Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Getting Lost, On Purpose

Named one of 2011’s “Top 20 Young Nonprofit Leaders in America”, The Everyday Journeyman is the travelanthropic arm of Milwaukeean Loyal Mehnert, who made it his mission to give back to those less fortunate through adventure travel. His work has taken him to over twenty-five countries on five continents, and he has been recognized by People Magazine, Outside Magazine and Major League Baseball for his adventurous approach to volunteering and fundraising.
The Everyday JourneymanMeet The Everyday Journeyman.

Also known by his real name, Loyal Mehnert, this travelanthropist is co-sponsor of our upcoming event with she-of-the-indomitable-spirit-and-recent-Dear-Sugar-columnist-for-The-Rumpus, Cheryl Strayed, author of the #1 IndieBound pick for April, WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Cheryl's book explores what happens when one woman descends into the lowest depths of grief and how her antidote - a 1,100+ mile solo hike - didn't quite repair her body and soul, though it most certainly directed her on to the true path towards healing.

Cheryl Strayed, author of WILDPraise for WILD has been nonstop across the bookseller, author, blogger, reviewer crossroads, though at Boswell it started with my own staff rec: "As much a memoir about finding oneself in nature, WILD is equally about picking one's way along the precarious trails that line the canyons of grief and loss. Gritty, fierce and tough, Cheryl's writing reflects the woman who came out stronger than she imagined possible at the end of the 1,100 miles she hiked alone. When tragedy snowballs into one bad decision after another, the avalanche that sweeps her down life's difficult slopes lands her shoeless and broke on the Pacific Crest Trail. The result is an engaging and memorable read bound to resonate far beyond Cheryl's life, and into our own."

And Publishers Weekly calls it "Searing . . . powerful . . . mesmerizing.”

Melanie Rehak, in her eloquent and glowing review, describes Strayed's voice as "fierce, billowing with energy, precise."

And, Dwight Garner, via the New York Times, admits openly weeping while reading WILD, adding "This book is as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound."

With that as background, we thought we'd give you a glimpse into why we thought Loyal would make a great match for this book, and event, with a little Q&A.

1. What exactly is "travelanthropy?"
Happy Loyal paddlingTravelanthropy is essentially Adventure Travel + Philanthropy. 10 years ago, one would race a 5k to raise money and awareness for a great cause. Travelanthropy is the next step. It's about finding incredible and unique adventures - hiking, biking, mountain climbing, and partnering them with charitable causes. This year's travelanthropic project is the Hike for Hope, a 1200 mile hike across 4 countries raising money and awareness for the Catalyst Foundation and their fight against child trafficking.

2. How long have you been going on these types of adventures and what got you started?
After slaving away in marketing and public relations for a decade, I started working in the non-profit sector. That led to a position with Habitat for Humanity as the National Field Media Spokesperson. In 2007 I came up with the idea for Travelanthropy and The Everyday Journeyman (the codename for the project). I pitched it to Habitat as a crazy fundraising tool and the rest is history.

3. How do you choose the type of adventure you take?
I generally start with finding the charity partner and working my way backwards. Is it an adventure that I can tie into the charity, for example by geography? I look at the world map, select a few interesting places, interesting to me and to supporters. I try to go to countries and do things that I haven't done before. A big part of The Everyday Journeyman is stepping outside your comfort zone. I also try to stay away from incredibly expensive adventures because Travelanthropy isn't about being wealthy, it's not an exclusive club. I'd love to climb Everest but that's a rich man's playground.

4. How do you know when it's time to throw in the towel?
Short answer, you don't. I try to measure things by my "regret meter." How bad will it suck 1 week, 1 month, 6 months from now if I quit. Luckily at any given time I have several thousand people following me through social media. That pressure fuels me and pushes me along beyond my normal breaking point.

Braving desert dust storms5. What's the craziest/wildest/scariest trip you've taken?
Probably racing the Plymouth-Dakar 4,200 miles across Europe and West Africa. The route south from Morocco to Gambia was crawling with warlords, bandits, land mines, and Al-Qaeda cells. The US State Department advised me and my team not to travel there as several Westerners had just been kidnapped and beheaded. Outside of a few shakedowns by corrupt government officials, some logistical concerns, and a 12 year old pointing an AK-47 in my face, it was pretty laid-back.

6. What was it about WILD that most resonated with you?
It's really hard to explain the magical nature of long-distance hiking to those who haven't experienced it firsthand. Everyone reading this blog lives in a world of 24 hour convenience, anything we need is a phone call or car drive or keyboard click away. Long-distance hiking destroys that comfort. All the sudden it's you, your feet, and the wilderness. What's recorded on the DVR or posted on Facebook doesn't matter. You need food, water, and shelter, those are the daily constants.

The way long-distance hiking resets your clock is almost as if you've traveled back in time. And Cheryl did an incredible job conveying that in WILD. She also talked about the beauty of trail companionship which is a little known aspect of long-distance hiking. I've never cried as much as an adult as I have after leaving friends I made on the trail. These are people you may have only known weeks or even days and yet because of the mental, physical, and emotional toll long-distance hiking takes, it feels as if these are friends you've known your entire life. It makes no sense in the context of the real world but out there in the WILD, it's a beautiful thing.

7. What is your top "boot flying off the side of a mountain" adventuring experience?
Nearly getting eaten by a very upset mama bear while hiking the Appalachian Trail. That was a very interesting afternoon.

8. If you wrote a memoir, what would the title be?
Flying While Brown: The Global Misadventures of the World's Foremost Travelanthropist.

Hike for Hope 2012

Loyal will introduce Cheryl Strayed at our event on Monday April 16th, at 7pm.

In addition to WILD, Cheryl Strayed is author of the critically acclaimed novel Torch, a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, The Missouri Review, and anthologized in The Best New American Voices and twice in The Best American Essays

You can read more about Cheryl and her books on her website, or by "liking" her author page on Facebook.