I recently learned that an essay of mine, "The Contours of Cold," has been nominated by CutBank for the Pushcart prize! This was my first-ever literary journal submission and publication, a 4500-word piece about skiing Norway's Hardangervidda mountain plateau. Check out photos from the expedition here.
Hard to believe, but the Cycling Silk expedition ended a year ago today, when Mel and I flew home to Canada to begin other adventures–in my case, writing a book about the journey. To commemorate the end of the trip, we put together this random, purely-for-kicks highlights reel which condenses ten months, ten countries, and ten thousand kilometers of adventure...into roughly ten minutes of video footage.
This is a partial and hodgepodge portrayal of the trip, to be sure, and it doesn’t even touch on the wild borderlands dimension of what we were up to on the Silk Road–that will come later! We'll also be releasing a bonafide trailer in a couple of weeks. For now, though, we simply wanted to share the wild joy of riding the open road with you. Thanks many times over to everyone who supported us during this expedition, and happy trails...
Heart It Races (Architecture in Helsinki cover) - The Girl
Road - Nick Drake
Ready to Start - Arcade Fire
We Are The Battery Human - Stornoway
Walking Far From Home - Iron & Wine
Lost In My Mind - The Head And the Heart
Holocene - Bon Iver
CPR/Claws Part 2 - Typhoon
“I feel a fondness for the word bewilderment, especially the way the word wild is placed between the prefix and the suffix, as if there in the middle of the word (or world) is where the wild things are.”
—Aaron Peck, The Bewilderments of Bernard Willis
On April Fools' Day, I got a phone call notifying me that I'd won the 2012 Ellen Meloy Fund's Desert Writers Award. To my relief and delight, this wasn't a practical joke, though it took me a while to believe it. Ellen Meloy is honest-to-desert-gods a hero of mine, a role model in a literary sense and more, from the riot and splendor of her words to the soaring spirit and life they reflect. Her wonder, her hilarity, her wildness: with her writing I feel less like I'm reading, more like I'm being read. She just gets it – the joy and the ache of being alive in a world both wild and tame - like few other writers I've come across.
Ever since I can remember I have lived alone, and quite well, inside my own head. The spare desert stirred the most luxuriant imaginings; shadow and color bore meaning, light a deliriously languid ecstasy that felt like being touched. Often there would come to me mysteries more intriguing than any lucidity - how, for instance, in a place with few or no human beings, one could begin to see the worth of what it means to be human. Solitude tempered an inquietude; it settled the taste of restlessness enough to allow me to slow down and take responsibility for my own well-being. Ironically, the attraction to this landscape also resembled an outlaw coupling, the wild anarchy of a love affair whose heated obsession betrayed and unraveled some other, weaker fidelity. I risked social and professional obligations, and my loved ones's patience, simply to submit to an involuntary hunger for light, rock, and air."
-Ellen Meloy, The Last Cheater's Waltz
Nothing but occasional daydreams could pry me from this place. This was where I set down my crazed years, fighting what I thought threatened every young woman: an intolerable and crushing onset of adult blandness.
-Ellen Meloy, Anthropology of Turquoise
Over a decade later I count myself lucky to have inhaled desert dust on all seven continents. Ever since that late-teen love affair with Utah, deserts and mountains have magnetized all my movements, and I spend as much time as possible among them, toting along my weight in books. As a writer, scientist, and adventurer, I am drawn again and again to immensities of rock and ice, places where land, and by extension language, conspire to sky. In my journeys to high latitudes and altitudes, and in the writing that follows, I try to explore wildness as both a state of place and a way of being, each fundamental to the vigor and solace of all life on Earth.
By sky, stone, and creatures, I am thoroughly, irrevocably, and delightfully dwarfed.
-Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone
When I first read Meloy's The Anthropology of Turquoise, a nonfiction finalist for the Pulitzer, it was 2009 and I was still a lab-locked grad student at MIT, pining for the wild as I squinted down a microscope at a petri dish (which is not to say that wilderness can't be found at all scales, from a mountain to a microbe; I just longed to explore it in dimensions that fit my own contours). During this particularly tame phase of my life, Ellen's words arrived like a gift, a rogue gust of desert wind spiked with sage. When I finished reading her book I had the overwhelming urge to write Ellen a letter, an expression of gratitude, really, for being who she was and writing what she did. So I looked her up on the internet, only to discover she'd died years before, in 2004. The sense of loss I felt in that moment was gutting; I can't imagine how devastated Ellen's family and friends were when she passed away, trading in the mesaland for even more ineffable deserts. That day, inspired by her example, I started wearing a turquoise ring - a gift from my aunt - that I still haven't taken off.
It is the stone of the desert. It is the color of yearning... It occurs almost exclusively in the geography of asceticism, in broken lands of bare rock and infrequent green. Set against the palette of desolation, a piece of turquoise is like a hole open to the sky. Turquoise is the wealth of the nomad, portable and protective. It is irrefutable proof of the proximity of heart to beauty. The intensely articulated blue seems, like desert light itself, beyond all wealth, even when you know that to breath light, the sweetest scent, the finest taste, is simply enough.
-Ellen Meloy, Anthropology of Turquoise
"For me it is simply instinct, and perhaps this is all that a person can try to put into each of her days: attention to the radiance, a rise to the full chase of beauty."
-Ellen Meloy, The Anthropology of Turquoise
So incredibly stoked that Explore Magazine has named me one of Canada's top 10 adventurers in their spring 2012 issue! It's such an honour to be listed among the ranks of Colin Angus, Ray Zahab, and other intrepid explorers I've long admired from afar. Explore has always been a favorite magazine of mine, with every issue jammed full of inspiration and vicarious adventures and wilderness eyecandy, so I highly encourage you to check it out. This issue is now available on newsstands across Canada, or if you're out of the country, you can subscribe to the digital edition.
As a little kid I wanted to be an explorer when I grew up. National Geographic, that hallowed institution famous for its yellow-framed magazines, with photos and stories from unimaginable lands and cultures, played a huge role in framing my wildest dreams about exploring this planet. So when the National Geographic Weekend radio show, hosted by the legendary Boyd Matson, contacted me about being featured for the Cycling Silk expedition, I was pretty much on the moon with excitement. A dream come true! The show aired on January 9th, 2012, but I've only now figured out how to excerpt and feature the interview. Check out my National Geographic debut below:
In other exciting news, I was also featured recently on the CBC! Which as a similarly hallowed institution, certainly in this country, is enough to make any Canuck worth their maple syrup feel chuffed. The fabulous Mark Forsythe of the CBC's BC Almanac interviewed me about the Cycling Silk expedition and my plans to write a book about it, a show that aired on November 29th, 2011. You can listen to that interview here:
In other news I'm working on the Cycling Silk book like it's my joy, my dream—and my job. My boss overseeing this particular gig (ahem, yours truly) is absolutely ruthless, demanding overtime hours with no pay on nights and even weekends, in working conditions eerily similar to those described by Shackleton in his infamous (though possibly miscredited) advertisement seeking volunteers for a polar journey: "[woman] wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success." So however doubtful a safe return is, I'm aiming at success in the same way that Shackleton aimed his team at Antarctica—though unlike his crew, I'm hoping to avoid getting stuck fast in sea ice in the process. Whatever happens, it promises to be a wild ride in words...
"The craft or art of writing is a clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through - not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can’t be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible.”
-John Steinbeck, from a Paris Review interview