On Sunday, Sept. 4, the Frederick News-Post ran an article about Don's upcoming presentation at the C. Burr Artz Library. The article was entitled: Hitchhiking Cross-country: A Teenage Adventure. A link to the article is below:
A conversation with Don DeArmon, author of Keep Going.
Question: What inspired you to write Keep Going?
Don DeArmon: Well, I actually wrote a draft of this book when I was still in high school. I figured the only thing more ambitious than hitchhiking cross-country a couple times would be writing a book about it while I was still a teenager. Unfortunately, that project fell by the wayside. But over the years, as I would tell my old hitchhiking stories to friends and family, a frequent reaction was: "Gees, you should really write a book about that." So I always had it as a goal in the back of my head, but it took carving out some time in recent years to turn that idea into reality.
Q: So, what's it all about?
DD: At its core, the book is about two hitchhiking trips I took as a teenager: one as a 16-year-old in 1971 where my traveling companion, Erich Caron, and I really circumnavigated the U.S. and western Canada in a trip of about 2 months, and then a second trip a year later when we hitchhiked all the way to Alaska and back. But, of course, as I started writing it in earnest over 40 years later, I realized in addition to being an adventure story, it is really a story of growing up. And now, looking back, I can see my various character traits that were starting to develop and take hold, and now I understand how much of the way I am as a middle-aged man really has its origins in those summers we spent hitchhiking.
Q: Who do you think Keep Going will appeal to?
DD: Baby boomers should get a kick out of it, especially those middle-agers who will feel nostalgia for bell-bottomed jeans and tie-dyed shirts and who remember how many hitchhikers used to clog the roads. In the early 1970s, candy bars cost 5 cents, we drank water out of water fountains, gas cost 35 cents a gallon, and we made telephone calls from pay phones. It was really a different time — the Vietnam War still raged, the civil rights movement and anti-war movement and the women's rights movement were all alive and well. We had just landed on the moon, Nixon was president, and the USSR was our enemy.
Arm-chair adventurers who like to read travel books, especially tales of off-the-beaten-path travel, should find Keep Going highly entertaining. And ultimately, we were hitchhiking around so we could backpack in different national parks, so I've included descriptions of those parts of our trips when we were seeing and sometimes backpacking in Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Grand Canyon National Parks for the very first time.
I also think millennials, which include my four children, will identify with a story about two teenage boys taking on a challenge, and how Erich and I stepped outside our comfort zone to undertake something that, at the time, was very daunting and that many people thought us unlikely to accomplish. Yet we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, and our travels transformed our lives in a series of very positive ways. I see many millennials who are taking on challenges today, but I also see others who are very hesitant to do so. So I'm not telling them to go hitchhike, but maybe Keep Going will encourage them to take on that challenge they've been considering.
Q: Was there a particular inspiration for the title of the book? There's got to be a story there somewhere.
DD: Well, in one sense, you could call it a humorous comment on what my wife and kids would probably accuse me of on family vacations, because if I'm driving, I hate to turn around if we miss an exit or get lost. I also do that hiking sometimes, too — keep going when I should turn around instead. But the title comes from an idea I read in a book, where the author suggested one concoct a short-hand philosophy of life, and it took me just a few seconds to come up with mine: Keep going. I later asked my daughter, Alexandra, to guess what I had come up with, and within 30 seconds, her first guess was "keep going." As I was considering a title for the book, I realized that "keep going" very much characterized the way Erich and I had approached our hitchhiking trips, because we encountered our fair share of hardship in different ways. But despite occasional low points, we never took a bus, we never got a motel room, and we never called home for more money. So that title seemed apt for a book about our adventures.
Q: Will you keep writing? Do you have another book in mind?
DD: I've always been a writer, just in different ways. For example, I was a prolific writer of family letters and stories. I wrote each of the kids a story about their birth, and I used to write them a long letter on their birthday each year. On Capitol Hill, I had to produce a variety of work products. I don't know that they were all high quality, but I developed a knack for turning out a pretty good something, be it constituent letter, press release, or statement, very quickly. I've submitted numerous letters to the editor of different papers — I've had them in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post — and op-ed pieces for my own political campaigns. For one campaign, I drafted a 28-page issues book and delivered it to public libraries in 6 counties.
But there's no question that completing my first book has given me the bug to write another book or three. The next logical one would be a book about the 22,000 miles of hitchhiking I did during college, including my solitary cross-country trip in 1974 — that would be another book about growing up in the 1970s. I'm also a big fan of American history and George C. Marshall, in particular. Marshall was the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and Secretary of State during the Truman Administration. He was legendary for having a strong relationship with Congress, and I've been doing research about his career. That may start out as a long article. But I think the way he regarded Congress, the various ways he communicated with Congress, especially in giving testimony before committees, which he did hundreds of times, and the resulting success, especially in the build-up of the Army before Pearl Harbor and the passage of the European Economic Recovery Plan (the Marshall Plan) by a Republican-controlled Congress, is a story worth telling that would hold many lessons for our congressional leaders today who seem to have a hard time getting things done.
In short, I've always enjoyed stories — both hearing them and telling them — and if I can think of some interesting stories to tell in a book, I will likely do so.