perseverance

Letters and life lessons along the Appalachian Trail

The following post has little — at least directly — to do with journalism or storytelling.

Just life.

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I found myself with a rare opportunity this past week. Having filled in for a coworker on the Saturday morning shift, I was given as compensation a day off the following Monday.

That meant a day off … during the week … with no responsibilities or errands to run.

I instantly headed for the mountains.

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I arrived in Atlanta five years ago and quickly became enamored with hiking in north Georgia. Having grown up in the far less scenic state of New Jersey, and spent my early adult years in the relative flatlands of Chicago, Sioux City, Ia., and Buffalo, N.Y., I reveled in the majesty of the mountains, filling my early Atlanta weekends with whatever hikes I could find. By my third summer down South, I had hiked nearly every major trail in Georgia — and some, to boot, in South Carolina and Tennessee.

But in recent years, I had begun to slack off, facing more pressing commitments on the weekends and simply losing some of my early hiking momentum. Aside from that, my knees had become a nagging concern, which made me more hesitant to take on the mountains with the same cavalier spirit of years prior.

Earlier this month I downloaded Bill Bryson’s classic travel book, A Walk in the Woods, in which Bryson and an old friend attempt to hike the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail from start (in Georgia) to finish (in Maine). This is a classic “holy grail” trip among hikers; every year hundreds of hikers take half a year off and make the trek. Bryson, I soon discovered, is every bit as masterful a writer as I had heard, and he presents the famous trail as a truly fascinating, fulfilling experience.

Turning the pages of his book, I quickly regained my desire to scale the north Georgia mountains.

And I suddenly found myself with just the day to do it. (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #16: Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press

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This is a story of faith.

Not religious faith, mind you. Not “the Cubs will one day win the World Series” kind of faith.

This is about Field of Dreams-type faith … the faith that, “If you build it, they will come.”

In this story, “you” is Brian Kaufman, a 31-year-old, Emmy Award-winning photographer and videographer for the Detroit Free Press.

“It” refers to his remarkable, nearly single-handedly produced documentary, “Packard: The Last Shift”, which premiered last month at the inaugural Freep Film Festival.

“Building” that documentary took four years … and a whole lot of faith.

The Packard Plant, the subject of Kaufman’s documentary, is a former auto manufacturing factory in Detroit that has been abandoned for years. It has become a city landmark, both in the negative (a blight on the city, a once-beautiful building wasting away) and positive (a haven for artists, a visual masterpiece). It has recently been at the center of a whole lot of news.

Kaufman arrived in Detroit in 2008, having (like most of us) never heard of the Packard plant. But he became smitten by its story and its twisted beauty.

So he went there. And he shot video. And then he went back, over and over again, with no promise that his material would ever find an audience — all while handling a fast-paced daily workload at the Free Press.

Kaufman’s commitment turned into a dynamic long-form story in 2012, but he knew he had more to offer. When the Free Press last year announced its intentions to host a film festival, it knew exactly where to turn for an original production.

Kaufman is my guest on the latest episode of the “Telling The Story” podcast. You will be amazed by his technical know-how, but you will be inspired by his perseverance, which resulted in a tremendous accomplishment: a riveting, powerful, 70-minute documentary that stemmed from one person’s vision.

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