Wednesday, August 22, 2007

postal scrotum: the hike and practical issues

Charles writes in:

Special K,

I know you're getting a lot of mail on this subject lately, but I figured one more faggot on the fire can't hurt, right?

I have to admit I was rather surprised at your latest post on the walk, specifically this part: "What I'm leaning toward is putting the onus of sending me off to my next destination on the religious community I'm currently staying with. In other words, it would be up to them to find the next establishment for me to visit (I'd prefer that it not be of the same religion as the three previous establishments, though my choices may thin out in "flyover country"), and perhaps in making those arrangements with people of another tradition, certain ties will be born. That's my hope, at least."

Does this mean that you are not going to have a carefully planned route and instead are just going to kind of cross bridges when you get to them? I do understand why you're doing this (well, maybe not fully, but I think I understand enough), but I wonder if that's really a good idea. Most hikes across the country are very meticulously planned. Of course, there are hikes that are not meticulously planned, and some of them probably succeed. But it might not be a bad idea to have at least a backup plan.

Another thought: how good do you think the chances are that these religious establishments you visit are going to have enough connections (or interest) to direct you to nearby establishments from other traditions? In theory it sounds like a noble idea, but I wonder how well it is going to work in reality. In the end, though, this is your show, and I'm sure when the time comes you'll know what to do.

I guess what worries (yes, worries--sorry, I can't help it) me is that you seem to be focusing more on the ideological level of this walk as opposed to the practical level. Or maybe that's only what you're sharing on your blog. Whatever the case, we'll have to hook up with Scott at some point when I have a little more time in my schedule (probably after mid-October). That will hopefully help you get a better handle on the practical aspects, even if your hike is going to differ in nature from most hikes across the country.


As you've seen, I've been slapping up emails and comments that deal with practical issues (sparsely populated regions, unfriendly locals, showering, camping, etc.), so I'm not sure how it seems my emphasis is overly biased toward the ideological aspects of the walk. I'm also still in the "thinking aloud" phase, so let's not rush to hasty conclusions about my style of planning. Please give me a chance to cogitate, make calls, send emails, etc., over the next few months before we wonder about possible flaws in overall strategy.

Do keep in mind that it's also possible to overplan something, to suck the spontaneity right out of the experience and leave nothing to faith or chance-- sort of an ironic stance to take for a religious walk. I'm not planning to step out into the wilderness with nothing but a hairshirt, but at the same time I do want this walk to be about discovery, not about knowing almost every particular in advance.

The idea of a route that plans itself might seem either unwieldy or scary or both, but you're not taking into account the joyfully participatory nature of many religious communities, especially the youth, who might really get a kick out of such an idea. This is, in fact, one angle I'm thinking of working: youth involvement (senior highs, junior highs, or however it might work in non-Christian communities).

One absolute is that I will not go where I'm not wanted. The immediate corollary is that, while I'm at Site X, Site X+1 should already be aware that I'm coming-- the more in advance those folks know, the better. This will require a great deal of preparation in the coming months (lest we forget, it's the end of August, and I've got until late April of next year), but if we get some PR going,* it's possible that this might snowball into a trek that is totally mapped out by the time I actually start walking.

Peter Jenkins, the author of A Walk Across America (thanks again for the book, Mike) was a brave soul to do what he did in the 1970s. He visited crotchety hermits unannounced, stayed with a black family in the South (where he suffered the prejudice of some white locals), and even spent time at The Farm (where his beloved dog Cooper was accidentally killed by a truck). I'm not as intrepid as he was; I don't relish the thought of le camping sauvage for days on end. I want my walk to lead from human outpost to human outpost, with a minimum of "wilderness time." In theory, over 90% of my walk will be along roads, not trails. If it's anything like my three-day hike in Switzerland (from Fribourg to the Thunersee), I may have to watch out for huge farm dogs. But I'm hoping to leapfrog from shelter to shelter, not in a random way, but in such a way that everyone knows where I've been and where I'm going to next.

None of which is to say I dismiss your points. Good planning is indeed essential. Thinking about practical realities (like weather conditions, supplies, footwear, first aid, yokels, etc.) is absolutely important, and I am mulling these things over, both privately and on the blog. I think you may be jumping the gun by already judging what I'm up to and how I'm going about it. We've got months, man. Stop worrying. If it's April 1, 2008 and I've got nothing to show for all this planning, that will be a good time to worry. In the meantime, I'm pooling opinions and soliciting suggestions-- practical and spiritual-- from my readership.

*Nathan has very kindly offered to help out with that, should I do a "prelude" segment in Vancouver before swooping over to the US Pacific coast.



Anonymous said...

I guess it was precisely the fact that everyone was writing in about practical issues that gave me the impression that you were not as focused on practical issue. That might only make sense to me, but there you have it.

I do tend to plan things well in advance and in great detail. For me, though, planning is more about anticipation than having to nail things down. One thing I've learned over the years is that nothing ever goes according to plan, at least not for me. The important thing is to be able to go with the flow, so to speak. The only way planning can kill spontaneity, I think, is if you try to stick slavishly to a plan (even in the face of evidence that it's not working).

I am confident that when the time comes, you will be ready. I'm sure your determination and drive will be enough to overcome what ever difficulties you encounter. It's going to be an epic adventure, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't the least bit jealous. I'm very much looking forward to the book.

Kevin Kim said...

OK. You might have thought that my slapping those emails up was somehow not part of my thinking process, when in fact those contributions are absolutely integral to my planning. I want many angles and I don't assume I can swing this alone.

Regarding this:

"I do tend to plan things well in advance and in great detail."

I see a basic difference in philosophy here. When I go somewhere in Europe, for example, especially if it's a place I've never been, my main goal is to get lost. This may have something to do with congenital stupidity resulting in a need to learn things the hard way, but my travel philosophy is that you end up with a much more meaningful experience that way than if you plan your itinerary in detail. I love wandering around a new city, even if I end up in a succession of crappy districts.

This means I usually prefer to travel alone, or to travel with people of the same mindset. If it's going to be all about schedule, for instance, then I want no part of it when traveling. I'm not on vacation to experience time pressure; there's enough of that at my job. Same with the "let's hit the top 5 popular sites in this town" style. Ugh. Can't stand that manner of sightseeing.

Corollary: if I'm with a group, then I usually just bow to the will of the group because I already consider the experience ruined.

My brother David and I had a lot of fun in 1991 with our Europasses and only a vague idea where we were going. I knew I'd have to hit Fribourg, Switzerland and Nantes, France, but David and I also wanted to try some other countries, which is how we ended up in Stockholm, Sweden. That was pretty damn cool. True: we did follow some advice to try for university lodging,which is way cheap in many European locales, and that turned out to be a good thing. But aside from that, we just wandered and had fun gawking.

This upcoming walk won't be like that Europe trip, of course, which is why I take seriously the need to prepare on the practical level. Keep the suggestions coming.

I'm thinking, by the way, that once I settle on a name for the walk, I'm going to have to start a new blog devoted entirely to it-- one that allows (monitored) comments so that people can write in with ideas.