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TED with Tepees

A conference that revs your passion rather than your Twitter feed.

When creative-minded networkers get together around here, it’s usually at Moscone Center or on the Playa. But a few weeks ago, 115 or so enterprising folks—from cult-coffeemakers and bestselling authors to 15-year-old bloggers—gathered at a gorgeous biodynamic vineyard called Campovida, in Mendocino County, for a convention that was neither high-tech nor naked-hippie—but something refreshingly in between.

It’s called the Do Lectures USA: an intimate, annual, four-day event in its second year stateside (it started in Wales in 2008) that aims to generate inspiration via old-fashioned storytelling rather than newfangled PowerPoints. At the entrance to the grounds sits a basket of just-picked apples and a pile of blank cards on which participants are encouraged to "doodle" a picture of themselves (see photo at right). “We don’t do name tags here,” says cohost Duke Stump, former vice president at environmental products company Seventh Generation.

What they do do is offer stimulating lectures (15 this year ) that just might make you ditch your cube and go start that bakery you’ve always dreamed of. And the speakers don’t just talk at you; they talk with you—over viognier, at the pool, during dinner alfresco, by the bonfire.

It’s hard to tell who’s a civilian and who’s a celeb. The guy who makes the delicious coffee each frigid morning? He’s James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle. “As a clarinet player, I was used to financial uncertainty, so opening that first café, on an alley that reeked of urine, seemed kind of low-risk,” he tells a rapt crowd. That humble, hilarious man who leads the 7 a.m. running group through the grapevines? That’s Charlie Engle, a former drug addict turned real-life Forrest Gump who once ran about 45 miles a day for 111 days straight—through the Sahara Desert—and starred in a documentary about it. “I don’t believe things happen for a reason. They just happen,” says the guy who just got out of prison. “It’s all about what you do when they happen.”

And the writer strolling by the pool? Bestselling author Cheryl Strayed. “Wow, I only hiked 1,100 miles!” she said earlier from the stage, about the epic West Coast walk she chronicled in Wild. Later, as you walk back to your tepee beneath the star-smeared sky, coyotes howling in the distance, you find yourself thinking, “Yeah, I could do that, too.”

 

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