A Conversation with Don Martel

Don Martel

 

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 Don Martel is a Canadian photographer who has an eye for detail, and whose work is, by any standards, outstanding. He has a way of looking at the world around him, and at life, that most of us simply don’t have. He’s also not afraid to leap outside his comfort zone, as evidenced by his recent adventure of cycling solo across Canada in a bid to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s Disease. Even more surprising is the fact that until undertaking this monumental task, he hadn’t cycled since he was a child! Now, he’s written a book, Loaves and Fishes, about his incredible experience.  Welcome, Don Martel.

Q: Can you tell us how this whole incredible journey started?

A: Actually, I wasn’t intending on doing a story book at all. Initially I planned to do a Canada Coast to Coast photography book, since photography is what I know and do. The truth is, this book has been a journey. Since returning home, I often tell people that although I cycled solo, I was never alone. Loaves and Fishes is a collection of short stories about some of the miraculous events that happened to me during this epic adventure, and the wonderful people I met along the way.

Although I thought I was prepared, in fact, I knew little about cycling, especially long distance cycling, which is a whole other challenge. A chance meeting and one question started it all. I was in Temagami, Ontario for a photography workshop when I met a man, Marcel Cisv, and a woman, April Pennington, at a grocery story. They had all these bags on their bikes, so I asked them what they were doing. They explained they were cycling across the country to make memories for lost memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Intrigued, I invited them to the cottage I was staying at. Marcel customized his bike, and it looked awesome, so that aspect intrigued me as well. We shared a meal, talked long into the night, and in the morning we said goodbye and they headed east. That incident really sparked my imagination, so I started following their blog. They finished their journey in October 2014, and I saw on Facebook that they became engaged. I sent Marcel a note of congratulations and half-jokingly asked if they were looking for photographer. Marcel replied they were, and would love to have me out to be their photographer, but couldn’t afford to pay me my going rate. Instead, they sent me two tickets to Kelowna, B.C, and arranged for three nights in a local hotel for me. Marcel remembered how much I admired his bike, so he custom built one for me! In the meantime, a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That became the catalyst for my entire journey. To me, it was a no-brainer that whatever I did, it had to be for Alzheimer’s. I got the bike in September, then trained from September to April in New Brunswick’s many hills and valleys. I cycled 66 km (approx. 41 miles), even in winter, just about every day, with few exceptions. I honestly thought that would get me ready for the Rockies, but I’ve since learned that nothing prepares you for the Rockies. *laughs* It’s a much bigger hill!

On June 4th, 2015 I started out from Vancouver (mainland), British Columbia, and finished on August 15th, 2015 in Halifax, N.S. It took a whopping 76 days to complete and 8200 kilometers (approx. 5095 miles), and irrevocably changed my life.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your book, Loaves and Fishes? (www.donmartel.com)

A: It’s essentially a book about the people I met along the way, and the many crazy, sometimes miraculous adventures I had during that 76 days on the road.

I have a favourite saying that I think applies to this journey. Goethe said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitating. A chance to draw back. Always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself. Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one, that would have otherwise not occurred, and a whole stream of events issue from the decision. Raising one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidences and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”

After reading the book people often ask if these events actually took place, or did I make them up.
These things did happen! The stories in the book needed to be told. Odd as it sounds, coincidences and timing became part of a recognizable pattern. Karma? God? Angels? Synchronicity? I’ve learned that amazing things happen when you go off the path. The trip changed me. I never for a moment dreamed I’d do something like this! But then again, writing a book is another thing I never thought I’d do, yet I have.

Q: Where did the title come from?

A: The title came from actual, literal stories about loaves and fishes. Let me explain a little. Christians understand the biblical stories about loaves and fishes, and how God was able to provide both when they were most needed. You see, when you cycle long distance, you eat flat bread (it doesn’t squish). However, I’d been cycling for hours and needed to eat, but ran out of bread, and there was no flat bread available in the stores of the town I was in at the time. Of course, I could get some the next day, so I resigned myself to a meager meal of peanut butter and a few bits and pieces I had on hand, but I was hungry, so this didn’t exactly thrill me. Still, I had little choice. I was cycling down the road that night, and saw a car coming toward me at a high rate of speed. Suddenly the car pulled over. I thought the driver needed directions, so I approached the car. The driver was French, and without preamble, he begins to tell me that he’s the best baker in Quebec. He tells me, “I’m a retired baker”. I’m waiting for punch line, and wonder why he’s telling me this. Then the driver got out of his car and went to the back of his car. He reaches in, and I think, “Oh, oh!”. The driver retrieves a huge baguette (of bread), then proceeds to break it in half. He hands half of it to me. Still confused, I thanked him. The driver then abruptly gets back into his car, and drives away, leaving me standing at the side of the road with my baguette. I’m completely astounded. Is this a coincidence, that I should be hungry and was needing to buy bread earlier in the day?

The next morning I arrived at the next town, and stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast. There, I met a man from London, Ontario, who was hitch-hiking. As we’re talking, another man approached. It’s the same man from previous night who gave me the bread! Excited, I took photo of the two men, then turned to put my camera away. When I turned back, the bread man was gone. I had no chance to ask why he stopped the night before, who he was, or where he went. When I asked, the hitch-hiker simply shrugged and said the other man said he had to get going, and walked away. Now that’s weird, and that’s part of how I got the title for the book. There are so many similar stories that it just seemed to fit.

Q: You are known for your outstanding photography, Don. What did it mean to you to be able to take this journey and really see this beautiful country, coast to coast, from a photographer’s perspective?

A: This was the original intent of the book. I’ve travelled cross-country by car and by plane, but on a bike, it’s slow. Slow is good. As a cyclist, you become aware of every crack in the highway. By cycling, you can observe things you wouldn’t ever normally see. When you go slow, you get to appreciate the small details you’d otherwise miss any other way. I was able to observe so much more of what was around me, moment by moment. When you cycle, you get to see more than just the normal tourist attractions, or destinations. I was able to see, up close and personal, that beauty is everywhere. Make no mistake, it’s a long ride, but it gave me time to take it all in. Any time I saw a potential photograph, I could stop and make the shot. Every mile, every stop, everything, was entirely up to me.

Q: This book is dedicated to everyone affected by Alzheimer’s. How has the disease affected and impacted you personally?

A: Obviously, it impacted me hugely when a friend’s mother was diagnosed. The more I talked about the disease, the more I realized just how many people are affected by it, or know someone who is affected. I hadn’t realized before how prevalent it is. Marjorie was very special to me, and it was incredibly heartbreaking to watch her decline. I wanted to do something to help make a difference.

Oddly enough, the coincidences (or whatever you want to call it) were at play from beginning to end. My birthday is May 21st. May 21st I signed the copyright for the book, and on that same day, May 21st, Marjorie Symons, my friend’s mother, passed away.

Q: What surprised you to learn about yourself while making this journey?

A: The amount of determination I had to do this trip! I don’t mind saying that it’s a huge task! I hadn’t realized I had that kind of persistence. I’m truly surprised that I was capable of it. The entire time I was cycling, I kept repeating to myself, “Keep going. You’ll get there.” Eventually I did, and I learned I’m capable of anything I truly put my mind to.

Q: What surprised you to learn about others?

A: I’m blown away by the generosity of Canadians coast to coast. So many contributed to my success. I keep saying that although I cycled alone, I was never alone. People cared about what I was trying to do. People took time to help, talk, and share what they had with me – food, stories, a warm place to sleep, whatever I needed.  I also learned that people love to tell their own stories. If you listen, they are so interesting. I also learned that laughter really is the common language, and so are tears. We are all the same. No matter who, what, or where you’re from. People actually just want to be friends and be helpful.

Q: What has been the ultimate take-away for you from this whole experience (the ride and creating the book)?

A: The greatest take-away for me is the realization that great things will happen when you get out of your comfort zone. Amazing things! It doesn’t have to be a huge coast to coast journey. It can be anything. It’s so important to be open to opportunity. Great things are possible when you get past being scared.

Q: How has your photography influenced how you see the world around you?

A: Photography forces you to change how you view the world. It forces you to go slow and really focus. You have to be willing to take the time to observe. You see, the camera sees differently from the human eye. Shadows are shown different from the naked eye. They are darker. You have to know what your camera is going to do before you make the shot. *laughs* I’ve been at this photography gig for 30 years now, but I’m still learning all the time.

Q: This is your first book. What have you learned about going through that process?

A: Oh! I’ve learned that writing a book is like having a baby! It’s a very painful process. Just when I thought it was done. It wasn’t done. I thought I knew, but I had to learn how to write. I had to learn how to write from passive voice to active voice. Writing is also very personal. It’s one thing to say you’re going to write a book, but it’s a completely different thing to actually sit down and do it. I guess you could say that the journey to write the book was similar to the cycling journey. Although I had to do write and compile it on my own, so many stepped up to help me make it the best it could be. Once it’s published, it’s fun. Now I get to talk to so many more interesting people. When people tell me they enjoy the stories, there’s absolutely nothing like it. I can honestly say that I never worried about what people would think of the book. Of course I want people to enjoy it, but I felt the material spoke for itself. They’re all amazing true stories, and people keep sharing their own remarkable, true stories with me, so I know I’m not alone.

Q: Would you publish another book? If so, what subject matter?

A: YES! I definitely do still want to do the photography book I thought I’d do when I started this whole adventure. I have literally thousands of photographs of that trip, and I want to share them with others. We live in such an incredibly diverse, beautiful country. I also want to write a book similar to this one. There are still so many more examples of amazing true life stories that have happened to me personally over the years. The truth is; the journey never ends. Maybe I’m open to it. I believe that if you aren’t out there, you can’t have the experiences.

Q: How has this experience changed your photography?

A: It’s made me slow down even more. Now, I look at things a little more carefully, and really seek the opportunities around me. They’re everywhere. Everything is more than it appears to be on the surface!

Q: When you teach photography workshops, what is the key take-away you hope people leave  with?

A: You’ll never see the same again. I have three principle elements I want people to understand. 1) Understand how the camera sees things different from your eyes. 2) The principals of visual design. The organization of shapes speaks volumes, and the art of subtraction is key. You have the whole world in front of you, but as a photographer, you have to narrow and focus on the subject. 3) Line, rhythm, dominance, balance, light, shadow, and how they all affect a photograph. Everything else is just practice, and continuing to being open to opportunities.

Q: What’s next for you, Don?

A: Maybe another ride across the country. *laughs* I want to explore new countries too, and bring new groups of people with me. I’m 59 years old now, but when I’m 65 I’d like to enter the Via Italia seniors cycling group. I may even try my hand in bike racing. Now that I’ve done it, I can’t stop cycling. I bike everywhere now. It gets in your blood. Besides, the benefits to my physical health are great. I guess I’ll keep biking, until I can’t.

Connect with Don Martel here:

Twitter: @donmartelphotography

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/Don-Martel-Photography-359216777621/timeline/

Website: www.donmartel.com

Instagram: don_martel_photography

 

 

 

 

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Godless

Jeff_Rasley

Stretch your limits and shake up your boundaries! No one does this more or better than writer, philanthropist, mountaineer, husband, and father than Jeff Rasley. Having written and published his eighth non-fiction book, Godless, Jeff goes deep into the discussion of humanity, and what it means to be a believer and non-believer of any religious or political doctrine. As a man who has travelled the world, trekked mountains, and swam with whales, Jeff encourages us to examine our lives and where we’re going. It’s a pleasure to interview this intrepid spirit and share some of his thoughts to the questions posed. Welcome Jeff!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q     How did your early life as a child, then as a lawyer, prepare you to undertake life-altering global and spiritual explorations?

A   My family encouraged curiosity and intellectual exploration and that has been as aspect of my identity since childhood. Practicing law demands rigorous questioning about facts and evidence. So, both of these influences influenced me to have open eyes and open mind to different and new ideas and spiritual growth.

Q   Who has been your greatest life coach or mentor, and why?

A   Many teachers, professors, coaches, pastors, and friends have had influence on me, and friendships developed with my Nepalese sirdars have been inspiring. But, I can’t name one as being the greatest. The constant love, forgiveness, and understanding of my parents and wife have been more important to me than anything I’ve gained from other people.

Q   What inspires and drives you?

A   I want to take good care of myself, live life as an adventure, and offer what I can to others who ask for and need my assistance. I want to enjoy life and affect the world with pragmatic philanthropy.

Q   Some would say climbing a mountain is the ultimate physical manifestation of spiritual seeking. What did you discover about yourself during your first and subsequent climbs in Nepal?

A   That I could endure a lot of pain even to the point of being barely conscious. There are moments in mountaineering when your body, mind, and will are in sync or flow, which is beautiful. When you are able to stop, look around and savour the view, it’s movingly beautiful. But, most of the time actually climbing is hard slogging, putting one foot in front of the other while trying to maintain steady breathing, and maintaining a focus on staying balanced.

Q   You’ve written eight books now, each dealing with issues of self-discovery, philanthropy, and seeking. What drives you to delve so deeply into yourself and our current societal beliefs, then write about them?

A   The admonition of Socrates, to “know thy self”, is, I think the first step on the path of seeking wisdom. We are our own interpreters of reality, so we need to be self aware of how we filter information through our subjective experience. Then, we can participate in family, community, and the world more intentionally and productively. I discovered during adolescence that it turned me on to figure out how, and then to implement, ways to improve communal relations, to help people get along better. So, I’ve tried to do that in various ways from my own local communities to international philanthropic development projects.

Q   Clearly travel plays a large role in your life, but why?

A   I grew up in a small city which didn’t have much cultural diversity. Whenever my family did a driving trip, it thrilled me. So, when I was 18 I walked to the edge of town, stuck out my thumb and hitch-hiked across the country. It was a wonderful experience of meeting people utterly unlike those I knew. And, I loved seeing different parts of the country both urban and rural areas. It lit a fire in me that still burns. (I’m leaving in a few days for another cross-country driving trip with my wife out to CA.) Every trip, whether it’s just a weekend of outback camping, cultural tour of a city, or solo-kayaking Pacific islands, is an opportunity to learn and grow, so long as it’s understood as an adventure.

Q   Can you share with us a particularly amusing or scary story about your mountain climbing?

A   How about an ocean story, instead? This is excerpted from Islands in My Dreams:

Fifteen times we approached the mother and calf when they surfaced, and then we jumped in the water and swam as fast as we could toward them. Each time they sounded before we reached the whales. The boat captain gave us one last chance as he was low on fuel and it was time for us to get back on the slower boat to be taken back to Neiafu.

The three of us dove in with fins kicking as hard and fast as we could. Anjo told us splashing bothers whales, so we kicked with our fins below the surface and didn’t stroke with our arms to minimize splashing.

The mother and calf didn’t dive this time. They swam just below the surface staying about twenty yards ahead of us. Tashio, the Japanese guy, tired from the fifteen times we had already swam after the whales, gave up the chase after about fifty yards. Kevin, the Floridian, broke off after one hundred yards. I kept kicking. After another fifty yards of pursuit, the whales stopped.

The mother let me swim up beside her, but kept her baby on her other side away from me. I swam up beside her huge eye, turned on my side and looked through my snorkel mask into her eye, which was as big as my head. She looked back at me. Our eyes locked. Time stopped. It was if we were looking into each other’s souls.

She rolled and nudged her calf with her flipper to encourage the calf to swim over to me. The baby whale swam up to me, swam under me, then circled around me, and let me caress its tail. It was surprisingly smooth to my touch. The calf returned to its mother’s side.

They began to swim off slowly. I swam with them for about one hundred yards, but then another whale-watching boat approached. The mother gave one great flick of her tail and they vanished deep into the dark water below me.

I stroked back to the speedboat and clambered up the ladder and dropped over the gunwale. I could barely stand. My legs were vibrating and shaking. Electric current (or adrenaline) was coursing through me from the thrill and power of the encounter.

For a few moments, the otherness separating the mother whale and me had vanished. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw trust and acceptance, instead of fear and danger. She trusted me to caress her baby. I trusted that she would not crush me like a minnow with her gigantic tail.

I can still see her awesome eye in my mind’s eye. And I remember how she trusted me with her calf. It would be a good thing for our finite planet if humans could see the soul of all other species, especially the endangered ones.

Q   What does your family think of your travels, books, philanthropy, and growing ideologies?

A   That it’s all pretty cool.

Q   You say that your wife encouraged you to go “climb a mountain”, so clearly she supported that first climb, but does she ever travel or climb with you?

A   We travel regularly together, and used to do hiking and camping trips. But she has MS and is medically restricted from strenuous physical activity.

Q   On returning home to the United States after your various travels, you must be met with many conflicting emotions regarding (global) economic waste and excess. What else do you struggle with in your integration back into your everyday home life, and how do you deal with your emotional conflicts?

A   I’m really not bothered by the vast discrepancies in material wealth anymore. I was the first few times I experienced “third world” poverty. It felt very weird coming home, caring for our kids, going to the office, and just living my life which was so different from that of the people I had been around in Nepal, India, and other “exotic” places. But the other cultures I’ve spent time with are more wealthy than ours in other ways. I’d like to bring back to the US the emotional and spiritual maturity I have found in Nepal (which it the poorest country outside of Africa). What I still wonder and sort of worry about is whether my own efforts at infrastructure development in Nepal are actually helping or hurting the villages I’ve worked with. But, we do the best we can, and then, “so it goes” (per my fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut).

Q   People often feel helpless to “do something significant” to improve our world or find meaning to their lives. What suggestions would you give to others perhaps not so adventurous as yourself?

A   Consider deeply what you care about. When you understand what you truly value, then guide your life in a way which promotes the values you care most about.

Q   Your recent book, Godless, is a very provocative title and offers what others may consider controversial insight into religious doctrines and dogma. Have you received any negative feedback or misunderstanding regarding it, and if so, what would you want to clarify for potential readers?

A   “Godless” is explained in the book on several levels. One of the points it makes is that making gods out of religious doctrines or political ideologies has caused much harm throughout human history. Believers tend to divide humanity into us and them, believers and nonbelievers. But what you personally believe or don’t believe probably won’t harm other people so long as you value tolerance. Unfortunately, religious and political zealots tend not to value tolerance and many are led by unscrupulous leaders to treat nonbelievers as less than human. The book makes the case that we would be better off to ditch the whole God-thing and admit we really don’t know whether God exists, or, to think that everything and every moment is sacred.

Q   What’s next for you, Jeff?

A   After finishing writing a book, I take several months to try to promote the book, as I’m doing now. And, the last thing I want to think about is writing another one. Eventually another seed will germinate. In the meantime, I run the Basa Village Foundation, serve on 5 nonprofit boards, teach a class on philanthropy at Butler University, and organize trekking and mountaineering expeditions.

Q   Where can our readers discover more about you, your philanthropic work, and your books?

A   My website has all that info: www.jeffreyrasley.com

Amazon Author page is http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Rasley/e/B004Q3D6B2

Other social media sites are :

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeff-rasley/12/984/619

http://www.pinterest.com/pinner362436

https://twitter.com/jeffrasley

https://plus.google.com/u/0/104731913652844816663

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4114763.Jeffrey_Rasley

https://www.facebook.com/JeffRasleyAndMidsummerBooks