A grand adventure
Sunday morning Naomi and I are heading for the Greenbank National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the wilderness of the West Virginia mountains. (I’m posting early because we’ll be away on Monday.) We’ll stay at what looks to be a fine bed and breakfast that must do a good business during the ski season but is mostly deserted in the summer. And we’ll get a glimpse of how radio astronomers are probing the most profound mysteries of the universe, about how they’re looking ever deeper out there through the veils of stardust, almost back to the beginnings of time itself.
I’ll be gathering information and taking photos with the intent of doing—on sheer speculation—a magazine article about the place. This calls to mind many other such ventures I’ve undertaken over the years. Once, intrigued by the long, sometimes troubled and occasionally lethal history of the World Land Speed Record (LSR), I took eight hundred dollars out of my meager savings and set off in an uncertain vehicle across most of the country, from my home in eastern North Carolina to the otherworldly salt flats of Bonneville, Utah, 2,600 miles distant, again on sheer speculation. That resulted in a piece about deaf Hollywood stunt woman Kitty O’Neil, who was attempting to set a new women’s LSR. The article came out in The Saturday Evening Post and was reprinted in Reader’s Digest. During that trip I also picked up enough research and photos to do a piece on sailing the Great Salt Lake and another about a motorcycle attempt at a speed record, and still another about a Hollywood stunt man. Another time I bluffed my way into a well-insulated private and prestigious invitational marlin fishing tournament staged out of Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks. Though I could not even promise them my article would actually be published, the organizers treated me well, setting me up with a different yacht to go out on each tournament day. The article was published and led to steady work with two boating publications. And then there was the time I got to ride in a jet-powered show truck called “Shockwave” at well over two hundred miles per hour and did an article about it for Overdrive magazine.
In each of many such episodes, I’ve done something most other people never get to do. I’ve met unusual people and experienced wonderful things, largely because in order to write about them well, I’ve had to explore then in uncommon breadth and depth.
Such impulsive forays have not always resulted in lucrative articles, but they’ve helped gather glimmerings and insights that I’ve often put to use in my fiction. I’ve never regretted a single such time.
Each such speculative endeavor has become a fascinating personal chapter in this grand adventure that is the complex, often difficult, sometimes frustrating—but always ultimately rewarding—craft of writing.