The Power of Quests

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If you want to go on a meaningful quest, you must be lacking in something. [T]he protagonist cannot focus on everything and thus must choose and discard priorities to define a preferred quest. Tyler Cowen, Create Your Own Economy

Last week we used Cowen’s quote about quests in relation to Geoff Edgers’ Kinks documentary project. This was no accident. In the film, Geoff repeatedly declares himself to be “on a quest” (he also uses the word “mission”) to reunite the Kinks, a phrasing that has a visible effect on people like Sting and Zooey Deschanel, who give his film and goal their endorsement.

“Quest” is a powerful word. Quests are Wall-E rescuing Eve, Frodo climbing Mordor, the Losties getting off the island. Quests are legends, bold steps into folklore, celluloid, and pulp. As even Don Quixote — and the mere existence of the word “quixotic” — illustrates so vividly, quests are burdens. Quests demand sacrifice and determination, a myopic focus on, well, something.

A handful of new Kickstarter projects are themselves quests. They are the works of individuals who felt a spark one day — we don’t choose our quests; they choose us — and abruptly realigned their lives in pursuit. They sail seas and climb mountains. They seek meaning in faded black-and-white. They awoke one day to find they were giants.

We’ll look at three projects today that embody this, and three more tomorrow.

The American Who Went Up a Mountain and Came Down a Hero: Chris Waddell Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro

One man. One mountain. Chris Waddell attempts to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro without the use of his legs.

That quote from Chris Waddell’s project really says it all, doesn’t it? A five-time gold medal paralympian skier, Chris is the picture of determination and focus. Chris is raising $50,000 to fund his climb of Africa’s tallest peak using a wheeled rig that he hand-cranks up the mountain, each revolution of its gears moving him only three inches. It’s a chariot of his own design, and the brute force required to even operate it is Herculean — to make the five-day climb, he will have to turn that crank a staggering 528,000 times while traversing terrain straight out of Middle-earth. Chris describes the trek by day in his project description; here’s a sample quote:

2nd Day. Mandara Hut to Horombo Hut—Approximately 3,300 feet of elevation change and about 9.3 miles of distance. Leaving the forest and entering the heather, we will travel through the mists and the fog. Then the vegetation thins in the moorland. The trail stays rough and rocky with some big steps. The second day will be technical and difficult the whole time. It could rival the summit day for the most challenging. Horombo Hut Elevation: 12,205 feet.


Chris asks prospective copilots to consider backing his journey for a simple $1/revolution of his wheels. The ride downhill, he states, is on him.

Lascaux Meets LaPorte: Joe Beshenkovsky and Jason Bitner Decipher the Faces of LaPorte, Indiana

One afternoon not long ago, after lunch at a small Midwestern diner, I stumbled onto a forgotten archive…

That evocative sentence opens the description of LaPorte, Indiana, the documentary film created by This American Life producer Joe Beshenkovsky and FOUND magazine co-creator Jason Bitner. That archive contains more than 18,000 photographs of the citizens of LaPorte, Indiana taken from the 1950s-70s. Jason turned the photographs into a photo book released a couple of years ago, and in the time since the allure of the pictures has grown.

Using a copy of the book left in the diner, LaPorte’s citizens began identifying themselves and their peers. And it was then that Joe and Jason began interviewing these people some forty to fifty years after those initial images: the young couple in the wedding photo, the cowlicked boy with his fist raised like Huey Long, the woman who swore she would one day leave and never come back.

The interviews uncover this small town’s living histories, the happy days and tragic ends that are LaPorte’s folklore.

Around the World in Seven Hundred and Thirty Days: Emily Richmond Sets Sail

so in my head i know sailing really means storms, cold water, scary squalls, and the great unknown but today, in my heart, it feels like this:

— Emily Richmond posting on her blog, Bobbie Rounds the World

Emily Richmond is a 24-year-old woman from Los Angeles who has decided to sail around the world. Her two-year journey will swing her across the Southern Hemisphere. Here’s her planned route:

With stops in Cyprus, the Galapagos Islands, Trinidad, Morocco, and Bali (among others), Emily’s circumnavigation is straight out of a fairy tale. And the rewards she is offering accentuate the romatic appeal.

For $15, she will mail you a Polaroid picture taken over the course of the trip. In our minds, this instantly sparked images of a worn, mysteriously stamped envelope arriving one day, a strong scent of seawater accompanying its opening, the enclosed Polaroid capturing beauty as far as the lens can see.

Our other favorite is perfectly self-explanatory:

Whereas Magellan needed King Manuel to fund his journey and outfit his ship, Emily will share her bounty with us. A mere $8,000 and she’s on her way.

Coming tomorrow… Part Two.