Doing Less And Being More • On the Road

On the Road

Vol. 1-4

On the Road

Vol. 1-4

Doing Less And Being More

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Day:
7
Location:
Springerville, AZ
Distance from last stop:
197 miles

"I think it's about doing less. I don't think it's about the highlights. I think it's about the quiet moments."

—Dan Deublein

Filmmaker’s Notes:

It was almost a week into our trip and a couple hours after midnight when we rolled in beside a dark little cabin outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. Richard and I had been on the road since sunset, after our visit with Kathi in New Mexico had ended with a shared moment of silence and contemplation on the conversation we’d shared. Hours later, Richard stood in the back of the van as we drove down the highway, in a balancing act of sandwich-making, when I told him the happy news that we could expect the first hot shower of the trip so far once we made it to our next stop.

In the morning, we left early to meet Dan out near the ranch where he lives. Dan is a former actor that now works in medicine, when he isn’t trekking out into the wilderness with his fly-fishing rod in hand. We talk about his experiences in Los Angeles early in his career, and what led him to finding an escape and a new rhythm of life out among the dry desert and lonely canyons of Arizona.

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Henry:
To start, how did you end up with your vehicle?

Dan:
Well, for us to come up to our cabin here before this, I had a Tacoma. I also have a couple of dogs, and we would throw our luggage in the back of the Tacoma and we’d be driving up here in the pouring rain, with all our stuff soaking wet. I would be packing 150 pounds over each wheel well because we just got 12 inches of snow. Ultimately I think I needed something that’s going to be bigger, heavier, and something that’s going to support my lifestyle because what I love doing is I like to get out in it. I like to go and chase wild trout. I like to backpack into canyons, pack bear spray with me and all of that just to get out in the middle of nowhere, because there’s nothing more fulfilling than coming across the canyon you’ve never seen before.

A succinct version of it is to say I got a 4Runner because it lets me get out in the middle of nowhere, basically.

Henry:
I forget your official title — when we chatted a while back I know you said you went back to medical school, right?

Dan:
Yeah, a physician’s assistant–

Henry:
Is that like a couple days on, couple days off kind of thing?

Dan:
It depends…I oversee the mid levels of PAs and MPs over six hospitals, so I kind of split time between that and also doing procedures. I make the schedule, which is nice. My currency is time. So anytime I ever was approached about getting a raise financially, I’ve always negotiated for more time. And now I’ve got, you know, six weeks paid vacation and it’s amazing.

I like to go and chase wild trout. I like to backpack into canyons, pack bear spray with me and all of that just to get out in the middle of nowhere, because there’s nothing more fulfilling than coming across the canyon you’ve never seen before.

Henry:
I make my own schedule too. This (trip) has been awesome, it feels like we’ve been on the road for a year, and it’s only been five or six days. 

Richard:
You’re from here, right, this part of Arizona?

Dan:
Yeah, well, until I graduated from high school, and then I moved to Phoenix and went to Arizona State, did my undergrad. There, I did this old game show thing called “Studs”. They were trying to figure out the studs of all the universities and I won for ASU. And it had nothing to do with being better looking than these other guys, they just had IQs two points above broccoli, you know, and I was just more witty than they were. And then this manager from LA saw me and said, “Hey, ever thought about acting?”, and I’m like, “No, I’m going to medical school”. And she said, “Would you mind if I just bring you out for a couple of things?”

The first thing I ever went out on was a national commercial for Cobra golf clubs with Greg Norman, and I booked it. I was a sophomore in college making six figures, and I thought, wow, do I really want to go to med school? I mean, if I just book one of these a year, I’d be happy with that.

My mom owned a cowboy saloon here for about 40 years and I just remember as a kid growing up and seeing the same guys at the bar every day and I remember just thinking, like, No, I don’t think I want to be that guy.

Henry:
So you had to get out, basically.

Dan:
Yeah, but I have a friend named Wink — her family settled this area, and she still has a 20,000 acre cattle ranch here — she said, “you kids are all like, all you want to do is get off the mountain, and then you spend the rest of your lives trying to figure out how to get back”. And she was right. She’s 83 years old, and she looks like she’s 60.

My mom owned a cowboy saloon here for about 40 years and I just remember as a kid growing up and seeing the same guys at the bar every day and I remember just thinking, like, No, I don’t think I want to be that guy.

Henry:
So how long were you out in LA?

Dan:
About twelve years. I was kind of pulled into the acting industry — it was completely accidental. (Acting was) nothing I ever thought I was going to be doing but I did it. And I was very fortunate that I got to work. I played Luke Perry’s accountant on Beverly Hills 90210, and when you’re on a syndicated television show throughout the entire world, that’s a very cool experience. But the downside of that industry is you become a product, and that is not very fulfilling. I wanted to leave but I kept working, and I didn’t really have any other skills at that point. And so it’s like, well, what am I gonna do? It was an easier decision when I was single and just kind of living the lifestyle, but then once I’ve met my wife, there’s this whole new responsibility that you have to take on. So, I joined the ski patrol, and I decided I’m not going to do anything, I’m just going to patrol and kind of work through things.

I’m a big believer that it’s not always about doing more in life, it’s about being more, and letting life flow from that state. Right? A perfect example is when I said, Okay, I’m gonna be a ski bum. Ski this season, and it’ll come to you, and you’ll figure it out. There was another patroller that year that was brand new as well, and I asked him what he did, and he said, “I’m a physician assistant”. I had never heard of it before, and initially, I was set on going to medical school, before I fell into the acting thing. I thought, Wow, it’s kind of an interesting profession, and there’s some flexibility and good job growth, and you’re still contributing to society, taking care of folks, and, and so on. So yeah, I thought, I’ll do that.

Henry:
I like the way that you phrased that, not doing more, but being more.

Dan:
Yeah, I think that in today’s modern society, it’s all about the highlight reel, right? And that’s what everybody’s posting on social media platforms. I kind of question — is it really about the highlights? Because everybody is trying to do more, and I think fundamentally, that model is broken. I think it’s about doing less. I don’t think it’s about the highlights. I think it’s about the quiet moments. Because if it’s all about the highlights, then you miss the subtle nuances of life.

Henry:
I feel like that’s a lesson I’ve learned for myself. Rather than saying, what do I want to do?, it’s more like, what do I want my day to look like?

Dan:
Right? And the thing is, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and we can start to see the light now. But we need to reflect on, what do we take away from the pandemic? When I think about it, it makes me realize that life is all about “who” — who you spend time with, underneath this canvas (of self), right? Because the “what”, well, I would just go buy “it”, and I’d be content. But you and I both know, plenty of rich people are not content. When we were kids playing at the park, none of us had anything to our name, and it was all who we were with. And I think if there’s anything we can take from the pandemic, it’s that.

As the conversation continued, we walked with Dan down to a stream where Dan comes often to fly-fish.

Henry:
I’m assuming fly-fishing is hard to learn…do you remember when you learned to fly-fish, to get into the rhythm of it?

Dan:
The cool thing about fly fishing is you develop your own rhythm. When I was a 10 year old kid fly fishing I had no idea what I was doing. There’s a lot of science behind fly fishing. You can read all the articles you want on hatches and nymphing. And, oh, when you’re tying a fly, the hackle should be this long, and not that long. Well, when I was a kid, I mean, we just cut our flip flops off into little pieces, imitated ants, and threw those into the water. And we were catching fish.

Richard:
It’s meditative, watching you cast.

Dan:
That’s why that’s why I do it, man. Once you actually get on the water there’s a sort of ebb and flow with the line, but at the same time, you’re casting into structure and obstacles and, to me that kind of represents my world, like when I’m down (in the city) working, having that ebb and flow, looking at a structure and casting beyond it and just dropping your fly in the right spot. 

What are there, 10 or 12 major religions in the world? I think it’s 12. I could be wrong. But regardless of all the major religions in the world, they all have some form of practice, right? Whether it’s prayer, meditation…Buddhism, with mindfulness practice. They all have one thing in common, right? Where I have commonality with that is in fly fishing. It is a meditative state. There’s different kinds of meditation, whether you’re doing contemplation, where you’re kind of just following your thoughts, and there’s a sort of pinpoint meditation. I really get into a meditative state when I’m fly fishing. Yeah, there are no other thoughts that you can even manufacture at all.

Just spending time in nature…
It’s what allows me to silence the auditorium of my mind.

Henry:
For us, it’s that moment that we want to make more accessible to people, that space in nature where you don’t have to think about anything else. And that kind of takes us back to where we come from, effectively.

Dan:
This (nature) is the most amazing laboratory that we have access to, you know. One of the things I’ve been trying to figure out and rustle in my head is I think people don’t take advantage of it. Because they don’t know how…they literally do not understand how to connect with nature. All they know is, yeah, let’s just go blazing up and down the road and make as much noise as we can and scare off all the elk in the meadow, you know, and they don’t even realize it. Right? They have no idea. Some of the things I’ve been wrestling with in my mind is, how do you get people to connect with nature? Because there’s great science; I mean, in Japan, physicians write prescriptions for patients to go on hikes. There’s great literature behind it. It decreases cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety over time without medication, just spending time in nature…it’s what allows me to silence the auditorium of my mind.

When we left Dan that morning, he told us that he was resting up because the next day he was going deep into some old mining canyons in New Mexico to fish from the catwalks that are still built into the side of the cliffs. We were struck not only by his poise and charisma, but also by how committed Dan seemed to his specific worldview and to the pursuit of living the best life that he can. So far, all of the travel and scheduling of meetings on this trip had at times felt like a controlled chaos, but Dan’s approach to life had a calming effect on us, and as we headed on to meet Angela (our second interviewee that day), we started to feel like we understood what this project could be — and we were in our groove.