“The Adventure Stories”
By Brian K. Brecht & T. Dietz
As we strive to expand on the goals of the Gentleman Adventurer’s Club, we continue to look back to find the origins of the concept. Where did the desire come from and why do we find ourselves hunting for more meaningful adventures in our lives?
We’re sure the footprint will continue to evolve as ideas, time and resources allow. But looking back, it’s not hard to see the movies, books and stories of our youth play a distinct role in the Club’s development.
Characters and adventures like those of Errol Flynn, Indiana Jones or Jacues Cousteau are hard to ignore but under closer scrutiny as we discussed it, Tom and I realized it’s been a collection of books that have been the spurs that moved us forward.
We both found common inspiration in certain stories like the motorcycle trips of Ewan Macgregor and Charlie Boorman, and we’ll talk about how some of Steingbeck’s works catalyzed our thinking. However, very quickly, as we would expect, we each have our own influences as much as we have ones in common.
In the following article(s), we’ll highlight some of the books and stories that laid our foundation, providing much of our inspiration. The first part will be my (Brian’s) list, most stemming from early road trips in my youth. Our second part will come from Tom and some of the volumes he’s read over the years that had a lasting impact.
Trolling through the Internet, you’ll find any number of lists claiming the “books every man should read”. Our list, not meaning to be exhaustive or definitive, is what we’ve found as our inspirations. There are other authors, other favorites that hopefully inspire you to find adventure of your own. But here we offer our suggestions on narratives you’ll find worthy to add to your own library.
So lets begin…
“On The Road”
For me, it all started with “On The Road”. In my young adult years, the friendships that cemented who I was to become, came from a group of friends I hold dear to this day. Rick Cleveringa, who provided the GAC’s first member written content (*See his article “Pappa’s House”), introduced our little band to “On The Road”, all in the spirit of an annual road-trip. Rick, working construction at the time, always had winters off. So it was common that every February, the four of us, crammed ourselves into a vehicle, and headed south (usually) for sights obscure and unknown. Being a bit uptight in my youth (to put it mildly), following Rick’s “no plan, find what we find, stay off the beaten path” attitude was something that took a lot to come to grips with. And in this spirit, perhaps following in the footsteps of the Beat Generation, started delving into authors who could “expand our mind”.
Keeping with the road theme, Kerouac was at the top of the list. For me, I found Kerouac extremely hard to read. It was a broken, sporadic, back and forth (bebop) structure that took a lot for me to hold on to. But despite the difficulty, we all got sucked into the story. Following Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty became canon for all road trips to follow. The irreverence, and counter culture experienced within, the desire to “ball that jack”, provided the language we would all speak from then on.
“On The Road” was the linchpin that started it all. And it was the attitude and free spirit style of “On The Road”, that would begin my slow transformation to shed schedules, plans and carefully crafted itineraries. From here our early adventures took us to Memphis, St. Louis, Louisville, Huntsville, New Orleans and the like. We expanded on Kerouac with “Big Sur”, and “Dharma Bums”. But always, it was Sal and Dean that provided our foundation. For me, this was the beginning of my search for adventure.
“Blue Highways” is interesting, not for it’s inspiration to me, but to Rick. As you can see, Rick has been and continues to be, a huge influence in my life.
“Blue Highways” was written by William Least-Heat-Moon and published in 1982. Blue Highways refers to the color key on old highway maps of American, where the main routes where red and the back roads, printed as blue. But Least-Heat-Moon goes into further detail by saying;
“…in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk – time neither day nor night – the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.”
It was “Blue Highways”, before we four dove into “On The Road”, where Rick found the catalyst for his wanderlust. It was this idea; those hidden back roads, which fed our journey into Kerouac and beyond.
Least-Heat-Moon followed “Blue Highways” with additional works, two of which I’ve enjoyed as much or perhaps even more. “Prairy Erth” & “River Horse”, have both pulled at that place in my mind of wanting to see and learn more.
My favorite line from “Blue Highways” is literally the first line of the book;
“Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren’t turned properly; they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources.”
I continue to think, our inspiration for the GAC has come from thoughts such as these.
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”
Though less of an adventure, and more of a twisted, alcohol fueled, exploration of the 1970’s drug culture, Hunter S. Thompson, quickly became one of our gospels in the bible of literary influences. Thompson, like Kerouac, is not always my cup of tea (or blotter of acid in his case), but there is no underestimating the power of this man’s writing and what he brought to American literature. And no denying how much this book played into our explorations of the country and ourselves. There’s always a copy of it with us.
Rico, one of the band of four, loved Thompson, and being a huge music fan, loved to read us articles written by Thompson in whatever issue of Rolling Stone that happened to be on the magazine rack. Listening to Rico quote Thompson as we burned down the blue highways was a favorite way to pass the miles.
Thompson to me is honest. Whether you agree with what he writes, or follow his lines of thinking, you always know it came first hand. He instigated what came to be known as “Gonzo Journalism”, where the reporter involves himself in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. It was this style that made us want to tell our own stories.
As I said, perhaps Thompson was less about an adventure and more about how we wanted to live our own adventures. Perhaps not as drunk or substance fueled, but honest, without compromise, and true to the world around us.
Recently Rico sent me a copy of “The Rum Diaries” and I found it to be another fitting inspiration if we ever find ourselves “on the road’ in San Juan, or the like.
By 1996 my career brought me to Northern California and my yearly road trips took a serious hiatus. But even with that, my connection to the Chicago boys remained tight as ever. In 1998, it was the book “The Endurance” by Caroline Alexander, which would take the adventurous fascinations of Rick and I to a completely new level.
The story of Ernest Shackelton and the ill-fate Endurance is well known, and for me it was this book that brought that harrowing experience to life. Never one to think that arctic exploration would be appealing, the stories of Shackelton and his crew became enthralling and soon Rick and I where discussing all aspects of the journey. Not just Shackelton, but the stalwart members of his crew as well.
Rick has always gravitated toward Tom Crean, second officer and stoic companion, I on the other hand; I’m fascinated with the work of Frank Hurley, the expedition photographer. The achievement to film and photograph the expedition was, by itself, spectacular, but when brought in line with the quality of the images he created, this becomes staggering. It continues to serve as inspiration to me personally, my career and my long-term film making goals, each time I revisit this story. Considering the breathtaking images he was able to save and return from The Endurance, it makes me wonder, what awe-inspiring images lay gone under the Weddell Sea.
It was this story that instilled in me the yearning for the age of discovery and the stories that came from that time.
Alexander’s book was, if you’ll pardon the expression, just the tip of the iceberg. Having sparked our interest, we soon branched off to Robert Scott’s diaries of his doomed Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, Shackelton’s own telling of his Endurance story entitled “South”, Alfred Lansing’s book “Endurance”, and a collection of other arctic expeditions in Fergus Fleming’s book “Nintey Degrees North”. Those among other polar adventures have filled my bookshelves ever since.
“Travels with Charley”
Years go by and my bookshelf continued to fill with the various offshoots from the foundational books being mentioned here. But there was a time when I found refuge in a numbers of stories that would transport me, at least for a moment, to another place. In some cases, following individuals who were looking for answers of their own.
We have mentioned, “Travels with Charley” before and if any book gave birth to the GAC, I think we could safely say this was it.
In early 1998 I met a new friend in Tom Dietz who, like only the boys from Chicago, would I one day feel was more brother than friend. It has been that friendship which solidified the GAC and what we both, Tom and I, have come to feel as our next step in life.
“Travels with Charley” was my first exposure to John Steinbeck, but certainly not my last. Following his drive around the country in the early 1960’s, the book reawakened in me, that desire to seek the back roads and the personal communication one only finds face to face. To step outside of your own circle and explore what is around you, whether a simple talk over coffee, sharing a meal, or resting beside a campfire.
Following Steinbeck’s effortless writing, you are transported into his story and could easily be riding with him in Rocinante. When Tom and I discovered that Rocinante existed and was in tact in the Steinbeck museum in Salinas, it stepped us off on a path neither was expecting, but now could never turn from.
Since “Travels with Charley”, I’ve set a goal to read “Cannery Row”, and Tom has branched off and read “The Log from the Sea of Cortez”. In doing so, he found some local history in Monterey that I’ll will let him expand on in his list.
“Long Way Round”
One complaint Tom, Rick and I have all discussed was the seemingly lack of exploration and adventure going on in the modern day. Perhaps not completely accurate, the flood of “at the moment” access to information seems to minimize some of the adventures actually happening.
That was until I was turned on to Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s story in “Long Way Round”.
The story was actually brought to my attention by a co-worker and motorcycle enthusiast, and it was the documentary that captivated Tom and I so much. But the book, published after the film series was complete, told the same story with added personal detail the TV series couldn’t fit in. The book was a back and forth telling from both Ewan and Charlie, each providing their own perspectives, sometimes in completely opposite ways.
It was this style that Tom and I feel into when we wrote our first article about our Steinbeck trip. So not only was the story itself inspirational, but the book offered us a kind of language we would lean on to tell our own stories going forward.
“Green Hills of Africa”
It’s interesting how one book or story will feed into another. Having read Kerouac, Thompson and now Steinbeck, my mind wandered and I thought, it’s time to read some of the other classic authors, if only to say I had. The name that easily came to mind was Hemingway. I had never read anything by Ernest Hemingway but little did I know, my delving into that author would incite a whole new passion for stories and adventure.
There can be no doubt the good and the bad that is Ernest Hemingway. But as men, he elicits an image and passion we all think we want (and to some degree, really crave). Even reading Kerouac’s “On The Road”, Sal Paradise a budding writer, talks about Hemingway’s “Green Hills of Africa” as being the pinnacle of it’s day. Something he too should strive for.
Whether it’s Cuba, Paris, Florida, or Africa, Hemingway’s efficiency of words drew me in and I have never been the same. He paints and easy picture your mind willingly follows, but also the conversations flow so simply that you can’t help be feel they’re real. You’re sitting in the hot savannah sun, waiting for your tea or whiskey, debating whether to take a bath or not, listening to he and P.O.M. discuss the day’s hunt.
This is a book that has transformed how I write and instilled in me a desire to tell the stories I want to tell from my own adventures. Perhaps some day I too can be under a canvas tent, in the African wilds.
Reading “Green Hills of Africa” launched me into other Hemingway books such as “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “A Farewell to Arms”, and “A Moveable Feast”, the later inspiring a dinner party Tom and I hosted that we’ll have to write about in a future post.
For Tom D., Tom C., Rick and I, “Pappa” (Hemingway) has become a cornerstone in our literary journeys.
“The Last Gentleman Adventurer”
So we find ourselves at the end, with one last book to highlight, if for no other reason than the name.
I joked with coworkers one night, when asked what title I’d like on my business card, I responded quickly “Gentleman Adventurer”. That was it, the idea stuck in my head for all times.
Tom and I have beat this idea back and forth for years but finally something started to take shape when the Steinbeck plans came together. Tom’s first write up of our day’s events was the push we needed.
As we dug into all things “internet” we realized, though you always think you’ve had the idea first, there were plenty of “Gentleman Adventurers”. Even more so, the term Gentleman Adventurer was the moniker use to describe the company incorporated by Charles II in 1670 as the ‘Gentleman Adventurers trading into Hudson’s Bay’ and led by Prince Rupert, all later to be simply called, The Hudson’s Bay Company.
Recounting his experience starting in 1930, Edward Beauclerk Maurice, a young boy of seventeen, applies and is accepted into employment by The Hudson’s Bay Company, for a five-year term of employment in the Arctic trading posts. This is more from financial need and less about a desire for exploration, but his story quickly pulls you into his experience of living and interacting with the native Inuit people. The refreshing perspective he provides illustrates how Maurice intertwined himself not only in the activities of the population, but personally and deeply within the culture of “the people”.
But why this book? It was the name at the beginning for sure. But the comical event of Tom, saying to me, “Oh hey I have that book!” solidified for us that somehow we were on the right track.
The book appeared on my front porch one Sunday morning and I’m finally getting around to reading it. It’s wonderful. Well written and ironically another polar adventure, so right up my alley.
But more importantly, what it reminded me is where this idea of The Gentleman Adventurer has come from. Yes my friends and I all have some amount of wanderlust and the historical expeditions have always provided large amounts of fascination. But never forgetting the adventures with comrades who share your passion is what makes these adventures really worth living. Its what we hope the GAC is all about.
In Part Two of our article, Tom highlights the books from his collection, rounding out all of our “Adventure Stories”.