Local writer and podcaster Ryan Woldt pens travel love stories
The varying catharses we experience from travel, specifically the ones that come to us on a road trip, are at the heart of Woldt’s series of ‘Eli and Jane’ books
It’s a literary template that’s as old as the written word itself: a protagonist must venture out into the world to find answers to life’s most burning questions.
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
Will I ever find love?
The formula worked as well for Homer as it did for Jack Kerouac, and local writer Ryan Woldt knows this.
“I’ve been lucky in the last 20 years in that I’ve been able to do a lot of traveling myself, and those are always the moments I remember,” says Woldt from his home in Carlsbad Village. “More so than going to the tourist spots, more so than going to an event or a festival. It’s the driving together, it’s the getting coffee at the place that has a lot of character. Those are the things that I remember and that’s what I think people can relate to.”
The varying catharses we experience from travel, specifically the ones that come to us on a road trip, are at the heart of Woldt’s series of “Eli and Jane” books. Beginning with last year’s “Eli and Jane” and continued in the recently published “Future Eli & Future Jane,” the duology centers on two young people who are individually experiencing their own existential crises when, in the first book, they eventually meet and form a connection. They ultimately meet up again for another road trip in the second book, this time traveling together.
“The first book was certainly inspired by the constant traveling back-and-forth, because my wife and I are the only ones in our family who live out West. Everyone else is back in Wisconsin or in that area,” says Woldt, who says he’s road-tripped through places like Colorado and Utah over a dozen times over the last decade.
A modest Midwesterner from a working-class family, Woldt acknowledges that he isn’t exactly breaking new ground with his road trip novellas. But he does bring a few things to the table in the “Eli and Jane” books that make the stories stand out.
First, there’s an acute attention to detail to the places the two characters visit.
“I wrote and mapped out the route that I thought they would take before I wrote the book,” says Woldt of the new book. “I knew before going into it, these are some of the places I’m going to hit and these are some of the places that I think will have an emotional connection. Whether that’s under the trees of the Redwood National Forest or going over the Golden Gate Bridge, I knew those landscapes were important to me and that they would add value to the storyline.”
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Woldt is cognizant of the fact that what readers take away from the story will depend largely on what stage of life they’re in at the moment. That is, a younger person might read about Eli and Jane and think it’s still possible to start over in a new place with a new outlook on life. An older person might read it and get a sense of nostalgia, recalling the times in their lives when they themselves pondered such questions and, perhaps, hit the road looking for answers.
“Some of the best compliments I received about ‘Future Eli & Future Jane’ is that I’ve asked what people think happens at the end, and I’ve received about 20 different answers,” Woldt says. “That’s a great compliment because I think what it means is that each reader is taking their own journey with these characters and interpreting them differently.”
Woldt says he graduated college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and left convinced he was going to be a writer, but as is the case with many aspiring novelists, responsibilities set in, and Woldt soon found himself putting his literary dreams on the back burner. Over the years, he worked in everything from commercial real estate to graphic design. He and his wife bounced around to different cities, from Pittsburgh to Anaheim. Eventually she was offered a job in San Diego and the two have been here for nine years.
A few years ago, however, Woldt and his wife finally paid off their student loans, which afforded him the opportunity to devote more of his time to writing and pursuing other creative outlets like his “Roast! West Coast” coffee podcast.
“I now have the luxury of trying to go for it with these things and I would feel guilty if I didn’t. A lot of my efforts are driven by guilt,” says Woldt, who grew up in a religious family. “Whether it’s writing the books or starting a podcast or getting a tattoo, once it’s stuck in my brain, it’ll gnaw at me until I have no choice.”
So in many ways, the “Eli and Jane” books could be seen as a creative manifestation of this new-found freedom. Just as the characters hit the road in hopes of finding themselves, Woldt appears to be on a new journey of his own.
“I do love writing, and I think I finally came to a point where I thought, ‘well, why can’t I try doing this instead of doing jobs that I’m less happy at,’” Woldt asks. “I’m going to be just as stressed doing the other thing, but at least this stress is one that I choose and want.”
Maker’s Market presents Ryan Woldt
When: 9 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Dec. 12
Where: Coffee Cycle, 1632 Grand Ave., Pacific Beach
Combs is a freelance writer.
Sign up for the Encinitas Advocate newsletter
Top stories from Encinitas every Friday for free.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Encinitas Advocate.