“In the last month I have learned more about the people and places along the California coast than I had in 34 years and a thousand trips by car.” – Dan Malloy, on Slow is Fast
A little over a year ago, I took to California, staying in San Francisco and Los Angeles and the places in between, riding the Pacific Coast Starlight train from Jack London Station in Oakland all the way down to LA’s Grand Central. It was in the wake of a couple rather seismic shifts in my life — both personally and professionally — and I needed to distance myself from what had become familiar, and in that familiarity, tired and occasionally painful. I broke free of what little ties I had left to a once-committed relationship and long-lamented (salaried) job and slept in un-air-conditioned attics and on three-quarter body-length love seats. And while the soreness in my neck never went away, even for a fleeting moment, I felt fulfilled — in that way old men with thick beards talk about “the best days” — for the first time in a long time.
Instead of hanging onto the semblance of what I had been told to want for myself in life, what I almost overwhelmingly felt was expected of me, I took the long way home. I slowed down. I forgot about the five-year plan and telling my childhood friends’ parents about a girlfriend or promotion and raise. Rather than write myself into other’s stories, I wrote mine, sharing it with people I met along the journey, people who also had their own. I was fortunate for that handful of months, as there are not many opportunities to do that. Obviously financial considerations and constraints and being a “productive member of society” (whatever that means) weigh heavily on the conscience — as they should: individually, we are one in a larger community, and to always act selfishly is, well, selfish. The planet doesn’t need any more “selfish.” Additionally, not many of us have the means to completely detach from a nine-to-five and the paycheck that comes with it. I don’t.
Yet, stories are important.
And it is vital to not forget that. From granddad’s to yours, stories are not simply to be told at dinner tables and over barstools or in remembrances and obituaries, but experiences to be lived. Slow is Fast gets that. And in place of a navel-gazing effort, Dan Malloy’s first foray into travel book writing extends well beyond the categorically “beautiful” and digs deeps, unrooting the stories that make up the present-day American west.
On a 50-day, 700-mile bicycle adventure down the California coast, Malloy and fellow travelers Kellen Keene and Kanoa Zimmerman document the communities that make up the land — focusing on those that embody the characteristics that built the once-far frontier. In 112 pages of photos and interviews, the three surfers forgo the typical self-obsession that accompanies most surf travel works these days (there are exceptions, of course) and trade the space generally filled with perfect barrels and sky-high airs for the hands and tools that sow the fields and tend to the shops. They map out the landscape that makes up the world beyond the city limits — but also tucked into the depths away from the A-frames and reef breaks. And in taking the back roads in writing their own stories, they were able to confidently and enthusiastically tell those of the people they came across.
Accompanying their passage through Big Sur, Steve Barilotti writes: “Surf travel is by practice nonlinear… Steinbeck called it vacilando — setting out for somewhere but not particularly concerned about getting there.” Life is also nonlinear. To expect that there are only point As and point Bs effectively cuts off the 90-percent that gives it any, well, life. Malloy and company not only strayed from that linear path, but in maintaining an overarching mission to explore, were able to bring everything together in a comprehensive narrative that speaks to the bigger picture of the American west.It is Slow Is Fast‘s ability to avoid the trappings of a predetermined (or linear) narrative that, in turn, encourages the reader to let themselves be swayed by the moment, .
Possibly the most important lesson to be learned is that while the past is important, it is the present that should resonate. The people they meet perhaps live a more traditional, grounded existence, but it is not any less “present” than a city life or one spent traveling the world. In the beautifully shot and compellingly edited short film that accompanies the book, San Luis Obispo surfer and rescue sled fabricator Buzz Morasca laughs as he (only half-jokingly) tells them that after he answers one last question, he is done talking about the past. “We should learn from the past,” he says, “but I don’t want to go back there.” Nostalgia is nice. And memories are grand. Hold onto a snapshot of them, but keep your mind and heart trained on the now. Why live in the past when the present is right in front of us?
Slow is Fast is the reminder we need that there are still stories to be told, and stories to be lived. It’s not only a great book, but a good, swift kick in the pants to get off your ass and move onward.
To purchase Slow is Fast, snag it for $30 from Patagonia’s online store.