A Taste of Patagonia

Patagonica is a visual love note, created by Joe “Dapp” Foster during an intense month-long trip to Patagonia in 2015.

A four-week blur of hiking, filming, and driving, the team spent more than twenty days on foot exploring the jungles, fjords, and glaciers of Patagonia, capturing hundreds of hours of footage, and navigating more than six-thousand kilometers of twisting mountain roads in a rented van they called Condorito.

With such a heavy workload, fancy meals were mostly off the menu.

“Wonderful culinary experiences? I wouldn’t say my trips lend themselves to them…” he said as we talked just a few days after the film debuted. “We had our goals, we had to get shots. So if a granola bar is what allows you to get the shot and keep moving, then, well… Cooking’s considered a luxury.”

When timing and fortune allowed, they hungrily availed themselves of piping hot empanadas, made in the local way. But for much of the trip cooking was limited to simple stir-fries done up over a camp stove, or freeze-dried meals quickly re-hydrated with boiling water.

That was fine for the team of five, all of whom were experienced adventurers used to the rigors of life off the beaten track. But it made it that much more special when they connected with Ervin, their local guide in Futaleufú, for a homemade meal and a round of Pisco Sours.

You know Ervin, he’s the guy at the 1:22 mark who’s drinking wine from a traditional bota in slow motion. The meal— chicken and vegetables roasted over a wood fire, and hand-made gnocchi — features prominently with at least three shots starting at the 0:24 mark. Three or four shots may not seem like a lot. But when you consider that the movie is just three minutes long, and how carefully each shot had to be chosen from the hundreds of hours of footage, you get a sense for how special the night really was.

“I’ve never put eating food in a film before,” Foster said, “But that was big for us. It was really a moment.”

Why Cook When You Travel?

There are few things that put you as intimately in touch with a place and its people as cooking. Every step, from deciding what to make to hunting through shops, markets, and nearby farm-stands for ingredients can be an exercise in discovery.

Take this simple lentil curry as an example.

A bag of lentils will hardly cost you a dollar or two. Combine with a few dollars worth of carrots, potatoes, and ginger, then simmer in chicken broth with a dash of garlic and curry powder and you have hearty, healthy lunches for a week. In that way, cooking is an excellent way to stretch a travel budget.

 

Make a curry in England (where I was when I first tried this one) and you’ll make new friends quickly.

Mention the word curry, or a word that sounds like it might be curry — currentcarafe, corral — and watch as the eyes of the nearest Brit light up with joy and anticipation. For more than two-hundred years the British have had a proper fascination with the stuff, ever since first encountering India, and by extension food with real flavor.

They took to it like, well, like the British took to anything back in those days (colonizing little buggers), and have been obsessed ever since. Or at least, that’s what I gathered during wine-fueled late-night conversations of my autumn stay in Wiltshire. Food (or maybe it was the wine) has a way of bringing people together.

Of course if you want to cook, you first need a kitchen, and that means you need to get creative about where you choose to stay.

AirBNB has made it easy for people to rent apartments and even houses in more than 190 countries most of which come with fully-stocked kitchens. For travelers on a more restricted budget there are affordable hostels, and options like CouchSurfing, WorkAway and WWOOF. In addition to giving you a place to cook, these accommodations put you in direct contact with the people in-country. They give you a more authentic, local experience than could ever be had holed away in a one-size-fits-all room at the Marriott.

Once you have your kitchen, the real adventure begins. Butchers must be found and consulted, farmers visited and vetted. If you’re without a car this can mean long walks through exciting city-streets. It can also mean hours spent navigating through dense forests, using old maps and dead reckoning.

 

It’s true that you have to travel a bit slower if you want to explore a place this way. But once you try it the slower speed feels right. It feels better. It tastes better. Just like home-made pasta, hand-rolled and hung to dry as garden-fresh tomatoes simmer down on the stove tastes better than microwaved Chef Boyardee.

Cooking is a transformative art. A process by which a few basic things are taken and turned into more than the sum of their parts, bolstered with pinches of this and dashes of that, irrefutably improved through the careful use of energy (in this case, heat) and time.

When you think about it, the very same can be said about travel.

Travels with a Seiko

I’ll be honest, when I first unwrapped the shining silver spectacle that was my Seiko Chronograph, I didn’t like it. I appreciated it — a gift from my parents given on the day I finally earned Eagle Scout — but I didn’t like it.

It was beautiful; sleek midnight-blue face-plate punctuated every twenty degrees with golden slivers that glittered in the sun. A shimmering clasp-closed stainless steel wrist-band and hands that were visible by day or night. No alarm, no beeps or boops, just twelve hours and the date laid out in a way that was elegant, but functional. It was a man’s watch, and it was given to me as a symbol of my having reached adulthood.

But of course, it was only a symbol, for a boy has not become a man until he’s able to recognize the wisdom of his parents, and sitting there in the early morning light I thought there’d surely been a mistake.

The watch was beautiful, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t live a life with room for beautiful things. I was an adventurer. A swashbuckling, bear-fighting, road-tramping dirtbag, or at least, that’s what I aspired to. In two weeks’ time I’d be embarking on a four-hundred mile kayaking journey. There would be rain, and mud, and blood, and hillbillies. Certainly no place for such a fine watch. And so while I appreciated it, I didn’t truly love it. Not then.

But my parents told me to hang onto it, for the day would come when I’d need to dress and act like an adult. I had my doubts. But of course, they were right.

It was two years before I had it properly sized; two links removed in preparation for a job I’d taken at Yale. Three months in, the timepiece, and the job, felt more like a shackle than an opportunity, and it wasn’t long before I left to pursue work as an adventure filmmaker.

In 2012 I nearly hawked it to buy a dive-watch. I was headed for a new life in Hawaii, and everything I owned needed either to fit into my backpack, or be sold, donated, or thrown away. The far-flung pacific islands seemed once again like no place for such a fine piece of craftsmanship, and after nearly half a decade of limited use, I was almost convinced it was time to part ways with the old Seiko.

But then, it surprised me. I noticed something I hadn’t seen before, printed right there on the face of it. A tiny inscription; 100M. Could that possibly be meters, I wondered, and sure enough I flipped it over to find  Water Resistant 10 Bar stamped into the back. A quick Google search revealed that 10 Bar water resistance is quite suitable for swimming and even light snorkeling. I cracked a little smile. It wasn’t a dive watch, but my little Seiko was better suited to me than I thought.

We started hanging out more often.

Life continued on, and I started a business. Girls came into the picture. The way I dressed got smarter and smarter. My watch and I became pretty good pals.

It’s been nearly eight years since I first caught sight of how the hour markers glittered in the sun, and today  both the watch and I are very different than we were when we first met. We’re both a good deal smaller in circumference, it by three links, I by more than twenty pounds. We’ve both got our scars too. The second hand on the chronograph doesn’t reset perfectly to twelve, an injury sustained during the one and only battery changing the watch has needed during our time together. The clasp is scratched and marred from reaching into my pocket for the keys to the four cars, five cell-phones, and countless dollar bills, movie tickets, pocket-knives, packs of gum, pens, notebooks, and house keys that have come into and gone out of my life over the last few years.

But each scratch is in some small way a reminder of the adventures we’ve had. The time we navigated a sailboat between reefs out in Kaneohe Bay, dinners with friends aboard the Queen Mary 2, stowing away on the Coast Starlight Express to San Francisco, and many more. And the watch still surprises me to this day. Indeed, the reason I sat down to write this was because I found a new feature just this afternoon, a tachymeter used to measure distance and speed, staring me right in the face all these years but completely unnoticed.

I still fight bears sometimes. But mostly I wrestle words onto the page. Bears, in many ways, were easier. At this point in time, I’m living out of a backpack, traveling through the south of England while reconnecting with what it is I truly love to do. It’s not a big backpack, and I can’t fit a lot into it. But there will always be room for my trusty little Seiko.

 

A Case for Short Term Goals and Un-Planning

Today’s December 2nd, which means today marks exactly three months since I put my business on hold, and set off on the Appalachian Trail.

My, how things have changed.

In August, I lived in my parents’ basement in Connecticut. Today, I live in a finished attic on a rural English estate with a walled garden and an indoor pool (and in a week I’ll live somewhere else entirely). Could I have seen any of this coming? Could I have planned it?

In his interview with Derek Halpern, three-time best-selling author Tim Ferriss says that the key to his shocking success hasn’t been strategic planning, as many might first think. Instead, he lives by a series of three to six month goals and micro experiments. There are at least two major benefits for doing this.

First, he says, it lets him treat the projects in his life as tests, rather than major life decisions. If you launch a podcast, or open an online store by saying to yourself Okay, this is what I’m doing for the rest of my career then you face a tremendous downside if it doesn’t work out. You’ve failed.

The mere threat of failure is what keeps many people from trying things, and so this idea of committing to some long-term goal or plan can sometimes keep you from ever getting started.

By contrast, if you view something as a test, then there can be no failure; There’s only feedback. If it tanks, you take a look at what happened, and incorporate that new knowledge into your next project. You’re not a failure, you’re just learning. That feels a lot less scary.

Second, when you avoid long-term planning it leaves you open to opportunities you didn’t know were waiting. To create long, multi-year plans is to ignore the fact that the future is actually unwritten. It’s to risk being over-committed to a plan that’s not working, or one that only realizes part of your potential.

When Derek Sivers started his company CD Baby, his boldest vision predicted 1,000 clients and three employees crammed into his living room. Reality had more in store.  When he sold the company for $22M, CD Baby had over 200,000 clients, eighty-five employees, more than twenty-thousand square feet of warehouse, and millions of transactions a year.

Staying agile allows you to take hold of opportunities that are even better than you imagined possible.

All of this has been rattling around in my mind today, as I look back on what the last three months have brought. It’s rung especially true as I look forward to the next year, and the resolutions that would typically accompany the changing of the calendar.

This year there will be no resolutions. No goal by which I judge the success or failure of 2016. No grand vision for my life or work.

Just a handful of three to six month experiments that I’m really excited about, and hopefully the courage not to take them too seriously.

The Write to Roam TV: Episode 2

For those of you who may have just stumbled across this, this is an experiment I’m doing where — in order to get away from my desk for a little while each day — I drop on down to the kitchen, cook a tasty meal, and discuss facets of travel, entrepreneurship, and small business that are on my mind from the day. In this episode, I whip up a quick favorite from Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Chef .

Here is a link to episode 1 are links to any of the resources I talked about: Continue reading “The Write to Roam TV: Episode 2”

The Write to Roam TV: Episode 1

No, it’s definitely not a real TV show. Just a good excuse for me to get away from my desk once a day or so, get down to the kitchen, and cook a good meal. One part Random Show, one part Wine About It, with a little Ask Gary Vee mixed in, this is me standing in front of the camera cooking, and talking about some of the more interesting ideas, articles, and resources I’ve come across throughout the day.

Links to everything can be found below. Some are affiliate Amazon links, which definitely help to keep this ship afloat. If you’re thinking of buying any of the books I mention (and I won’t mention them unless I’d truly recommend them) it’d mean a lot if you’d do it by clicking the links here. Continue reading “The Write to Roam TV: Episode 1”

How to (Really) Pack for the Appalachian Trail — A Look at My Gear After One Month of Hiking

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“You know, my first time out I learned two things,” a man by the name of Hatchet told me as our cookstoves simmered in camp, “If you buy wrong you buy twice, and expensive gear is cheaper than knee surgery.”

He was certainly one who’d know. He was given the trail-name Hatchet because he began the Appalachian Trail with, among other things, a hatchet, a five-man tent, two hundred-foot lengths of rope, heavy-duty combat fatigues, a lantern, a flashlight, and a headlamp “just in case it got dark”.

This scenario is way more common than you’d think, even among experienced hikers. I spent many weekends backpacking as a kid, and used to sell equipment for a living, and still brought almost twenty pounds too much. The excess weight is killer on the knees, and replacing gear with lighter, more-effective versions is a pain on the wallet. So to help you avoid both I offer a comprehensive guide to my final gear load out.

This is not the stuff I started with, but the stuff I ended with and as such I think it’s a much more useful representation of what a long-distance hike really requires.

For your convenience you can download the Quick Glance Shopping Checklist here.

Continue reading “How to (Really) Pack for the Appalachian Trail — A Look at My Gear After One Month of Hiking”