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.

On the road again

Just a quick update…

The last week+ has been pretty crazy. We finished packing my stuff into storage on Wednesday, which was preceded by a few days of 8am-10pm days of sorting, boxing, shredding, packing, hauling, donating, and storaging. Combined with the unusual (for this time of year) 90F weather, and it had us pretty beat. But that was just the beginning. After handing in my keys, we hit the road, and are on our way to Chicago. We spent the first night near Shasta Lake, just East of Redding in Northern California. On the 2nd day, we made a slight detour to check out a piece of property, then headed North into Eastern Oregon. After spending a frigid night at what appeared to be a closed campground at 5000ft elevation, we shook the ice (literally) off our tent and headed North East into Idaho. We’re staying at a motel in Grangeville, ID for the night, then continuing our Easterly voyage into Montana tomorrow, weather permitting. We expect to be in Chicago some time later next week.

Back from Coalinga

My 3 day shooting & camping trip was a blast. I’d get up at the crack of dawn, cook some oatmeal on the camping stove in our tent, make some sandwiches to bring for lunch, and head out for squadding (target and relay assignment). We’d head out to the shooting line not long after 8, spend a whole day shooting, then return to camp. I’d clean my rifle and eat dinner before sunset, then crawl into my sleeping bag not long after dark. It was a simple life, and a good life. Everything I needed and wanted was there, and nothing to worry about.

I’ll go into the details of the shooting in a separate post in my gun blog, but it was an extremely humbling yet inspiring experience for me. It deepened my appreciation and love for the sport, but also made me realize how much more room for improvement I have, and I came out with a strong resolve to do better. I’ve decided that I need to switch to shooting left handed, so that I can look through those sights with my dominant (and much better) left eye. Making that switch and improving my skills will require a nontrivial investment in time and money, but fortunately, those are two things I have right now.

This strong urge to improve my skills in a sport is new to me. I’ve never been competitive, or much of an athlete. I used to joke that basketball players must be really dumb; they keep throwing balls into baskets not realizing there’s a hole at the bottom. The rational and utilitarian part of me has a hard time rationalizing athletic achievements. What’s the point? Why should I improve my skills? Will it help anyone? Will it make the world a better place? Why bother if the best I could realistically hope for is to be yet another Master class shooter? Why waste time and money on such an endeavor? Maybe I’ve given up on making the world a better place, but I haven’t given up on doing something I could be proud of. Or maybe I’m going to do it because I want to, and because I can. Instead of questioning myself, maybe I should just be grateful that unlike many people in this world, I am fortunate enough to be able to pursue my passions.

Off to Coalinga, for 3 days of shootin’ ‘n campin’

Nikki and I are about to head to Coalinga, for the California State Service Rifle Championships. The past week has been pretty busy, with lots of preparation to do. Since I’ll be shooting at a full 600 yard range for the first time, I had to make new ammo using heavier bullets that perform better at long ranges. That meant multiple trips to the ranges to try different loads (to measure bullet velocities and check for signs of excessive pressures), then finally when I thought I had a good recipe, we had to make 300 rounds. Nikki and I were up until midnight reloading last night.

The competition takes place over 3 days, and we’ll be camping at the range the whole time. Planning and packing for a 3 day shooting competition and camping trip was a logistical nightmare. It’s been a long standing goal of mine to shoot at a big competition, so I want to make sure I’m well prepared. So I’m taking a spare rifle, and another 200 rounds of ammo for that gun. Additionally, I’m packing a wide assortment of cleaning supplies and tools, and spare parts to make sure my rifle works, and works reliably. I didn’t get around to even thinking about the camping aspect until the last minute, but we just threw a bunch of stuff in the car, and hopefully we have everything we need.

The last thing on my check list is to update my iPhone firmware from 1.x to 2.x (finally), so I can install some ballistics programs. I’ll need them to figure out how to adjust my sights for the different distances I’ll be shooting at, and to compensate for wind. Anyway, once that’s done, we’re off.

Traveling Ryo Problem

Nikki and I are sitting at the dining table, trying to figure out how we’re going to get where, when. We’re going to Chicago in early May, Japan in late May, Europe in early August, Nevada in late August, and we’ll be homeless (i.e. couch surfing or camping) in between. We can fly places, but then we have to leave the car, which is non-trivial (or trivial and expensive). Then there’s also the question of “packing.” If we drive to Chicago for Scav Hunt, then fly to Japan, I’ll need to pack for a road trip to Chicago (camping gear), for Scav Hunt (power tools), and for an international trip which will include a wedding (nice clothes?). NP Complete? Definitely.

Speaking of which, I should get back to talking to Nikki about this instead of blogging.

Leaving a mark

snowshoeing

snowshoeing

We’re in the Rockies with some friends (2 from Chicago, 4 of us from SF), staying in a cabin and going snow shoeing. We’ve gotten some fresh snow up in the mountains, and snowshoeing is a perfect way to enjoy the fresh snowy wintery forests.

There’s something oddly satisfying about leaving a track on fresh virgin snow. I suspect this stems from some primal urge to leave a mark on this world, to say “I wuz here,” to give ourselves the illusion that our existence matters. It reminded me of what Kara admitted to Lee in the Battlestar Galactica finale, that her greatest fear was not death, but being forgotten. When I was a kid, I read a lot of biographies of (mostly Japanese) historical figures, and I too once aspired to be someone who wouldn’t be forgotten. I spent years stressing over accomplishing something great enough to deserve (or reserve?) a place in the hallowed halls of The Unforgotten. It is probably no accident that many religions promise an eternal (or at least another) life after this one to appease this common fear.

animals pee to leave a mark

animals pee to leave a mark

Recently, I realized that this quest for immortality, if not in flesh then in name, was an ultimately futile exercise. Some people are remembered longer than others, but civilizations crumble, written records are lost, memories forgotten, species driven to extinction, and planets incinerated by expanding stars that they orbit. No matter what you do, no matter how famous you become, you will be forgotten eventually, if not sooner, then later.

That is not to say that life is meaningless, or that it is pointless to strive to achieve great things. Rather, it is my belief that we should value our lives and the lives of others, regardless of the ultimate outcome. Even if the end result is death, anonymity, extinction, annihilation, incineration and atomic decay, we possess the ability to value life, fleeting as it may be. In other words, while many religions teach that we should be good in this life so that we could deserve a better spot in the next life, we could just as easily choose to be good in this life, even if this is the one and only life we live. In fact, if this is the one and only life we get, it should be more reason to treat it well, live it fully, and help ensure others can do the same.

we broke free on a Saturday morning…

I broke free on a Saturday morning
I put the pedal to the floor
Headed north on Mills Avenue
And listened to the engine roar

–from “This Year” by the Mountain Goats

Nikki and I left town on Saturday morning, and headed North towards Seattle. This is our first post-funemployment trip, timed to coincide with her birthday next week. Why Seattle? Well, we were here last year and we liked it. That’s why.

The drive up was pretty familiar to us, since we’re taking the same route we took last summer when we drove to Portland. Except, we had to cover the extra 250 miles to Seattle in the same time period (2 days), so we pushed ourselves a little harder. Nikki even put her day-old learner’s permit to good use and drove for a bit in California.

On long days on the road where you’re just pushing to cover mileage, the highlights are of course, those few precious meal breaks. We were pretty lucky on the way up, and managed to avoid gas station food or chain restaurants.

For dinner last night, we took the first exit after surprisingly noticing a low fuel gauge, which happened to be exit 76, Wolf Creek. After having an attendant fill up our tank (silly Oregonians), we decided to try the only decent looking eatery in town, at the Wolf Creek Inn. Apparently this inn used to be a coach stop on the Portland-Sacramento route or some such, and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. We were seated right next to a warm crackling wood fire, and served warm home-baked bread. The entrees weren’t exceptional but decent for the price, and I enjoyed the old fashioned all-wood decor and general atmosphere, especially after a full day on the road and rainy weather outside. Seeing how the only options are either fast food or chain restaurants for that stretch of the I5, I would recommend the Wolf Creek Tavern if you happen to pass by the area and are looking for food and warmth.

We crashed for the night in Roseburg, OR, only because that was the first town we came upon after I decided it was too dark and rainy to continue. For breakfast, I did a local search for “diner” on my iPhone, and picked Digger Don’s Diner, the only real diner in the result set. Located at the edge of town in Sutherlin, Nikki’s first response was “I hope we don’t get shot in there.” In spite of the conspicuously large American flag outside and the lack of parking space, we braved on into Don’s domain. DDD turned out to be the kind of local diner you don’t see very often any more. Most of the clientele appeared to have roamed the earth around the time of the dinosaurs, and one particularly old fella snoozed contentedly in a pool of biscuits and gravy. The waitress –a true-blood diner waitress who calls everybody “hon”– seemed to know everyone else by first name except for us, but that seemed to have no discernable negative impact on the friendly service we received. Nikki had some tasty oatmeal, and I decided to prepare myself for another long day of driving with a 3-egg veggie scramble on hash browns with a giant pancake as a “side”. The scamble had lots of chunky broccoli, and the pancake had a perfect spongy texture. Combined with the Sunday issue of the Oregonian, we had ourselves a quite satisfactory breakfast that lasted us basically until Seattle.

Finally, as the title of this blog includes the word “rifle” in it, I am obliged to report that a random Wal-Mart we stopped in had .22LR ammo in stock, unlike the one in Mountain View I frequent. I purchased 2 boxes (650 rounds) of Federal Automatch, and a box of Federal Bulk Pack (550 rounds).