As The Way Opens
By Peter Lourie
As this year comes to a close and a new one begins to unfurl, I’m reflecting on what’s working well and how I can carry those positives forward. There’s one resolution I renew every year without fail–one that has guided every adventure I’ve undertaken and book I’ve written. A mindset that never fails to decrease doubt and increase opportunities, that underpins much of what I think of as a pretty good way to live: Proceed As The Way Opens.
Proceed as the way opens ties in with other themes I’ve been writing about like letting your nervousness lead the way and seeking out adventure. In fact, it’s the overarching philosophy behind both.
For instance, writing a book is kinda like living life. At any one point, it can feel as if there are too many doors to open, no sure way to proceed. But rather than trying to conjure certainty by forcing an interview, an itinerary, or a schedule, it’s much more efficient and rewarding if I let go and just see what happens.
Instead of trying to hammer everything perfectly into place, I start with the loose idea of where and when I need to be somewhere, or what I would broadly like to accomplish, and let the rest evolve organically. I poke around a little and walk through doors as they open. The result isn’t just a more authentic and exciting book, it’s a more exciting life.
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” — Travel writer Paul Theroux
A Small Example: El Paso, Texas
When I was traveling down the 1880 miles of the Rio Grande from its source to sea, I drove into El Paso, Texas, which marks the beginning of the 1248-mile Texas/Mexican river border. Wanting to spend a few days exploring the city and looking for a place for the night, I headed for the higher buildings downtown close to the Rio Grande. There I spotted a cool, historic-looking hotel. Something about this one called to me, the kind of place that gives you a good feeling just looking at it. And that’s how I discovered the Camino Real, built in 1912, and originally called Hotel Paso del Norte.
Stepping into the spacious lobby with its grand marble columns and dark wood and warm lighting, I thought back on a childhood visit to the Biltmore Hotel in New York, which opened a year later.
I took my gear up to a wonderfully spacious room facing the Rio Grande and El Paso’s sister city of Juarez, Mexico, which has recently been a place of terror but did not inspire so much fear two decades ago. The room was old and fading but clean with a great view of the hot dry city across the river. I watched the lines of traffic entering the US at the border bridge and took photos out the window that ended up in one of my books.
The Camino Real had been right in the middle of the Mexican Revolution of 1914. City residents watched the fighting between the revolutionaries and the Mexican army from the roof of the hotel. Among the spectators was Pancho Villa himself, said a desk clerk.
I walked the few blocks to the bridge and passed over to explore Juarez and to eat my favorite food. I spent the next three days hiking the mountains above town, heading out with the border patrol along the river, visiting border patrol agents in a nearby post that marks the border of New Mexico, Texas and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. I went to the bullfights in Juarez that reminded me of those I’d seen in southern Spain in college. Then I packed up and followed the border south to Laredo and crossed over the Rio Grande to Laredo’s sister city Nuevo Laredo.
I fell in love with El Paso on that trip and have been going back to the city ever since. At least once a year I give adventure presentations and writing workshops at the town’s elementary schools. My book on the Rio Grande was picked for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, and schools began to invite me to speak to students about my adventure in their state.
Until last year, I’ve always stayed in what I think of as Pancho Villa’s hotel, that remarkable place that has also housed Presidents Bush & Bush, Johnson, and Nixon, along with Amelia Earhart, Harrison Ford, John Wayne, The Rolling Stones, and many many others.
But when the old hotel was bought once again, amidst major renovations, I found a new place through AirB&B just a few blocks away, and for half the price, too. The little house, totally nondescript on the outside, sits about 300 feet from I-10, the Interstate that runs across the country from Santa Monica, California, to Jacksonville, Florida. Turns out Pancho Villa himself had lived here and the owners were restoring it to its original décor.
I feel blessed to have stumbled on these little bits of history over the years and the moments that introduced them. Had I used online reviews to triangulate a hotel before arriving in El Paso, I might’ve never found the Camino Real. Had I not stopped to talk to a man in the lobby and people on the street, I might not have come to learn its thrilling history. Had I not been lucky enough to be asked to speak at the schools and had I not said yes, I wouldn’t have the excuse to visit as frequently as I do. Small curiosities and small steps compounded into years of enjoyment.
“There are three basic rules of traveling. Travel on the ground. Travel alone when possible. Keep notes. That’s it.” — Paul Theroux
Proceeding As The Way Opens
What does proceeding as the way opens actually look like in practice? Well, the El Paso story gets at a few concrete examples. Don’t plan too far ahead. Book things in the moment. Talk to strangers. Ask questions. Wander. Say yes. But, as always, if your mind is in the right place, the particulars will follow.
The key is to open that first door. If you multiply those little kinds of opportunities, those modest serendipities, you end up experiencing a vibrancy and excitement that is otherwise unattainable.
And if you apply the same poking-around approach to learning a subject like the Aztecs or a skill like writing, those little seeds will grow into groves. It happens gradually, so gradually you may wonder if there’s any point to it at all, but keep at it and someday you’ll look around and realize you’re standing amidst a forest of possibility.
If you follow your nose, your instincts, your interests and passions, you will find that to explore is one of the most exciting and fulfilling pursuits a person can undertake.
Buena suerte, and let the doors open where they may.
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