Where do I start with this guy? Maybe here with this 360 video (a reminder that you can grab the video and turn the camera any way you want).
When I was invited on this 150km hike in Spain with 10 people, I didn’t know most of them. But I did a little googling ahead of time so I would get a sense of the sorts of characters I’d be stuck with for a week. One of them was Aaron Lammer, who was easy to get-to-know because he has three podcasts. One of them is on cryptocurrency, one of them is about weed, and one of them is about long-form writing. I only listened to the crypto ones and I was immediately impressed by his approach to the subject matter.
What impressed me the most was his openness in his understated approach of “I don’t know anything about Crypto, but let’s figure this out as we go along by talking with other experts and funny, strange stories from the crypto world.” Note that isn’t an exact quote, but that was basically his pitch for the show.
Aaron Lammer, always ready to ham it up.
I’m not going to talk much about crypto here. I’m a believer that this will be how most humans transact in the future. Actually, even though I love my friend Hugh Howey, he could not disagree more! I’ve met many people that are quite divided on this subject. It’s interesting at a meta-level how an idea can be so divisive. But most people on this walk were really into philosophy, so it made for some great conversations.
I’ll step back a moment and explain why I liked Aaron so much.
He has a lot of deep knowledge in a vast myriad of subjects. I think whatever subject I brought up, he had strong opinions about everything.
Also, during our final dinner with all of us, he had a good old-fashioned cry, as most of us did. That’s a big deal. When you can cry in front of a bunch of other dudes. I won’t say what we all talked about because I’m the best secret-keeper in the world, but it was all wonderfully emotionally stirring.
My armchair psychoanalysis is this: Aaron gives 100% of his energy to things that are interesting to him. The only commonality between producing music to crypto to weed to long-form writing is Aaron himself. I get the feeling that he’s tried hundreds of things, but they just weren’t all that interesting to him, so he focused everything on these items. And, if they don’t serve him in a few years, he’ll be onto something else interesting to him.
All along the path of the Camino, we would see signs like this, showing us how much further we need to walk. By the way, in a lot of the world, people use commas rather than periods to denote a decimal.
Perhaps my favorite part is that he’s unapologetic about his interests and beliefs. It’s a delicate balance to have strong opinions on a myriad of subjects and not be an egoic asshole about it.
I really like this quality in people. Maybe this is a solipsistic thing because I am very similar. I’m easily distracted but when I find something interesting, I put 100% of my energy into it without apology.
One of our foggy mornings, walking on the Camino in Spain.
When the fog cleared, we would often walk by some of the most beautiful plants, trees, and flowers.
There is a funny story along the Camino with Aaron. Well, there are dozens, but I’ll tell you this one in particular.
Just before the final day of our hike, Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress, my roommate, and the subject of a future story) left us because he had to go speak at their annual conference. Also, his knee was really hurt and he was hobbling around in a terrible way that made us all feel bad for him. Anyway, our group was one short, and we made a “friend” at one of the rest breaks that we called “New Matt”. I don’t remember the guy’s actual name, but it doesn’t really matter because he was New Matt.
New Matt totally sucked.
We all hated him, but he walked with us for many hours anyway. Who hated him most? Aaron Lammer. He turned out to be the diametric opposite of Aaron. For example, Aaron knows a lot about music. This New Matt could not have infuriated him more. New Matt says he refuses to listen to music after The Beatles and thinks everything is terrible.
This is Old Matt. He was awesome. When we thought of old Matt, it only reminded us more about how much we hated New Matt.
What really ground Aaron’s gears were the same argument techniques that seem to be used by people raised in the Jewish culture. Aaron is not a practicing Jew, but he definitely has those funny Woody Allen argumentative tendencies. New Matt was a bit more hardcore Jewish, from Israel, and even more opinionated than Aaron. The big difference is that New Matt had his entire ego and “story of self” tied into his opinions and he was completely blind to hearing other viewpoints. This drove Aaron absolutely crazy and, even after New Matt finally left our crew, it was the subject of conversation for countless hours. It was like Aaron ventured off into the forest to have a pee and he got a splinter in his nutsack he couldn’t extract for weeks.
A random scene along the Camino.
I think our experience with New Matt really helped us to get to know Aaron better. Not until one meets their foil does one come to know oneself. And we were all listening in to their heated conversation with reckless delight. You don’t want to get on Aaron’s intellectual bad side. No matter how cunningly Aaron attempted to paint New Matt into a corner of his own logical demise, New Matt would slip away into a straw man argument that was only loosely related. Aaron prepared a riposte with a steel man, only to be deflected in a subtle way with another unconnected point that would increase Aaron’s frustration and re-direct the verbal battle.
We recorded countless hours of our talks, but that is the ONE talk I wish we had recorded.
Here is the short story of my 150-kilometer trek from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Over 200,000 people hike each year on this pilgrimage. In the olden days when people were still stoned, this used to be a Christian pilgrimage to visit the grisly bones of Saint James. Nowadays many people make the hike and it’s no longer purely religious, although many people are still stoned.
In terms of religious hikes, it doesn’t really compare in numbers to that of Mecca, where 15 million people walk each year. That walk mostly originates from Jeddah and clocks in at around 70 km. Either way, this epic Santiago hike I did has multiple routes. The full route is over 1200 km from France or a lighter version from Portugal at around 200 km. Mine was just 150 because we started right at the border in Tui, Spain. It’s also shorter because we are all kinda lazy and get the point after 150km.
I’ve decided to tell a multi-part story via conversations I had with my nine other walkers. This event was put together by Kevin Kelly and Craig Mod who have completed a few of these sorts of walks around the world. The idea is a bit of a “Walk n’ Talk” where we mostly philosophize about the world, make jokes, and engage in a stimulating amount of mutual mental masturbation. Everyone on this adventure was from different walks of life. We had everything from tech magnates to authors to photographers to entrepreneurs to DNA researchers, and well, you name it.
It was great, for me personally, to establish deep connections with each and every member of our hiking tribe. At least, I think I did! 🙂
Below is one of many 360 videos (link to subscribe to my YouTube channel) I made while on this hike. I’ll post them a bit out of order. I talked to Kevin about several disparate topics in different videos including AI, an enormous underground clock he is working on that lasts 10,000 years, a series of bottom-up libraries that are being built in a Nevada desert, Burning Man, and last, something that sounds a bit macabre: Death.
You can click the gear to amp it up to 4K. In this 360 video, I am walking with both Kevin Kelly and Hugh Howey. We talk about rituals, in particular, a special ritual he invented for his kids when they turned 21. After that, we talk about death, and our nefarious plans to split up Kevin’s body as a new idea for a death ritual to honor him. It all sounds a bit dour, but it certainly isn’t. NOTE: If you have not seen a 360 video before, you can grab the screen and look in any direction you want!
The overall idea was that we spend most of the day discussing philosophy, science, and other erudite matters. Each night at dinner we had a different discussion. World governance, urbanization, religion, and relationships just to name a few. We would record about three hours of these blatherings and they’re putting together all the transcripts now.
Anyway, that was the texture of the seven-day hike. I’ll get started with an overall paintbrush stroke of the trip then get into Story #1 with Kevin Kelly. In the next one, I’ll talk about my discussions with Hugh Howey, whom you may recognize as the author of Wool and the Silo series of books. I’m starting with those two because I knew a lot about them either in person or via their work before the trip. After, that, I’ll share stories from some of the other ne’er-do-wells that joined us.
We started on the edge of Portugal, and you’ll see a bridge below that links northern Portugal and Spain.
This was a nice little surprise to find this bridge that connected the two countries. Strangely, even though we walked directly north after you touch the Spanish soil, you have to set your clocks back one hour.
This mini-bridge walk was technically before the whole hike even started after our motley crew assembled for an introductory dinner.
After dinner, I walked across this bridge around midnight with Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress and current CEO of Automattic. In a short time, we talked about a bit of everything from him changing my life by founding WordPress (my blog at www.StuckInCustoms.com) to doing recreational drugs at Burning Man. But I’ll save more of that for the Matt Mullenweg story day!
It was sort of unusual being thrown into a group of ten people who you don’t really know. I remember one of our fellow walkers, Chris Barclay said on the final night that he felt a bit intimidated in the beginning. You know, trying to figure out who the cool kids were and trying not to make a fool of one’s self. That’s a universal feeling everyone has when entering a new group. As we paired off in organic one-on-one situations, as I did on this first night with Matt, everyone could see there was nothing to worry about and this was a very cool, non-judgmental group. In a very short time, all that self-doubt disappeared like fog in the morning.
Many mornings laid a cool moist blanket of fog on us. Each day was usually 8-11 hours of hiking, and we wanted to get the bulk of it done before that brutal 2-4PM Spanish sun started to drill into us. Now I know why all Spaniards take a siesta between 2 and 4!
Above you see one of our typical mornings. We would often pair-up, but not always, and talk about a wide myriad of subjects. It made the countless hours of walking go by extremely quickly. I was so busy listening to other people that I barely even realized that 20km had already flown by.
And here was our final destination at the mighty cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Not to skip ahead to the END of the story, but the photo above is where the journey ended 150km later, in Santiago de Compostela. The town itself was beautiful and the energy was palpable. I think, because so many people reach here every year in such a euphoric state, that it suffuses the town with positivity.
And here’s our awesome hiking group!
I’ll talk more about little things along the adventure here and there as I talk about each individual person… but, first, let’s start with the guy that invited me, and one of my only intellectual heroes: Kevin Kelly!
Part One: Walking & Talking with Kevin Kelly
I was glad to see that Kevin didn’t have ALL the answers to the universe. But he seemed to have most of them.
I only have a handful of heroes, and not many are alive! You all may have already read my story about another living hero, Hans Zimmer, but now this is my story of Kevin Kelly.
Kevin is best described (if possible) as a philosopher that ties together technology, history, and futurism into a central theme of optimism.
When I saw his first TED talk (now he has about four), it had a tremendous impact on how I approached life, the blog, my work, photography, and more. Even though Kevin himself is an accomplished photographer with countless crazy stories about traveling all around the east, most of the information he synthesizes is from a plethora of other subjects.
All pilgrims on the trail wear one of these special scallop shells. It indicates to everyone in the region that you are on the Camino walk. People will go out of their way to help you when they see this special symbol.
What exactly did Kevin affect during my “formative blog years”? Even though he didn’t specifically speak to this, it confirmed my instincts to make almost everything free. I would upload full-rez photos every day to the blog. I would not use watermarks. I used Creative Commons Noncommercial as a means to drive traffic back to the site. I gave 110% to the very few early fans that seemed to enjoy the work. Kevin has a great essay called 1,000 true fans that really resonated with me very early in my arc.
While passing by some vineyards near Portugal, a very nice lady came out and gave us more of the sweetest grapes than we could ever eat.
I first met Kevin about seven years ago when Thomas Hawk and I did that mammoth ~500 person photo walk in San Francisco. Kevin came up to introduce himself to me. I was like, “WHHAAAAAT! Kevin you don’t need to introduce yourself! I’m a mega fan!” And I was. I was just about as close as one can get to being a stalker without crossing the creepy line.
Since that time, we’ve been together on many occasions. We met in San Francisco and he even invited me over to his home in Pacifica, a Valhalla of sorts for me. That is when I first met his wife Gia-Miin, who also joined us on this walk.
Hugh Howey and Kevin Kelly taking a break on the walk
Last year he invited me to go eagle hunting in Mongolia with Tim Ferriss. I wanted to go, but it was right after Burning Man, and my wife would have killed me for being gone so long. So this year, when he invited me on the Santiago hike, I agreed! I had no idea what I was getting into, but I generally say yes to adventures then figure everything out later.
On occasion, we would go on ancient stone pathways and you could still see where the wagon wheels had carved a rut.
The whole week was such a treat for me and I was honored to hang out with Kevin. I felt like a little kid around him, asking 1,000 questions. I was trying not to be annoying… well, at least that was my goal. By the way, I am not really an “interviewer” or anything. I’m just a curious guy.
I came up with this plan to ask Kevin a different question every day and record it. I wrote down six questions beforehand, but I changed most of them as the week went on. For example, I never thought about talking to him about death until I was having a one-on-one with Hugh Howey and we came up with an idea on how to divvy up Kelly upon his exit from the mortal coil. It was of course influenced by this stimulating walk he encouraged all of us to undertake. All that talk began as a side-conversation after Hugh told me he planned on killing himself at 40. That’s another video I’ll post. I mean, the video of the discussion, not the actual suicide.
After I got to know the other walkers, I decided to take this idea to many of them too. So now I have many of these 360 videos with most of the walkers. Time and data didn’t allow me to record all 100+ hours of our time together, so I kind of picked randomly. Once again, Kevin inspires me intentionally or unintentionally to try new things and just be authentic in your awkwardness. I mean that in the nicest way, of course. I can tell that Kevin is an introvert, like so many of us. This comes across in his speaking style, a style that is uniquely his own. He’s so authentic and real that he both believable and endearing. I am sure this comes with something else he encompasses, being comfortable in his own skin. So many people aren’t, and he also got me started on that path about ten years ago.
One thing we share in common is that we have spent a tremendous amount of time in the east (China, SE Asia, Japan etc) with local cultures and taking photos. It’s made us both very attentive and present, I believe. When you’re talking to him and vice-versa, it’s like you’re the only two people in the world. I’m lucky I didn’t fall into a river or fall off a cliff while we were talking because it was so engrossing. He’s adopted somewhat of an eastern philosophy that seems to inform all of his thoughts and actions.
It’s impossible to summarize our 20+ hours of one-on-one conversations. Impossible. But you’ll see a few highlights as we release videos.
After a while, Kevin and I finally found the Internet.
I think his books and TED talks have influenced me so much that sometimes I don’t know where he begins and my brain ends. We were making obscure references to books, authors, tech, etc… at some point, I mentioned one of my favorite quotes. I asked him if it was Feynman that said it, and Kevin said, “Wait a minute, I said that!” I was laughing so much and apologized… I’m getting old.
Along the way, after we stopped in a town for the afternoon, Kevin and I went off on our own little adventure to record an episode of his “Cool Tools” podcast. He interviewed me then we walked around the park a bit after the recording. He turned to me and said something nice. “Trey, you surprise me!” I didn’t know what to say.
Here is one of the beautiful places we stayed along the walk. It was a family’s old farmhouse and our group was pretty much the only people in there!
One thing that I’ve noticed about Kevin that is not initially expected is how silly he is. He laughs a lot and says funny things. He is also very quick to laugh at jokes the rest of us make. It’s a wonderful thing because so many intellectuals can be so boring and self-serious.
My degree was in Computer Science and Math, so I’ve always been interested in tech and the future. This is a very strange time with the acceleration of everything from AI to Robots. I try to figure out where it’s going, but I get a lot of guidance (and optimism) from Kevin’s bullish outlook on these matters. See more about what he thinks about the future of AI in his TED Talk on AI or his latest book The Inevitable.
Of course, another typical question that comes up among geeks is: “Are we living in a simulation?” This question has been officially banned from Elon Musk’s hot tub conversations (for real) because Musk sees it as a “circular argument”. Kevin is a bit more practical with it, indicating it doesn’t really matter. He says the important thing is that we have a tangible effect on everything and everyone around us. That’s a pretty cool stance and helps get the mind out of that circular argument.
Kevin holds an umbrella over Gia-Miin to protect her from the hot Spanish sun.
Kevin’s super-IQ wife joined us on the walk too, Gia-Miin. She was the only female on the walk, so she was able to keep things fairly classy. You don’t want 10 guys together for a long period of time or else it can spiral down to nonstop tales of ribaldry. Anyway, Gia-Miin works at 23 and Me as a genetics researcher in the cancer area. She told me all about it one afternoon. I could immediately tell I was out of my depth when we started comparing the progress of genetic therapy and whether that would outpace tech innovation when it actually comes to helping humans get better. But they’re doing all sorts of amazing things over there, and it looks like they are going to figure out a lot of the “bad code” that makes humans have bugs.
Kevin and Gia-Miin have a really interesting origin story to their relationship. I won’t tell the long version, but it really seems to work and they are best friends. How wonderful! I know their daughter Ting from a few times when we have been at the E.G. Conference together. I need to send her a note that says, “Hey, Ting, you know… your parents are kinda weird.” I can’t wait to see her response. But, of course, I mean weird in the best possible way.
I’ll end the story of Kevin on the final night’s dinner after we all finally arrived in Santiago de Compostela. We again had a round-table discussion. At the end of dinner, everyone was a little bit teary. Kevin turned his chair to me as we were all getting up to leave. He put his hand on my knee and said, again, smiling “Trey, you know, you really surprise me.” Even getting more teary-eyed, I playfully pushed at his shoulder. “Hey man, that’s what friends do. They surprise each other.”
Here’s a photo that was taken by Craig Mod on the final hiking day of around 30 kilometers as we approached our goal.