Journal: 8/19-8/22

Continuation of my road trip journal. Disclaimer still applies: these entries are raw and unedited.

August 19th

I woke up to unbearable heat, and clawed my way out of the tent into the cool morning air. The tent had been turned into a demonstration of the greenhouse effect.

I gave myself a nice slow morning. I made some instant coffee and instant oat meal for breakfast, then sat down to write (most of the previous days’ entries were written this morning). At around 11, I finished packing up, made a couple of sandwiches for lunch, then hit the road, continuing back West.

One of the fun things about going on a road trip without any particular plan, is that you make serendipitous discoveries. This trip has been no exception, for instance, stumbling upon Fort Robinson was purely accidental. Today’s discovery was Scott’s Bluff. A towering geological curiosity that also happened to be a landmark on the Oregon Trail. The bluff is actually a cousin of the Badlands, in that geologically, they were formed in a similar manner. Once upon a time, the Great Plains were at a much higher altitude than now. Wind and water eroded those plains, down to the level they’re at now, but at places like Scott’s Bluff or the Badlands, one can still see the old plains eroding into the new plains today.

About half an hour West from Scott’s Bluff was Fort Laramie. I decided to make a stop there as well, since I’d read about it at Fort Robinson. Fort Laramie was a major re-supply station on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, and also played a key role in the conflict between whites and Native Americans. Many treaties were signed there, and of course, when they were broken (mostly by the whites) it was also from there the army rode out to suppress the Native American “rebellion” (or on rare occasions, to enforce treaties that weren’t yet broken).

Before the wagons arrived in the area though, the first whites to venture that far west were fur traders. At first, they were beaver fur traders, mostly independent. Apparently relations with Native Americans for these solitary fur traders were mostly amicable. It wasn’t until the fur trading corporations arrived that the trouble started. Interestingly enough, demand for beaver fell when beaver fur hats fell out of fashion in favor of silk. The next fad, though, was buffalo fur coats. In other words, to some degree, Westward expansion of the US was driven by fashion fads. And that still hasn’t changed much. In Silicon Valley, whenever there’s a successful startup, people wonder if it’s just a fad. Is Facebook a fad? Is Twitter a fad? The irony, of course, is that everything out there is a fad. In 50 years, a hundred years, how many of these tech companies will people remember? How many Hollywood stars will be remembered? In the East, I think people have more of a sense of permanence, whether they’re into banking or politics. Say what you will about politicians, but they all know that what they say and do will be recorded and, if successful, be memorialized for ever. Although, technically, the Silicon Valley mentality might be closer to that held by gold miners. Success is measured in millions of dollars, but I don’t think anybody really thinks, or cares, about whether or not they, or their work, will be remembered a century from now.

I stopped for the night in Eastern Wyoming, in a State Park just outside a little town called Gurney. Hidden behind some hills is a river, a dam, and a lake. There were a number of campsites along the lake, but, with the sun setting quickly beyond the canyon walls, I chose the campsite closes to the entrance. Yet again, I had a whole campground all to myself.

August 20th

I slept in, on the account of having left my only clock, my iPhone, in my car overnight. When I’m camping, the sun usually wakes me up long before my intended wake up time, though I usually snooze for a while. This morning was no different. Eventually, I stuck my head out of the tent, looked at some shadows, and guessed it to be around 9am, and crawled out of the tent for good. My mornings are so much more pleasant when I’m camping, than when I’m living in an apartment. In an apartment, it doesn’t really seem to matter how late I sleep in or how many hours of sleep I get, it’s about equally difficult to haul myself out of bed. When I sleep out, I have no problems getting up at a reasonable hour. I think it’s just that I need sunlight to wake up. Next time I get an apartment, I should make sure the bedroom faces the East.

Since I had a big dinner last night, I skipped breakfast tea/coffee, and packed up quickly to hit the road. I was barely out of the State Park when I realized that I hadn’t taken a picture of my campsite. I’ve been trying to take a picture every place I stop, and this was a particularly beautiful site too. The thought gnawed on me, until I turned around. Turning around only cost me half an hour; not doing so might’ve tainted my memory of the site for good, or at least, bugged me for the rest of the day. I have a tendency to mull on such things. I wish I didn’t, but I do, and sometimes the best recourse for me is to right whatever wrong happens to be tormenting me. The easier cases are the ones that are as simple as turning a car around and driving a few extra miles…

With a picture of my site taken, I decided to head back East briefly to check out some site purporting to contain visible remnants of the Actual Oregon Trail. I figured I might regret it if I don’t check it out, and again, a little detour was a low cost to pay, even if just to rest my mind. The site turned out to be nothing more than wagon-width grooves cut into stone. Sure enough, it looked like a wagon trail. Whelps, at least I can claim to have seen (and stood in) the Actual Oregon Trail, in Real Life.

To be honest, though, I was more intrigued by a couple of bullet holes in a nearby sign. Since there’s a military base close by, I thought maybe the holes were caused by stray bullets from the base. Unlikely, but it wouldn’t be unheard of for soldiers at the range to shoot in random directions. But by looking through the holes, I determined that someone had sat on a nearby bench and shot at the signs. The holes looked pretty big though, maybe .45 caliber.

The rest of the day was spent covering mileage in a North Westerly direction. The only major stop of the day was in Casper. I got an oil change, and got online at a Safeway to take care of some stuff (mostly checking on the status of orders gear to take to my land). Conveniently enough, my dad called me while I was in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and we talked briefly about their visit next month.

Speaking of Wal-Mart, I’ve been stopping at every Wal-Mart I see. I’ve lost count of how many, but I’ve stopped at at least half a dozen just on this trip (and a few more on my DC trip). I’m not a big Wal-Mart fan or anything, but they happen to have the best deals on ammo, if they have any in stock. So far I’ve scored plenty of .22, but I haven’t seen a single Wal-Mart that stocked 9mm ammo in the last several months. That dry streak was finally broken today in Cody, where I scored a 250-round value pack for about $50.

The drive from Casper to Cody was quite beautiful, though not the kind of beauty that stirs my heart the way Nebraska did. In the intervening miles since Nebraska, it’s gotten much drier, and the terrain has more of a blondish hue, with an occasional green tint. It was definitely the green grass in Nebraska that captured my heart. Wyoming is also much rockier, with nice canyons and buttes punctuating the landscape.

Driving through scarcely populated and undeveloped landscapes fills me with happiness. There were places in today’s drive, where if I ignored the telephone poles, electric lines, and the road, I could imagine what the place might’ve looked like before we showed up. I don’t know why this appeals to me so much. I’m human. Yet I love the wilderness with minimal human impact. Is it self loathing? I don’t know. I’m also fully aware of the hypocrisy. There I am, in a one-ton metal and plastic machine, burning processed fossil fuels, traveling at unnatural speeds on an unnatural surface, marveling at the relatively untouched natural beauty. But, nonetheless, it fills me with happiness that I can do this. I have the technological, financial, and social ability to roam the entire continent as if it were my backyard. I wonder what those pioneers in their ox-drawn carts would think about that. They’d probably think it was pretty cool. I think it’s pretty cool too.

August 21st

Last night, I camped by a lake right outside Cody. Buffalo Bill Reservoir, I think is what it’s called. If you’re around Cody and you’re not sure what it’s called, just tack on “Buffalo Bill” and you’ll probably be right. Buffalo Bill Dam. Buffalo Bill State Park. It was dark by the time I pulled into the campground, and it was quite full, mostly with RVs. After having spent several nights in a row in practically empty campgrounds, it felt a little crowded, especially when my neighbor was running his generator. It was a Honda 2000i.

After a slowish morning, I headed back towards Cody again. I got a shitty car wash, which left most of my car about as dirty as it was. Then I made another stop at Wal-Mart to buy some supplies, and by supplies, I mean ammo and alfalfa sprouts. I’ve been eating turkey and alfalfa sprouts for lunch every day, and had finally run out of the alfalfa that I’d bought at Hyde Park Produce.

Just out of town is Buffalo Bill Dam. The “Buffalo Bill” in this case supposedly isn’t completely frivolous; apparently Buffalo Bill Cody played an active role in brining irrigation to the area. Who knew. The dam, built in the early 1900s, was also the tallest at the time, and at 200 or so feet tall, the view down from the bridge atop the dam is quite disorienting.

There’s a squirrel yelling at me from a nearby branch. It’s going “chirp! chirp!” and when it does so, its entire body shakes. It’s as if it’s mustering all the energy in its little body to make the loudest chirp possible. I hope whatever it’s doing that for is worth the energy expenditure. That reminds me of a beast pretty common around here, that makes this rattling, clicking sound. It took me a while to figure out what was making the sound, but it turned out to be a moth or similarly winged insect, which appears to be clapping its wings with sufficient force to make these loud clicking noises as it flies. It seems like a huge waste of energy, but I’m sure it serves some kind of purpose; likely to either scare predators away, or to attract mates.

Let me back up. I’m currently at Yellowstone. After a short visit at the dam, I drove the 50 miles or so West into Yellowstone. Yellowstone was the first National Park, designated as such by Roosevelt (I think) when he established the National Park system (Edit: see comment below). It is of course home to Old Faithful, the geyser, and that’s what I was here to see. I checked into a campsite since the park seemed pretty busy, then headed to Ol’ Faithful.

Contrary to how the pictures you’ve seen might make it appear, Ol’ Faithful is in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart. Ok, not really, but there are a couple of huge parking lots nearby, along with a couple of large buildings with hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, gift shops, and tons of people. There’s a paved ring that goes all the way around the periodically erupting cavity, and rangers put up signs predicting the next one. I was there about an hour early, so I got an ice cream cone, and walked around some of the smaller geysers nearby. They’re mostly holes in the grounds with water bubbling out of them, and judging by the smell, apparently filled with rotten eggs (actually it’s sulfur, I think).

At 4:38, almost to the second, Old Faithful blew her load as the rangers had predicted. It was impressive and disappointing at the same time, which I guess applies for just about any famous tourist attraction. I think that’s why I prefer the less well known and serendipitously discovered spots I’ve stopped along the way.

Back at my campsite, I invented a new dish for dinner, or rather a re-creation of a Japanese dish. Basically, you cook some rice, but instead of just rice and water, you put other stuff in the pot as well. I put some chicken, onions, and mushrooms, along with soy sauce, salt, and sugar for seasoning. The rest is the same as if you’re cooking rice. Bring the whole concoction to a boil, after some time (depending on the type of rice), lower the heat and let simmer for another 10-15 minutes, and let sit for another 5-10 minutes with the heat off after that, according to preference. Open the pot, and eat its contents, if edible.

August 22nd

Today’s goal was mostly to cove mileage. The last of my supplies should be arriving in Sunnyvale on Monday, so I’m hoping to get back to the Bay Area around then as well. The route I picked took me out of Yellowstone from the South entrance, through Grand Teton National Park. From there, I continued in a South-Westerly direction, cutting across the South-Eastern corner of Idaho, skirting Bear Lake, then into Utah. All in all, a very beautiful route.

Something I saw in one of the forts I stopped in has stuck in my mind. It was about the conflict between Indians and white Americans, and how it was a cultural conflict as much as a fight for resources. The Native Americans, nomadic hunters unfamiliar with property ownership, clashing with whites who are all about sedentary lifestyles and property ownership. Today, we recognize that the US Government’s actions destroyed the way of life for an entire people, but back then, I’m sure at least some whites saw the government’s action as a more or less benevolent one. The government was simply trying to upgrade the Native Americans, you see. Teach them how to farm like modern people. Teach their kids to dress and act like white kids, speak English, learn the Good Book. Undoubtedly, some people scratched their heads when the Native Americans rebelled against assimilation.

I can’t help but see numerous parallels between the conflict with Native Americans, and our conflict with the Muslim world today. Like then, our involvement in the middle east is at least partially about territory and resources (gold and fur then, oil today). But, perhaps more so than that, it is a war of ideas and cultures. What are we trying to achieve in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why, we’re trying to upgrade them. Teach them about Capitalism and Democracy. We’re trying to show them how to be a Good Modern Nation. Yet they keep trying to blow us up. What’s going on?

What’s going on is that we’re meddling. We’re trying to “improve” a culture that hasn’t necessarily asked to be “improved.” At least, they don’t want to become like us, and that’s what they’re telling us with their bullets and bombs. If I understand correctly, Osama Bin Laden’s original beef with the US was our presence on their holy lands. I don’t think he wants to destroy America; he just wants us out of there. What do Iraqi insurgents want? They probably just want us out of there. What do the Afghan insurgents want? Probably the same thing.

It’s not surprising that Democracy is struggling in Iraq and Afghanistan. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Democracy, a bottom-up approach to governance, fails to work when it is introduced in a top-down fashion. But that’s what we’re doing. We went in, toppled pre-existing regimes, and said, “here, you are now a Democracy.” And then we scratch our heads when it doesn’t work, and when some people resist our attempts to tell them how to run their country.

Campgrounds in Utah are filled with crazy people. In every other state I’ve driven through, public campgrounds are mostly empty, and the few occupants are friendly campers from afar. But in Utah, the campgrounds are filled, swarming, with locals. There are at least 3 cars in each camp site, in addition to an RV, and at least 18 kids, running around a roaring fire that shoots devilish flames 8ft high. I drove through a couple of campgrounds looking for a site for the night, but the look these people gave me as I drove by made me fear for my safety, should I be foolish enough to stop the car and step out of my vehicle.

I gave up on camping in Utah, and drove on. Unfortunately, my route put me on an Interstate, after dark, which is not a happy place to be, especially after getting used to the leisurely pace on two-lane highways. I thought about staying in a motel, but after spending between $10-20 a night to sleep in the woods, the thought of spending $50-70 a night in a crappy motel didn’t appeal to me.

So I decided to spend a night in a Wal-Mart parking lot instead. I’d heard for some time that Wal-Mart, unlike many other retail stores, let people spend the night in their parking lots. I decided to give this a shot, mostly as an experiment.

The experiment really was comprised of two components. Experiment 1 was spending the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Experiment 2 was spending a night in my car; something I’d never done before. Of the two, the former experiment turned out to be the less challenging. The bright lights in the lot certainly were annoying, and getting attacked by shopping carts in the middle of the night was unexpected, but it was the discomfort of being cramped in my car that kept me up longer. I foolishly assumed that sleeping in my car wouldn’t be all that different to sleeping in an economy class airplane seat. But, it is. I’m not sure how or why, but I just couldn’t get comfortable. Eventually, it occurred to me that the stuff piled in the back of my car almost offered a flat surface, so I crawled back there. My body spanned a cardboard box, a plastic container, and an assortment of soft stuff crammed in between. My head was inches from the rear window, and my feet dangled in the space between the two front seats, but at least I wasn’t folded up like a shrimp. I fell asleep in this configuration, and slept until well past 8am.

Another night survived.

Journal: 8/15-8/18

I’ve been keeping a journal during my road trip from Chicago to SF. The material is raw, unedited, hammered out on a picnic table or inside my tent at night, but I’m posting it anyway. As they say, if a Ryo writes in the woods and nobody reads it, did Ryo really write?

August 15th,

I didn’t leave until after 4pm. I thought I’d loaded most of my stuff into the Ryomobile the previous night and just had “some stuff around the apartment”. I’ve moved well over a dozen times in the last several years, yet I still succumb to this illusion that there is less stuff than reality. I have a hard time dealing with lots of odd bits and pieces lying around. I get distracted too easily, and find myself wandering around with Widget X in one hand, Widget Y in the other, thinking about how Widget Z should actually be in that box in the car with Widget A.

In any case, after several hours, everything was finally in the car, and I headed towards Open Produce to do some grocery shopping and say bye to Nikki. I bought about 10 packs of ready-to-eat Indian food, several cans of Mediterranean food, and some fruit. Nikki rang me up, we hugged, and said bye. I focused mostly on adventures that lie ahead, and tried my best not to think too much about the last couple of months that we spent together in that dark, claustrophobic hole of an apartment.

I made a brief stop in Kimbark to buy some alfalfa sprouts from Hyde Park Produce, and dinner of Sesame Chicken from Nicky’s. I’d been meaning to get some Nicky’s all sumer and never did, so this was my last chance. I ate the chicken, or whatever it really is, in the car, then hit the road. I headed East down 53rd, North on Lake Park to 47th, then on to Lake Shore Drive.

From Lake Shore Drive, I got onto I-55 until I was out of Chicagoland, then got on US-6 and started heading West in earnest.

I didn’t get too far before the sun started hanging precariously low over the horizon, signaling to me that I better find a place to camp soon. I have an atlas that shows little tent symbols for public camping sites, but the map’s resolution is such that the tent icons usually are about a square mile. In other words, it might look like there’s a campsite right by the highway, but it could also be a mile or two away. You never know.

The first campground the map indicated turned out to be a bunch of places one may camp, along some canal. I stopped at the visitor center, closed on Saturdays, and read a little bit about the canal. Supposedly it was supposed to be a faster/cheaper route from Chicago to the Mississippi, but by the time it was completed, rail had become cheap enough or some such that the canal was never used for its intended purpose. Today it is a state park, with grassy banks, on which one may camp.

I found that to be all too confusing, so I got back on US-6.

The next camp icon on my Atlas was a mile, or maybe 5, off of the highway. I took what appeared to be the nearest local road, and headed South. For miles, all I saw on either side was corn fields, which had me concerned. Do I keep going? How far should I go? But just about when I thought about turning around, the road went over a little hill, and once over the hill, I saw some nice wooded areas to the left. That must be it.

The campsite was in an artificial forest, perhaps planted by the CCC in the last Depression; pine trees stood at attention, in perfect rows. I picked an undeveloped site away from the pavement, although with trees evenly spaced apart, you could see the next site over as if they were camping in a school hallway, lined by lockers of trees. At least it was cheap, at $8 a night.

With Nicky’s still lingering in my tummy, I boiled some water, made tea, drank it, and went to bed.

August 16th

For breakfast, I had a cinnamon roll from the Med Bakery that Nikki had set aside fro me the day before, which I picked up on my way out, along with a hot cup of coffee. I packed up my tent, made a sandwich (turkey and alfalfa) for the road, and headed out.

I continued West on US-6, into Iowa. An uneventful drive until I hit Des Moines.

At first, I considered circumventing Des Moines, but then just as I thought I was successful, it occurred to me that I might never come through this way again (I mean, it’s Iowa), so I turned around to check out the city that I’ve read so much about in Bill Bryson’s books.

Downtown Iowa is clean, gleaming with modern looking buildings, and empty. I drove down some major looking road that headed straight towards the Iowa State Capitol, then veered off. Along the way, though, I was informed by lamp-post signs that the Iowa State Fair was currently on. Bill Bryson talks about the fair, or at least how he could never seem to get into a peep show of some sort, as a teenager. I had to check it out.

The fair was far more crowded than expected, or perhaps it seemed that way after seeing how empty downtown Des Moines was. In fact, there were more people there than I would’ve guessed lived in the entire state of Iowa.

Other than all the expensive heart-destroying foods on sale, and the bovine humanoids consuming such foods in large quantities (which is also the only quantity in which such foods are served), the most exciting exhibit must’ve been the show put on by some “cowboy.” He did it all. He taught kids how to spin a rope, cracked a whip like a little kid with a cap gun, cut straws out of spectator’s hands with the whip, demonstrated fast draws, shooting water balloons out of the air, and made his horse do things you’d never think a horse would do. And to top it all, he was quite a motivational speaker, occasionally putting in a quip about how to succeed in life. Not sure if he thought of himself as a model of success, but nonetheless, I was quite impressed and amused by the show.

Feeling sick after consuming ice cream, a pork chop on a stick, a egg on a stick, and big cup of soda, I rolled myself out of the fairgrounds, and back into the car. Form Des Moines, I got onto Route 44, which parallels I-80 a few miles to the north and cuts through endless miles of cornfields. I like these smaller roads than the big interstates though. You pass through dilapidated small towns, past pristine front lawns of picturesque farm houses, and you can see the oddly scientific looking labels placed in front of experimental strains of corn, planted in tight neat rows. You see real people, living real lives. Some will wave at you when you pass them on two lane roads. Old men sitting on porches will stare as you pass. You see them. They see you. This is all vastly more interesting and human than what you see on big Interstates, which is usually nothing but the blur of green and yellow of the countryside, punctuated by giant billboards advertising the next McDonalds, 10 Miles Ahead on Exit 29, and the only towns you see consist solely of fast food chains and gas stations.

I spent the night at Prairie Rose State Park, which had a real shower.

August 17th

I continued West on Route 44, then onto US-30 into Nebraska. I decided to pass by Omaha, and continued onto US-275 in the North-Westerly direction. I’m planning on seeing Yellowstone, thus the somewhat Northerly route.

Nebraska is absolutely gorgeous. On our journey from SF to Chicago, we passed through South Dakota, which is also pretty similar, but having driven across the county, I have a better appreciation of how unique the Great Plains are. To the West of it is the towering Rockies, covered in pine trees. To the East is the lush woodlands, and heavy, moist air. To the South is the dessert. To the North is the taiga. The Great Plains, before humans, may have also been covered in trees, but today, it is a vast grassland, with rippling green swells for as far as the eye can see. I love it. I’m still trying to understand why I’m so drawn to this terrain, but I think it’s the combination of the dry air, the inviting openness of the place, and the solid green and blue colors. I feel more free, more unencumbered than anywhere I can imagine. I feel like there’s nothing that can stop me, that I can go for miles and miles, unbothered. As tacky and cliche as it may sound, I can’t help but feel a certain kindred with the Native Americans who once roamed freely on these lands.

I camped for the night at Fort Robinson, a surprisingly large complex in such an empty region. The girl at the inn who assigned me a campsite noticed that I’d written down “San Francisco” as my home city, and said she was moving to Palo Alto. I asked if she was going to Stanford, and indeed, she said she was. She’s originally from Wyoming, but working in Fort Robinson for the summer. I told her I used to live in Mountain View, and she nodded knowingly. Noticing the wedding ring, I asked if she was going to gradschool. She hesitated for a moment, then said “no, freshman.” I can’t imagine what it’s like to be married before even going to college. Or maybe she just had the ring to ward off us single men.

I got a site with electricity, so that I can keep my freezer plugged in over night. I keep my freezer plugged into my car, but it only runs when the car’s running. It turns out that’s not sufficient freezing capacity to generate enough ice to keep my ice chest chilled. Having this extra capacity at night will surely help.

For the first time on this trip, I built a fire and cooked a proper dinner. I saute’d some onions and mushrooms in a new cast iron skillet I bought. I also grilled up some chicken sausages, to make hot dogs.

In addition to the skillet, I also bought a machete, which was useful in hacking off some kindling from the thick pieces of firewood I had. It also makes a handy poking stick for the fire, and of course, when I’m on my land, I’ll use it to clear paths through dense shrubbery. Not to mention, it makes a good defensive weapon. You don’t mess with a guy with a machete.

August 18th

I took a tour of the Fort in the morning, and learned about its colorful history. Preceding Fort Robinson was Camp Robinson, an army garrison intended to protect the employees and supplies of Red Cloud Indian Agency. The Agency was part of a treaty with the Sioux people, in which they gave up land, and settled near the Agency where food and supplies would be doled out. In other words, instead of being free self-sufficient people, they became static and dependent on Uncle Sam. Some of the Indians were understandably unhappy with the arrangement, hence the army garrison, which was established after a employee for the Agency was killed. You might think Fort Robinson was named after him, but actually it was named after Lt. Robinson who was killed around the same time in neighboring Wyoming. Go figure.

It was also at Fort Robinson that Crazy Horse was killed. Throughout the fort, there were signs saying that he was bayonetted by a private, after resisting arrest. But in the museum, there was a report written some time ago in which Little Big Man claims Crazy Horse accidentally wounded himself while the former attempted to wrestle him into submission. I guess the truth will never be known, and I reflected on how fickle our understanding of history really is.

After the Indians were finally beaten into submission, the fort became barracks for cavalry, infantry and artillery units. Around WW1, it was the biggest supply for war horses, with up to 12,000 of them on the premises. It was also there that the US Equestrian Olympic team trained during the 30s.

During WW2 it became a K-9 training camp, as well as a POW camp for German prisoners. From all I could tell, the Germans were treated well. They were fed and clothed well, and given enough freedom to form bands and theater troupes. It appears that at least some of those prisoners later opted to remain in the US. In the museum was a letter of recommendation for a prisoner written by one of the officers in charge. In it, he writes: “I do not hesitate to recommend him as being honest, intelligent, industrious, and worthy of any position.” and that he had been successfully “de-nazified”. Contrast this with prisoners held in Gitmo today. We treated Nazi bastards better than we treat suspected terrorists. Why? Is it because the Nazis believed in the same God as we do? It is because they weren’t brown skinned? Or maybe it’s the beard that’s condemning those in Gitmo. Why aren’t we de-extremizing them? If we are truly righteous, then we should believe in our ways, and show that our way is better than theirs not through violence or brutality, but through generosity and understanding. How we treat our enemies is a reflection of our selves. It is sad to think, that some time in the last 60 years, we have become brutal, torturing, unforgiving bastards with no sense of respect for others, or for ourselves.

After leaving the museum, I stopped by the cafe for a BBQ Buffalo burger. I don’t eat factory grown beef, but do eat grass fed beef, and I assume buffalo are raised in pastures. Maybe that’s not necessarily true, but I’d like to think that buffalo are the kind of creatures who would not survive in a closed pen. While chewing on buffalo meat, I mulled over where to head next. My natural trajectory would take me further North West towards Yellowstone. But I like Nebraska so much, and what’s the hurry? Most of my supplies haven’t arrived in Sunnyvale yet, and probably won’t until next week, so even if I get there sooner, I won’t be able to head to my land any sooner.

So I decided to enjoy Nebraska some more, and headed South, then East. Route 61 in Nebraska must be the most beautiful drive I’ve ever done. Just miles upon miles of the green seas that I love so much. There were hardly any other cars, just me, the road, the green grasslands, the sky, clouds, cows and windmills.

I eventually got down to Lake xxx where the atlas told me was a cluster of campgrounds. It was still too early to setup camp, and I needed to mail some checks, so I shot past the lake and into town. I bought some supplies at the local Safeway (also to get cash). While at the checkout line, a local behind me gazed out the window and noticed the wind had picked up and was pushing a storm our way. Sure enough, when I headed out, I saw dark clouds off in the distance, and the wind was blowing steadily.

I hit the road, heading back towards where some campgrounds supposedly were, while eyeing the storms brewing in the distance. There were three campgrounds in the area, and I picked a route that would take me past all three. I drove into, but back out of the first two campsites, mostly to kill time. I wanted to give the storm a little more time to see where, when and how hard it would hit. Depending on how bad the storm was, I might want to head on to the next town and stay in a motel.

My delaying tactics could last only so long. I eventually made it to the 3rd campground. I would have to make a decision here. If I didn’t stay here, the next campground would be a couple of hours down the road. Unlike the first two campgrounds, though, this campground was empty. There was an old camper, but no sign of any occupants. What made it especially eery was that this was the biggest campground of all three. There must’ve been over a hundred sites, split up into multiple areas. There were two playgrounds, with old, empty swing sets, rocking gently in the wind. An unattended sprinkler system went “thuck thuck thuck”. Under the orange glow of the lone lamp, an old telephone booth. The lights in the bathroom were on, for whom, one may only guess. I could’ve sworn I’d walked onto the set of some gory horror flick.

The skies continued to darken, the wind now howling, as I contemplated whether I would be able to ward off the black-clad hockey-mask-wearing psycho-killer I assumed was lurking behind one of the bushes. I saw lightening in the looming darkness, and realized that I was on high ground, with trees all around me. I knew the psycho-killer was an irrational fear, but fear of lightening on high ground with trees — that was rational. I decided to wait it out in my car, its rubber tires and metal shell offering protection from all contingencies. I pulled out the book I’ve been reading, ironically about the world after humans. I occasionally walked out to check on the status of the storm. The wind was blowing from the South, and West, depending on altitude. The darkest of clouds were to the South-West, but I could also see rain to the South. Depending on prevailing winds, I could get the storm, or the rain, or both.

The worst of the storms passed me to the West, and continued to my North and North West. I saw spectacular flashes of lightening spanning the entire horizon to my North. Then came the rain. Slow drops at first, then a constant hammering on my car roof. But that, too, passed. Then the stars came out. I pitched my tent, on the dry sandy soil that had sucked up all the rain, and turned in for the night. Now, I would only have the psycho-killer to contend with.

I slept with my machete at my side.

Roadtrip Part 2

I got back from my roadtrip on Friday night (Google Map embedded above — if you don’t see it, go here). Some highlights:

The Weight of History

Now that I drove to the Atlantic Ocean and can claim to have driven coast to coast, I’m heading back west. I should be back in Chicago tomorrow, and California some time next month… I’m spending the night in a cheap smelly motel somewhere in Pennsylvania, but just wanted to jot down some raw thoughts from this trip.

The East Coast, especially the DC area, feels so much heavier than California and Silicon Valley. By heavy, I partially mean it literally. Great people, their words, the stories of their achievements and sacrifices, are immortalized in marble, housed in great granite structures, forged in bronze. The stories that are told hold so much more weight too. Being in a place with so much history, while reading my usual blogs that cover news from Silicon Valley made me realize how trivial that world is. In Silicon Valley, people like Steve Jobs, Sergey & Larry, Gates, Ellison are revered as if they are Gods. They founded multi-billion dollar corporations. Great. Guess what Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et al did? They founded a friggin country, in a world where the “evil empire” wasn’t some corporation in Redmond, WA, but a mighty nation ruled by a monarch in London, who responded not by launching another version of Windows, but by sending a grand army and armada to crush this new startup called the United States of America. Then I flip to Reader, and people are going gaga about Yahoo and Microsoft’s search deal. Meh. Who’s going to remember that in a century (or even 10 years)? Who cares?

Today, I was at Gettysburg. In a three day battle, over fifty thousand Americans died. For the last week or so, people supposedly have been complaining about Obama meddling in local politics. Well, you know who else meddled? How ’bout Abe Fucking Lincoln. A bunch of states seceded, and he said “fuck you, I’m going to p0wn your ass and roll you back into the Union.” And he did. Six-hundred thousand Americans (2% of the population) died in the process, but he did it, and we have one big bickering country rather than two bickering little countries. In the Lincoln Memorial in DC, behind the big ass statue of Lincoln are engraved the words:
lincoln

If you ask me, he deserves to be enshrined forever. Next to his statue, there’s another engraving dedicated to those who died in the Civil War. Many of them died after getting hit by a musket (or minie, or cannon) ball while walking, in a line, up-right, without armor, into volleys of incoming fire. They too deserve to be remembered, even if only for having the guts to do such a thing. In comparison, our generation feels like a bunch of sissies. I used to fear that little of our generation would remain centuries from now, when the silicon on which our digital lives reside return to dust. But hell, maybe nothing we do will be remembered because we haven’t done anything worth remembering. We don’t have statues and shrines ’cause we haven’t done shit.

What I’m feeling is a strange mixture of guilt and gratitude. Guilt because, while the people memorialized here dedicated their lives (and deaths) to some greater ideal, I can only say that I serve myself. But gratitude because I believe that’s what the people we remember wanted us to have. They wanted us to enjoy our freedoms, security and wealth, not to wallow in guilt or live dull lives. A few great men and women and countless ordinary people founded this country, then protected it and improved it all these years, so that we can live better lives than they did. So we owe it to them to live better lives, to fulfill more of our dreams than they did, to fill our lives with more joy than they could.

When I go off to my land and fulfill one of my childhood dreams, I’ll do it with gratitude to those who came before me, and as an example for those who will come after me; to prove that in this society, with a little luck and a little work, we can fulfill our dreams.

Quick update from DC

A quick update for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter

My land purchase finally closed on Friday, so that land I’ve talking about is officially now recorded in my name. Whee!

I then left Chicago on yet another road trip, continuing my journey East. I’ve always wanted to drive coast to coast, and having driven most of the way across to Chicago, I couldn’t not go the rest of the way. On Satruday, I drove nearly 700 miles over 11 hours to just outside DC, where I’m crashing at @nevermindtheend‘s. We went to Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s house) today. Tomorrow, I’m heading in to DC it self. The last time I was in DC was when I was seven years old, so I look forward to seeing the place with my own grown up eyes.

I’m not sure what else is on my plate for this trip. I’m going to try and meet up with another friend in Baltimore, and of course, I actually need to make it to the coast it self. I’m also hoping to make stops at a couple of battlefields, probably Gettysburg and Antietam since I’ve heard of those two and are pretty close by. I think I still have at least a day or two still unscheduled, so leave a comment if you can think of anything/anyone else I should see.

Next Tuesday, I’m flying off to England for a wedding. Then, after I get back from England, I’m driving back to California then off to my land, and I still have lots of preparation to do for that (mostly buying tools and supplies).

The fun continues…

Busy day

I flew to SFO on Saturday, rented a car, and headed north to look at property. Tomorrow I fly to Japan. Today was the day where somehow that gap between “being in the woods” and “flying to Japan for a wedding” had to be closed…

Here’s my day in a run on sentence: woke up at 8, boiled water for oatmeal and tea, packed up camp and hit the road at 9, then went to the realtors office and looked at maps and talked real estate for an hour and a half, then drove to Redding, went to the bank to deposit 4 checks into 2 accounts, went shopping for a clean pair of pants (because my current pair is dirty beyond recovery) and a belt (’cause my shorts are falling off), used the internet to send some emails, then drove south with another stop at the Vacaville outlet mall to look at pants, then continued south to Emeryville, to send my camping gear back to Chicago via Amtrak, then drove into SF and went straight to a Safeway to buy some food my mom asked me to bring with me to Japan, then went to Nikki’s old apartment to settle some debt and pick up her bike, then continued south, dropped off the bike at Jesse’s in Palo Alto, then headed further south into Mountain View and stopped for dinner (pho!), then continued south again to San Jose, where I’m crashing at Josh’s. And there, you have my last 14 hours and 270 miles.

Now I go to bed (couch). Tomorrow, I need to get up a 7, go to the storage unit to switch some stuff, drop off the car at SJC, then head to SFO to catch my flight to NRT.

Actually, I had a couple of thoughts during this latest excursion that I wanted to write about, but it’ll have to wait until I have more time/energy.

Roadtrip Report

The Google Map embedded above (if you’re reading this in a feed reader and don’t see the map, read this post here) shows the route we took from San Jose (where I returned my apartment keys) to Hyde Park. According to Google’s estimates, the route spans over 2700 miles, although with the little detours we took and circles we drove around in alien towns, my odometer tells me the trip was more like 2900 miles.

somewhere in Montana or South Dakota

Hwy 212 in Montana

I have 3 impressions of this journey that stand out in my mind. The first is: this is a big fucking country. Having only flown or taken the train before for such long journeys, where you’re practically teleported from one side of the country to the other, I’d never truly internalized the scale of this country. But on this trip, I had my foot on the gas pedal for every mile of the way (except for the 400+ miles that Nikki drove). Sure, it’s nothing compared to, say, hiking or riding on horseback for long distances, but I was awake and aware for every mile of it. And now, even with the aches in my knees subsiding, I know how big this country is: It’s fucking big.

Welcome to Montana!

Welcome to Montana!

The second lasting thought I had was of unity, or maybe at least uniformity, both in good and bad ways. Having grown up in Germany where you were never a day or two’s drive (at most) away from a foreign country with a foreign language, customs and architecture, I found myself speaking slowly to people at the market or motel after crossing state lines, half expecting them to respond in a foreign tongue. But in reality, no such thing happened. We’d cross from state to state, and people would still speak the same language, the menus would have the same food, and for the most part, everything would look the same. The same chain restaurants and motels, same strip malls, same customs, same people… Sure, in some places, old men in cowboy hats may have stared at Nikki and I just a split second longer than would be considered polite in San Francisco, but with the exception of people pumping gas for us in Oregon, our experiences weren’t markedly different anywhere compared to anywhere else. Of course, this was also a bit of a disappointment. I had hoped that we’d find the country less uniform, that Idaho would be distinctly Idahoan, Montana defiantly Montanan, South Dakota surprisingly South Dakotan, and Iowa inexplicably Iowan. The only consolation was the natural beauty, or what little glimpses of it we caught, which varied somewhat from state to state. In Montana, we drove through a blizzard, and saw grassy hills with crowns of pine trees. South Dakota had rolling grasslands as far as the eye can see, albeit fragmented by roads and fences. We saw large numbers of prairie dogs and antelope in Montana, a lone mountain goat and many quail in South Dakota. But even the landscape wasn’t strikingly different to what you would see in parts of California. Except, perhaps, there was just more of it.
somewhere in Idaho

somewhere in Idaho


Throughout the whole trip, I was also struck, and saddened, by how detached we are from the land as a society. Most of the people are in cities and towns, but even the large tracts of land and open space out there is owned, fenced in, often torn up or over-grazed. Even on public lands, people are constrained to roads and prescribed trails, restricted from roaming freely as people once did. There were usually no cars within sight on the smaller interstates we mostly drove on; most other drivers were on big major interstates, where their views are obstructed by semis, bill boards and buildings that inevitably line the big highways. So even when people drove through states like Montana or South Dakota, I got the feeling that what people actually saw was often severely limited. And forget even trying to see more by going on foot or horse back as our predecessors once did; you’d be arrested (or worse) for trespassing before getting far, assuming barbed wire fencing didn’t stop you first. As someone who loves to roam in the wilderness, I was saddened by this thought, and it reaffirmed my desire to buy a large tract of land where I can be free, one with the land, unobstructed by no man.