Walking from the desert to the Great Lakes.
May 25, 2011 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Walking Home: stories from the desert to the Great Lakes. Laura Milkins is walking home. Home is Grand Rapids, Michigan. Laura lives in Tucson, Arizona. That's 2,000 miles (3,219 km), or about 4,473,976 steps. Right now she's in the shoulder of the road somewhere around Holbrook, Arizona. She has a pack on her back, a webcam streaming 24 hours strapped to a sun visor on her head, and hopefully, a place to stay tonight. You can follow her every step of the way, by watching live video broadcast from her hat. Or walk with her.

Laura's project is "about community and connections. I believe that safety comes from trust, community and collaboration. I hope to use social networking, both online and traditional, to safely cross the country."

She is inviting people to walk with her and share a story as she makes her way across the country. Each night she will stay in someone’s home and cook dinner and breakfast for them, in exchange for their hospitality. Reader, if you are somewhere between the Arizona desert and the Great Lakes this summer, will you meet her when she comes through?

Please note that availability of streaming video is dependent on cell signal strength and other conditions of the road.
posted by Tufa (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Walking for a book deal?
posted by Harpocrates at 12:48 AM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

She's going to have some serious blisters when she's done. And some interesting stories too, I bet.
posted by Solomon at 12:50 AM on May 25, 2011

Weird. As I started to read this, I figured the walk was something a poor immigrant brasero was forced to do to get form one orchard where he'd earn less than minimum wage to the next orchard where he'd earn less than minimum wage. (The minimum wage doesn't apply to many farm workers, even legal ones.)

It was a shock then, to realize this was an American with the luxuries of enough free-time, a web camera, and above all the choice to do this voluntarily.

A "project" by an "artist" that (echoing Hillary's "listening tours" she explains as: "In this project, I am offering to listen with an open heart. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone’s story is important."

I mean, maybe this will capture the zeitgeist of the South-West the way Let Us Now Praise Famous Men captured the brutal poverty of Appalachia. (But I doubt coach-surfing in exchange for cooking breakfast, as the artist intends, really exposes her to a representative sample of the populace).

Especially paid for as a "kickstarter" project, this "project" seems more self-indulgent than authentic.
posted by orthogonality at 12:55 AM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I started to feel I'd been too harsh when I read her blog entry about not being able to pay her mortgage.

Fortunately, I then read her bio:
Laura Milkins is an internationally recognized, multimedia, interactive performance artist. Past projects include: “Walking Stories: Mexico City” (as a Fulbright scholar, she crossed all of Mexico City in the company of strangers and their stories) “In Bed” (viewers were invited to get in bed with the artist to do the things you do in bed that aren’t sleeping) “Lights Camera Action” (together with a team experts in lighting, sound, movement, poetry, scenery, the audience produced a series of 4 minute music videos) and “Reclaiming Paris” (Laura transformed herself physically into Paris Hilton and then tried to reform Ms. Hilton’s image through acts of giving).
Seriously, she dressed up as Paris Hilton and got a scholarship to play tourist in Mexico? I mean, I work for a living and shit, which is why I don't have time to go on walking/listening tours.
posted by orthogonality at 1:02 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll be more interested in this endeavor when/if she finishes it.

In the meantime, anyone read enough of her site to see if she took into account caloric needs while walking this distance? I mean, there's a big difference between walking across Mexico City and spending 5 months walking across the United States (some of which will be in very hot and humid weather).
posted by sbutler at 1:08 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of Fat Man Walking.
posted by Houstonian at 1:39 AM on May 25, 2011

Yeah, that fat guy never lost more than about 40 of 400 pounds. Apparently he ate fast food on his 13 month-long walk.
posted by orthogonality at 1:45 AM on May 25, 2011

We all have a story of walking a distance sometime time in the past, some good and some bad memories, mine is a cub scout walk when i was 9 years old. the local troop walked and camped on a long walk from a refinery(Ras Tanura) in Saudi Arabia, located on the Gulf of Arabia, nearly to the border with kuwait, and back home again, this was in 1953, long before the current middle-east troubles started. I just only remember was the endless sand we walked over.
posted by taxpayer at 3:27 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Meh. We've been hosting couchsurfers for 3 years now. Many of our guests have been on solo walking tours across some portion of America, searching for community or themselves or "the real America" etc., and blogging about it. At some point someone will probably do it well enough for the elusive book deal.
posted by headnsouth at 3:30 AM on May 25, 2011

searching for community or themselves or "the real America" etc., and blogging about it.

It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.
posted by orthogonality at 3:56 AM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you do happen to want a really good read about walking, the book has already been written: I heartily recommend Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

(In fact, I heartily recommend Solnit's entire oeuvre. The woman can write.)
posted by trip and a half at 4:16 AM on May 25, 2011

Also, A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, who walked across the country in the 70s. One of my favorite books as a teen. Actually there are more books, since his continental-US walk was divided into two books, eastern half and western half, and then he did a coast-walking book, called Along the Edge of America.

Yeah, not a bad personal project, but I'm not sure adding a webcam makes it a groundbreaking idea.
posted by Miko at 4:56 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the plus side, at least she's not taking a picture of it every day for a year.
posted by briank at 5:24 AM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

If anything, adding the webcam complicates her mission by obviating the kind of relationships that can only develop off-camera. People who walk with her or otherwise enter her life are self-selecting from the subset of humanity who wishes to do these acts with an audience along for the ride. That's a (perhaps growing) niche, but she misses out on the intimacy and trust that develops when people help each other when no one is watching and their deeds will likely go unheralded and unknown.
posted by itstheclamsname at 7:01 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I met Laura just before she left Tucson-she's very well loved here.

Kinda interesting to see all the snark directed at someone I know.

Kinda crappy, actually.

~I doubt coach-surfing in exchange for cooking breakfast, as the artist intends, really exposes her to a representative sample of the populace~

Really? You doubt that? So how about you get off the internet and show us how to expose oneself to a truly representative sample of the populace, since you obviously have a much better plan.
posted by chronkite at 8:22 AM on May 25, 2011

I have a friend walking the Pacific Crest Trail (which starts a few hours from Tuscon) and it certainly is a community affair. It'd be much more difficult without the trail angels who leave you water and food, the hostel owners, and random folk that understand thru hikers and give you a ride.

Of course, they know you're coming, and the town is often glad to have the extra foot traffic and commerce. It should be interesting to see what she encounters as she walks across more suspicious towns in the Midwest.

But OMG, what a boring route after New Mexico :)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:13 AM on May 25, 2011

This woman seems eerily similar to the "artist" in the season finale of House.
posted by banished at 10:19 AM on May 25, 2011

Raa, someone else isn't living the same way that I do and this upsets me! Also their art is bad and I work harder than they do so they are bad!!

Really though, as someone who has done the (unrecorded) super long walking journey thing, this route sounds a little unappealing to me. Distances between towns are huge in these parts of America and walking on the highway is something I find rather uncomfortable. I hope she finds hospitality through her project that helps offset these irritations.
posted by Winnemac at 10:24 AM on May 25, 2011

I like the idea that someday we may all have cameras like this mounted on or in our heads.

Think of all the great stuff you could do with that - you could see aggregate perceptions of humanity, a region a group of people (i.e. a fireman channel with action and many other rich possibilities). That would be the ultimate I think. Sure a lot of people would be sitting and watching other people but that would reduce the environmental impact of humanity. Kudos for any step in that direction in my opinion. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime but it's at least conceivable and fun to think about.
posted by astrobiophysican at 12:24 PM on May 25, 2011

Living along the highway in the middle of nowhere, I would on rare occasions see people do this during the summer. Sometimes they would stop to ask directions or to use our phone because we were the only real home for a mile or so and cell phone reception was next to zero until a couple of years ago. No one had a webcam or anything, they were tourists who only knew that this area was very rural part of America, but maybe were not prepared for HOW rural it was.

One time, a man with a German sounding accent stopped by and asked where the nearest motel was. I told him it was about 8 miles and offered to drive him there, but he politely declined and went in the direction of the motel. I was wondering how long that would take to walk to and if he'd get there while there was still daylight.

I don't understand the people who do this. Walking across the highway doesn't seem fun or safe. Your either walking on gravel or a paved shoulder of the road where semi trucks are going to whiz past you with three feet of space between you.

I remember as a kid, being in the car with my dad as he pointed to a woman who was riding a horse on a trip up to northern Canada. That seems like a more fun adventure. Let the horse do all the hard work.
posted by riruro at 12:31 PM on May 25, 2011

The head mounted camera is pretty unique. There are all sorts of ways to document a trip, but this is the first unedited live feed via head mounted camera I've seen. We'll see a lot more like this in the near future, now the equipment and bandwidth is cheap and available.
posted by stbalbach at 1:23 PM on May 25, 2011

Frankly, I'd rather hear Laura share some of her experiences than your complaints about how self-indulgent you find her.
posted by ranunculus at 1:53 PM on May 25, 2011

I have wanted to ride a bicycle from sea to shining sea for about 20 years now, for no reason that I can fathom. However, I have never put aside the time and money to go out and actually do it. I probably never will.

I'm envious.
posted by moonbiter at 3:07 PM on May 25, 2011

I didn't consider myself to be snarking. There are a lot of things I really like about the project she's doing, and I'm a fan of doing stuff like that generally. Also, her writing style is spare, clear, and fresh and I am enjoying the entries.

But my comment, to expand it, is that she's engaging in a project, and this kind of project is part of a tradition, the long-distance walk or even more expansively, the long-distance journey, undertaken under one's own steam. And this tradition has a literature and a history, and is vast.

Now that self-publishing has become so very easy, it's possible for a lot of people to embark on similar projects. I've been part of a few in a vicarious way, most recently when the woman who writes A Bikeable Feast spent a couple nights cooking and gardening at my place while completing her yearlong+ trip around the country by cycle, visiting places to learn about sustainable agriculture.

But I think there's something lost when people do embark on these projects without acknowledging or perhaps even being aware of the tradition and the literature. And then, often, the packaging of such projects and the expectation of those performing the projects seems to insist that we consider those projects unusually worthy of note, novel or groundbreaking in what they set out to reveal, when in fact there may not be much that is new to reveal about what comes from that kind of project. That's not to say it's not a valuable thing to do in itself, because it is. Things don't have to be novel and groundbreaking to be meaningful, and that's an important thing to state as well.

For instance, on this website, the artist's statement about the project is something that makes me think. She says:
This project is about trust, community and social networks. I am interested in the ways that technology connects and disconnects us from the people in our lives. I am interested in how a lone woman can cross the country but never truly be alone. Technology will allow me to bring friends and family on this journey home.
For one thing, I think this is something Peter Jenkins might well have said in his book - how traveling at a slow pace and relying on serendipity acted to reveal invisible social networks. I recall that people called ahead, drove ahead, and wrote ahead to set him up with resources and new people to help, and that people flew and drove out to walk with him along the way. Technology often just makes visible, conveniently, networks of a kind that have existed for milennia.

The only aspect in which I think this sort of project has something to say about connection and technology is in the idea that someone crossing the country alone with a headcam can "never truly be alone." The idea that a witness could always be available is interesting.

But is that even true in this time, with this technology, with a project like this? Once separated from the technology - by lack of connectivity due to storms or geography, which seems pretty frequent, or by loss, breakage, or even forcible separation from her equipment, she is again essentially alone. The headcam can't take away the fundamental condition of separateness and aloneness that's still the most basic part of human experience. It can only provide a feed when it's working and connected. It can increase the amount that is witnessed but can't completely invert the default condition of separation to being a default of connection. A lot of things have to work right to maintain connection.

So, I don't know. If it's a statement about technology and what it means to be "alone," that's somewhat interesting. But my larger point is that it doesn't have to be a statement about anything. It can just be a cool thing to do, a lovely experience, fodder for creativity, a way to meet people, a way to learn and get ideas. I honor that perhaps even more than the tendency we have today to put a formal thesis framework around everything we want to do that's creative or part of our personal development.
posted by Miko at 3:13 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

And I thought my plans to motorcycle home from LA to Kalamazoo (Just a bit south of Grand Rapids) on a 250 were hardcore.
posted by RampantFerret at 8:51 AM on May 26, 2011

« Older Goodbye to Salon's Table Talk   |   A World of Struggle and Hope Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments