John Egenes - Coast to Coast on Horseback
John Egenes has been a musician, a saddlemaker, a dog catcher, and a hobo, among other things. He is producing albums for people these days, and playing various instruments on records for artists all over the world. But what not many of his friends don't know about Egenes, is that he crossed the United States, coast to coast, from California to Virginia, with his horse, Gizmo back in 1974. As our Author of the Day, Egenes tells us all about his journey and the book he wrote about it.
Please tell us more about Man & Horse - what is the book about?
The book tells the tale of a long journey I made in 1974 with my horse, Gizmo. We crossed the United States, coast to coast, from California to Virginia. This is a memoir about our experiences then--me as a young man with a head full of dreams, and Gizmo as a young, inexperienced Quarter Horse.
What inspired you to write a biography now?
Well, I guess I waited long enough [grin]. I actually wrote a manuscript shortly after the ride, but it wasn't any good and I knew it at the time. I was still too close to it all. I threw that manuscript down in a box and it's been there ever since. I'm glad I waited. It allowed me to be able to view the ride from hindsight, to spend a good many years contemplating it all, and to compare yesterday with today.
Give us three good to know facts about you.
1) I'm a confounded ambidextrous person. I use some tools with my left hand, and others with my right. I write with my left hand but eat with my right. I kick a ball with my right foot, but am a goofy-foot surfer/skateboarder. I shoot a rifle left handed but am a switch hitter at the plate. I'm confused...
2) Though you don't see it here, I like to swear a bit. And I tend to like people who are good at creative swearing. I'm not sure I trust people who don't swear, at least once in awhile. Being around a lot of people of Scottish decent here in Dunedin, I'm convinced that the Scots are the best
swearers in the world. It's an art form to them.
3) I have a doctorate in music. It's a good fact to know, but other than that, it's pretty much worthless. I don't use "Dr." in front of my name, ever. I'm not embarrassed by it... I just happen to think it sounds a bit pompous, since I wouldn't have the slightest idea how to fix a sprained ankle or cure your cough. They told me it would get me upgraded for better airline seats, but so far that's just a fantasy.
You have led an interesting life as a musician, saddle maker, dog catcher and hobo. If you could do it all over again, would you do things differently?
Oh, there are probably a million little things I'd do, in hindsight, but I'd probably still make the same sorts of mistakes. I've stumbled through life, learning from those mistakes, and I reckon that's the only way I know how to do it. But I like myself, and I'm comfortable with myself, and maybe that's the most important thing you can take along with you as you head down the road.
Why did you decide, back in 1974 to make the journey across 11 states of America?
I describe this in the book. It was a long time coming, the dream of doing that. It sort of evolved over a period of years, from just a vague idea of being a lonesome cowboy to deciding to make a long ride. It's not something that had been done back then, and things like "extreme sports" were unheard of. The recreation industry, as we know it today, didn't exist yet. So, I pretty much had to make it up as I went along.
How did this trip help you to view life differently?
I'm probably still coming to grips with that. At first, I didn't want to dwell upon it because I didn't want a single event like that to define my life and who I am. So, I didn't talk much about it to anyone. Friends knew I'd done it, but no one else did. There are still friends today who, having seen the book, are surprised to know I'd done something like that. So, I didn't let it define me, and I went on to do a lot of other things in my life. But it gave me a grounding, and it certainly bonded me to Gizmo, my horse. He lived with me for another 18 years, until he died at 22. I learned that people aren't exactly as they are portrayed on the evening news, or on social media nowadays. Life looks a lot different from the back of a horse, at six miles an hour.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I can build a house. I know how to hitch (braid) horsehair. I'm an amateur astronomy geek. I was an early adopter of the internet (online in 1979, and a sysop on Compuserve by 1981). I compose freestyle music for upper level dressage (horse) riders. I can program in Visual Basic, C++,Java, and a bit of PERL, though I'm terribly rusty at all of 'em now. Oh,and I know how to play the musical saw.
What happened with Gizmo after the trip?
Gizmo and I lived in New Mexico for many years. We went on a few pack trips together after the ride. I saw him every day, and we'd sit and visit over the fence a lot. He had a good life, living out in the country. He got sick when he was 22 and I had to put him down. He's buried out there on the high desert of northern New Mexico.
One of your readers said your writing reminds of James Herriot. Do you have any favorite authors who might have had a influence on your work?
I know a lot of people say this, but I'm an avid reader. So much so that people kid me about it. I've made a lifelong habit of sitting in a cafe, having a coffee and reading. I do this every single day. There are so many great writers that I'd hate to just name a few, but I'll try. I love well written books, and even moreso if they spin a good yarn. I like various genres. Writers like Mark Helprin, Tim Winton, Cory Doctorow, Neal Stephenson, Annie Proulx, David Brin, Margaret Attwood, James Morrow, Ivan Doig, Kim Stanley Robinson, John le Carre, Neil Gaiman. They are all marvelous writers who know how to string words and sentences together that flow like a river. A treat to read.
And then there are great nonfiction writers like Sherry Turkle, Andrew Dubber, Katherine Hayles, John Perry Barlow, Tim Wu, Naomi Klein, Matthew, B. Crawford, Kevin Kelly, and a whole string of others... Wish I could list 'em all here.
Through the journey, you often camped alone - away from people. Why?
The main purpose of the ride--if there was one--was to separate myself from my own surroundings and culture. I didn't exactly think about it in those terms at the time, but I knew that I had a sort of inner need to cut my ties with people and things I was familiar with, for at least a short time. So, I did that for seven months. Of course, Gizmo kept a thread tied to all of that, and he was the one constant in the whole journey, and in a good part of my life, come to think of it...
In which ways, would you say, has America changed since your journey?
That's a huge question to answer. I won't get into political diatribes or expound philosophically, but I will say this... America, probably more than any other country, has changed profoundly in the past 40 years. It's the culture that has changed, and with that, our environment has changed dramatically. We can point to the obvious--polluted environment, crowded places, and all that. But it's our shift in focus from a more egalitarian, community-focused people to a more de-centralized culture that seems to be focused upon the individual. And we've come into the digital age. The computer is one of the great drivers of change in human history. It is as important as speech, the alphabet and writing, the printing press, the invention of electricity, and the industrial revolution. It is profoundly changing how we interact with our world, and with each other.
What's an aspect of being a writer that you didn't know about going in?
I'm still a complete neophyte when it comes to the business side of things... publishing, agents, promotion, and all that. The writing doesn't exactly come easy. It's a lot of hard work and drudgery a lot of the time, but I'm used to that and I just put my head down and do it. And I enjoy it most of the time. But it's what happens AFTER you finish the book that's the hard part for me. I do enjoy meeting and interacting with folks like you. Gets me out of my cocoon and into the real world [grin].
What are you working on right now?
I'm producing albums for people these days, and playing various instruments on records for artists all over the world. I produced 6 albums last year, and I'll finish 5 this year. Still teaching music at Otago University here in Dunedin, New Zealand. That keeps me on my toes. Thinking about starting another book, though I won't say what it's about just yet. Oh, and I host a weekly radio show that features songwriters, folk music, roots, country... stuff you never hear anyplace else. It's
called The Jukebox Highway, and you can look for the page on Facebook. It tells where to go to stream it or find archives of it.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I have 2 blogs. One is for the book and one is my personal one. If you're interested in reading short things, my personal site is probably the best bet. Here are links:
John & Gizmo site: http://johnandgizmo.com
John Egenes site: http://www.johnegenes.com/wp
For my own music, just go to my Bandcamp site. Free downloads there: http://johnegenes.bandcamp.com
I hang out on Facebook (facebook.com/johnegenes) and on GoodReads sometimes.
To find anything else about Gizmo or me, Google, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, and other search engines are your friend.