James meets world

Don’t expect me to apologize for loving what I do. I’m over feeling guilty about it.

“So what kind of journalist are you?” the physical therapist asks as he reads my chart. “I write about outdoor recreation, gear, adventure travel, that kind of thing,” I say. “Really? Like for National Geographic Adventure?” “I wish. Mainly for trade publications, web sites mostly, magazines sometimes.” “Ever go anyplace cool?” he asks? “Going to Yosemite next week, then Africa,” I say. “Ethiopia actually.”

“Uh yeah…you suck,” he says with apparent envy. “Roll over.”

What sucks is having limited range of motion in an arthritic hip at the age of 43. I’ll be turning 44 the day my plane lands in Addis Ababa. After a week of product testing in Yosemite, I’m heading to Africa on a self-funded reporting trip to bring back stories and photographs on three different humanitarian projects. With the support of a few generous sponsors I’ll also travel with my friend writer and climber Majka Burhardt to visit remote villages and explore a few areas where there are opportunities for rock climbing and mountain biking (details to follow in a subsequent post).

Majka Burhardt

What sucks is having spent the last 20 years in the outdoor industry, first as a salesman then recently as a journalist, only talking and writing about adventure. What sucks is only now screwing up my courage and ambition to do the kind of work I enjoy more than breathing with few tools to do it right and even less guidance. What sucks is getting paid peanuts for a job I’d do free if it didn’t mean I might loose my house.  So yeah, I’m done apologizing for loving what I do. Today I meet the world head on, “to live deliberately,” as Henry David Thoreau once wrote. “To front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” I’m only sorry for not doing it sooner.

The hip is going to be fine. I can still carry a heavy pack and haul long distances.  I can peddle a bike or paddle a boat. Running helps to loosen the joint and this will probably be the best ski season I’ve had in years. All this is true now because I recently decided it was time. This is my opportunity to lead the life and career I’ve always wanted without regret or apprehension. Technically I don’t have to go all the way to Africa to discover an amazing story. But I’m going any way. As a freelance journalist it’s just part of the job and it doesn’t suck much to be me.

Travel is something that I’m compelled to do. But I hate to travel for traveling’s sake. I can’t just go on a tour of foreign museums and temples or an excursion to sample the regional cuisine of exotic lands. I can’t even venture out to climb high mountains or just sit on a beach watching the waves just because they’re there. I need a mission. Being a reporter gives me purpose.

Maybe it’s because I’m a dude and maybe I take life too seriously. Maybe I need my own version of “Eat Pray Love” to find some deeper meaning in life so I’m traveling abroad. Sure I’ve got a good appetite, but I’m a devout atheist and happily married. I’ll eat plenty, but pray only for clean bathrooms and know that love is waiting for me at home.

The cool thing about being a freelance journalist is I get to pick my own assignments and as long as I make three very important things happen I can go just about anywhere I want to. And if what I’m about to lay out makes sense perhaps you’ll follow along the journey.

1)    Pick a subject that’s compelling, that you’re passionate about. The primary focus of my reporting on this trip is Dr. Rick Hodes. I’ve mentioned him in this blog before a few times. Rick is the subject of the film Making The Crooked Straight. Working out of Mother Theresa’s Mission in Addis Ababa he treats young children suffering from a horrible diseased called spinal tuberculosis. This condition results in severe deformities that destine these kids to miserable lives of pain and poverty. Rick provides medication and surgery to straighten their spins and dramatically improve the quality of their lives. My personal passion is telling stories about people who dedicate their life’s work to serving others. Add a component of adventure like visiting Africa and I’m there in a heartbeat.

Dr. Rick Hodes

2) Find a news organization that believes in you. Last summer I made two trips to Yosemite to develop a story for the Public Radio International program To the Best of Our Knowledge. The executive producer Steve Paulson is a skilled interviewer whom I admire and who happens to be my neighbor. He and his wife Anne Strainchamps live right around the corner. Both Steve and Anne, also a producer, have encouraged my work in radio and they’ve given me several opportunities to create content for their program. It’s no secret that my professional goal is to become a regular contributor to National Public Radio. This program syndicated to 179 NPR stations nation-wide is where I hope to pay my dues and make my mark.

3) Build relationships with sponsors who can support your work. Unfortunately Public Radio has pretty limited resources to cover the costs of travel and production of the audio pieces I create. Fortunately I spent almost 15 years in the outdoor recreation industry as a sales rep. Through that period I made a lot of friends at many companies, the makers of tents, sleeping bags, outdoor clothing, you’ve probably heard of. Because most of my work revolves around adventure sports and getting outside their support of my work is natural fit. And as long as I can help populate their web sites and Facebook pages with compelling content, stories, photographs etc. (thank God for the Internet), they’re happy to throw a little cash and a lot of gear my way to make a reporting expedition like this possible. For this particular Joy Trip I have to thank Patagonia, Osprey, Clik Elite and Mountain Hardwear

As much fun as I have doing what I do, journalism is a job I take very seriously. I only aspire to be better at it and that takes practice. Add in the physical component of outdoor recreation and it’s more of lifestyle. I created the Joy Trip Project as a landing places on line to post stories of my travels and work in journalism. I’m no great athlete, artist or philanthropist but I hope that by telling the stories of those who are I can inspire people like you who read this blog or listen to my stories on the radio to seek out and engage those things in life that you’re passionate about. For me, I only hope not as Thoreau said, “When I come to die, discover that I had not lived.” Now that would really suck!

Making the Crooked Straight an interview with Dr. Rick Hodes>>> Click to listen

Vertical Ethiopia and interview with Majka Burhardt>>>Click to listen

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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