Chasing Dreams in a VW Bus

In 1972, Jerry Steimel graduated college, jumped in a VW Beetle with his lifelong friend, and set out to live his dream, a cross-country trip to California. But his VW Bug had other ideas, quickly ending the trip with mechanical breakdown.

Steimel’s dream wasn’t deterred. Forty-five years later, he jumped in another Volkswagen, a 1973 air-cooled van, and set out from his home in Massachusetts for another try, this time solo. But Jerry Steimel hardly traveled alone.

In Chasing Zorba: A Journey of Self-Discovery in a VW Bus, he is guided by author Nikos Kazantzakis and his book, Report to Greco, whose life lessons begin each chapter. He names his van Zorba after Kazantzakis’ book Zorba the Greek. Steimel’s goal: California. And so much more.

Some call his plan lunacy. But Steimel is out to discover comfort in taking risks rather than living as if he is just waiting to die. He doesn’t hurry, neither in his writing nor his driving, and his literary and physical journeys are a meander. But, in the end, the book rushes up and grabs readers before leaving them with memories anchored in what it means to live life to its fullest.

Steimel goes to great lengths to find places, like the West Virginia site where four high school boys launched rockets and their lives to heights beyond their wildest dreams. It is the site of the film October Sky, which Steimel watched a dozen times. That figures, you see, because Jerry devoted 45 years to social work, lifting kids who needed an extra push.

Steimel weaves places and American history with the people he meets as he drives mostly back roads, having to stop more than now and then to take Zorba to mechanics for adjustments. The journey tests Steimel and Zorba in ways they could never have anticipated.

The author and his VW Bus still miss the turn of the key every morning. And I miss wondering what is around their next turn.

Bicycling Crusader Follows the Silk Road

She climbed to a peak of academia as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University and later as a scientist/graduate student at MIT. She dreamed of walking on Mars.

But for Kate Harris, work inside science laboratories could not satisfy her need to discover, so she and her best friend Mel set out to get lost in the world of exploration–for a year, bicycling the Silk Road of Marco Polo from Turkey to Tibet.

Thousands of miles, at altitudes higher than 17,000 feet, over every kind of terrain you can imagine, and through blazing heat and freezing snow. They eluded and tricked menacing military and police, adapted to cultures as different as they could be, and traversed geography as foreign to them as Mars. They found human compassion in many places, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Tibet, and Nepal as locals took them into their homes to save them from another night in their tent.

In Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, Harris eloquently and humorously weaves history, science, and compelling anecdotes from her adventure that left my jaw hanging open.

As I have learned while walking the long-distance trails of Europe, the borders of cultures, countries and languages are lost when you step outside the comforts of everyday life and push yourself to, or even beyond, your limits. On the Silk Road, Kate Harris went well beyond the limits of most humans and her book made me want to load up my backpack and leave my borders behind.

(Click on the cover if you want to see the book on Amazon.)