Passion doesn’t always arrive in the ways you expect.
After a day touring through quaint villages and lonely byways of England’s Cotswolds region, we were ready for a relaxing evening at our inn, The Village Pub in Barnsley. Yet as we turned into the inn’s parking lot, we had to negotiate our way around an unfamiliar object.
There, in splendid redness on the side of the road, amidst the low rumble of its engine and the vapor spewing from multiple vents and seams sat a steam engine. The image above will explain far better than I can. Apart from museums or books, I’d never beheld such a machine before, at least on this scale.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of making a model steam engine, but even though the versions I saw were far less ambitious than this one (the models were stationary and about six inches long), the cost and complexity exceeded my paper route income and tween metalworking skills. I was fascinated then by the very elements that made this behemoth so wondrous: intricate metal parts and fittings combined with the heft of huge iron and steel components. Each rear wheel likely weighed more than my car.
His name was Chris Larson. He and his wife, who was busy talking to an inquisitive server from the inn, were on their way to a steam festival down the road. They’d stopped at the inn for dinner since at four miles per hour, theirs had been a long journey from central Dorset county. It was a drive I would make in 90 minutes the next day but one that had taken them most of two days to accomplish.
When he mentioned a steam festival, my naive response was, “You mean there are more of these machines out there?” Indeed, there are. Over a hundred steam engines would be at this festival and there were dozens of these festivals across the country. An entire sub-culture of steam engine enthusiasts existed.
Chris invited me up into the driver’s area. We had to use a ladder propped against the rear wheel to do this. He showed me how he fed coal into the furnace and explained how he’d made this giant beast of a vehicle practically from scratch. He whipped out his phone (a rather anachronistic moment standing in a century-old vehicle using a 21st century mobile device) and showed me photos of the initial pieces he’d bought: part of the engine block, elements of a wheel and a few other odds and ends. My guess is that all of those original components amounted to at best 20-30% of this final vehicle. That meant he’d machined, forged, manufactured, scavenged and assembled all the rest on his own. Amazing.
Eventually, I had to let him go dine with his wife. I wondered how he was going to clean up those greasy arms for the rather upscale pub dining room. But the two of them ate outside on the patio and I left them to enjoy their meal in private.
Chris had found his passion. He’d dedicated untold hours and a good deal of expense, I’m sure, in building that steam engine. Now, as he tours the various steam festivals, he can show off his work to wonder-eyed kids of all ages – like me. He’s able to connect with others who share that passion or are awakened to one they never realized they had. He, in short, lives in a world consumed by what brings him joy.
Before we turned into the inn’s parking lot, I didn’t know that any such steam engines still existed, especially in such great working order. So it makes me wonder: What else might be out there that grabs my heart? My passion? I’m not planning on building my own steam engine any time soon. But it delights me to know there are others that are.
It brings me a deep sense of gladness to realize this world is filled with people who do follow their dreams. Who take their passion seriously. Who tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges to bring to life what others don’t even imagine as possible. Who then find similar dreamers and doers who support, encourage and help them to carry on.
Tips for connecting your passions to your trip
Sometimes, trips reveal moments of inspiration that connect your inner and outer worlds. These moments, like my time with Chris and his steam engine, can evoke buried emotions and inspire you to do something new. But you don’t have to wait for those magic moments. You can pursue them. To help you do that, try these for your next trip:
- Research possibilities. Before your trip, research everything you can about your hobbies in the places you visit. A Google search with the country name and your hobby name will produce some great starting points. Pursue them.
- Connect with others. Find out about fellow practitioners of your hobby in the same way. Try Facebook Groups or Reddit or other hangouts of people interested in your interest. Ask there about the places you’ll visit. You’ll uncover some great leads and may even make some new friends you can visit once you’re there.
- Expand the reach of your hobby. Let’s say you like to paint. Obviously, you’ll want to visit galleries and museums, but also hunt down art supply stores, find out about local classes or gatherings of other artists. Investigate different media and techniques (e.g. what can you learn from watching Japanese artists using calligraphy brushes?).
- Hunt down local practitioners. If you love gardening, visit not only formal gardens, but nurseries where you can meet local gardeners. Strike up a conversation (if language permits). Who knows where that can lead?
- Be open to new creative interests. This is one of the best benefits of travel: It exposes you to ideas, new approaches, inspiration and completely new areas that you may never have known about at home. You may discover a new sport, a new game, a new form of weaving or architecture or industrial design. Keep your eyes open for new possibilities.
- Note the differences. Pay attention to how locals in the place you’re visiting do the same things we do, only differently. Note how their billboards vary from ours. How ordering a coffee isn’t the same. How hot water comes from unusual types of heaters. How “common sense” isn’t as common there. This isn’t just an anthropological study in cultural differences. It’s a quest to uncover creative possibilities that spring from noticing familiar items or approaches in new ways. For that, seeing the familiar in a new way, is the heart of all creativity.
- Say yes. Let go of your hesitations and engage in new activities you’d never try at home. This is your chance to make a glorious fool of yourself because no one will care. Experiment. Accept invitations. Explore. Treat your trip as a scavenger hunt for new sources of inspiration and if you do, if you’re open to all sorts of new opportunities, you’ll find far more than you thought possible.
What hobbies or new creative interests have you indulged in or discovered on a trip?