townsend, Delaware. In mid-June, everyone assembled at a farm in Randallstown, Maryland, and prepared for their cross-country adventure.
The 18 interns traveled and slept in a three-vehicle caravan: a converted school bus and two trailers, one towed by O’Donnell’s car and one by his manager’s vehicle. “There were three guys and three girls in the bus,” says Nolte, “five guys in one trailer, and seven girls, including me, in the other trailer.”
They held a kickoff party at a Richmond, Virginia, brewery, then headed west to Colorado, then north to Idaho before driving to California. But early in their journey, COVID reared its ugly and ubiquitous head, making a shambles of the schedule.
“While we were traveling, gather-ings of more than 10 people were outlawed, so we couldn’t hold events,” says O’Donnell. “We had to adjust.” Eventually, he says, the team was split into target groups: newspapers, news stations, libraries, independent book stores, and podcasts. “Every day we would go to a coffee shop, send emails, make calls, and then around 4 o’clock we would cut off work and go adventure wherever we were.”
“Mallory’s videos on social media were definitely a big help,” O’Donnell adds. “As our main vlogger and drone operator, she was a vital part of the video team. She took many of the documentary’s most iconic shots, including the base-jumping shot in Idaho Falls.” Says Nolte: “The itinerary must have changed 20 times. Some states were totally locked down and I couldn’t get a permit to fly drones there.”
But, she says, the experience was invaluable. “It taught me to adapt to any situation.” The interns forged several strong friendships. “I always like meeting new people,” she says, “and we all had a good connection. We were on the same mission — promoting the book. Plus, I love to travel.”
O’Donnell confirms that she was a perfect fit for the group: “Mallory has a fun-loving attitude with a healthy dose of sass. She kept everybody on their toes, wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, and always had a funny comment in her pocket.”
An officer in the National Honor Society at Middletown High School, where she also excelled in volleyball and tennis, Nolte has continued her student-athlete ways at WilmU. After graduating from Middletown in 2017, she scored a partial WilmU tennis scholarship and is a Dean’s List student and one of two Wildcat tennis players named to the 2019 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference All-Academic Team — for the second time.
Nolte says she has enjoyed her time at WilmU. “The school allows me to continually grow in my studies, my confidence, and my independence,” she says. Having had a taste of the nomadic life, she hopes after graduating to start her own videography business and travel the world taking aerial shots via drone.