A big part of my daily routine is walking. I guess it started somewhere in Europe, when I didn’t have a car, but was surrounded by a culture on foot and beauty everywhere. Mix that in with a restless spirit, and you have a person who has an insatiable appetite to just walk for the sake of walking. The best problem solver is to take a long walk. But there’s more to it than that.
I often write about my heroes and influences, it’s a way of easing my burdens – to know that others have blazed their own trails before me, and to remain inspired as I get to the distant shore.
The winter before last, I read the book Herzog on Herzog, where one of my heroes, Werner Herzog, goes into great detail about the importance of walking and going out on foot. Herzog walked from Munich to Paris to convince Lotte Eisner, the German filmmaker at her deathbed, not to die, that the world still needed her. To emphasize: He did not take a plane and go through the condolence motions; He walked that distance to defy death’s calling. In his mind, she wasn’t going to die until he got there and told her she wasn’t allowed to die. She didn’t.
The day I finished the book was the first week in January, a very cold day. I was in the middle of a transition in my project, I’d just lost my lead artist, and we were in a bad way. Really bad. Our pipeline for shot delivery was a wreck, I had a mutinous crew, everyone had abandoned ship, and I had no idea what to do. Absolutely no stars above, no navigation – my ship was spinning out of control. I’ve written before about hits I’ve taken, but I have since learned to look to my heroes, those who have made it to the distant shore, and seek their advice. Working in a vacuum, the best way to connect with them was through reading. I finished the book in a week.
Immediately, I knew I needed to walk to the nearest town, which is 10.7 miles away. In fact, I had one measly cheque from the past six months to cash, and this was an excuse to go to town. I didn’t know what answers I would find, but I knew I required defying something, I required increasing my willpower. I required breaking the monotony. When you can’t get practical answers, get ethereal answers. They stretch deeper.
Flurries of snow were falling, the sky was gray, and I didn’t think to put on a warm enough jacket. Even better.
I made it to the bank, about 7 miles away. Cars were passing me, no one stopped. They had places to go, fears of people on foot, and radio music they needed to sing along with. I felt sorry for them. Here, I had the open road, strengthened legs, and control of my own thoughts.
I cashed my cheque, and finding myself hungry, I walked the rest of the distance to the nearby town, 3 miles away, to grab something to eat. That food never tasted so good. Everyone else who arrived by car couldn’t possibly enjoy it as much. Their fuel came from a petrol station.
I checked the clock. Also important. If I was to make it back home before dark, I needed to get out now. I had a film to finish. And just like my movie, I’d made it to the middle, but now the return trip had just begun, and it’s just as long.
Conquer The Useless
Several hours later, I made it home. A distance I could typically travel in 20 minutes had taken a whole day. I was exhausted, but somehow invigorated.
Herzog was right about how walking opens one’s eyes in new ways. Time was different, controllable. Distance was longer, scale was bigger, detail was clearer. People in cars looked like blurs of color, lacking depth and detail. Food tasted different, better, more real.
But when he wrote that his quest was to "conquer the useless," did he mean it nihilistically? Was he seeing his mission as conquering something that was useless to conquer? That it was a waste, but it was too late to turn back?
Or did he mean that what he was conquering had no use, and therefore, it should be conquered?
Filmmakers who drive cars at 60 mph usually finish their feature length films in about a year, and the world blurs past them. They go collect their prize, which they hope is a nicer car.
It’s taken me 3 years to do a 20 minute film all on foot, and we still aren’t finished. My problems seem smaller, scaled by the now larger distance between each dotted line in the middle of the road.
I went back to work. Since then, Herzog’s point has only been emphasized, and my own answer emerged. One doesn’t walk to town because it is easier than taking a car, nor does one drag a boat across land because it’s the best way to get it to the other side. The resilience and tenacity required to drive your project home, to not be stopped by a mutinous crew or a broken system, to spend 4 years on a movie that will only last 20 minutes is the same resilience and tenacity it takes to conquer the useless. To brave the jungle. To defy the universe. To make something exist in an indifferent world.
To conquer the useless is to render cars and parking lots and those who need them obsolete.
Last week, my teammate, DJ, who has been quite heroic in his own commitments to this project, needed a break. I was left holding up the tent, and nervous if he would make it back after tasting a bit of freedom. Just because you are tenacious, doesn’t mean everyone else is going to share your vision. This is a real problem, and it was bothering me. Again, in times like these, I go for walks. I did my daily routine around a nearby field, but unconsciously, I kept head down the whole way. Trained between the yellow lines of my own problems.
As I made my way around the corner, I heard a shout from behind me. I looked over to see a silhouette on a bicycle. Slowly and gracefully moving down the highway, was man on a bicycle, traveling through a blanket of fog, on the same path I’d taken that cold January. Something about him was ghostly, familiar and strange at the same time, but the longer I looked, the clearer he became. Others might have seen someone rough around the edges, scrappy, just like his bike. To me, he seemed like a secret brother.
He didn’t say anything, but slowly raised his arm, and unfolded a scraggly finger pointing across the open field I‘d just circled. It was a slow and poetic gesture: One finger beckoning me to quit looking down at my feet, and instead open my gaze across the horizon.
I looked where he was pointing, and there, on the horizon, in a cotton candy sky, was an immaculate rainbow, stretched out in perfect symmetry. It was gorgeous.
A car zoomed by behind me, taking me out of the tranquil magic. Inside, surely a radio was blaring loudly, and a person focused on staying in between the lines. A person who only knew the road at 60 miles an hour and had no spirit cyclist guide to save them.
I looked back towards the man on the bike. His hand was now lowered, his back turned to me, his eyes on his own horizon as the fog slowly swallowed him up. I didn’t see his face, but I knew he was smiling somehow, somewhere.
Here was a journeyman who would be passed over by another 100 cars until he reached the nearest town. No one was going to stop and ask his story, why was he on this bike, where was he going, and does he need any help? They had radios to listen to, places to go, tramps on bikes to avoid, yellow lines to stay between. They would look at his resume and be incapable of noticing who he is, but instead, they will see only who he is not.
They'd see an unkempt man, not a witness and certainly not a messenger who'd kept his eyes open. And there I was, meeting him at the crossroads, and he saved me from the yellow lines of my own problems.
I shouted “Thank you,” but he didn’t look back. He had places to go. I knew the bank was still a few miles away. And a few miles further was the nearest town, and maybe he would stop there for a bite to eat. He wouldn’t have long though, and there would be no time to talk. He would soon be checking the clock, knowing he should get back to pedaling if he was going to make it home before nightfall.
I watched him go, and as I felt the camaraderie, I realized I don’t relate to people who only know their speedometers. Those on foot, those outside the yellow lines, those with their eyes open, they are my people.
By the time I’d turned back to his message, the rainbow was gone.
The Journey Continues
Tyler Gooden is making a film inspired by the legendary true story of FC Start. He's doing it all on foot.