Welcome to the first 2022 edition of the Rambler, my (Alex Eaton) newsletter documenting my travels around the western United States. First, some housekeeping.
I initially said this newsletter would go through the end of the year. But I didn’t end up sending as many issues as I’d like, so we’re going to extend it through the end of this nomadic phase. The goal was always to end up in Washington state, and that is still the plan. Based on current plans, early summer feels like a good bet on when I’ll get there. More Rambler to look forward to. Even with the small number of sends it has felt really good to make this. Not only to write and produce but to make sense of this trip and what I’m looking for out here. Which brings us to today…
Tourists and pilgrims
“I’m less and less sure that there really is a distinction between a tourist and a pilgrim. Both are in search of a spell of unusually memorable days. The pilgrim hopes that the experience will change her in some way, but the experience changes you only insofar as all memories change you. The tourist, like the pilgrim, hopes that these moments will linger.” —Gideon Lewis-Kraus, A Sense of Direction
We’ve reached the phase of my travels where I wonder what it’s all for. I’m not as busy or surrounded by friends and family as I was the first five months, plus it’s a new year and I always get reflective when the bitter part of winter hits. I found the above quote in Craig Mod’s newsletter and the word pilgrim caught me. One of the reasons I’ve stayed places at least a month during this trip is to avoid being a tourist. But pilgrim? To me pilgrims have an important destination. Washington has always been that but not because of any particular significance. I’ve heard great things and want to explore the Pacific Northwest, thats the jist.
Do I hope to be changed by this experience? My personality lends itself towards seeking constant growth, but this ramble was first about the experience itself. My goal was to see more of the country, to soak up this phase of my life and use the freedom my remote job allows. Yet with a trip of this scope how could I not want to be affected in some way? I over-analyze to a fault, so when I feel lost in the murkiness of my endeavor I need strategies to pull me out.
Rules for travel
Those strategies end up as rules. But rules are limitations, and on a trip like this why set limits? Isn’t freedom the point? Sure, but I don’t see these rules as restrictive, I see them as guardrails for my experience. They will help keep me sane and focused on what I care about getting from this experience. How else can I keep my wondering mind out of the swamp of existential moodiness?
Craig Mod again, providing the inspiration, in his most recent Ridgeline newsletter. For context, Mod does extended walks on historic routes throughout Japan, using them as a platform for creative work.
I love rules. They’re helpful: Helpful creatively, helpful cognitively (they reduce rote decision making load). Walks can be powerful tools or “platforms.” Well-considered rules applied to walks are like the low level “code” of the walk. They define the functions and features of a walk, the kinds of work that emerge from walks. (Ridgeline 134)
I highly recommend reading the full issue if you’re curious about his rules and how it looks on a multi-week walk. He lays them all out, how they’ve changed, and how much he followed them on his recent trip.
So what are my rules? They’re not fully set. It’s required me to figure out what I want to do in each place I visit, and it changes by the place as well. Here are a few loose ideas I’m fiddling with right now. It looks more like things to do than rules right now.
- Try the top 3 coffee shops in town
- Try 2 breweries
- If you eat out, eat local. Avoid chains.
- Explore the local trails, running and hiking with Scout
- Explore the bigger mountains in the area (if accessible)
- Write Rambler
- Take photos
You’ll notice I included some general rules like explore and take photos. Those aren’t very helpful and I need to clarify them. They’re too easy not to follow when they’re that loose and I think it shows in my experience so far. Mod has a rule to take a strangers portrait every day before 10am, and he is constantly snapping away photos. So for me it could be as simple as having a camera on me at all times.
I’m also exploring time-based and project rules like “explore one new trail a week”, “plan X landscape photo ops in each place”, and “find a local artist to collaborate with”. The two areas I need to sharpen up most are creation habits and social interaction. Social interaction is a bit harder right now with COVID. The opportunity for spontaneous interaction feels small and it’s one of my weaknesses in the first place. Putting myself out there to strangers or asking for a portrait is a steep hill to climb, I’d actually rather be forced to run up Mt. Sanitas in Boulder.
Rules should make it clear what I value. From that list you’ll know I want to be spending my time outside and on trails, photography and writing are my mediums of expression, and one of my goals after staying somewhere is to be able to provide confident recommendations to friends who visit that place.
Without these rules in place it’s easy to end up wallowing, especially in winter. I’ve spent many days waking up, working, walking Scout, eating dinner, having a beer or two and wasting away the evening on the computer. Those days are deeply unsatisfying. My goal is to finalize my first ruleset based on what I’ve liked so far from Durango, Taos, and Southern California. Then we can change as we go.
There are no rules around rule making, only that you treat them with some reverence, some gravity, treat them as loosely canonical, possible to be broken, but only broken with proper justification. It’s when you abide by a rule, feel out its contours and edges, and then consciously break it, that interesting work begins to appear. (Ridgeline 134)
With all that said, here is a first working draft of my rules. In each new place I visit I will…
- Find and try three coffee shops, two breweries, and one restaurant.
- Ask the staff what their favorite menu item is and order it, even if not my first choice, at least once.
- If I eat out, I eat local and avoid national chains and fast food.
- Explore one local trail per week
- Shoot three sunrises and/or sunsets in town or the surrounding area
- Publish Rambler bi-weekly
- Have a camera with me at all times when I leave the house
- Visit an art gallery or museum
I want to add rules for daily creation to make it habitual. I’ve obviously not even met my bi-weekly Rambler rule so far, and I want that to change this year. My photography needs some more specific guidelines as well. Social rules remain tough and I need to think about that one more.
Reviewing how well I followed my rules when I leave each place will be a fun exercise to share what I made, saw, learned. I’ll experiment with what I share, providing my recommendations for places in town if y’all would be interested in that. I didn’t think about taking Rambler in that direction before now, but why not?
Do you have any rule ideas for me? Are you making any rules for yourself in 2022? Let me know and I can share some of yours next issue.