Passing gas. Kicking ass. Walking the roads less traveled. All for positive change.
Q&A With Nate Damm
October 24, 2011Posted by on
As I said before I will try to contact Nate Damm, see what I can learn from him, become friends, get to know him, and if possible get an interview to share some tips with you guys. Well here it is.
Now Nate for those of you who don’t know has walked coast to coast from Cape Henlopen Park in Delaware to Ocean Beach in San Francisco finishing on October 15, 2011. His journey was an amazing one to watch and I am at a loss of words to describe the badassery of it all. All I can say is check out his sites.
Furthermore since a picture is worth a thousand words I feel compelled to show you this stuff. Here you look into the face of a champion. Here you look into the face of badassery itself. Here you look into the face of a mythical hero(seriously people I can’t be the only one who is reminded of Jak from the Jak And Daxter trilogy). 😀
I also feel compelled to link you to a video of him stepping into the Pacific Ocean. His mom was there. His friends were there to support him some having flown/commuted hundreds sometimes thousands of miles just to see him finish. Going after your dreams, friends, family. That’s what life’s all about. Watch and be inspired.
So Nate man a big thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Without further ado:
As I said before this interview will get very weird very fast because I ask the dirty technical questions other people don’t. Thus for some semblance of normality before we get into the real meat of the discussion please give us a brief introduction to yourself.
I’m Nate Damm, lived in Maine all my life. Hadn’t really done any traveling prior to my walk across the U.S. Had a nice job, apartment and life, but gave up everything to walk across the country.
Many a badass has done walks of the coast to coast magnitude. Yet others have gone far beyond. However what the bards always seem to edit out of the epics they sing is what these folks did when they had to go. Sometimes you’re in the vicinity of a public bathroom, other times you’re walking along a highway with the nearest town in either direction 15 miles away, others you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere, and yet other times you’re in a situation people like myself can’t forsee until we do expeditions of that scale ourselves. Do you step away somewhere nobody goes and do business? Perhaps bury it and the toilet paper in a hole dug with a small shovel or garden trowel all biodegradable? Do you carry some kind of portable container that temporarily holds stuff until it can be disposed of in a more appropriate fashion? Some kind of rig and/or curtain for privacy? This is one of the difficulties that me and who knows how many others have trouble resolving. Nobody seems to ask this question so I will. What do you do? Are there other good solutions to this dilemma that you know of? Which one do you think is the best?
The best option is whatever the situations presents. Sometimes you definitely have to be a bit bold and go into some uncomfortable circumstances. There were only a few times where I ran into a situation that I couldn’t make it to a town or store in time, and they were all solved by a simple walk into the woods or out of sight of the road. That’s all the detail I’ll go into haha!
What are your thoughts on the Matt Green Technique for scoring couchsurfing or perhaps a place to camp? Taken right from here( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_persons_who_have_walked_across_the_United_States#Matt_Green ) is it’s description:
“Each day, if in a place where he didn’t know anyone, he would knock on someone’s door and ask to pitch his tent on their property. Many people invited Matt into their homes and in doing so, he was able to share his story with many people and also learn about the lives of average Americans all across the country.”
Unfortunately I haven’t had the guts to try it yet. Have you? If so what happened? Any other thoughts on the matter?
That’s a great strategy, and I’ve done it. It worked every time I tried and actually led to some of my most cherished memories on the trip. I HIGHLY recommend doing this. It can be a bit awkward, but that’s why not everyone walks across the U.S. You have to just get used to it.
What are your thoughts on the salmon ladder( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nygdIxtKSmo )?
Awesome! Wish I could do that, but if probably wouldn’t go very well.
When you did wind up couchsurfing how did it wind up happening? Any interesting stories to tell from that angle? Any good advice in terms of scoring couchsurfing?
I used Couchsurfing twice, and they were both great experiences. I didn’t use it more because I was usually in very small towns and there were no hosts there. Also, I didn’t really like planning ahead. Winging it worked best and was what I liked doing.
What did you do when it rained? This is a rather multipronged question which I’m unsure how to even ask properly. Like say it was raining and you had to set up camp for the night. How fast would you be able to rig up a tent? How much water gets in? You get wet too meanwhile how do you handle these things on the chillier nights? Or perhaps you stop and get into your tent to wait things off whenever it starts raining and it looks like it’ll be serious? Something as simple as rain can cause these logistic headaches along with others I may have failed to even consider. Any advice on the whole rain issue? Furthermore though you have chosen your timing to avoid it some like Peter Jenkins have even walked through the snows of winter. Any advice to the bolder of us for handling that?
Rain is the biggest pain in the ass for a walker, no question. There’s really no rule with how to deal with it. It depends on terrain, temperature, time of day, how strong the rain is, if it’s going to be a shower or a long storm. The bottom line is that you don’t want to get wet and then cold. I used a really cheap raincoat from Walmart and an umbrella, they served me very well most of the time. There will be nights when it starts raining as you have to set up your tent, I usually would just wait it out. I was lucky and never got into any real serious situations.
From what I see you use the sleeping bag and tent combination for your system of portable shelter. Myself and probably a lot of others also having similar problems aren’t so sure. First off I’m really strapped for money and the costs of typical camping equipment are rather large. Furthermore yes I know they keep heat in really well but I’m not sure if I can sleep in the typical mummy bag. Part of the problem is that I can’t sleep in that cramped mummy position. Another less important issue is that I don’t generally sleep on my back however I tend to favor it when sleeping on the floor and hence may adapt. The point is I’m not really in the mood to fork over obscene money for a mummy bag I can’t sleep in properly. A lot of tents I’ve seen are flimsy and probably won’t withstand heavy rain and whatnot. Not to mention someone my height can barely sit up in them so the usefulness of those is rather questionable. While for some it might work well what other systems do you think might work. Perhaps rectangular or human shaped sleeping bags. Perhaps a tarp, mosquito net, and the clothes on your back. I’ve heard of people who literally used just the latter. Fellow coast to coaster mark Baumer slept on some sort of chair after his tent broke nine days in(surprise surprise). The list of portable shelter solutions goes on. Thus we need an experienced veteran to sort the best from the rest for when the traditional sleeping bag tent model breaks down.
I’d say to just try a few different options. A tarp shelter would work if you don’t like being cramped I suppose. But, you usually get what you pay for with gear. I bought a very nice tent as much as I didn’t want to, a Kelty Gunnison 1.1, and it was fantastic. That tent stood strong through unbelievably bad weather. I used a mummy bag as well. The thing is, you’re just not going to be comfortable, no matter what in most situations. It takes some getting used to. I didn’t sleep well at the beginning of my trip but things just got better as I went. By then end I could sleep on solid concrete 20 feet from a road right out in the open and not wake up once.
What kind of weaponry if any did you have for defensive purposes? Was it traditional or improvised? Any advice on something that’s easy to acquire/make and most importantly learn to use effectively so its not taken away to be used against you? Every state has its own laws on guns, knives, etc. There are gray areas on other improvised weapons that don’t fall into the easy to define category. Has potential legal trouble been something worrisome in some of the perverse states that stipulate we shouldn’t defend ourselves? I’m guessing if you keep things hidden, your mouth shut, and talk to any officers you run across respectfully there should be no trouble. But still how much has that been a stress causer?
Walking sticks and a small knife, that’s all I had. And don’t be hesitant to talk to police, they are the greatest friend you can have on the trip. I wouldn’t have made it across the country without the help of all kinds of law enforcement.
Even during my smaller walks I started to see the world on a whole new scale. After a walk like yours I can only imagine the scope of the good, the evil, and the just plain bizarre that you have seen. Describe the most extreme of each of these you have run into.
The good – just the help from random people, I could write a whole book on this, and probably will. The bad – crazy drivers trying to hit me. Bizarre – the crazy people that looking like a homeless person tends to attract, I loved them though, always good for a funny/entertaining story.
On your journey you’ve dealt with everything from sleeping under bridges to being put up in a nice hotel by a couple who happened to like you. Surely the adjustment between these extremes takes its toll. Describe if you can the psychological aspect of that.
It definitely is quite a change from night to night! It definitely weighs on you a bit, but once again, you get used to it. I actually started to prefer camping by the end for some reason.
Approximately what portion of the time would you say that you have:
a. camped out in official campgrounds
b. camped out on the sly
d. stayed at a hostel or hotel or budget motel
What can we realistically expect on such a trip?
I don’t know if I could give you accurate percentages for each, but most of the time it was stealth camping off the side of the road or in a town park with permission from the police. I had hosts quite often, most of whom found me through my site or just met me on the road while I was walking, then hotels were pretty infrequent.
You say on your site that you are attempting to keep the cost of the walk at 3500 dollars or under if possible. One of the problems that many people face is that they don’t know in advance how much it will cost. Obviously it will be reasonably cheap. After the initial investment in gear and money to get home should the worst happen all you really need is money for food(and maybe when you want to splurge the occasional budget motel). Still getting a reasonable estimate on that is hard. How did you arrive at yours? How close were you to your estimate? You also mentioned something on your site about keeping track of the purchases you made? Will that be going up so we can get some sort of idea of the cost and the needed items?
My best guess is that I did the whole trip for between $4,000 and $4,500. Not totally sure but that seems right at this point.
Though Wade Shepard’s vagabondjourney.com is the ultimate cheapskate travel instruction manual it seems to be more geared to the kind of travel where you go to live in Bangkok for a month or six. Not so geared to walkers of our kind(though in all fairness Wade does walk a lot more than 95% of the population and is also a veteran walker). Any advice more geared towards walkers of our kind? How cheap do you think an expedition like this can be reasonably done?
It can really be done as cheap as you want it. If you wanted to always sleep outside and rely on homeless shelters, dumpster diving and the kindness of strangers, you would hardly need anything. Obviously that would be extremely difficult though. I would say plan on $10/day for food if you eat pretty cheaply, and if you don’t want to then you should never have to pay to camp/stay anywhere. It all depends on how much you want to rough it!
How does it feel like to be at the finish? And what’s next in the epic story of Nate “The Great” Damm? Perhaps you’ll circumnavigate Australia by foot? Perhaps you’ll walk Kazakstan west tip to east dip into China and do the same in Mongolia? Perhaps you’ll pull a Karl Bushby? What’s the plan?
Not sure yet! Thinking over a couple of options, but I’d like to be on the road within the next couple of months, regardless of how that means I’ll be traveling. Wish I had a better answer for this, but I don’t like planning much as you can tell!
And finally say it with me. You know you want to. ALL HAIL KARL BUSHBY!
Of course! The dude is a badass!