Tuesday, August 21, 2007

postal scrotum: travel wisdom

Andrew wrote in a few days ago:

Hi Kevin,

How are things?

It looks like your brother beat me to the punch in his advice regarding your upcoming walk. I'm somewhat familiar with Washington, Oregon and Montana (lots of camping and motorcycling) and yeah... there's a lot of sparse country there.

I offer the following thoughts in the spirit of support and constructive feedback. I like your idea a ton and I look forward to reading the book when you're done. The ambition alone is noteworthy, the results should be something for you to tell the grandkids.

So in the spirit of what-I-intend-to-be-taken-as-helpfulness:

Your brother is also right about the sweaty-guy-showing-up-unannounced vibe. While a lot of folks in rural areas are pretty cool about strangers (they seem to sum people up pretty quick), a lot of them may not be really friendly off the bat. And to be honest, I'm not sure how friendly *all* elements of remote-farmland USA are to a surprise visit from a hulking, sweaty, half-Korean author with religious overtones. *I* know your intentions are legit... but it's kind of a hard-sell to deliver in 2 minutes when you suddenly appear in some fairly isolated town.

Even if the places you travel to aren't "isolated", per se, there's a big difference between a "City" in, say, Oregon, and a "city". The smaller outposts are even more unique in their culture.

Also keep in mind that we all have our Bad Days. A trek of just a few days can leave travelers in a pretty foul mood (if not presentation), which makes for a poor first impression. Something to keep in mind.

One summer I met a few unrelated bicyclists on various treks across the USA. They were of all ages, on all sorts of routes. They each seemed to get a lot out of their travels, but they definitely worked at it.

One rider was a 25-ish guy riding from Boston to Seattle, along the northern states. He had a blog (I'll see if it's still active) and was riding (hypothetically) as a fund-raiser for some kinda charity. Breast-cancer or something.

He was a pretty focused, kinda macho college guy. To give you a feel for his trip, he had a Raleigh road-bike with a single-wheeled trailer. His aim was to make a bee-line across the USA, so he took a direct route, which included a lot of staying at Forest Service Facilities (the infamous campgrounds so common in the west).

Compared to your plan of walking, he made pretty sweet time on 2 (well, 3) wheels. But even then, he had a fair amount of days-between-cities. And a couple stories of run-ins with good-ole-boys in pick-ups. He also mentioned that some of the storms on the plains were nothing to mess with. In the end, he had a great time, made pretty good time (I forget the total travel time), and seemed to get a lot out of the experience.

I hope your experience is as fruitful (or more so) than the cyclist guy's. Your intentions are in the right place, and you are still in the early planning stages - with lots of time to smooth out the bugs. Best of luck.

Best regards,

P.S. - If you'd like some information on traveling through Oregon, I'd be more than happy to help. I've done most of my traveling/camping around there and might be able to answer some questions that are otherwise hard to resolve. Safe travels!

Thanks, Andy. All good points. Please rest assured that I don't plan on showing up unannounced anywhere; that was never my intention. 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.

In fact, if what I'm doing catches on, then churches, temples, etc. can prep for my arrival far in advance, making arrangements, keeping tabs on where I am, perhaps sending someone along with me for that leg of the hike, either to act as a guide or to be a sort of ambassador, i.e., someone who hands me off to the next group: "You take good care of our Kevin, now." It sounds grandiose, but in this scenario, I become the torch of interreligious fellowship passed along from place to place.

Speaking of guides, one issue I might have to deal with is company. One or two companions might be nice (and if I have a documentary team with me, that number might increase), but it becomes a burden on each place I visit to feed and house not only me, but a bunch of people along with me. I have to think very seriously about how I'm going to handle this, because the day may come when some folks email me and say, "Hey-- you're the guy doing that walk, right? Mind if we walk part of the way with you?" How will I respond to this? One friend of mine joked that this could turn into a Forrest Gump-type situation (remember his run across the country? some people are wired to flock; others are wired to break from the herd).

More thoughts later as they burble up. Thanks again, Andy.


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