Facing a midlife crisis and the collapse of your marriage after learning that your spouse has a lover half your age, what would you do? Get hammered? Not Joel Stratte-McClure. He'd already been there, done that, and quit drinking. Instead, the Stanford grad went back to basics — the very basics. He walked.
Having lived in France, he had long enjoyed that country's extensive hiking-trail system. In 1998, his life crumbling around him, he set out to walk off his blues. "As a kid, I had always been enchanted with the Greek and Roman myths," Stratte-McClure mused. Thus was born his plan to circumambulate the Mediterranean Sea on foot, mostly solo — strolling its shores, scaling the sun-baked peaks overlooking it, and making pilgrimages to sites where his beloved ancient stories allegedly transpired. "I'm basically addictive and compulsive," Stratte-McClure laughed. "So this seemed like a nice little project."
More than 4,700 miles later, he has jumped off a Moroccan cliff, camped out at the foot of a column where Helen of Troy is said to have slept, and — among countless other adventures —raced down a Neapolitan beach fleeing robbers. An award-winning journalist who spent decades overseas writing for People, Business Week, and the International Herald-Tribune, Stratte-McClure has turned his journey into a memoir, The Idiot and the Odyssey, which he will discuss at Books Inc. (1760 Fourth St., Berkeley) on Sunday, March 20.
It's not merely about walking from point A (as in Artemis) to point B (as in Battle of Lepanto). "A book that was just about walking would only interest one person: your mother, and even then, she'd probably be lying just to make you feel better," said Stratte-McClure, who deepened his step-by-step narratives with personal ruminations about the Sixties, alcoholism, divorce, Homer, Odysseus, Buddhism, and the people he met while doing what he calls "MedTrekking." Those people included hitchhikers, pilgrims, cruise-ship passengers, monks on males-only Mount Athos, and those Roma men who grabbed for his gold yin-yang pendant on that beach: "To them, I was a walking jewelry store."
High points include reaching the top of Mount Olympus. "Being there above the clouds where all the gods lived — that was a terrifically satisfying moment. I was just sitting there, blissful and happy," Stratte-McClure said.
Although his book is 165,000 words long, his journey isn't over. A second book will cover the rest. At his website, FollowtheIdiot.com, Stratte-McClure recently ran a contest to name his second book. Hundreds of suggestions poured in, from The Orgasm and the Odyssey to Moron Does the Med to The Iliad and the Audacity. He chose The Idiot and the Odyssey II: Myth, Madness, and Magic on the Mediterranean.
His website includes such headings as "About the Idiot," "Idiotic Reviews," and "Idiotic Fans." "I don't mind being called an idiot," Stratte-McClure said. "The fool is always the wisest man on the ship."