How I became a better travel writer

Why travel writing?

Yes, I know.  You don’t need to tell me I’m not any kind of travel writer; but if you’ve been following along the last few years, you might agree that I’m at least less bad.  If not, just humor me for awhile, because I think I’m starting to get better.  Something’s happening.

It’s not the only area I’m making gains, either.  My photography is getting better.  If you saw my photos from a decade ago, you’d agree.  Also true of travel itself – I’m traveling better, seeing more, taking away more from my experience.  And lately, I’m even starting to see stories.  I’m starting to imagine becoming a bit of a story teller, maybe find a voice, maybe even become a better conversationalist.

But there’s a limit – I’ll never become a better cook.  I can’t tell if I’m getting better, because I can’t smell or taste.

So what’s happening?  I have a theory that I want to lay out here, in time.  I think I’m in a virtuous circle, and the improvements feed on each other:

I’m becoming a better travel writer
Because I’m a better traveler
Because I’m a better writer
Because I’m a better photographer
Repeat until done.

So why travel writing, and why now?

The why now is the easy part: time of life, transitioning out of my career, and especially publishing here on Crazy Guy on a Bike.  It got me started.  And, just recently, a trip to the mountain.  You should try getting lost in the wilderness too, or maybe just go to Carcassonne.

Go to Carcassonne. It could change your life.


So where did this interest stem from?  Why am I interested in travel, writing, photography, and the bicycle instead of gardening, home maintenance projects, cars, and organized sports?  What are my roots, and what does all this stem from?  What came first, and why?

Working backwards, by process of elimination.  It definitely isn’t photography, although it certainly could have been.  My father enjoyed photography when I was a child, and even had a darkroom and developed his own photos.  I think this began in his own childhood when he was a Boy Scout and earned a merit badge in photography.  Also, mom had a connection with photography.  For a number of years, before color photography became widespread, she worked at home for a photography studio as a colorist.  For several years we would come home from school and find surfaces covered with sepia prom photographs in the process of being brought to life as she applied oil paints to them.

None of this took hold with me though, at least in my youth.  I don’t recall even having a camera until I married for the first time in my senior year of college, and Carol Jo got me started taking a few photos for our family album.  I don’t recall having any real interest in photography until years after that, when I finally started taking photos from my bicycling tours.

So, not photography.  Not bicycling either.  I’ve tried for quite some time to dredge up memories of bicycling as a child, but nothing comes up.  I had a bike, but I don’t really remember riding it at all until suddenly I took first a 50 mile ride around Lake Washington, and not long after took a two night overnight to eastern Washington – I think this was in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

I don’t even recall enjoying biking all that much.  Instead, I loved to walk, and especially to run.  In high school and for awhile in college I was a pretty decent distance runner – I held our high school’s record for the mile for nearly a decade, and made it to the all state meet as a senior.  What attracted me about biking wasn’t the activity itself but the potential, what it made possible.  I can still remember the first time I left the house on the bike, felt a tailwind pushing me south, and was suddenly struck by the exhilarating thought that I could just keep going south, and bike all the way to San Francisco.

And not writing either.  I come from a literate family – everyone read passionately, including myself.  I always had a book with me, and was usually reading when I was walking around town.  And I come from a well educated family, and grew up when it was expected that I would go to college and when the educational experience was broad and well rounded.  I had the technical skills to write, but not the interest.  I don’t think I had any real interest in writing as an activity until I was a college student – and even then, I didn’t really have anything to say.

That leaves travel.  And the urge to travel has always been there with me, as far back as I can remember.  I think everything else – writing, photography, bicycling, even a broader curiosity about the world and other cultures, stems from this tap root.

Who knows why?  My mother also loved to travel, so perhaps that’s it.  It’s mom’s fault.  When in doubt, blame it all on your predecessors.

Mom and dad in Teheran, some time before the Shah of Iran fell; I’ll have to check with her on the year.

How I became a better photographer

So photography is an interesting subject to discuss from a self-improvement perspective.  I didn’t really begin taking photographs regularly until Rachael and I got together thirty years ago, and there is no doubt that my photographic results are much improved since then.  When I first started keeping a photographic record of our bike tours, I would come home and immediately head for the print shop to have my film developed, anxious and excited to see what I’d succeeded in bringing home; and more often or not I would be generally disappointed because few of the shots really captured the wonderful sights and experiences Rachael and I shared.

That’s no longer the case, and now I always end up with an album of images I’m genuinely pleased with and that help us both keep the experience alive when we look over them together.  I still have disappointments, but they’re generally of specific photos that missed the mark – I didn’t see the subject quickly enough, or the lighting or perspective wasn’t right; but they’re the exception now rather than the rule.

So what’s changed?  Technology, of course – the advances in photography have been enormous in the last 30 years, and there’s no doubt that the lion’s share of the credit goes to this.  But is this the whole story?  Am I getting better results only because I have a better camera, or am I actually making improvements as a photographer?  Let’s look at the two separately.

Advances in Technology
To be continued

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