Don't Forget to Write

From Outside's screwup files, a tale of epic miscommunication

This magazine has a history of sending people to the ends of the earth. Sometimes when things go wrong, blame lies with the editors. (Like the time writer Dave Eggers was sent to hang out with New Age seekers at the pyramids of Giza—only there were no New Age seekers to be found.) Or the writer. (Um, no names—let's just say it usually involves self-medication.) Or both. In the granddaddy of all such tales, which played out in 1978-79 during Outside's formative years, four journalists from Montana—Bill Vaughn, William Kittredge, Bryan DiSalvatore, and William Finnegan—unwittingly set in motion a saga that we're still talking about.— KEVIN FEDARKO

Clockwise from top left: Disalvatore and Finnegan in Java; Disalvatore with the hermit in the outback; our boys in Queensland, Christmas, 1978; at Kirra Beach, Australia

VAUGHN: I started working for Outside in its second or third issue, when I was invited to edit an equipment-review column out of my home in Montana, a role that apparently gave some people the notion that I actually had power at the magazine. Which, I think, was how I got in trouble with these two guys, Bryan DiSalvatore and Bill Finnegan.
DISALVATORE: Bill's recollection is essentially true. (I'm so glad he got his meds calibrated.) But I think the culprit in this tale was another writer, Bill Kittredge. Kittredge had been both Finnegan's and my mentor, and he's the one who led us to believe that Vaughn was the emir of Outside.

KITTREDGE: Oh, God, did I do that?

VAUGHN: DiSalvatore and Finnegan were best friends, or something like that, and they decided to take a surfing trip around the world. For some reason—I can't for the life of me remember how—they got it into their heads that I had given them a contract to do this trip and write a story for the magazine.

DISALVATORE: The story we had in mind was a look at sailing yachties who roam the globe. We figured we'd make cash while traveling by selling articles. Vaughn was, according to Kittredge, our, ahem, contact.

VAUGHN: I was?

KITTREDGE: I did what?

FINNEGAN: This is completely wrong. This all happened because Bryan and I hadn't gotten our shit squared away before we left.

DISALVATORE: So off we go—

VAUGHN: So off they go, I can't even remember where...

DISALVATORE: Guam, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia (or whatever the hell it's called these days), four Australian states, Bali, Java, Sumatra, and then, separately, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Spain, France, England—

VAUGHN: And for the next God-only-knows-how-many months, I get these postcards from all over the world.

DISALVATORE: Basically, we just kept sending him whatever we had at any given point. First it was just ideas. But then we started writing actual paragraphs. Included were "Is this in the right direction?" kinds of queries. Meanwhile, Vaughn's getting this stuff, months late, from two guys he's never even heard of. Kittredge had neglected to tell Vaughn about us.

KITTREDGE: Mmm. That could be true.
VAUGHN: With the arrival of each postcard, I'm increasingly baffled, because I have absolutely no idea what the hell these guys want.

DISALVATORE: Isolation makes you crazy in some ways, one of them being your idealized version of what's been going on stateside: Vaughn screeching with delight at these dispatches, hungry for more; readers all across America clamoring for our next installment; movie offers, sex. Meanwhile, Vaughn was getting this stuff and either putting it aside or just throwing it out.

FINNEGAN: None of this was Vaughn's fault. It's all drunken embroidery.

DISALVATORE: We just kept badgering him. Where's the contract? Where's the dough? Don't send a check, for God's sake—we can't cash it in Padang!

VAUGHN: Anyhow, they're gone for a really long time...

DISALVATORE: We were gone for almost four years.

FINNEGAN: I was gone for almost four years. Bryan was with me only for the first 15 months.

VAUGHN: And then one day, I'm putzing around my house when this huge Italian guy shows up on my front porch and he's really, really pissed off. DiSalvatore explains that they were living in a tree house in Borneo, and Finnegan was dying of malaria—

DISALVATORE: The doc in Bangkok, where he came down with it, said Bill's blood was "black with malaria." He was deranged. Fearful of death. We were broke. We were delusional.

VAUGHN: So this guy goes on to explain that the two of them had made a pact that the first person to get back to the U.S. was going to track me down.

DISALVATORE: We had vowed—

FINNEGAN: We didn't vow anything. Bryan did. I remember being annoyed with Vaughn, but it's not like he gave me malaria. The guy just failed to reply to some mail we sent him.

DISALVATORE: OK, I had vowed—but for Finnegan's sake, as sort of a spur to "get well"—that when I got back to America I would find that double-dealing, duplicitous, careless, thoughtless, heartless beast Vaughn—

VAUGHN: And kill me.

FINNEGAN: Keep in mind, there was a whole group of people in America that Bryan was allegedly going to kill on my behalf.

DISALVATORE: I believe I terrified him...

VAUGHN: I told him we needed to step outside, because I didn't want to break up my wife's furniture.

DISALVATORE: But eventually we became friends.

VAUGHN: The next afternoon we were playing on the same softball team.

DISALVATORE: I don't know if it was our fever-driven imaginations or Vaughn's forgetfulness. But basically, Vaughn didn't know what the fuck was going on. For that matter, neither did we.

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