There are millions of beautiful photos of the Greek Island of Santorini, but none can match going there.
“There are travelers and then there are Travelers. If you take some time to review Curt’s lengthy résumé you’ll see what we mean: Peace Corps in Liberia, year after year at Burning Man, kayaking with orcas, and backpacking with the grizzlies. He walks the walk and his blog documents all of it.”
Travel Bloggers James and Terri Vance
“Now where did I leave that fish?” A big Kodiak Bear looks for salmon on the Frazer River of Kodiak Island. He was about 50 yards away from Peggy and me, a distance he could travel in 10 seconds. 1o, 9, 8,7…
A couple of weeks ago, two of my favorite world travelers, James and Terri Vance at Gallivance, nominated me to participate in what is called a “Behind the Scenes Blog Hop.” It’s a project making its way around the blogosphere where bloggers provide insight into why they blog. In this particular case, it was about people who travel frequently and write about their experiences. Go here to learn about what James and Terri have to say about their own journeys. I highly recommend following their blog if you don’t already.
The project sounded like fun but I was busy at the time. Today, I came up for air. Let me start by noting I am a wanderer by nature. I think it’s genetic. I’ve done a fair amount of genealogical research and discovered that my direct line of ancestors, at least as far as the 1600s, hit the road running and rarely looked back. As for me, as soon as I was allowed out of the house on my own, I set off to explore the fields, woods, ponds and creeks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain foothills where I grew up.
Why do you write what you write?
I am a storyteller and some of my best stories are about my travels and adventures. I believe that travel is one of the most enriching experiences we can have. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Explore, dream, discover: magical words that have always been my motto. Consequently, I have a lifetime full of wandering and very few regrets. My wife Peggy and I are wealthy with the experiences we have had.
And it is wealth we love to share— partially because it is fun to relive the adventures, but there is more. I hope to encourage those who read my blogs to “catch the trade winds in their sails.” And if not? I at least hope I can provide a taste of adventure, a dash of humor, a pinch of education, and on occasion, a serious thought.
There are two of other points I try to make with my travel writing. One, adventure travel doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Of course it can be, but it can also be a walk in the woods or a visit to a new restaurant. Anything that broadens our perspective on life can be an adventure. Just recently, for example, I wrote about a visit to a restaurant in Nashville that served really hot chicken. Believe me it was an adventure. And last year I wrote about a walk to my mailbox. It didn’t have to be an adventure, but I turned it into one.
This oak tree lives along the path I walk to the mailbox. In addition to having its own unique look, it serves as a home to a number of woodland creatures. A whole adventure could be built around watching it for 24 hours. I might add, this tree would be completely happy in the Hobbit.
Two, age does not have to be a barrier to travel. Peggy is big on this point. Young and old alike can have adventures. I am now in my 70s and Peggy is in her 60s and yet last year found us disappearing into a remote wilderness on a backpacking trip by ourselves, sea kayaking with the orcas off Vancouver Island, and going to Burning Man in the Nevada desert. If we can do these things, certainly people in their 50s, 40s, 30s and 20s can, not to mention 60s and 70s. And if you have children, take them along. You will create a lifetime of memories.
How does your blog differ from others of its genre?
Variety comes to mind. One day I might be writing about cruising the Mediterranean Sea and visiting a Greek Island like Santorini. Another day I could be introducing you to Pastie Dan, a character at Burning Man who makes, and will gladly apply, pasties to cover women’s nipples. You might join me for a raft trip down the Colorado, a boat trip up the Amazon, or a narrow boat tour in England. Want a little excitement? Try waking up at 3 a.m. with a bear standing on your chest in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park. Then there was the rattlesnake that tried to bite me on the butt when I was doing my thing in the woods. My poor sphincter was frozen for a week. Want a touch of the exotic? Join Peggy and me as we search for Big Foot, UFOs and ghosts— it’s all in fun, and yet…
Admittedly, this guy is a little bigger than the rattlesnake that tried to bite me on the butt. With rattlesnakes, I am not sure size matters, however. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This Bigfoot trap is located four miles from my home. It was maintained in the 70s in hopes of actually capturing one of the big fellows. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Normally Pastie Dan plies his trade at the Center Camp Cafe but occasionally, he wanders the roads of Black Rock City. He stopped at our camp to see if any of the women were in the market for pasties.
Maneuvering a 60 foot long Narrow Boat through the Trent and Mersey Canal in England is a wonderful adventure that comes with pubs along the way.
How does your writing process work?
My stories start with experiences. I don’t scramble over rocks in New Mexico looking for petroglyphs because I want to write about the experience. I risk life and limb because I am fascinated with petroglyphs. I will confess, though, that when Peggy and I take photographs, we think about the blog— in addition to documenting our travels.
We call this large cat a cougar, mountain lion, puma… it would be interesting to know what the ancient Native American who made this rock art thought about and called his creation. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Research is also part of the process, either before we traipse off on an adventure because it enhances the experience, or afterwards because I want to add depth to what I am writing about.
As for the actual writing… writing is writing; it’s work. And I say this even though I love to write. I will normally think through what I want to write about, create a first draft, do a rewrite and then edit for mistakes. Then I turn it over to Peggy for further editing.
Photographs are also a very important part of my blogging. Between Peggy and me, we often have as many as 100 photos we have taken in relation to a particular blog. Ten to fifteen have to be selected out for a post and then processed. Mainly I work on cropping the photo to capture what I want, but I also make minor adjustments to light, color, shadows and sharpness if needed. Altogether, the process of creating a blog can take from three to eight hours.
What are you working on/writing?
I work from a calendar of blogs I want to write. I’ll usually have two or three months’ worth of blogs in mind. This time of the year, I often do several on Burning Man because many of my readers are Burners, excited about getting tickets. Since I have now been to Burning Man for ten years, I am going to do a best of ten series (from my perspective) of sculptures, mutant vehicles, burns, structures, etc. over the next few weeks. After that, I will return to my north coast series exploring the coast of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Or I may do a series on California’s gold rush towns. (My home town was one.)
One of my all-time favorite sculptures at Burning Man.
The really big writing project I have been working on has been the book about my Peace Corps experience in Liberia, West Africa: The Bush Devil Ate Sam. I’ve posted several chapters over the past couple of years on my blog and a number of you helped me select the title of the book. This is my first venture into self-publishing and let me say unequivocally and undeniably, it has been a steep learning curve (understatement). I wrapped up getting the book in to Bookbaby two months ago, or at least thought I did. Bookbaby dutifully put the book on numerous E-pub sites and sent me back printed copies I requested. And what did I discover? Even though Peggy and I had meticulously done a line-by-line edit, some 30 errors. Damn. (A woman who is really good at editing found 25 of them, friends and family others.) So it was back to the drawing boards. Anyway, I sent all the corrections in last Wednesday and also set up the print on demand option. Soon…
One good bit of news, Steven Spatz, the president of Bookbaby, wrote to me on Friday and said he would like to feature The Bush Devil Ate Sam this week on Bookbaby’s blog. Given that Bookbaby is one the largest self-publishing companies in the world, produces thousands of books, and has an excellent reputation, things are looking up. (And no, Steven is not going to use me as an example of how not to.)
When I graduated from UC Berkeley and travelled off to Liberia, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I began one of the grandest adventures of my life. Once there, I continued to explore my surroundings by hiking off into the jungle. Here, I am standing on a bridge built by Kpelle villagers.
As part of this process of blog hopping, we are asked to nominate two other bloggers to participate in the blog hop. This is tough; there are so many great bloggers I follow. But that said, here are my two nominations:
Linda at Shoreacres: Wow, this woman can write. While she isn’t exactly a travel blogger, I can guarantee she will take you on some great journeys. As a compliment to the posts she writes, her followers comment in paragraphs instead of sentences.
Cindy Knoke: Cindy takes you from her home in southern California, the Holler, to journeys around the world. Her photography, particularly in terms of birds and wildlife, is superb.