The Big Walk

At the age of 30, after the breakup of The Western State Hurricanes in 1999, John went home (he lived with his former band-mate Bo at the time), put some things in a bag, gave his 2-weeks notice to his job at the newsstand - the best job he ever had, went down to the travel-agency on Broadway and got the cheapest 1-way ticket to London for $400 dollars. He went out of Heathrow, started walking to the channel, took a boat over to Holland and walked from Amsterdam to Istanbul. It took John 6 months which felt like 16 lifetimes, but he only used up one pair of shoes. (OJR)

John was out there walking across the Czech Republic like a dumb ass. His music career was over, he didn't have a plan for what would come next and walking across Europe didn't seem to be a good business model. It was just an event, like a cleansing by fire, but he had no intention of picking up another guitar again or teaching another base player Unsalted Butter. When he came back to the states, he would have to start his life over, maybe in banking or something. John didn't want to be in the alternative culture anymore. He wanted to be divorced from the whole world of people who were as small as arts people can be and he didn't know what was going to happen. When he came back from the walk, he was blown out and devastated. The walk had not collected his thoughts, but spread them over 5000 km. He went through Seattle zombified and at the age of 30 he didn't feel at home at the University anymore either. (OJR)

Not bringing any technology (RW82)

John did not bring any electrical devices on his trip. No phone, no camera, not even a 35mm disposable camera. He had a journal and a compass, but he did not document his 6 months of walking in any other way than writing in a book. For a lot of people the idea that he doesn’t have a single picture is unimaginable. A few times he would go into a train station and get a strip of 4 pictures of himself in a photo booth. As far as he was concerned, a disposable camera would have been a distraction. He would have been pulling over all the time to take pictures of these vistas and then he would have had to figure out a way to mail them home and get them developed. Why bother?

The fruit stand and John's inner parliament (RW73)

During the walk there were a lot of thwarting conversations going on in John's mind, because there was nobody else to talk to and there wasn't anything else to focus on while he was listening to the birds tweet and the sound of the gravel under his feet day after day for miles and miles. This is very fertile ground for voices and for months he walked along in conversation. As time went on, it was quite evident he was not talking to himself. There were multiple people, both whom he was talking to, but also doing the talking. John wasn't just arguing with different voices, but there was a pitched argument between multiple people happening inside his own head. It was often unclear who in this conversation he was himself. He was observing and he could interrupt, but since it was him talking to himself, whom was he to interrupt in that situation? Essentially, he was meditating for 9 hours a day, walking from sunup to sundown without talking to another person. It was infuriating that a lot of those conversations were very circular. There were voices in him expressing a lot of dominance, others were very passive. There was a lot of sly operation, the dominant voices were not wise and the wisest voices were often not active, but are content to observe, which is often not helpful. For months and months John waged this parliamentary style of argumentation, happening behind the curtain. He could not see anyone's faces, but learned to distinguish individual voices and gave names to them, enabling him to tell certain people to shut up and focus on the quiet ones, asking them to speak up with what they were wanting to say for a long time.

John was in the Czech Republic in the middle of July while the cherries were all ripe. It was very hot, but there was a lot of shade on the side of the road, so he would walk in the hot for a while and then sit under a tree and eat some cherries. As John was walking in the sun, being in the middle of a 40-person conversation in his head, he saw an old woman sitting at a fruit stand. If you see someone coming towards you, you have a long time thinking what you are going to say to each other and you have a lot of commonality, because neither one of you are where you are going. Who knows where either one is headed, the other person could have been on his way from Istanbul to Amsterdam! But if you are standing still, you are minding a spot and you are there for a reason, waiting for a bus or something. While John was approaching this person, somebody in his inner parliament got mad and wanted to rehash something someone said 14 years ago. Somebody else wanted to introduce a bill where they all agree that the plan is to have a nationally syndicated radio show in the future. Another person wanted to re-argue that the plan of walking across Europe was dumb and everybody was shouting at each other like a scene from Wall Street.

John was the only person on this road, except for a few old trucks that had passed by in the last couple of hours and seeing that woman alone at this fruit stand was a weird scene. She had a crate with some fruit on it, waiting for a customer. John was walking along with 100 degrees (38°C) outside and he was absolutely in her target market. She could have been a witch for all he knows! Why was she standing there selling fruit? All of a sudden, the attention of the whole parliament got directed to this upcoming moment where he would say "Hello" in the Czech language, she will say hello back, they will smile at each other and he will pick some fruit and overpay her because she is a little old woman out there in the middle of nowhere and he will be able to continue walking, consuming this delicious fruit.

As John came within eye-shot, he and the woman looked and smiled. As he got right to her, a clear, shining voice came out of the gloom and told him that he hadn't walked long enough today to have earned any fruit. He tipped his hat at her and kept walking. The parliament immediately sprang into action with rage like the Roman senate raging at Caesar. This was the fruit opportunity of the day! John continued to walk away, looking back at her while she was looking at him, but of course he couldn't just walk back. For the entire rest of the day, John was in the middle of a Reichstag that was trying to figure out what the fuck just happened. The voice who had said John hadn't walked far enough to deserve fruit had made a coalition with quieter voices like the one who didn't want to talk to anybody and who had cast their vote secretly in committee, together with the voice that was concerned that the fruit might have been bad and John might have paid too much. This chorus of little rats had been working together unbeknownst to John and when the time came to shout "Don't stop!", there was quite a bit of support for it. Enough of the parliament was behind it to overrule logic and all the voices who couldn't wait for this fruit.

This event showed him 3 months into a 6,5 month-run that his internal parliament was a badly-run, poorly-managed operation that was insensible and making bad decisions. This deliberation was a lot of Sturm-und-Drang signifying nothing. For the rest of the walk, John was at war with this parliament, telling them to shut up and pay attention. They would each in their turn have their special moment pleading for their validity and how important it was to take their council, but John shouted them down each and every one of them, hourly, until the only voices left were exhaustion, fear, and hunger. All sorrow and shyness was gone. If somebody would offer him a tomato, he would gladly accept it. If someone would invite him back to their home, he would follow them. Throwing out all those voices was how John survived. For the longest time, there had been no "me" left, but at least John was walking, not just laying in a ditch staring up at the stars. He had stuff to do!

When he eventually came back into the world, he noticed that the parliament was going on all the time, but he just didn't hear it, especially not the quiet voices. He didn't recognize things like "I'm shy", or "What if" as a voice anymore. The individuation of those voices went away and he didn't recognize them as legitimately separate persons anymore who don't get along with each other and who all have different agendas. In the noise of living in the world, this internal dialog is concealed although the voices are still there and their input is the same. John just registers them as his own thoughts. The movie Inside Out describes this very well. Now he can only imagine that all that stuff has reassembled itself and the parliament has seated itself again, but he had spent enough time back when he was able to war with them individually and tell them to be quiet. John didn't want to think about that one time 5 years ago where that one guy came into the newsstand and put his money down in a way that John took to be an insult. John had enough time doing that, so he is still liberated a little bit from the tyranny of that group.

Czech Republic (RW73)

Czech Republic is a beautiful paradise! People think only about the many wars that have been fought. The Czech people are fatalistic slaves, things never work out for them. It is a real Eeyore-culture, which is one of the things that makes it beautiful. They are not super-ambitious. Given the material and cultural wealth of the Czech republic, it should be the center of Europe in every respect, but they are just writing plays and spend their summers out in their cabin that is half-built and has been for 80 years.

Arriving in Istanbul (RW79)

When John, the blonde guy with his straw hat, came to Istanbul at the end of his walk, he probably looked like a Western tourist. He went to his hotel-room to put his bag in, walked outside and sat down in the public square by the Hagia Sophia, like "Here I am! I made it all the way here!" As he was sitting there, he met a charming Palestinian guy, a fascinating and very interesting man who was well read, had been around, was fluent in English and was living in Istanbul. He was roping John into his world of being a refugee from Palestine who had come to Turkey after a long and involved journey. He wasn't telling it as a sob story, but they were just two guys sitting on a park bench. It was a case of fast friendship and they liked each other immediately, but from 5 minutes in John knew that the guy was a con artist trying to get something and the subtext was that this friendship would come at a cost somewhere down the road. John spent the whole afternoon in this conversations, debating global politics, arguing about Palestine and talking about Pan-Arabism making all these sweeping declarations at each other. It was impassioned, smart and fun!

As the sun started to set, it was time for John’s new friend to pull the trigger and he understood that if John had been a little less savvy, he could have turned this into a multi-day con. He was even a little reluctant to execute his scam, but it had never been far from his mind. He was using his personality, charm and intelligence to earn a living. Then there came the last card, which was "I need help to bring my mother here from Palestine" or some kind of very true sounding and potentially even true, heartrending need. John chuckled when it came and his friend was offended by it, but they had both know what the whole afternoon was about and he could just had said his piece, said that he needs a fan belt. John doesn't have that money anyway and there would be no way he would give it to him even if he had, but he felt he should still compensate his friend for his time, because he could have used this day to rook some Indiana-tourist.

John gave him $50 which seemed like a lot of money and which in Turkey at the time was plenty of money. His friend was disappointed, but also kind of shrugged and acknowledged that he wasn't going to get $900 from John. It would have been churlish of John to just say "Well buddy, I knew it was a scam all along! Go take a flying fuck at a rolling doghnut!" In most cases, you see it a long way out when somebody is running a game like that. He presumably doesn't do it beause he wants to, which is true about most thieves. When they are using their charm, their smarts and their gift for connecting with people that way, it feels like they are squandering their talents. It hurts because making that connection right away and feeling that they are on your team is so rare. Being able to create that feeling makes those con artists are so effective. It is a gift, but they just use it wrong. Instead they should sit and talk to somebody on a bus for 20 minutes and have them feel better when they part company.

John’s broken Northface backpack (RL14)

In advance of the trip John bought a backpack from Northface. Growing up in Alaska, he always considered Northface to have the finest outdoor gear, at least he thought so in the early 1980s. They always want to sell you a bigger backpack, which is the wrong way to buy a backpack! You want to get the smallest backpack you can because you are going to carry all your shit on your back. About 3/4 of the way across the continent of Europe, somewhere in the mountains of Romania, the backpack failed and the material ripped. It failed because it was a shitty product and a poorly made thing. It wasn’t made to walk across Europe, but to take your books to school or to go on overnight trips. It was not a piece of hardy gear! John was forced to fix his backpack with a sewing kit and during the whole rest of the trip through Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, he had to fix it again every few days. Every time he had to do it and every day this thing was digging into his side, he was building up his fury.

At the end of the trip, his beard had grow really long and his eyes had become crystal blue like a wolf's eyes because he had been out in the sun all day and it has bleached out all the pigment in his face and hair. John sounds like John Carter of Mars. Even as he came back to Seattle, he continued to save and cultivate his fury for another week. During that week he wasn’t reflecting on the experience of having walked across a continent, but he was getting ready for exactly how he was going to handle his broken backpack.

Finally, John walked into the Northface store. Their job nowadays is to sell puffy jackets to Japanese college students and their only connection to the outdoors is those giant pictures of people scaling mountains up on the wall of their stores. If you look around the store, it is all Co-eds and sorority girls buying puffy jackets. As John walked in, he still had leaves and sticks in his hair and he could have cut through 3 inches of steel with his eye balls. A little sales girl walked over and asked ”Hey, can I help you?” and John said ”I just walked from Amsterdam to Istanbul with your shitty backpack and it broke halfway through in the field. I was one of these guys in the mountain like you have up here on the wall and I trusted your gear and it let me down. I demand satisfaction!” and she said ”Okay, well. Do you want to return the bag?”, but John didn’t just want to return it, he demanded satisfaction.

She called a manager who offered him a new bag, but John still demanded satisfaction. He wanted a refund for this bag, a new bag for free and an apology. He was like ”Well, we can’t do that!” and John started to rant in a louder voice: ”There was a time when outdoor gear was something you could stake your life on! When you are hanging by a thread and can’t trust Northface gear, what can you trust?” People were running for cover as John was standing there shaking the leaves out of his beard. He was there all afternoon until he got his satisfaction! He was threatening to write an article for The New York Times and he was saying that he was sponsored by the National Geographic Society. He still has the rotten bag, the new bag and the satisfaction because the manager eventually apologized to John. He would not take a wimpy ”I’m sorry you’re unhappy”, because a big city apology like that makes it twice as bad. John is sure they had tried that and he had started screaming at them even more.

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