Essay – Finding Your Voice


I can feel us losing track of the days. Earlier in the trip, it was simple consecutive numbers.  Now, we check in with each other, or raise our inflection, “….Day 17?”  The first third of our trip feels like a lifetime ago, fully warranting the use of the cliché.

We have forgotten about any expectation of our normal habits and daily routines.  We are on safari, moving through the jungle full of humanity, stories and new experiences.  We are conditioned into a state of readiness, prepared to pack & move, record, eat, drink or sleep as and when needed.  We’ve gained an appreciation for space in the calendar, and look forward to moments to rest and letting our minds wander.    We’ve realized these moments are frequently in a game of chicken with the need for computer time to catch up, plan the next stops and upload our growing mass of digital images and audio.   All in good time.  


You’d think a Gonzo-inspired trek would turn into a booze-fueled boondoggle pretty quickly.  Immersion travel calls for alternate fuels.  We have definitely enjoyed flavorful beer, spirits and cocktails, but coffee fills our veins, and no amount of intake has yet to interrupt a nap or prevent sleep, when available.

In Virginia, we stumbled upon a coffee bar powering multiple draught lines of nitrogen-pushed cold brew, just like a bar or brewpub.  They opened twelve days before our visit, the same day we left home.  Yesterday, I caught a photo on social media of someone preparing for a similar installation back home.  It’s interesting to see trends that are at least new to me, pushing their first tender sprouts through the earth in different parts of the country, simultaneously.  If only my thermos was full of cold brew right now.

As we headed through the Southeast we delved deeply into the agricultural story, feeling the stunning harmony of land enriched by Joel Salatin’s sustainable practices in the Shenandoah Valley, in contrast to so much land that has been overdrawn by ill-conceived practices of convenience.  We heard stories from advocates that have raised their unfaltering voices over four decades and were inspired, rather than feeling like we were late to the game.

Our migration continued as we engaged in our first significant driving legs of the trip.  We could taste and hear regional culture everywhere we went.  It’s interesting to see cities and regions vocally celebrate their cultural specialties and art forms.  Nashville, Louisville, Oxford and Memphis.  They’re loud and proud and see no reason to quash a debate over hot Chicken, barbecue, whole hog barbecue, honky tonk, country &/or western, hot sauce, collards, grits, hats or boots.  Their melodic drawl warmly colored and texturized these intriguing stories of the American South.

Old and new – new and old.

We keep hearing and seeing the connection between traditional methods and modern context.  Experiencing the sorting, pressing and roasting of hemp seeds, an experimental exception to current Federal Law, drives the point home even further.  Retro fitting equipment once used for quality-depleting big-food fillers to make it work for this innovative, sustainable and beneficial food feels radical, like a pirate ship for the good guys.


The most abundant preparation we had for GonzoFest2017 was curiosity.  We were enthusiastically curious, but still couldn’t describe what we thought it would be with any reliability. Hearing that I’d won the literary competition added relevance and excitement, as well as more mystery of expectation.

We’d connect with friends and family of Hunter’s and gain deep insights into looking past the dramatics of Hunter’s life and career and focusing on the importance of craftsmanship and finding your own voice. Gonzo-- the art form, became three dimensional as these talented people shared what they wished more people knew.  Juan shared his enlightening journey into writing, Stories I tell Myself – Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson, which was deeply moving for both of us.  

Our “whiskey canteen” fueled our celebration more than it did our seven hour drive the next morning, deep into the south.  We heard from the professional storytellers, committed to upholding their region’s cultural roots, before getting back on the rails and heading through the bayou to New Orleans.

These arts and traditions seem inseparable from their communities.  There is local pride, regardless of whether makers come or go geographically.  The makers celebrate and contribute to the folk lore woven into their culture.  Tales of the old days are revered, while passionate, warm-hearted people are constantly making new stories, honing their craft, while finding and following their own voices.



EssaysFred Bueltmann