Traveling Fool

T. Eve Greenaway
December 20, 2006

When Luke Vaughn, a 22-year-old math major at the University of Oregon, asked fellow members of an online community he frequents on Ze Frank's website how they recommended he get home for winter break, he didn't realize quite what he'd started. Fellow forum user "lukkucairi" posted this suggestion: "You could go all beatnik and hitchhike :p Or perhaps there's a Sports Racer [aka Ze Frank community member] with a similar travel agenda near you planning to drive, and you could split the gas money?"

Then, another community member named "Lala" chimed it with the following: "Heh ... I just had a funny thought ... Maybe, instead of hitchhiking with complete strangers, some of us could volunteer to sort of do a relay with you."

So, the idea of the Human Baton was born. Since then almost 300 volunteers have signed on, offering transportation, food and lodging, and Vaughn was able to craft a schedule that kept him traveling from Dec. 8, 2006 through Jan. 8, 2007. Vaughn, or "RunningFool," as he is known on the Ze Frank forums has been blogging about the experience on HumanBaton.com and he sat down recently to answer a few questions for WireTap from the road.

WireTap: First off, where are you now, as you respond to these questions?

Luke Vaughn: I am currently in Aiken, South Carolina. I spent the last night in Athens, Georgia, and will be heading off to Raleigh, North Carolina, tonight and spending the night there.

What do you think has been the most surprising thing about your trip so far?

LV: I came into this trip with absolutely no expectations, so the whole thing has been surprising. I would say, though, that I am surprised at myself, because I have always been very shy and quiet, and have been able to talk with new people more and more easily, which had always been a really hard thing for me to do before.

What has been most challenging?

LV: The planning of it all is definitely the hardest part. Over 300 people volunteered their services, and as much as I tried to get the whole thing planned before leaving, I was only able to get a rough itinerary, and am now doing a lot of day-to-day planning, which can be hectic.

What do you hope to illustrate about the way online community can translate to the real world?

LV: I'm hoping people can see that the Internet isn't just connecting your computer to someone else's, it's connecting people. The significance of the Internet is so giant in scope that it is taking some getting used to. Instead of being able to draw from the knowledge and experiences of a few people in your area, you can now interact with everyone in the world. Really, I think [the Internet] is probably the biggest invention in the history of the world, and that's not hyperbole. It has taken humans from being individual beings progressing slowly over time to being a very collected collective that is capable of exponentially more things than we could ever have imagined even 50 years ago.

Has anyone not been there to give you a ride, etc.? Do you have a backup plan if that happens?

LV: I had planned to take a private plane from Memphis, Tenn., to Starkville, Miss., but the weather prevented us from doing that, so the driver I had originally enlisted for Starkville going East made the trip up to get me, and the driver I had coming from Atlanta also went a little further to help out.

The other day, my driver for Athens, Ga., to Florence, S.C., found out she had to work that day, so she couldn't take me all the way out there. The driver who had taken me from Atlanta to Athens called a friend of hers (who is also a Ze Frank fan) here in Aiken, S.C., and I was able to work it out that the original driver could take me here this morning, and this new friend will take me to Columbia, S.C., tonight, where we'll meet the originally-Florence-to-Raleigh driver, who agreed to come down all the way to Columbia instead.

I have a few backup plans most places I go, so hopefully I can complete this trip without resorting to Amtrak or Greyhound.

What do you want to be when you grow up, and how might this current role as a "human baton" play into it?

LV: I have no idea what I want to do as a career, but I think this trip might help me figure that out.

How do your family/friends feel about not getting to spend the holidays with you this year?

LV: My family was actually very much OK with it. My brother and sister are both going to be in Germany this Christmas, so I wouldn't have been with them anyway, and the rest of my family was just very excited that I got to do this trip. They're a bit disappointed that I couldn't be with them, but they did say that they were still glad I got to do it, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

How does your trip relate to the whole Couchsurfing.com phenomenon? Do you see a connection? Why do you think couch surfing is seeing such a surge of popularity?

LV: There's definitely a connection between what I'm doing and Couchsurfing.com -- part of what I am doing is asking strangers if I can stay in their house for a night. I am, of course, taking it a step further by asking them to drive as well, though. CS is definitely a great thing and goes a long way towards the goal I have of showing people that the Internet has nice people on it, and that you can trust people from the Internet. The thing my trip has that's a little bit above and beyond what CS is doing is the fact that I'm getting people to actually take time out of their lives just for me. If someone is giving you their couch, they are giving a lot of their trust to you, but that is the only thing it requires. On my trip, people have taken time off work and out of their lives to accommodate me, in addition to giving their trust to me. These people aren't just including me in their already-laid-out plans for vacationing, they're driving up to eight hours away just to get me and bring me back to their place (or the opposite), which I think is a huge thing. It shows that not only are these people trusting and trustworthy, they're nice as well. And I think that's saying something.

As for why CS is seeing such a huge surge of popularity, I think it's because people are getting used to the Internet. They're seeing how powerful it is, and they're submitting themselves into the new global consciousness that they can see is becoming the new shape of the world. Maybe I'm being naïve, but that's what I see is happening.

Do you have any advice for young people who are looking to do similar travel experiments?

LV: Be safe, plan as much as you can, have fun ... these are all good pieces of advice. But I think the best advice I could give has already been said by Nike.



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Just a couple days remain in Luke&;s amazing journey. Over at HumanBaton.com are assembling a video diary to chronicle his trip. More videos are being added every day. <a href="http://humanbaton.com/VideoDiary">link</a><br />
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HumanBaton.com Site Administrator

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