Day Five: Grand Canyon, Cracker Barrel, Miles Unplugged

TL; DR: We visit the Grand Canyon, drive many miles, bicker over what we're going to do with the footage, and get to know Miles.

As much as I want to explore every nook and cranny in the entire world, I know that's not realistic (Mike McCauley's been too busy doing something boring and revolutionary in mobile tech to perfect the teleporter), so my options right now are limited. To make the most out of the options I do have, I like to keep my travel plans undefined and fluid so that I can seize opportunities if and when they arise (I'm always optimistic that they will).

That said, I do still have a hopeful list of Must See spots because try as I might, I can't seem to shake the spell they've cast over my magic-seeking imagination. My list consists of Patagonia (Tierra del Fuego), and Arizona (the Grand Canyon).

I don't know what exactly, but there's something about these two locations that's completely alien to me, and that makes their allure irresistible. I'm drawn to the cinematic drama and unforgiving honesty that their sweeping, harsh vistas seem to communicate.

Maybe it's because, unlike rich jungle environments where every ecosystem down to the micro is a raging dance party of psychedelic colours and textures, these two places have to be stark and severe in order to keep their secrets (like the location of the fountain of youth, a reliquary containing prehistoric malevolent spirits, the holy grail, or a clock that stops time) safe from human interference (because we all know how that story ends).

Michael knows that Arizona state is special to me but I didn't bother telling the rest of the team because this trip is about discovery. To become hung up on a specific outcome limits how far discovery can take you.

I wasn't bothered that we spent only a few hours in the park because I'd already made up my mind that Michael and I would return to it when we had more time to explore the canyon in greater depth. Which meant that I could sit back and drink in the fly-by-night tourist experience without being worried that I wasn't doing my bucket list destination justice

Simba. This entire kingdom will be yours one day.

A photo posted by Michael Litt (@michaellitt) on

The Ponderosa Pine forest leading up to the canyon lookout was marked by what appeared to be warped silhouettes of thin old men and women, fading into the ground upon which they precariously rested. A quick double take revealed the haunting shapes to be wizened tree stumps and broken branches that looked so gnarled and ancient that they gave the impression of having witnessed more sunrises and sunsets than our entire group combined. They looked so animated, so human, that I became temporarily obsessed by them. I stared out the window, trying to catch one of them stretch out its bent form as it woke from its thousand year slumber and inadvertently reveal one of the canyon's longest kept secrets. I wasn't disappointed when I saw no movement -I simply told myself, "Next time."

The evening prior Devon had described the canyon's expansive greatness as being unfathomable and I must say that after having seen it, I agree entirely. There are no words for how humbling and inspiring the canyon is to behold, so I suggest that you add it to your own list of places to see, and get your butt out there to see it.

This #GrandCanyon #BoldFriday deserves another post! Photo: @milesdepaul #nofilter #soxy

A photo posted by Mike McCauley (@miketmccauley) on

Before we left the park we gassed up and purchased more energy drinks and DayQuil for Michael. His head cold was gaining momentum, and the high altitude was playing havoc with his energy levels and congestion. The mood inside of Bones was much more somber than it was during days before, because the remaining seven of us were all coming to realize how behind in our journey we were (another unintended consequence of staying longer in LA than originally intended).

That said, spirits were high. But as Bones bottomed out and scraped her underside along the tarmac on the highway again and again, I began to get nervous. Every time it happened the car chassis would lurch and a loud crunch would sound, making me cringe and making Michael shout loudly in congested, exhausted discomfort and frustration. I wondered whether we were going to cover the distance we needed to in the time we had left (and I had barely begun contemplating the challenges I feared we would face at the border crossing in Michigan).

But make distance we did. As we drove through the rock and crumble of Arizona, my thoughts grew limbs and climbed from the car; the passage of time became thick and obscure. When I took a break from my near-comatose state in Bones (a defence mechanism I developed to protect against some of her more offensive tendencies) to ride in the Vanborghini with Miles, I seized it as my chance to come back to life and do some more poking around his past and person. We quickly got to talking about life in general.

"You ever heard that saying, the one about not worrying about what the world needs, but to do what makes you come alive because that's what the world needs?" he asked.

I told him No while hiding a quiet giggle because of how much like Derek Zoolander he sounded in that moment.

He shrugged and with an apologetic smile said, "I don't remember it exactly, or who said it, but basically it means that each person needs to do what makes them want to get up in the morning, because that's what the world needs -people to come alive! This past year I've been figuring out how to come alive, and now I look forward to what I do everyday. I'm looking at the world with fresh eyes." (Later that night I looked up the quote: "Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman, author and philosopher.)

You'd never guess from Miles' external confidence and calm collected demeanour that just a year-and-a-half ago his own spirit was in dire need of resurrection. The reason he agreed to come on this trip as Vanborghini's illustrious driver, is because it was one more way for him to come alive.

In fact, while I basked in the glory of single-strap seat belts and soft-as-clouds suspension, I learned that Miles has spent the last year learning how to live without the damaging weight of guilt and self-imposed pressures that he'd been carrying around for as long as he could remember. And as an unexpected bonus, he's been able to work closely with his older brother and strengthen their relationship the process.

When I began to dig deeper into Miles' story (with as fine and delicate a hand that I could muster) he admitted that his recent zeal for life and intense craving for new experiences emerged from very recent, very dark times. I could tell he wasn't entirely comfortable divulging details, so I backed off. But Miles was candid with me and shared that he while he felt good now, he hadn't always prioritized finding his own happiness. Similarly, he hadn't always prioritized finding happiness with his beloved and supportive partner, Nicole.

With a background in political science and a moral compass that's kept him moving in directions aimed more at social responsibility than corporate world domination, Miles jumped from nonprofit to nonprofit in his early professional years. His mind became consumed by thoughts about the world around him and how he could provide value, where he fit in and how he could help heal the world's hurts. But the hypocrisies he discovered in the non profit world (I myself found it to be a space occupied by many bleeding hearted people who have a conflicting and bi-polar relationship with money) began to erode his belief in the efficacy of the institutions he'd been throwing himself into.

When his path took him from scaling the institutions (essentially founding mini startups) that he loathed to be losing faith in, to supporting them, his dark turmoil blackened further. He became depressed. He felt himself becoming bitter. He knew that something in his life had to change or else he would become someone he didn't want to become.

When pressed, Miles admitted to me that he was happiest when he was starting something new; when he could act out his beliefs and not just live in the shadows of people who liked to talk about making an impact more than they liked doing the hard work required to produce meaningful results. So at his lowest of lows, Miles threw what little remained of his energy reserves into a last ditch effort to make life better for himself. He put himself out there, trusted in himself, and took a risk to join his brother in a new business venture. One that allowed him to do work that aligned with his interests and more importantly, allowed him to flourish and come alive.

Ear to ear at the canyon.

A photo posted by Miles DePaul (@milesdepaul) on

I asked Miles what it felt like to come alive, and he expressed that he found himself jumping out of bed in the morning, anxious and happy to start his day. Grinning ear-to-ear, he explained that with a platform for creative expression and an outlet for creative control, he found himself able to cut ties with poisonous and toxic influences from his past; and instead seek out authentic people who were doing interesting things.

"I'm a newborn right now," he explained to me, "and I feel really good about it."

I was floored to discover that this man, who I had perceived as being so confident and sure in his obvious success, had as much scar tissue and as many hidden wounds as I did. But I suppose that's the point, isn't it. Scar tissue doesn't form if you keep picking at the scab -you have to bare the discomforts of healing in order to be healed.

We spent the next few hours talking shop. He asked about my creative process, and I asked him about his reading habits. We riffed back and forth about the nature of People and Things (when discussing the painful process of making mistakes, I observed that not everyone needs to make their own to know; and he matured my understanding by adding that there's a grey area for everyone and in some cases you can know that a direction isn't right, but in others you have to invest time and effort to find out).

When conversation turned to more tangible and time-appropriate topics, like what in the world we were going to do with all the footage we'd collected, and what sort of story we were trying to tell, he made another astute observation. He said that by forgoing Las Vegas and by spending more time in LA than we'd intended we'd made this trip more about cars than the experience of forging new friendships.

We sat in silence as we mulled that thought over. (At the time we didn't know that later that evening we would find ourselves heatedly discussing our options and story-telling direction at Cracker Barrel, because with so many self-motivated individuals at the table there were lots of ideas to parse through and compromise on. But more on that to come in later posts.)

Man behind the lens pondering panes of glass at Cracker Barrel, a nation within a nation. Home stretch for the #win! #Roadtrip #911

A photo posted by Endangered Experiences (@endangeredexperiences) on

For now, in that moment of silence, I realized that Miles was right and it made my heart ache all the more for Brittany who didn't get to spend as much time doing the things she'd been hoping to do.

But to go back to Mr. Thurman's wise words, we each need different things to come alive to become the people the world needs. For some, it's the once-in-a-lifetime act of driving alongside a personal hero, together doing a thing you both love; and for others it's the simple act of doing what's fun and feels good with the people you love. I believe that Brittany is cut from the latter cloth, which is why I was so sad that she had to leave early. But when I shared my concerns with Michael he reminded me of something important.

He said, "With this particular group of people, when we say 'Next time,' you can bet Bones' right tire that there will absolutely be a next time."

Comforted that he would bet our newest family member on there being a next time (even though she was a nightmare to drive at night and her starter had died (again)), I was mollified.

Live from Bones - driving at night is scary #getoutanddrive #petaltothemetal #penais #roadtrip #route66 #travel

A video posted by Endangered Experiences (@endangeredexperiences) on

I spent the remainder of the evening letting my thoughts wander out into the deep starlit night, exploring all the nooks and crannies just outside my near-ground level, manually powered passenger side window; and I felt myself come alive.