Without Fail

Greetings, friends.

I know it’s been awhile since you last heard from me. As you’re likely aware, my prerogative on this journey has been to write in lively, prolific prose. Until this post, I’ve been enveloped in it. I’ve been keeping my head down, focusing on pouring out my thoughts as I experience them. It seemed like blog writing would prove a distraction, rather than an inevitability. That thinking was shortsighted. So here I am, alive and writing, ready to give you the update.

Last night, one week ago, Xina and I crossed a particular state border, one that for me felt both exciting and provocative. Our journey thus far has taken us through twenty-three American states in just twenty-three days. Yet when we found our way across the Oregon border yesterday evening, something lodged itself in my mind and hasn't yet come free. This thing I’ve been fixated on, it goes back. It links us, through generations, to the founding of America. It starts with this idea of the Western coast as the end and summation of all things, and it goes from there. In many ways, the coast is seen as a full stop, and of course, it's also a destination. It's a place where you can go no further, but that you may not want to leave. Much like the goal weight at the end of a diet, California asserts itself as a sort of fresh, alien conclusion. As Kerouac proves again and again, it’s a place for celebration, for living life to the greatest extent. Today it’s in the rearview.

Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

Now, as you all know, we've been billing our expedition as "The Quest West," and as I can pretty distinctly recall, that's for good reason. It's a punchy, summative, rhyming call-to-action that lazily encapsulates the goals of our trip. Firstly, we're heading west. That's easily understood. And then there's this word "Quest,' which maybe reminds you of Monty Python or a video game, but either way tends to imply an endeavor or struggle. So here we are, not deep in the Western landscape but literally on the golden coast, the West coast, the "best" coast, the Northern head of California, and I feel there’s been no struggle, no adventure. Everything is left to accomplish. This is when I start to sweat with the anxious fervor of an existential crisis. I think Xina had this realization on the actual midpoint of the trip, day twenty, which she spent in Tacoma while I was in Salt Lake, but of course I wasn't there to revel in the horror. So it goes.

According to the title of our campaign, our goal has been accomplished. We wound our way through the bulk of North America, stopping everywhere from Nashville to the Mall of America. We finished the pilgrimage, like so many before us, and we reached the promised land. The thing is, though, there's no intermission, there’s no relaxation, and there’s no stopping. We're only halfway home, and despite California's holy stature, we're not here to celebrate. We’ve got a checklist and we're pushing on to Nevada, passing up San Fran and LA for adventures off the beaten path. On day 23, there's still a good deal left to accomplish, and a terrifying, but necessary amount of reflection that goes along with that.

Being in the interlude brings up some challenging questions, many of which were posed by friends and family at the outset, and subsequently went unanswered. I occasionally felt, in the planning and campaigning stages, that people wouldn't, or didn't, understand the goals and limitations of our journey. To be completely honest, I don't think we did either. But here we are, looking back at the East like you might look in a bathroom mirror, and let me tell you, there's a lot to be said.

Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

If you're inclined to envision this trip like Lewis and Clark might've, the questions get easier. Cities like New York, Boston, and Philly harken us with their morbid curiosity. They want to know what we saw, what we accomplished, and what we took to heart. Now that we've reached our destination, these questions start to demand answers. Our anxious minds, in turn, demand progress, demand proof of concept. They ask us: Have we grown as individuals? Is our art now superbly inspired? Do we have a trove of stories to tell around the fire? That's where the stress begins to peak. We see this trip as a life experience, the kind of thing that likely gets committed to memory, and we're starting to lose it. I start to wonder how many of the stories and poems I've started will see their way to fruition. I worry about the places we've already been, if I've truly seen them. I wonder if I've learned anything, if this forty-day trial has been worth the time and the money and the sweat and the emotion. We're only halfway there but it feels like so much more. Like the man in the moon is staring down at us, commanding his planet like a starship prepped for battle. It feels like the sky might be crushing down on us, and here we are, eating tacos and playing that album by the Alabama Shakes. We've been tasked with the mission of documenting America before this happens, before change occurs, before the moon man collides with our beautiful country and we lose it all in a hellfire dance of clashing culture and mounting adulthood. And this time it’s personal.

So before you ask why we even bothered, or what we're striving for, or where your postcard is, you should know one thing. Above all else, this journey is an education. It is history, sandwiched and squeezed between our storied past lives and the infinite future that drifts teasingly before our very faces, and that there is the basis for all art. It is not about beauty, of that I’m sure. Art isn’t what you learned in school, at least not my school, it’s not aesthetics and it’s not craft. Art, as I’m speaking to it, is the truth of human communication, whether visual or physical. It is that which comprises everything we consider as art and everything that we do not. There is no difference. So here, in the midst of New America, every hole in the wall, every motel, every new face, it all seeks to reinforce this education. Becoming a writer does not require that I write extensively, though I’ll admit that helps. No, reaching that ten-thousand hours, in every medium I’ve touched, requires life to unfold. You need thoughts and opinions and experiences to convey, and you need history, and joy and suffering, to contextualize.

Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

Objectively, technically, and in writing, our trip has been a success. On the surface, yes, we made it. And past the great distances and the ten-thousand miles, we lived to create and experience. We soaked in the matter of the universe, big and small, and if it hasn't yet imbued and dyed and contorted our work and efforts, it ultimately will. We've captured, laughed, written, and philosophized, and here, in the great state of California, we've accomplished every checkbox and dream and then some. So to all the friends and family that supported us, thank you. We couldn't have done it without you. Think of this as my acceptance speech, and please, please, please understand that the postcards are coming. I'm writing them all by hand, and god, let me tell you, I’ve got a lot to say.

Here’s to the road.

Thanks again, and all the best,
William Wolff Ht