Epic.

snail2

My mother just sent me a link to a site documenting a journalist’s trek on foot from southern Africa to South America (I’ll give you the link in a minute). This isn’t just another endurance stunt —Paul Salopek is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for National Geographic so his trip is all about science and journalism. He started earlier this year and will take seven years to complete the odyssey.

I have always been fiercely attracted to this sort of epic journey.

A few years ago, I was in thrall as my pal, d.price, rode his recumbent bike some 5,000 miles from Eastern Oregon to Key West. I loved Travels with Charley and On the Road.  Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl (finally a movie!), Bill Bryson’s Appalachian trail book, A Walk in the Woods, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. The Happiest Man in the World by Alec Wilkinson describes Poppa Neutrino’s quest to build a boat out of garbage and sail it across the Atlantic. Mike McIntyre walked across the country with no money and relied entirely on The Kindness of Strangers (which is the name of his amazing book about the trip). The list goes on.

Ten years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book in which I’d follow the original epic travel journalists, Lewis and Clark, from St. Louis to the Pacific. I was going to adhere to their path and record the differences the couple of centuries had wrought. My editor said, “Make the trip, write the book, and then we’ll see.”  I didn’t. Life got in the way. Good thing Jefferson wasn’t counting on me.

Recently, Jenny has been urging me to drive across country with our dogs. I am sort of intrigued by the idea. Pros: 1. It seems romantic and epic and larger than life. 2. This is the perfect time of year for it. 3. It would be a great symbolic start to my life on the West Coast.  Cons: A) I don’t have a car. B) I think taking the dogs would make this a really bad idea. C) This is really her fantasy and she’ll already be across the country in her office in LA while I check into a long string of Motel 6s. For now, the cons have probably won but I still like the idea a lot, particularly if I could get a travel companion who I could stand to sit next to for a couple of weeks and who would be willing to stop and draw along the way.

Maybe next spring.

What intrigues me a lot about Paul Salopek’s journey is its emphasis on slow. He is taking seven years (!) to do this because he really wants to absorb the world as he goes. And he is looking for people along the way who are also seeking slowness in this madcap, speed obsessed world.

I think that’s the right thing to look for. Boy, it’s hard to slow down. I sat in the park this morning with my dogs and did a drawing. It was a small drawing, just filling a little box on the page, but I had to catch myself mid-way because I was tearing through it, barely looking at the arch I was drawing, just scratching out hasty, inaccurate and ugly lines. What the hell was my rush? It’s Sunday morning, I have nowhere to be till brunch, everyone else is sleeping, and yet I am belting through this drawing as if I was in an Olympic event. If I was Paul Salopek, I’d probably be half way to Rio by now.

Even though it’s been several weeks since I left the rat race, I still have my rat cleats on. I can feel it in the need I still have to accomplish things, to generate product, to log hours on my calendar. I so very much want to focus on the journey, the process, not the finish line but all these decades in the business world, in New York, still have me panting and pushing. I remind myself: I am on an epic adventure that will probably take another few decades to finish (in fact, I would like to push off the ending as far as possible) and what matters is the daily walk through life — the things I see, the people I meet, the lessons I learn.

If I’m really honest with myself, the reason I am not driving across country with my dogs is that the monkey is telling me I need to get to LA and start getting on with it. There’s no time for meandering and roses sniffing. I need to set up shop and start making something of myself. The monkey is wrong, again, of course. I make something of myself every day. It may not be something that can be direct-deposited, it’s true, but it’s also something that can’t be accelerated. Step by step, day by day, eyes open, head up.

—-

Here’s the link to Paul Salopek’s journey.  (I have put off giving it to you till the end of this blogpost for fear that you would rush off to read it and never come back to finish my blather. Clearly, I am better at slowing you down than I am at putting my own brakes on.)

33 thoughts on “Epic.

  1. I just wrote a similar note to myself after a day of compulsive drawing: “Go slo. Be calm. Trust your eyes. Look, look, look. Remember: It’s just a.”

  2. That car trip with the dogs sounds like a really FUN trip, take Route 66 maybe, all those cool places… funky restaurants and motels… and your little dogs to insure that you stop and ‘water’ the local flora several times a day. Worth a re-think maybe.

  3. Rent a car, take some nice music with you, and maybe the dogs (why would that be a problem?) and drive…… And I would love to see the drawings tell the story of the journey……. Who knows….

  4. Slow is gonna need a whole new set of brain cells which, fortunately, you (and I, and anyone who’s interested) can create simply by doing exactly what you did in the park that day. It’s one of the most exciting discoveries in the field of psychology, that new behaviors can literally create new brain cells. So long as you don’t expect it to feel natural right away but you just keep slowing yourself down anyway, even with the gravitational pull of the “rat race” pace, over time you’ll begin to see shifts in your internal pace. Thanks for your beautiful art, for your championship of slowing down. And for your willingness and courage to keep living out loud. I’m excited for you on whatever the next leg of the trip brings.

  5. More pros: your are leaving one huge fast paced metropolis for another. Having driven and drawn across this wonderful country numerous times I know there is so much beauty and charm, on a much slower pace between the two, it would be so worth it. I even have a drawing inside the laundry room in a motel six somewhere. And walking on the ruts of wagon wheels made on the Lewis and Clark trek is very cool. I drew them too! I bet your dogs would love it. Rent a car!

  6. Sounds like a great trip , with or without the dogs. The leaves here will be a drawing extravaganza
    and the people traveling to watch them would certainly add whatever color the rain takes away!! I can show you the trail of Benedict Arnold verses Louis and Clark and I have plenty of time to stop and draw. While your here you could offer up a class to some Mainers!! What a book just waiting to be written!! Holler when you get here!

  7. If not now, WHEN? Life is short.
    I think you’re focusing on the preparation details and letting the minutiae talk yourself out of it.

  8. I think you should drive across the country with the dogs, stay with your fans when possible, as well as camp in National Parks, State Parks, etc., along the way. I’m in Sweden now, but I can set you up with really lovely people in both Denver and Western Colorado :)

  9. I. too, have always been drawn to those epic journeys … adventures I dream about, yet always find excuses and reasons to delay the start. Appalachian Trail, a cross-country cycling trip, trekking in the Himalaya. Someday, I tell myself. Thanks for always reminding me that waiting for the opportune moment is too often a mistake.

    (And I love the snail).

  10. Oh Danny, what a wonderful epic!
    If I would be you, I would buy a cheap car, putting my two dogs and my sketchbooks in and where on the road soon!:-)
    If you’re looking for a nice fellow, please send me a line. You draw, I drive (and other way round), how wonderful this is!
    But there’s a little problem (not the monkey!):
    My two sweet cats – I can’t leave them alone….and because of your dogs… :-(

    So, there is nothing else for me, than to stay on my balcony, dreaming of california… :-)

    Matthias

  11. Take the trip, Danny. NOW, while you can. And enjoy every minute of it. You’ll have so many wonderful drawings and memories. I don’t want to die without having an adventure. You shouldn’t either!

  12. Yes, rent a car or find one of those driving companies that need someone to move a car from x to y. You’ll have an amazing adventure. And there are other hotels besides Motel 6 that will accept dogs. I can’t wait to see the sketches.
    Aloha, Kate

  13. Slowing down, wow. You are right, it’s such a difficult thing to do when you are used to listing your accomplishments of the day before you are satisfied enough to close your eyes at night. I work from home for our family business so I can basically make my own hours. Last week I put off the paperwork to sketch the neighbour’s historic home and who pulls into the driveway while I’m sitting there sketching? My boss (read my husband) who is never home in the middle of the day! I felt like I was caught in an affair……but I am so glad I did that sketch.

  14. “Don’t move till you see it”, a line delivered by the great Ben Kingsley from the film Searching for Bobby Fischer. From all your blog posts I’ve read, I would believe your internal compass won’t steer you wrong.

  15. Buy a car. Buy a new one so the likelihood of mechanical problems are a minimum. Go to a real tire shop and buy better tires than the ones on the new car. We’re a car culture here in the west and you will need it. Lots of places are far apart with no really good public transit system. My regular commute is 80 miles a day. That isn’t uncommon. The money you will spend in car rentals will easily add up to a car anyway.

    Dogs would make good companions on a journaling roadtrip because they just want to be with you and don’t want to hurry up to go somewhere. They will sniffle and snuffle away as you sit and draw. When they are finished and you aren’t they’ll lay down next to you and take a nap. This is an optimal time because it isn’t cold like spring….

    Just know this. If you don’t do it, you will have wished you would have. The opportunity is right there. Tomorrow always changes everything.

  16. Where will you be in “Los Angeles” – that statement covers an awful lot of acreage! There are some great small finds, intriguing neighborhoods, leaf filled canyons……..where will you be? And don’t give up on driving with the dogs. It’s so doable. And then you could see the Badlands at sunset, and you could stay at the Lodge on the Rim of the Grand Canyon and experience a sunrise that will stun you with its beauty…..Go for that drive, soon! And then when we find out what Southern California village you’re descending on, we’ll give you lots of tips on living in SoCal.

  17. Slow is hard. It’s learning to recondition your brain. I am not good at it – but my ‘rat cleats” are still on, so I feel like I have an excuse. I draw fast, I knit fast, I multi-task….it’s all crazy.

    enjoy the drive, I hope you do it.

  18. I really like your thoughts on slowing down… too often, I feel like I’m rushing from one thing to the next and that has instilled a desire to keep up that pace. But I try to remind myself to slow slow slow, things will be better at a calmer pace. A road trip would be fun. Yesterday, I saw an exhibit of three photographers showing the results of journeys… neat to see landscapes from different eyes. If you don’t make the epic trip across the US, maybe some smaller journeys once you hit LA?

  19. OMG I would do that drive with you and your dogs in a heart beat if you are willing to stop in SF before going to LA! Did the drive in ’79 from SF to FL with my sisters, what a great trip but way too short, we did it in 2 weeks and only with cameras…now I draw, nothing to tie me down to a schedule. Fall is a great season to see “from sea to shining sea”.

  20. I am quite sure you will be fine, whatever you decide to do. Whether you end up going to L.A. the slow or the fast way, you will be intentional about it. And I am going to order a couple of your books! Best wishes from a new reader, and a long-time urban sketcher.

  21. I think everyone should make the US cross-country trip at least once. I’ve done it several times: by bus, train and car. There is so much amazing stuff in between the coasts and early fall is a great time to travel. I’ve also done the drive-away option (delivering someone else’s car) which is interesting as well. Another option: get a pal or two and rent an RV… home on wheels! The person who mentioned needing a car in LA is so right. You are going to a car-centric world. I lived in N. CA for years and even there it’s challenging (unless you live in SF). California is a big state with limited public transit outside select urban areas. BTW, I loved all the books you mentioned (Wild, Kindness of Strangers, Bill Bryson etc)…. I am definitely an armchair traveler these days. Enjoy the trip however you go Danny, and I hope you still visit us on the east coast!

  22. I think you have a book here! Rent a car, pack the dog beds, sketch books and the dogs and go. Set up a tweeter account for us all to follow you and tweet out spur of the moment sketch crawls/meet-ups so we can all join you at various parts if your journey. I’m sure your many followers have dog friendly houses, know of dog friendly cafe’s, dog parks and fabulous stops to see America.

    Do it!

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