Transcript

111:

Adventures in the Simple Life
Transcript

Originally aired 09.11.1998

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/111

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Eustace grew up in the suburbs in North Carolina. He watched TV, ate candy, rode a bike, all pretty much like any suburban kid, until, at the age of 17, he moved out in the woods and never came back.

Eustace Conway In Studio

I had moved out into the forest. I was 17 years old, and I just decided that I would try an alternative style of living. And really, with that, I didn't think it all through in a major, complex way. I just decided I would like to try living outside. And so I moved out and started camping in a tepee, hunting and gathering food and making my own tools and clothes.

Ira Glass

And let me just be sure people understand. When you're living outside, you were there year round.

Eustace Conway In Studio

Yeah, totally moved out. In fact, I've lived outside for 20 years now.

Ira Glass

From the time Eustace moved outside, he was interested in the past and all the things that people knew about how to live with nature, back when they had no choice about living with nature. For years, he lived in the woods, slept in a tepee, hunted his own food with bow and arrow, made his own clothes out of deerskin, his own utensils and tools.

And then he started to evolve from a life as a hunter-gatherer to basic agriculture. He learned to plant and harvest, cultivated a patch of land, started raising animals, taught himself how to work with horses and mules. In other words, he personally went to through the major evolutionary stages that took the human species about 10,000 years during the Late Cenozoic. And around the same time he moved out into the forest, he had another idea, to ride a horse across America.

Eustace Conway In Studio

And I decided to do it when I was sitting around a campfire. And I heard about a couple that was living with their horses in the national forest. And it just sort of struck me. It was like a thunderbolt. It's like it came into my mind and I said-- it's like I didn't even know what was coming out of my mouth. I just said, I'm going to ride a horse across America someday.

Judson Conway In Studio

And then he asked me if I wanted to go.

Ira Glass

Eustace's younger brother, Judson.

Judson Conway In Studio

And my first reaction was, well, no, not really.

Ira Glass

Why?

Judson Conway

It just seemed like a big undertaking, and I was happy in my little life. But then, I looked and I asked myself, well, what reason do you not have to go? Why shouldn't you go? Why not? And one of my biggest inspirations for going was to spend time with him.

Ira Glass

Yeah?

17 years after he first decided to ride across America, Eustace finally set out on the trail with his brother. The ride was partly an experiment in time travel. What happens when you try to live how people lived over a century ago? It was partly a lark, an adventure. Men on horses battling the elements, testing themselves, launched toward a goal they had no idea if they could reach.

But I should tell you that for Eustace, the main idea behind this trip was not nearly so grand as all that. For Eustace, a big part of it was simply about horses. Eustace had been working with horses for a while when he sat out on the trail, but he knew there was just something about living with horses, working with horses, that he was going to learn if he rode so long, so steadily for months.

He took Judson, who had worked with horses on a ranch in Wyoming, he was a wrangler, took people on trips into the wilderness, plus an acquaintance of theirs, Susan Klimkowski, who worked for a couple years in a stable, had a horse of her own. There are indoor people and there are outdoor people. Susan grew up down the street from Eustace and Judson, three kids who spent a lot of time out of doors.

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

I grew up in a neighborhood where us kids, we all hung out and liked to run up and down the creek chasing crawdads and fish and snakes and turtles, but we lived in town.

Ira Glass

When you look around, do you feel like most people are indoors people or most people are outdoors people that you meet?

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

Most people are indoors people, but I think they want to be outdoor. But they don't know how to get outside and enjoy it.

Ira Glass

They set out on Christmas Day 1995 from a beach in South Carolina. They carried a cassette tape recorder with them to keep a kind of audio journal of their trip. And it's those tapes that make up a lot of our show today.

Eustace Conway On Tape

So to make this history for the recorder, tell us who you are and what you're about.

David Elliott

I'm David Elliott. I'm the priest here at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. And I'll go out and bless the trip in a few minutes. I envy you. I think it'll be wonderful. Responsibilities tie me down. They tie everybody down.

Let us pray. Dear God, our heavenly father, we give you thanks this day for the beauty of your creation. We give you thanks also for the human spirit. Guide these people on their trip all the way to California. Guide them safely, dear God. All this we ask in Christ's name. Amen.

[OTHERS SAY AMEN]

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio international, it's This. American. Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, Adventures in the Simple Life.

Act One, Long Riders. What you learn and what you find when you head out in the dead of winter, near the end of the 20th century, in a completely industrialized country, on a 2,500 mile horse trip.

Act Two, Zen Shmen. What happens when your best friend renounces everything the two of you share, everything about your lives, to go live a simpler life in the mountains in a monastery? Stay with us.

Act One.

Ira Glass

Act One, Long Riders. So when they set out, it was Eustace, Judson and Susan, four horses, one was a spare, camping gear, and a truck. And it's kind of a crazy scheme the way that they worked the whole thing. Every day, they would wake up, and then one of the would drive the truck 20 or 30 miles ahead to wherever it was they were going to camp the next night. And then that person would have to hitchhike back the same 20 or 30 miles, which could take hours.

And then, after that, they would set out on their horses and they would ride all day. A couple months into the trip, they had this guy named Walker Young who joined the team to drive the truck ahead and find places to camp and handle stuff like that. The other crazy 20th century adaptation to their 19th century horse ride is it they did not ride through open country. They trotted along on the shoulders of highways, on the sides of roads. It seemed like the most efficient route.

Ira Glass

You recorded yourselves as you rode across the country on a cassette machine, about 30 hours of tape, starting with that first day. Can I ask you what it was like setting out?

Eustace Conway In Studio

Oh, it was easy setting out. It was sort of like, OK, the day has come. We're going. I knew that we didn't know what we were doing. That was OK. I was real satisfied with that. I personally knew that there was a big chance that we wouldn't make it. My partners were a little bit younger and had done less traveling, a little bit more idealistic. And so they were Gung ho. Yeah, we're going to do this thing. We're going to make it.

Eustace Conway On Tape

That sound in the background is the defroster. This is Eustace Conway on the 25th of December. Sitting beside me-- oh, you hear that little yelp? Let me hear that yelp again.

Judson Conway On Tape

[YELPS]

Eustace Conway On Tape

That was a big yelp. That's Judson Conway. He's a crazy. And then between us is the lovely lady. What's your name?

Susan Klimkowski On Tape

Susan.

Eustace Conway On Tape

Susan what?

Susan Klimkowski On Tape

Klimkowski.

Eustace Conway On Tape

She's a simple lady.

Ira Glass

In that first day, I have to say you all sound so young and happy.

Eustace Conway In Studio

We were. Yeah.

Eustace Conway On Tape

Trotting along, trotting along, trotting along. Beautiful pink clouds above our head, baby blue background, the pines are dark getting black in the bottom. It's hard to trot when you're halfway twisted around looking at the beauty of it. Man, what a day. Mmm.

I feel fully alive, fully awake. It's sacred, this minute of living, of passion, with dream. I hear that Pileated Woodpecker in the background. I hear a car coming up behind me. Just a little bit further, we'll be off the bridge.

Eustace Conway In Studio

We knew almost nothing about this. We didn't know what we were doing. Even finding a route, like how were we going to go across.

Ira Glass

Did you have a big atlas or something?

Eustace Conway In Studio

We had a few state road maps. A few state road maps is all we had to go by. And everybody kept saying, well, what's your route? How are you going to go? And I was like, I don't really know. We're heading west every day.

Eustace Conway On Tape

It's 7:00 in the morning. This'll be our third day. It's about light enough to see out here, and the horses look well. Been going over for the last hour what we're going to do today. I think we'll drive the truck forward to highway 32.

Well, it's 9 o'clock, and we're riding along. We stayed at Walter Hodges', and Clara Belle, their monkey, entertained us a little bit. They've had their monkey for years. And he told us about how one time, she had gotten electrocuted by climbing up on some wires. And she was getting shocked, and it had been raining a little bit.

So he backed his track up and got a broom-- a dry broom-- and knocked Clara Belle off. And she was stunned on the ground. And then later in the evening, he said, what do you think about the monkey? And they had referred to it as their daughter. I said, well, I don't know. I think it's kind of strange somebody keeps their daughter tied up in the backyard and gives her electrical shock treatments and then beats her with a broom. I guess you had to be there.

We're getting our first rain right now, the first rain of the whole trip. It's drizzling. Not much of a rain, but enough to lower our spirits enough to worry.

Judson Conway On Tape

Hey.

Eustace Conway On Tape

Hey, no.

Judson Conway On Tape

Not my spirit, bro.

Eustace Conway On Tape

You're over here whining.

Judson Conway On Tape

No, you were the one whining.

Eustace Conway On Tape

"I wish it would stop raining until we got to camp."

Ira Glass

And describe how you were all outfitted. What did you all look like?

Eustace Conway In Studio

We were basically wearing a lot of the Western-style clothes, which wasn't for style but all these old cowboy clothes, they actually work. They do the things that you need. Silk scarves, cowboy hats.

Judson Conway In Studio

The chaps and the spurs and the whole bit.

Eustace Conway In Studio

--had guns and knives and long hair and looked rough as hell and all kinds of stories, interesting reactions coming out of that. Well, here's a good description. Here's a story. We're trotting through this little town and going down Main Street, and I see someone through a plate glass window look at us. And they're sort of awed. The mouth drops open, it's like, my gosh, what's going on here?

So I see the man just grab something from his desk and run out the front door. So I look back every once in a while, and this guy is sort of half-running behind us. Finally, we get to the edge of town. It's misting, a bit rainy. And he says, "Hey, I didn't want to interrupt you. I thought you might be making a movie or something." It's like, "No, we're not making a movie."

And he says, "But you guys look so real. I mean, you really look real." And I was like, "Well, I think that probably is because we really are real." And he said this over and another. It was like he was stuttering this chant, like, "You guys look real. I mean, you really look real."

Eustace Conway On Tape

And now-- I'm glad the tape recorder's working-- now Judson's going to fire off a round to celebrate making it across a whole state in the Southeast Georgia. We just entered Alabama. Do it, brother!

Judson Conway On Tape

[FIRES GUN]

Eustace Conway On Tape

Whew! Oh, my god.

Ira Glass

Let me ask you to talk about some of the people you met along the way.

Judson Conway In Studio

Uh huh. Where would I begin? That's the most amazing part of the entire journey.

Eustace Conway In Studio

People would really appreciate and take us in in ways that I never imagined would be possible. You know, these odd-looking rogues with long hair, knives and guns, and yet, the most conservative, Southern, clean-cut gentleman, farmers, would bring us right into their homes with their children, their wives, and just treat us like we were part of the family.

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

The entire America was great. They were most gracious and accepted us. And we'd go into one town and they'd say, oh, watch out for this next town that you're going through because they're kind of questionable people. And we'd get to that town and they'd be just as nice as the last one. Everybody was great.

Eustace Conway In Studio

Long story. I don't know how much you want to tape. But let's just say one morning, I met these two guys. I was actually standing on the side of the road with a fan of money trying to get a ride. And they pull up to buy some beer, Sunday morning, actually.

Ira Glass

On their way to church.

Eustace Conway In Studio

Yeah. So this sporty little car pulls up with shiny mag wheels and comes to a stop right there at the quick stop across the road. And one of them goes in there to get something. I haven't met them at this time. So I'm out there, and I kind of smile, hold my money up. And so apparently, J.L. was in the driver seat at this time. And he leans out of the car door and says, "Hey, you got any money?" And so I'm embarrassed. I look around, I went, "Yes."

"I say, you got any money?" And I think I better go negotiate with this man before I alarm the whole neighborhood. So I told him I'd give him $5 just to get me to the other side of the town. Actually, I'd gotten a ride halfway already. So I was trying just to get on the other side of town. So we're sitting there negotiating back and forth and back and forth. And Tyrone comes walking out. these two guys are buddies, J.L. and Tyrone. Tyrone comes walking out with this beer. And he just looks at me, he says, "You want a ride?"

And I said, "Yeah." He says, "Get in the truck." So apparently, it was Tyrone's truck. So they crank it up and they start going along. And Tyrone pulls out a beer from his six pack. And he grabs that and he opens it. You can see the mist coming out. And he just looks at it, and he smells it, and he's just about to take a swig. He's reverently getting ready to drink his beer.

And he's just about to turn it back and drink, and he looks to me. All of a sudden, he remembers his manners. He's like, "You like beer?" I say, "Uh huh." "You want a beer?" Being polite, I say, "Well, sure, OK." So he gives me a beer. Then he cracks another one for himself. He says, "I like beer. I love beer. I'll drink beer every day." So then he takes this big morning drink. It's like, whoa, this guy is into his beer.

So I'm sitting there talking to J.L., hanging through the truck window. And he's telling me about his life. So he'll tell me something, and then I'll tell him something. I'm telling him about the Long Riders journey. And I'm telling him about the horses. Yeah, we got horses waiting over there. He's listening. At this time, I had no idea. But he thought I was full of [BLEEP]. He thought I was tripping on acid and had no idea that anything I was saying made any sense.

So we're having this conversation. And I think he's believing everything, so I'm telling him about my life, my story.

Ira Glass

You're telling him your life, so you're telling him, "I live in the woods. I've lived there since I was a teenager. I trap my own animals." And he's just thinking, yeah right.

Eustace Conway In Studio

You got it. You got the picture. So we get to the gas station. I fill them up with gas. Then we drive on. And so we come around the bend. He starts wondering if I even know where I want to go, like, if I'm just crazy.

Ira Glass

Making the whole thing up. Right.

Eustace Conway In Studio

So we round the bend, and there is my partners with the horses. And J.L. is like, "[BLEEP], man, they got horses! They got horses!" He is just absolutely amazed. He throws the car into park and jumps out, leaves the door wide open, and just runs over to the horses and reaches out to touch them, as if, can they be real?

All of a sudden, everything shifts. Instead of being a freak, all of a sudden, he's got respect for me, and the reality comes in. And he wants to help out. Instead of trying to take my money-- here's how I met this guy. "You got any money?" He's trying hard as he can to take me for any kind of dollar bill. And all of a sudden, heart comes in. Feeling. Something totally shifts. And he cares about us. And so he comes out and meets us on the road several times, brings a friend. They drive the truck ahead a couple of days. And just such a shift from our introduction.

Ira Glass

When they'd ride into town, they'd try to find somebody with a fenced-in field or yard, and they would ask them if they could camp there. And over and over, people not only said yes, they invited them in for hot meals and hot showers, helped them out any way they could. There was this one family in Louisiana, the Marbles, who, after putting up Eustace and Judson and Susan for days, really, helping them find a new horse, decided to deliver them a hot turkey meal with stuffing and cranberry dressing and all the fixings out on the road.

Judson Conway In Studio

We were riding down the road several hundred miles from where they live. And all of a sudden, they drive by hooting and hollering out the window. My gosh, is that the Marbles? And they pulled over ahead of us and by the time we got to them, they had a big old Thanksgiving dinner is what I called it, even though it was January or February.

Ira Glass

And they had driven hundreds of miles?

Judson Conway In Studio

Yeah, and they had no idea exactly where we were. They was just in a hope that they could find us. All the cooking, all the driving, all the planning to have that Sunday afternoon to come try to find us. And they did.

Ira Glass

Judson, why do you think people were responding the way they were to the three of you traveling?

Judson Conway In Studio

Because we were doing something that everybody dreams about but nobody takes the risk to do-- or the time, the energy, the money, the challenge to do.

Eustace Conway In Studio

I guess I have my own way of thinking about it, is I wanted to tell people you can do whatever you want. Celebrate life. Don't just work at a grind forever. Just stop. Just say, "I want to do this. That's what I did. I said I want to ride a horse across the country. I had a thousand people tell me I couldn't. I didn't listen to one of them. I said, I'm going to do this. And I got on a horse and started out. I didn't know how to do this journey. I didn't know much about riding horses.

Ira Glass

It sounds like the three of you are just out there just like putting your hearts out there. You know what I mean? Just doing this thing. And so that just calls this thing forward from other people where they want to do it too.

Eustace Conway In Studio

It does. People would even just ride up and roll down their window and stick out a $10 bill.

Judson Conway In Studio

Several times, we would turn people down. People were like, "Let me help you. You can stay at our house." And we're like, "Well, we've already got plans. Somebody already pulled over and invited us to stay their house." And several times, we split up, and one of us would spend the night one place and somebody else would spend the night somewhere else.

Ira Glass

Part of this reaction had to do with the horses, Eustace and Judson say. They had both hitchhiked across America, and they say that people are not nearly so friendly. But with the horses, they would ride into town, looking like cowboys, charming and dusty, like figures not just out of a the movie but out of some dream that we all have of America.

When these epic figures trot up the interstate into your town, how could you not stare? Who would not want to be near something so larger than life. People didn't just give them money. People wanted to talk to them, tell them their stories, which Eustace recorded on tape.

Eustace Conway On Tape

Allison, tell our diary what's going on. What do you do for a living? Where are we? And anything you want to say?

Woman

We're at a rock shop out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, we're three miles from the middle of nowhere. Mile marker 33 is the middle. We just kind of poke along out here. And this used to be owned by Sam and Vera Jones.

Sam was otherwise known as Rattlesnake Jones. He believed in protecting rattlesnakes. He had a rattlesnake pit out here with over 200 rattlesnakes in it at all times. Him and Vera also had two pet bobcats. And a lot of neat history out here.

Sam killed himself on the front doorstep over there of the trailer because he was dying of cancer and all sorts of health problems. He was living on a hospital bed on an oxygen tank. And he told his wife that he was going shoot himself that morning. And she said as long as he didn't do it inside the house. She didn't want to clean up the mess. And she knew he was serious. And she was out in the rock shop and heard the gunshot and waited about an hour before she called the ambulance because he didn't want to be resuscitated. He wanted to be dead.

Eustace Conway On Tape

My goodness.

Woman

Yeah, it's real interesting out here.

Man

My dad was a bird hunter. And we had three or four milk cows. My sister and brothers, they'd milk the cows. I'd feed the horse. My dad would feed the mules. He would pass through the rooms, say, get up, boys.

Eustace Conway On Tape

Get up, boys.

Man

And look, he wasn't going to say "get up boys" but one time. And the next time, he'd say, I thought you boys were supposed to be up. The next time, he had that broom handle. And ain't no such a thing as child abuse.

Eustace Conway On Tape

The first time is when he wanted it to be done.

Man

And you better get out the bed, because let I'm going to tell you something. My daddy didn't play. 270 pounds of pure man.

Eustace Conway On Tape

I heard that.

6:00 in the morning here. Just got up. Stars are bright. I'm going to go check on the horses here and give them their feed as early as possible so that they'll have time to digest it before we head out. Hello there, boys. Hello, boys. Yeah.

It's hard to imagine, now that I really think about it, how a camera crew or even a news team of writers could capture what I think is best about this trip-- the movement, the familiarity with the known, the process of the day, the challenge, the freshness, the warmth of the simplicity, the support of the people like the ones in that car that waved as they just went by, the pattern of day-by-day moving as a herd across North America. There's no way that they could capture what I really want to share.

Beautiful, quiet night. No light except the stars. The Big Dipper shining bright and pointing out to the North Star. We made it 30 miles, so I feel really good. Glad to be with my good partners, good horses. Good.

Ira Glass

Coming up, The Dark Side of the Horse, in a minute, from Public Radio International, when our program continues.

It's This American. Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different stories on that theme. Today's program, Adventures in the Simple Life.

We're in the middle of Act One, the story of three people traveling across country with some horses and a tape recorder-- prerequisite for getting on our show. I cannot state strongly enough how much of the 30 hours of tape they recorded is simply the three of them talking about the horses. Hours of detail about the horses' shoes and the color of their urine, and how the horses are doing. And I have to say, for city people sitting in an office in Chicago, listening to all this, it was hard to understand what it was all about. But, of course, what it was all about was the difficulty of being on the road, which is where our story resumes.

Eustace Conway In Studio

And then we started meeting the miles and meeting the challenges and being up at 2:00 in the morning fixing equipment and getting up before daylight. Some nights, we'd sleep four hours, and we didn't go to bed refreshed. We went to bed worn out. We'd get up four hours later and start feeding and brushing horses.

Eustace Conway On Tape

So it's pouring rain, and we're stopped by a little, metal building on the side of the road. And we pulled over and one of Mac's shoes, I noticed his back, left shoe was falling off. What in the hell are we going to do? Oh, jeez.

8:30 in the morning on March-- what is today, everybody?

Judson Conway On Tape

15th.

Eustace Conway On Tape

15th?

Susan Klimkowski On Tape

[INAUDIBLE].

Eustace Conway On Tape

And I feel puny. My stomach is just feeling like a burnt pancake that got stepped on by an elephant and then eaten by a roadrunner and then [BLEEP] on top of a green stinkbug that's eating its way through it. And that's how my stomach feels. I might just vomit in this microphone.

Turning right on a dirt road. And Judson's reaching for his six shooter. What's that boy doing? Oh my gosh, we're crossing into Arkansas. Oh, my gosh.

Judson Conway On Tape

[YELPS AND FIRES GUN]

Eustace Conway On Tape

Oh, my goodness! We made it to Arkansas! [YELPS]

Are we really here, or is it just a dream? I think we're about to touch Texas. And there's a big old rock there that says "Texas." Oh my gosh, it's real. We're really doing it.

[GUN FIRES]

Yes! [YELPS] Albert, settle down, boy. It's just a .357.

Ira Glass

Let me ask you to explain as you're going into Arizona.

Eustace Conway In Studio

Oh, my. Very interesting situation. Almost embarrassing. But the fact is, we had just bought a horse. And this one hadn't been handled in a very long time and had a reputation, in the few times it had been handled, of being more or less wild. And so I'm riding along, and we get to the Arizona line. Every time we get to a line, one of us-- usually Judson, my brother-- shoots off a gun, just as a celebration, reckoning that we made it to another state line.

So we go through the gate, and I shut the gate, and we're there. It's like, OK, let's celebrate. And intuitively, I knew not to get up on this horse. But my brother, for some reason, I don't know why, he said, get up on your horse. And for some reason, I followed his instructions and got up on the horse.

Eustace Conway On Tape

There it is, boy. It's the state line. We're getting ready for a big bang. My gosh, we're getting into Arizona. Woo! We are walking in the soul of another state, and proud of it.

Judson Conway On Tape

[SHOOTS GUN] [YELPS]

Eustace Conway On Tape

I got bucked off of this damn black horse. He's not used to a gunshot. Guess I'm trying to stay awake now. Seems like maybe my head is addled. Maybe I have a concussion or something.

Eustace Conway In Studio

And I cracked my head. Blood everywhere. The power of it goes from my head to my shoulder, twisted my neck, hit my back, tearing my back open, ripping my shirt. And I'm just sitting there slumped, hurting. And it was not what I wanted to happen.

Ira Glass

How much of a break did you take before you started writing again? Did you take the--

Eustace Conway In Studio

I didn't take a minute off. I climbed back up, blood was still running down. The blood knitted my hair back together. That's what held my scalp together. I just let the dried blood hold it back together.

Ira Glass

Did you think about seeing a doctor?

Eustace Conway In Studio

There weren't any doctors anywhere nearby. Oh, my. My brother and Susan are kind of like normal people. But my lifestyle has been forever very extraordinarily different than common, normal America. Just about a month ago, I rode a horse into a tree. I was chasing another horse. And it got dark, and I did not want to give up on catching this horse. It was the first time I'd ever let this horse go.

So I ran right into a tree and knocked my head back. When I came forward, all of a sudden I heard all this splashing. Blood was flying all around my saddle splashing down. And I wondered, my gosh, what have I done? And I stuck my tongue through my lip. It was right through the front of my face. I was like, ooh, that does not feel right.

So I went to a mirror. See, I don't have electricity, so I lit some candles and looked in the mirror, and I had three huge holes in my face that were gaping open, profusely bleeding. So I could've gone to a doctor. I live way out in the country. But I just got out a needle and thread and sewed my face back together. It was about 14 stitches. Pulled it back together and I was good to go. Had to heal up and the swelling had to go down and all that, but it's healed up real good.

But see, that's the story of my life. Me, what I'm trying to teach people and what I believe in is that you can do things yourself. You can take care of yourself. You can be responsible, and should be responsible, for yourself. I was born in normal suburbia. In fact, I guess that's one of the important things about me being able to do some of these things of living like people did a long time ago, is I went from normal suburbia. I know the American people. I can speak your language. But I live in a very different way that's come through decades of experience and voluntarily living by a whole other set of values and reality.

Ira Glass

Even when you embark on an adventure in the simple life, it doesn't get all that simple. Life resists simplicity. On this horse trip across America, the logistics of getting from place to place were as complicated as you might imagine, with that truck to move around and 20th century traffic always threatening to run them over. And then having to provision horses and get new horses and find a place to stay every night. It took money and telephones and all the skill with people that anybody would be able to muster.

And then there's the mundane fact that like any people on a long trip together, Eustace and Judson and Susan got on each other's nerves sometimes. When it happened, one of them would ride ahead a ways for a while, get a break from the others. And when they finally made it to California, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, what's striking is how bittersweet it was.

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

That was a pretty intense day. We started riding. And that part of California is very hilly. And you'd ride up a hill and you think, we're going to look out and see the ocean. And we didn't. We rode and rode and rode before we saw the ocean. And you're just hoping and waiting for this end. It's kind of climactic, waiting for it to come up, and it never would. You'd just see more houses and more streets. It was like, "ugh."

Eustace Conway On Tape

Almost at the beach. I can smell it and feel it and see it in the traffic and the worry in the people faces. And it's exciting because we're almost there.

Man

Hey, cowboys!

Eustace Conway On Tape

We are cowboys. Hey, cowboys! That's what they call us here.

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

And finally, we saw it. And it was like, wow. It was a weird feeling. It was like, now what do we do?

Judson Conway In Studio

I thought it was going to be more crazy energy. It was more self-reflective energy. It was more just sitting on your horse and staring at the ocean and going, wow. It was more just, we did it. And in the hot days of Arizona, somehow, I was just going, man, if I get to that ocean, I'm going to get off and just go running, dive in the water and swim out as far as I can. And all that crazy excitement didn't happen. It was more just a silent stare.

Eustace Conway In Studio

We just stood there. Just stood there looking at it, unbelieving that we had gotten there. And looking around and, is this really sand under our feet? Are those really waves there? It was like if you could just scream "wow" and let it echo for a couple of hours. Wow, wow, wow.

Ira Glass

What do you carry back into your everyday life from a journey like this? Eustace is back living in the woods, having learned what he said he wanted to learn about horses on the trip. Judson's a fly fishing guide in North Carolina, starting his own business doing that. And Susan's the one who set to make the biggest transition, back to modern life, indoor life. She moved to Oklahoma to be closer to her grandfather, who's been ill.

Ira Glass

What's your job now? What are you doing?

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

I'm an order selector at a local warehouse here. It's Associated Wholesale Grocers.

Ira Glass

And so what's that's like to go to a job like that after having been on the road for months?

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

It's pretty crazy. We work hard every day. It's a pretty labor-intensive job. And it's interesting to look at the perspectives of my fellow employees and how this is their life, and this is what they do. And I kind of see past it, and I see what I've done and that there's so much more out there.

Ira Glass

Do you find you talk about it a lot now, months later?

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

A little bit. Not a whole lot. I'm living in Oklahoma and don't know a whole lot of people. And if I tell them that I rode my horse across country, I don't think they'd believe me. But I reflect back on it quite a bit.

Ira Glass

Have you told people at work?

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

A few.

Ira Glass

And so what do they say?

Susan Klimkowski In Studio

They don't believe me.

Act Two.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Zen Shmen. Here's something that was written back when people rode horses because they mostly had no choice, the middle of the 19th century, a quarter century before the invention of the light bulb. Most people lived on the farm or in small towns. And yet, America was already so big and changing so fast and so unprecedented and alarming, that already, people worried that modernity and everything all that came with it was making it hard to think properly, to feel properly, to really live. Here's the reading.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life. I wanted to live deep, to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms. And if it proved to be mean, wanted to get to the whole and genuine meanness of it and publish its meanness to the world. Or, if it were sublime, to know it by experience and be able to give a true account of it."

This is Henry Thoreau from his book Walden, published in 1854. It is a clean line of heritage from this to the voluntary simplicity movement and so many other movements today, which seek to shed all the stuff that clutters our lives, fills our heads.

Here's Thoreau again. "The nation is cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense. It lives too fast. Men think that it's essential that the nation have commerce and export ice and talk through a telegraph and ride 30 miles an hour. But whether we should live like baboons or like men is a little uncertain."

Here's my favorite passage from Thoreau. It's especially appropriate for this week-- for any week, really, in which people are obsessed with the news. What I love about it is this simultaneously provocative and completely reasonable and, at the same time from my perspective, almost totally nuts.

He writes, "I am sure that I have never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, we never need read of another. One is enough. If you're acquainted with the principle, what do you care for myriad instances and applications?

"To a philosopher, all 'news,' as it's called, is gossip. And they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet, not if you were greedy after this gossip. News which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelvemonth or 12 years beforehand with sufficient accuracy.

"As for Spain, for instance. If you know how to throw in Don Carlos and the Infanta, and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to time in the right proportions-- they may have changed names a little since I saw the papers-- it will be true to the letter and give us as good an idea of the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct and lucid reports under this head in the newspapers. And as for England, almost the last significant scrap of news from that quarter was the revolution of 1649."

Well, we move on. One of the difficulties with simplifying your life is that people are complicated. So simplifying your life often means cutting yourself off from people, which can be complicated in and of itself. Ethan Watters has this story.

Ethan Watters

A couple of years ago, my best friend, Larry left his life in San Francisco to study Zen at a monastery in the mountains near Los Angeles. What made his decision so unsettling was that Larry used to be me. We lived in the same flat. We had the same friends. We were both writers. We wrote for the same magazines. For me, this life was a blessing. Larry said it was a torturous cycle of unfulfillable desire rotting him from the inside.

Larry has now been ordained as a monk. He's even taken a new zen name, Takado. It's been two years, but I still don't fully understand how he could have rejected our life in San Francisco. Larry picks me up at the airport while on an errand run for the Zen Center.

Larry

Here's what we have to do. We have to go Home Depot and buy a lot of things that I'm not so sure about. So we'll have to figure a lot of things out in Home Depot. And then we have to find this dry cleaners place that I think is on Central or Monte Vista.

Ethan Watters

For what?

Larry

To bring a bowing mat that somebody spilled wax on. And then we have to go to--

Ethan Watters

In his new life, Larry wakes up at 2:50 in the morning to make tea for the rest of the monks and students. From 3:00 AM, it's bowing, chanting, meditation, and meetings with the Japanese zen master until the afternoon. Then he's in charge of constructing a toilet building for the monastery. Then more chanting in the evening. The daily schedule ends at 9:00 at night. I have to admit that I take a bit of perverse pleasure in the fact that even though Larry has rejected the secular life, he still has to navigate Home Depot, trying to figure out which grade of sand he needs to buy.

Larry

30 mesh sand.

Man

I don't know that I'd use this.

Larry

What would you use?

Man

The reason is that this stuff doesn't absorb water well.

Larry

Oh yeah?

Ethan Watters

Driving around the suburbs filling the pickup with supplies is like old times. We gossip about mutual friends, talk about this and that. But that evening in the monastery when we get together on one of his breaks, things get a little more tense. We have the same conversation we've had a dozen times. I still want him to explain what's wrong with his old life, the life we shared. Here's what he says.

Larry

Never been content. Restless. Never been there, never really being present, never being able to give myself fully to what it was. Holding back, ambivalence.

Ethan Watters

Did you see that about other people in San Francisco?

Larry

Who, you?

Ethan Watters

Yeah, like me. So what's the answer to my-- I mean, do you think I'm-- of course, I'm suffering, I guess. But it also seems balanced out by this remarkably joyful existence. I guess I don't see it as a torture.

Larry

That's why you're still in San Francisco and I'm here, because I saw it as a torture. And it would be silly for me to try to convince you that it's torture. In a sense, I don't really want to do that. What all these masters of various traditions say is, of course, you're blind and you're living in a dream. You don't know, you don't realize how much suffering you're in.

But they don't go out dragging people out of their houses and saying, well, actually you're suffering. Whatever. Through some circumstances, I found this path. I heard this message and addressed suffering that was real to me. And I moved in that direction. And I've got to go.

Ethan Watters

My visit is a burden for him. He's fitting it in during short breaks between chores and meditation. I'm cutting into his five hours of sleep. I follow as he goes to hit this big ceremonial piece of wood which signals the end of the day for the monastery. After he's finished whacking the wood, Larry and I climb up the hill behind the monastery.

Ethan Watters

Hey, this is nice. Wow.

Larry

We've got a view and nobody sees it.

Ethan Watters

What's that?

Larry

Right down there?

Ethan Watters

Yeah.

Larry

That's the sea of, you know, the LA sprawl. It's pretty huge.

Ethan Watters

We sit down and talk.

Ethan Watters

I want to know what you missed about San Francisco when you first came here and what you miss now about it or whether that's changed or whether those things have dissipated. What did you miss about San Francisco when you first came?

Larry

I didn't miss anything. I mean, I missed my friends. That's all.

Ethan Watters

When you say "my friends, that's all," it seems like you're being sort of-- I guess, maybe, I took that as slightly dismissive of that. That's all. To leave your friends is a thing that I couldn't, right now, do.

Larry

Well, to make a possibly interesting situation truthful and boring, I did it in phases. I came here for three months. When I first came back here, I thought, God, I hate this place so much. I remember that I hated-- I hate this life. It's hard. It's cold. I'm tired. I don't like to get up. It's mind numbing sitting in this box. My knees hurt. I'm bored out of my skull. I'm going to leave pretty soon. That's what I thought.

But I said, well, it's kind of embarrassing to go running back, so I'll hang. For the wrong reason that works the right way, I stayed. And then in time, things unfolded, and they were so powerful. And they brought me crying to my knees enough times, and I felt like the years that I had been traveling around the world and seeing all these things had felt like I was traveling around the world in an iron lung. And here I was given the opportunity to get out of the iron lung and live in this simple place in the mountains.

Ethan Watters

I still miss you, I have to say.

Larry

I wish that my friends could experience what I've experienced. And the world is a thousand times more interesting to me now than it was.

Ethan Watters

Have you discovered in all this why you are so tortured-- I mean, why you are more tortured than, say, me? Although you claim to know that I'm tortured as well. But you have to believe me.

Larry

When I see you, many times I see you as a portrait of torture. Your posture and your eyes looking away. And I can ask a few strategic, simple questions if I were to be sadistic about it and want to see this state of writhing. I can see you writhe in the way your eyes dart and the distraction of you.

Ethan Watters

Like what questions? What are we talking about?

Larry

How's things going with your girlfriend? That could be a question I could have asked any time in the last five years and seen you do the dance of writhing. You're writhing now. I ask you this question and you're writhing now. You're not writhing because of the question entirely. You're writhing because it points to a deep sore spot in your soul.

Ethan Watters

The problem with this discussion is that we disagree on all the premises. Larry doesn't see any value in his old life, the life I'm still leading. He thinks I'm barely experiencing the world. I have the same doubts about his life. He says he's never felt more alive, but I see his move to the simple life of the monastery as a withdrawl from the world. It would be easier to be more accepting of his choice if he could be more accepting of my world view.

The fact is, Larry tried to simplify and clarify his life by coming here. But his life refused to be simplified. Shortly after he arrived at Mt. Baldy, he met a charming zen student named Katherine. Love affairs are discouraged at Mt. Baldy, so for over a year, Larry and Katherine had a mattress in the woods, and they would sneak away when they could.

When Larry decided that he couldn't fulfill his monk duties, study zen, and have a relationship with Katherine, she left the monastery. Larry's now decided that in a few months, after the toilet building is finished, he'll follow her. I feel vindicated that he's leaving. I'm not proud of that.

Ethan Watters

Is it a possibility that you'd come back to San Francisco?

Larry

I don't know.

Ethan Watters

Does it feel like a step back now?

Larry

Maybe it does. I don't know. Maybe it feels like a part of my life-- it's going to sound pompous to say I moved beyond it, but it's just suffused with things that I don't really want to pursue.

Ethan Watters

So Larry and Katherine are going looking for another Zen community, a place that accepts couples.

Before I leave, I ask Larry to play some of his songs. Again, it's an experience where we disagree on every premise. I miss the times our friends would gather to hear him sing. I think it's a crime that he stopped writing his songs. Larry sees it differently. He calls them a catalog of his torture. But I make him sing a few for me. I want to get them on tape. Messages from the old Larry, a person I miss more than he does.

Larry

[SINGING] Leave me alone. Leave me blue. Leave me, because I can't bear to leave you. Say goodnight. Hang up the phone. Believe me, when you leave me, you will leave me alone.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel and myself with Nancy Updike and Julie Snyder, senior editor Paul Tough, contributing editors Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, and consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Laura Doggett and [? Sini ?] Davenport.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

In other program notes, with this program, Paul Tough leaves his job as our senior editor to move back to Canada where he's going to run a big magazine called Saturday Night. Partly, the idea of the magazine, the name of it, comes from the very Canadian idea that on Saturday night, you stay home and you read a magazine. We'll miss Paul. Paul should still show up here on our program from time to time.

If you want to buy a cassette of this or any of our radio programs, you can call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Our email address, radio@well.com. Or you can listen to most of our programs for free on the internet, www.thislife.org. That's thislife, one word, no space. Thanks to Elizabeth Meister, who does our website.

Eustace Conway, the guy who led the trip across the country on a horse, has his own website. You know, this is just how far the internet has gone. People who live without electricity have their own websites. That address, members.aol.com/tipreserve. Or you could just get there from our site. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who describes management oversight this way--

Ethan Watters

Tortuous cycle of unfulfillable desire rotting him from the inside.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week more stories of This American Life.

Larry

Many times, I see you as a portrait of torture.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.