WHAT MAKES SOME OF US hop off society’s path of expectations, pull out our machete and carve out a path in the direction we are pulled?
For me, it was Karl Langdon.
When I was 22, I was invited to Ulusaba, South Africa to Richard Branson’s private game lodge. My assignment was to write an article on the glam and cush of a $1000/night safari vacation. However, much to the chagrin of my editors at the time, I decided the story was not about the Big Five or the osso bucco over borlotti beans. It was about our game ranger, Karl Langdon.
Langdon, 28 at the time, had recently returned from a two-year journey from Cape Town to Cairo.
During his travels, he endured stress fractures in both feet, famine that dropped his body weight in half, malaria, dysentery, and gunshots across the bone-yard stretch in Malawi. All the while he had two film canisters and one mission: Fill one with sand from the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa and the other from the beaches of Alexandria, Egypt.
Four thousand miles into the trek, Langdon took his one and only break in Dar es Salaam. There he met up with his fiancé. After two weeks recuperating he knew he had to push on. To part with his fiancé and head, yet again into the bush, was seemingly unimaginable.
“It was the biggest mind-fuck. Having to say goodbye to her. Me in tears, she in tears. How I’d love to go back with her, but how I can’t go back with her. I knew I couldn’t. My desire to complete the mission could not be swayed.”
It was Langdon’s burning desire to accomplish something that seemed impossible and seemingly quixotic that gave me the metaphorical machete to begin carving my own path in this world.
One year of after that trip, I bought a van, left New York, and headed west. I found myself on the Blackfoot Reservation herding cattle and falling in love with the indigenous ways. From there, I made my way to Alaska fishing for mackerel on the Bering Sea. To Hawaii, Mexico, the purple mountains of Arizona, then east to the rolling waters of the Mississippi. I became so addicted to experience, that I spent the next seven years traveling to 40 countries. All the while I had no destination, only movement.
This phenomenon of movement, I have come to cherish. We have no word for it in English, but in Spanish, they call it vacilando; a wandering with intention yet no destination. On the road I met others who were alive and in vacilando. And we together were experiencing life uncut. The fear, the bonds, the laughter, the tears, and the curiosity to not know the next step and continue while having the courage to make sense of it out along the way.
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Matthew is the founder of the Mycelium School, an 18-month program in Asheville, NC, designed to provide a co-learning environment for emerging entrepreneurs to develop the resources, connections, and living-systems framework essential to fostering resilient local economies.
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