Thursday, December 11, 2008

Phones Calls, Emails, and General Preparation

Since my first entry, I have made several advances into this project, though none yet measured in footsteps.

I have contacted or attempted to contact every major newspaper in Texas, every newspaper along or near the perimeter, and all the Texas newspapers that start with letters A through G (and some of H). I have also contacted several outdoor companies and one GPS company asking for sponsorship. The final tally goes something like this: a few letters, a few mass-emails to over 500 recipients, dozens of personal emails, and over 150 phone calls to editors. There is still much more to do, and in the inevitable haze of fatigue, I often wish for a secretary and staff.

I have reaped some rewards. I have had the pleasure of talking to many of Texas's overworked, understaffed, under-budgeted editors. Many have been enthusiastic, and a few have given valuable feedback and ideas. After plowing through several dozen rejections, I have happily secured the verbal or written commitment of the following twelve newspapers: the Beaumont Enterprise, the Burnet Bulletin, the Calvert Tribune, the Eden Echo, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Franklin Advocate, the Hearne Democrat, the Llano County Journal, the Port Arthur News, The Highlander, the Victoria Advocate, and the White Oak Independent. I owe much of my ability to persevere through the administrative part of this trek to the editors who are supporting me. A million thanks to them.

Besides the business side of things, I have been reading a variety of stories, on-line articles, and books. The internet offers an endless stream of information for the seasoned searcher, but what I've found recently I have stumbled upon inadvertently. I have been reading NPR's series on the USA-Mexico border, an Outside magazine post on finding water in the desert, and a National Parks article on Mexican nature conservation across from Big Bend National Park. They are all very different stories but all very helpful, especially to a city person like myself. I've been reading a few books as well, mainly Goodbye to a River, John Graves's historical exploration of the central Texas region and personal account of traveling several hundred miles along the Brazos River before it got dammed up, but also a kids' book called Watching Desert Wildlife by Jim Arnosky. Both have got me excited and nervous, building up the challenge in my mind but also drawing a realistic portrait.

I consider all of it preparation, as information will be scant in the middle of the desert. Mild doubts plague me the more I learn, though nothing has deterred me from my current path. I can think of a few solutions for every concern, and I can only hope that they work. My brother Charlie has suggested I hike various sections around the perimeter before starting, and it's a good idea. But a part of me believes I'll learn whatever I need to on the way, if I haven't learned it already.

It's a project that surprises people, and through their reactions, I'm able to gauge just how nutty people think it is. I can't say I blame them. There are days when I'm in their camp. I wonder what the first few steps will feel like, the Texas horizon introducing itself. I wonder about getting attacked by animals during the day, at night, when I'm not looking, and so on. I wonder about the quicksand along the Red River, if it's still out there, and I wonder what I'll do if I see a bear in Big Bend. I imagine that similar thoughts are occuring to my bewildered audience, and it serves me well to investigate their thoughts and fears. I appreciate their honesty because, the way I see it, it improves my chances.

Until next time...

Friday, October 24, 2008

On Starting and Strength

I conceived of hiking the perimeter of Texas in 2003. At the time, I was hiking along the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail, and it's a well-known fact that hikers enjoying themselves on one trail tend to start dreaming about hiking every trail known to man, especially long ones. My mind drifted toward the longer Pacific Crest Trail, the even longer less-developed Continental Divide Trail, the John Muir Trail, el Camino de Santiago in Spain, and so on and so forth. As I had nothing to do but walk and dream, it was an exciting time of prospects.

Since I was born and raised in Corpus Christi, I eventually settled upon walking along the edge of Texas. This seemed big enough, hot enough, and just crazy enough for a Texan. I decided that I would start and stop in my hometown Corpus, which is the city featured in the above photograph (taken by Annie Mascorro, my partner, and used with her reluctant permission). As I walked along the A.T., I knew for sure that I had stumbled upon something special in the contours of my mind.

Unfortunately, my reality was altogether incompatible with my dream. After having hiked for six and a half months and my partner Annie having hiked for three of them, we were not in a position to spend more money to support me just moving my legs. I took up some casual jobs in Texas and Montana, and in a wonderful twist, I started writing a column for the local paper in Missoula. I stopped thinking about the perimeter of Texas and instead concentrated on real world concerns like rent and food. Annie did the same, also squeezing a Master's degree out of our new arrangement.

Then we dropped everything and moved to Africa. We bought one-way tickets and didn't doubt ourselves. Within a few months, we were renting a home in Kankan, Guinea, hanging out with locals, spending our savings, and wondering what in the world we were doing with our lives. There's really nothing like being in an African village without a project to get your priorities straight. It's basically like summertime when we were kids, only without the obliviousness. Out of desperation, Annie and I started having daily talks about what to do with our lives, how to do it, why do it, when, where, everything. That's when the Texas hike came back into the picture.

We came home about nine months after we had told everyone that we were moving to Africa. Rashness works both ways, as this time our families were happy to have us back. Furthermore, we brought with us a steady determination. Annie started taking courses for a nursing degree, and I started planning my perimeter hike.

I wrote my original query letter to a list of twenty-seven newspapers along the perimeter of Texas. I wrote it in June of 2008. I measured the perimeter of Texas on a road map, calculating about 2500 miles with about 500 miles of error (This is not without reason. The coast, for example, is not straight, but I measured it as such. What I measured as 100 miles could very well be 125 or 150 depending on the irregularities of it. The mountains in the west will also add many miles to my initial base calculation.). I dreamed the idea into something fierce, got excited, but in the end, didn't do anything. I had so easily lost my sense of purpose.

This was not without some help from my friends and family. Had Ernest Shackleton received the amount of resistance I did for his idea of reaching the South Pole, he may have simply given up his life on the waters altogether. So I listened to the feedback, some of it quiet and withdrawn, and sat on my letter for a week. A week then turned into a month. A month turned into three. I picked up another menial job and was starting the same pattern as before.

Then something snapped. I got sick of sitting on the idea. In many ways, it is a life-extinguishing practice, trying not to live out a dream. So on October 5th, 2008, I sent out a mass email to the twenty-seven newspapers that I had found on or near the perimeter of Texas. And I waited.

Chris Cobler, the editor of the Victoria Advocate, wrote first. He was excited about the idea. We exchanged emails, me asking questions, Chris answering them, but the first real hurdle had been passed. My blood was flowing, and my head was clear again. I am grateful to Chris for his contribution of support without which I may not have had the strength to continue.

I am currently in negotiations with several newspapers across the state. This adventure will happen. It will be exciting. It will be hot.

Stay tuned.