Chris' email reply:
Lovely to chat with you earlier. Here is the (soft copy) letter. The more I think about the Berri write-up, the more I think the central theme is that of the 'horizontal anarchic network as back-up team,' enabled by blog and enthusiastic word-of-mouth. It contrasts so dramatically with what has become the conventional way of putting together expeditions, with massive (vertically organised) sponsorship and a huge caranvanserai of specialst back-up teams... The Berri story is very very different.
16 March 2010
Dear Alex and Peter
It is now impossible to write to one of you without also acknowledging the other; once again, you have done the remarkable, the extraordinary, something no-one has ever done before, and done it not only with stoic grit and endurance, but also with good humour and many fascinating observations about the world, the environment, the human condition and the taste of stout at different latitudes. Congratulations on another outstanding achievement done in a combination of two great traditions: the taciturn British and the Aussie larrikin. Your physical and mental and emotional endurance – as a dynamic duo – is just awe-inspiring, and it is your achievement of this as a team of two which is most intriguing. It seems to me that well-balanced teams of two are special; there is an essential tension and resolution at the same time; there is a need for trust and consensus in all major decisions; there is an intertwining of psyches, a total interdependence, absolute mutual accountability; there is a complete absence of politicking because neither party can be out-voted. The team of two seems to me to be an interesting phenomenon in itself, and by now, there is probably no-one more qualified that yourselves to share insights on that.
Somewhere along the journey, while reading the Berri-blog, I got really pissed-off, and I expect this is what a wife feels in such cases. It was a combination of things: you two doing some extraordinary feat of ingenuity on the high seas, with masses of online suggestions pouring in from the global Berri fan-club at a time when my simple suburban life was in bad shape and without any sense that there was any support team out there; I can't remember the specifics but I remember writing it up in a very angry way in my journal, saying to myself: "Sure, those guys are out there testing their mettle against the elements in a way that brings them encouragement and admiration, but, bugger me! I'm on my own journey through hell here of another kind and I'm bloody well on my own with it because no-one gives a shit, and it doesn't end with a nice pink ribbon and a pop of champagne corks; it fucking well goes on interminably and there's damn-all recognition at the end of it!" It was a particularly severe case of weltschmerz. And after a while, I realised that I was looking at it upside-down. Instead of getting angry and resentful of what you were doing – achieving something remarkable, something that generated spontaneous admiration from a whole community of observers – I could use your example to validate the odyssey of my own feats of psychological/emotional endurance and say: "Hey, look, those guys are out there on the high seas, but what I'm doing, hanging on here by my toenails in one untenable situation after another, is pretty damned remarkable too!" And once I realised that, I felt a whole lot better. And I think this is why we are drawn to identify with epic feats of endurance: they help us to make sense out of what seems unendurable in our own lives.
So the next feat – before the high energy of the return dissipates – please – is to document the story so that it can have that impact. And I think that task is almost as important as the journey itself. It's like a piece of academic research; the experiment means more once it's written-up. And let me toss out a challenge to you: I know that this task of documentation is the one you have least patience with. You'd far rather be bashing into a headwind with three reefs than be bashing away on a computer writing slabs of text. And you'd far rather sub-contract or outsource or delegate the write-up task. But it's the documentation now that validates and consolidates what you have done and it's an endurance task in and of itself; and – as your previous ghost-writer experience demonstrated – it's not a task that you can meaningfully delegate to others. So I encourage you to take it on with all the determination you gave to the journey itself. And here are a few suggestions that might help:
(1) Focus the story on Berri and that might help you to get around that awkward sense that each episode seems to begin 'And then I did this and then Peter did that…'
(2) Take as much as possible absolutely raw and verbatim from the Berri blog. It is full of wonderful, unique stuff, about the journey, the mechanics and gadgets, the weather, the environment, wild-life, your analogies to the Hitchhikers' guide and the Space Shuttle… these all make extraordinary reading and do not need any editing at all
(3) Yes, also incorporate the combined wisdom and contributions from the hundreds of external contributors. I think one thing that will make this a unique document is the way you have used blogs to create a global community of Berri-helpers. The number of times people helped with advice, suggestions, engine parts, and so on; the way the journey galvanised people to help, to anticipate, to pitch in, with satellite internet as the vehicle for enabling it all – that is I think a very interesting theme all on its own.
(4) Following from the above, the fact that both circumnavigations have been done without the big-ticket sponsorships and huge media caravan and the multi-million-dollar, Branson-Forbes-Travolta style excess of ego. It's the taciturn Brit and the Aussie larrikin at their absolute best.
(5) And lots of pictorial stuff
(6) Lastly, get onto it right away.
That's it from me. I look forward to catching up with you both for a cuppa and a chat sometime soon.
Meantime, the Masters Exhibition from the Quai d'Orsay is still on at the National Gallery in Canberra for another few weeks, so if can bear getting away from the sea-shore for a bit, come down and look at a painting or two.
Love and good wishes