I’m pretty psyched about today’s Q&A session for a couple of reasons. For one thing, my interviewee is one interesting dude. For another, my interviewee is a dude! While my blog is by no means offensively feminine (as if there is such a thing), it could use a little dose of masculine appeal every now and then. Which is why I’m happy to introduce David Currier.
Originally from a farm in the small town of Neponset, Illinois, 28-year-old David Currier has traveled his fair share of Wild West by foot. As a National Crew Leader with the Student Conservation Association, David spends his time leading high school volunteers on trails through the Big Sur region, among other places. He also spent six months working on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile hiking destination stretching from Mexico to Canada. Prior to his conservation work, David spent four years in New Orleans leading volunteers in the construction of homes post-Hurricane Katrina. One of his most epic road trips to date was in the summer of 2010, when he drove from Billings, Montana to Alaska, then back down along the West Coast, ending in Arizona.
A man of many talents, David has also worked on the TV show Treme (as well as several films), and he holds a personal record of 125 consecutive free throws. More fun facts: His hometown high school had 49 students—total. He also had a pet cow named Benny.
David is yet another person in this series that I have gotten to know better in a string of emails than I did in the few days I met him in person! (Which was in New Orleans, where I lifted heavy things and more or less nailed homes together. I don’t know why he trusted me with power tools.) This picture of David and another wonderful volunteer leader, Danielle, is from my personal collection from that trip:
FInally, here’s David!
When did you catch the travel bug? And how did growing up in such a small town shape your perception of the world?
From an early age I have always been interested in adventuring, seeing new things, going new places, interacting with different people. Before I was able to drive that meant hopping on my bike and going as far and to as many new places as possible. I think it was my time studying abroad in Spain junior year of college that really reignited that desire to see more of the world than what I previously had.
Looking back on my childhood in a small town I think I was pretty insulated from the rest of the world. I obviously knew from school that there was a big world out there to learn about and understand, but I think it was a little outside my realm of understanding at the time. Growing up in a small town though taught me a lot about the importance of working together, forming and maintaining relationships, and most importantly, believing in yourself and doing the best you can with what you have.
What was it like working in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? What did it teach you about the human spirit?
Working in post-Katrina New Orleans is the most important thing I have done to date in my life. It has been the most challenging experience but also, as seems to happen, the most rewarding. I’m not sure why, but from the time I moved to NOLA in June of ’06 I never really questioned the practicality of the work I was doing. I always believed in my heart of hearts that what we were doing, whether it be gutting homes or building new ones, was going to be successful. Another hurricane could have very easily hit the city in the early years after Katrina when the levees were still being rebuilt, but these kind of possibilities never phased me. I always believed that things would work out for New Orleans.
People in New Orleans are resilient. The city is beautifully, yet terribly situated and for most all practical purposes should have been settled elsewhere. But this choice of almost 300 years ago has come to shape the spirit of the people in the city, to provide them with many obstacles that they have to bounce back from and has built in them an intense sense of loyalty and determination. This I think is true though for most all human beings. When push comes to shove humans generally step up to the plate and do what they need to do to survive, whether it be in New Orleans or elsewhere in the world. The instinct to survive is strong.
You work with high school students, and you know today’s youth gets a bad rap. How do the kids you lead in conservation trails prove those who are quick to denounce them wrong?
I think no matter the generation, the “youth of today” have always gotten a bad rap from older generations. The youth have new ideas, new ways of living, are generally more open to things that are different, and older generations perceive this, at times, in a negative light. They said the same thing of my generation and I know of generations before me. Sure, there are lots of things that youth do that are problematic. There are also lots of things that adults do that are problematic.
Still, it must get pretty interesting spending days or weeks at a time with a bunch of high school kids in the wild. Any funny stories to share?
I really enjoy hearing the new words or phrases that different generations use when talking about similar situations and then trying to figure out from where those words come. Language is always changing and it’s exciting to try to keep up with it. I find one of the more interesting parts of working with teenagers is that while they are becoming adults they are still young. Meaning, oftentimes they will make great decisions and you look at them as adults. Later, like most humans though, they make some decisions that aren’t the most intelligent that reminds you they still have lots of growing to do.
Some might call your lifestyle non-traditional. What do you say to that?
I would agree that my lifestyle is non-traditional. If a person is happy with the typical 9 to 5 desk job, more power to them; there’s nothing wrong with that kind of lifestyle. If the person is happy, doing work that is positive and meaningful and working hard to pursue their dreams, then right on. For me right now, I enjoy what I am doing. I feel like it is positive, important work and I am working toward fulfilling dreams of mine. Later in life that might mean doing the 9 to 5 desk job. And if that is what it takes, then that is what it takes.
You’ve visited many places, but is there one place (a state, a canyon, a giant tree!) you can call your favorite?
I can’t say I have one favorite place over another. All special spots where important things have happened in my life have their own meaning and value based on what happened and what I learned from those moments. I try to find the positive in everything that happens, and that in turn gives value to lots of different locations, even the “bad” ones.
From where do you draw inspiration to continue pursuing your travels? Is it from within, a force of nature, the people you meet?
I think my inspiration for travel comes from, like I talked about earlier, when I was a child with an intense case of the wanderlust that is still afflicting me. Seeing what others have done or are planning on doing definitely motivates me as well to continue the journey of exploring the world and meeting people of different walks of life.
Even the most motivated of us have days when it’s hard to get going. What keeps you motivated and energized to do the kind of rewarding (but physically taxing) work you do?
Staying motivated and energized can be hard, for sure. I’m really big on being accountable to oneself and doing what it is that you say you are going to do. Some techniques I use are to remind myself that it’s in the tough and trying times, when we aren’t feeling our best, that we find out what we are really made of. That reminder helps me to put forth my best effort. I think it’s important to also be understanding of yourself and know that hey, sometimes, things are going to be hard and days are going to be filled with struggles. But if we honestly put forth our best effort, generally things will work out well. I’ve also found that the more challenging the things I have done in the past, the easier challenging things are in the present because I’m like, hey, I’ve done this before, and I was successful and made it happen; there’s no reason why I can’t do the same in this situation.
Have you ever grappled with the fear of failure? How do you deal with it?
Fear of failure is something that definitely holds me back to this day. The older I get, though, the more I realize that if I “fail” it’s not the end of the world. The sun will probably still come up tomorrow and while things may not be ideal, brushing yourself off and getting back up has a lot of value to it. In fact, I feel that the times in which I have failed have provided for more growth than times when I have been successful. Humans fail. It’s part of our nature. Being tough and getting back on the horse when you fall off is a must.
Your job and passion lead you to meet a lot of people, but have you spent a lot of time traveling solo? And is that lonely or therapeutic?
I have spent quite a bit of time traveling solo. Probably more so than traveling with others. It can be lonely but it really opens you up to experiencing where you are and meeting new people more than you would if you had someone else traveling with you. Traveling alone I think can provide for a more in-depth experience of where you are.
With such varied interests, is there anything you can see yourself doing down the road that you haven’t tried yet?
I can see myself doing more intense outdoor adventures than what I already have. I can also see myself doing service and relief work on an international scale. I’m sure something new will come along that will catch my interest and I will get super involved in that but I’m not sure what that is at this time. I’m pretty excited to see what I can make happen and at the same time, what happens.
What advice would you give to anyone reading this and genuinely wishing they could take off and travel like you do?
Traveling isn’t that hard. If you really want to do it you can make it happen. It just depends on how badly you want it. Sure, there are tradeoffs, and sure you will miss out on things that you value, but life is a series of choices and everyone can make the choice to travel, whether it be five miles down the road or across the world. You just have to make up your mind and do it.
Are there any books you’d recommend to aspiring wanderers?
Books for aspiring wanderers. Hmmmm, it’s cliche but Into The Wild can be inspirational. I find Miracle In The Andes to be super inspirational when it comes to having the will and determination to accomplish something you set your mind to. The same goes for Touching The Void.
David, thanks so much for being a part of The “Lucky” Ones series. You have a great story, and I’m glad you were willing to tell it. Readers, did something about David’s interview spark your interest or inspire a bit of wanderlust? Let him know in the comments!