"I was ready to go a couple years," Forrest says. He had long wanted to travel the fabled road and was disenchanted with his isolated life in Louisa County, where, he says, the neighbors wouldn't even tell him thank you when he gave them fresh-picked squash. Forrest searched Richmond for someone who would go with him as his researcher and travel companion, but found no volunteers.
So after exhibiting 25 pieces of his handcrafted furniture at La Différence, Forrest set off for Shanghai July 11. He then flew to Xian, a city in east-central China where one of the best-known Silk Road routes originated. From there he traveled west on a bus over 800 miles of desert.
Seeking to avoid passing through Pakistan, Afghanistan and their neighbors, Forrest thought he'd take the northern Silk Road route through Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. At the border, however, he was advised that he would need a visa to proceed and then learned it was too late to arrange all the other visas required to continue his journey. Not only that, Forrest relates, but people told him, "You don't want to go with the Arabs, they'll kill you."
Forrest is no stranger to rough roads. As a younger man, he attempted to travel around the world. On the first try, he made it to Mississippi. On the second, Mexico City.
"On the fourth try," he says, "I got all the way around."
He backpacked through Indonesia, traversed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway and crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone in a boat. "Twenty-five years ago you could go anywhere except Libya," he says.
But things have changed. So Forrest turned around and went home.
It wasn't a wasted trip, he says. Forrest marvels at the kindness of the people he met, who guided him around and invited him to eat with them. "They have elevated human relations to its pristine form," he says of the Chinese. And he saw firsthand the effects of massive economic change in China the proliferation of cell phones, the construction of a superhighway across the desert.
Now Forrest is trying to figure out what to do next. In preparation for his trip, he sold his 34-acre Buddha Ranch in Louisa County and most of his possessions, including his woodworking machinery. He won't make furniture anymore, he says, at least not soon. "My well runs dry," he says.
Forrest now resides in a studio apartment in Carver, surrounded by the few things he kept: a canoe, a finely turned table, some mismatched wooden chairs and a family of antique meat grinders. And there's a world map on the wall, of the colorful classroom variety, to plan where his next steps will take him. S
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