My name is Derek Ball and I’m addicted to traveling. In the past year, this addiction has grown, and I’ve had many realizations about myself and the world around me that I never could have had without these experiences of just me and the open road. Traveling alone has opened up my world and changed me in ways I never could have imagined, and though it can be lonely and against the grid in scary ways, I can’t recommend it enough to anyone trying to figure out their path or passion our modern world.
Growing up in the shadow of the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Denver, my parents always raised me with the idea that being well-rounded was an important goal. As a kid wanted to do everything under the sun, and to squeeze all of the experiences and stories that I could out of this one precious life. This outlook led me in many directions, and has allowed me to do many things, go many places, and meet countless people.
Growing up, my family would travel whenever we got the chance. From driving across the country 30 hours straight from Denver to Bar Harbor, Maine in our pickup truck with a camper in the bed, to repeated road trips to California, to crazy ski weekends all over Colorado, my parents, three siblings and I learned to love the road and each other in that stuck-in-the-car-for-weeks way.
Fast forward to the present, and I'm still on the road. In 2015, I put over 37,000 miles on my Toyota 4Runner, and added my own camper (mobile recording studio/home) to the mix while starting the Podcast on Wheels, a podcast that tells the stories of people who followed their passions about and how they crafted careers around those interests.
Through Podcasts on Wheels I have had the opportunity to meet and interview some truly incredible human beings doing amazing work. Some of the people I got to sit down with include Fintech investor, Harvard Business School grad, & Wharton lecturer Tim Li, multiple Ironman finisher, cancer survivor, & repeat Emmy-winner Allan K. Rosen, former Olympian javelin thrower and current coach & entrepreneur Tom Petranoff, Olympic middle and long distance runner Amy Yoder Begley, former NFL star Jeron Mastrud, and many others.
While meeting all of these awe-inspiring people, I started to realize something. There was one thing that interactions with these people had in common: a love of music. I couldn’t meet anyone without music somehow entering the conversation. Music is what helps people get out of bed, it's what gets athletes through workouts and entrepreneurs pumped up for meetings.
The music was starting to come to me as well. I had randomly thrown my Mom's old guitar into the back of the car as an afterthought when I left for my trip, and it really paid off. As I saw the impact music has on all of these successful people, a change was coming over me. It started with rhymes, all the time. I couldn't stop thinking in rhymes, and it was driving me insane, so I started writing them down. I kept writing, and the rhymes became poems, and the poems weren't just poems. Music started coming too. I would wake up at 3am with melodies spilling from my head, and they wouldn't stop no matter how hard I tried. At first I thought I was going insane, especially since I had been driving by myself for over 1,000 miles.
Music has always been present in my life. It began in Catholic school, where weekly choir practice and masses added on to my family's Sunday trips to church made for a lot of background melodies in my day to day life. As a result, music had a spiritual undertone for me. I saw how it affected the otherwise stone-cold older men at mass. I saw how my Dad's eyes glossed over when an old 60's song by Buffalo Springfield or the Doors came on the radio while we were doing yard work. I heard my Mom talk about playing “Leavin' on a Jet Plane” when she left home to come and live in Denver. These same feelings about music made their way into my own life. I played the piano growing up, and vividly remember watching my neighbor play Ode to Joy on the piano at Christmastime, and how beautiful it sounded. I traded piano for other things eventually, but my love for music remained. In high school, I fell in and out of love to and with certain songs. I got pumped up in the locker room to them. I played sad songs with pyramids of beer after losing a state championship in lacrosse. The next year I celebrated with my best friends with more beer after winning the state championship and blasting the Dixie Chicks with massive smiles on our face after hoisting up that. Music got me through the ups and downs of college, and helped me through graduation and my first job. In the last year, it has motivated me to run marathons and start my own podcast, and it got me through the deaths and the losses. But through all of these highs and lows, I was just a bystander. I had forgotten what I had known when I was seven years old listening to Ode to Joy and playing random songs that sounded good to me on the piano: I could make music too.
So now here I am, a young person trying to make music. I'm not sure if my realization about music made me musical, or if I was musical all along. I’m not sure if I had to explore all over the world to come to these realizations, or if I could have had them in the comfort of home. I've found that sometimes the best way to handle things you don't understand is to just ride the wave. Either way, enjoy, and sing your own songs, 'cause what's life without a little melody?