Does the word that just popped into your head show up here? Find out:

28 March, 2008

Holy Bull

Fear and loathing rains on Moloka`i. Ranch shut down, 120 people losing jobs. Just like wiser people told me, that land trust ain't gonna happen. so neither is the subdivision. Read into that what you wish, for I'm only half-smart, a haole, and not even living Hawai`i nei anymore. I suppose you could count this as a victory for conservation, except that we have no guarantee that the next thing won't be far worse than 200 houses.

Far from there, this week I journeyed back east of the mountains for the first time since my Columbian descent in January. And when I got there, a guy who goes by my middle name took me site-seeing and surveying through a landscape that was Hawaiian-ish. Think Kaluako`i, Moloka`i, but sagebrush instead of kiawe and lantana, and sometimes the red silt is sand. But the same outcrops.

The first photo is also the first site I found in Washington. One of the 10 guys helping us survey cameup with the name "Lone Juniper," and you can see 1/3 from the left, halfway up, the lone juniper. The site is just to the right, and consisted of a couple hammerstones and some lithic debris.

And it's not just the basaltic landscape and lithic scatters that seem familiar. Ahu happen here as well. One like a cupboard re-done to make a fowl-sniping blind, with old branches on top adding a height and cover. Another, closer to the river, has an amazing overview of what may have been the richest salmon river; it also has a nice split boulder, just like them Moloka`i shrines. Maybe us humans is all alike.

Anyhow, perched on one of the ahu was a basalt core (pictured). Fresh, as if some Hawaiian were still worshipping the adze god there. There is a certain clue to this un-altered photo that should tell you whether this is me in the frame.

The day before, we checked out some old farm sites on either side of a road through the plain. Then went up a soil-mantled talus to a little pali with four tiny c-shapes. Each big enough for a sniper, but nothing to stop the enemy from going around behind. not tall enough to be visible from far, or massive enough to support anything. each using outcrop for foundation, on brow above slope. Seen them on moloka`i, too.

So far from Moloka`i, but still doing Molokine archaeology.

24 March, 2008

Ford Fuel

Another fuel post. Mostly because it is a pain to put more than one photo in a post.

Anyway, here we have it. The fuel of the present. I saw windmills from Missouri to Oregon, but not too many, and less than half were moving.
In WV or KY, I saw a prominently located alternative energy center where there was a much smaller windmill twirling furiously. The plants around the place were decidedly stationary, and it would seem that the wind was not making the windmill turn, but a motor. Brilliant! Somewhere in the basement of the place, a strapping scots-irish lad shoveled coal into the power plant. Someone should tell him his indenture is up.

And grain ethanol? It won't disappear anytime soon, but nor will it supplant oil. Corn barely creates more fuel than it uses, and is in-bred to a degree that would make even the Mountbattens blanche and evolution smack its grinning, bloodthirsty chops. One hand of the market pushes farmers into increasingly unwise efforts to grow corn above all else, while the other stirs up a new bowl of dust.

Wheat Power

Last post began corny and then got a bit wind-baggy.

After leaving corn country, I entered the Wheat Republic. Corn waits in a crib, while wheat rides the elevator into a row of skyscrapers visible from a dozen miles away, places where trains drive up and load up. A place like this. You cannot tell exactly, but those silos are miles away and 3,000 feet tall.

Maybe I exaggerate, but the point is that these kind of things don't just sprout up on every farm. As far west as the Mo-state, I would see farmhouses not so far apart, each with its corn crib, lots with some animals. Late 20th Century farming certainly didn't condone it, but you could imagine making a farm like that into something self-sufficient.

In the vast flat of Kansas, though, they pool the crop. My uncle lived in eastern Colorado wheat country, and like everybody else there, put his grain in the co-op. Farms there are rarely self-sufficient, and maybe it doesn't make sense to be. You and a few other people are out there all winter exposed to arctic winds slowed only by a couple of barbed-wire fences, coyotes making off with your farm cats now and then. And in the summer everybody's crop may fall to drought (or a bad global market), or an unlucky few may get hit by hail; either way, pulling together works better than every man for himself. Same for marketing wheat. Nobody really wants to drive to Kansas to buy just a ton, so everybody congregates grain by the train. And buyers get product from the co-op. Farmers hold or sell their share according to their needs and nerves, but the market is so big and the costs so persistent that nobody really can hold on indefinitely until the prices skyrocket, and most everybody ends up in a similar boat.

The other side of the pooled grain game is that there is social pressure on the supply side. You don't make sure you have combines at harvest time, or you pull up to the elevator with grain that's not dry enough, or you otherwise do something out of line and harm the product, and you don't last. You try to go it alone in the plains, and you will die miserably. People have known that for millenia.

Fuel. Corn and Wind

Driving coast to coast with a 6-cylinder F150 towing a trailer-load o books and other heavy necessities consumed a fearsome sum of fuel. Not that I've looked at the satchel o receipts yet, but it had to be around a kilobuck, and that was back before the geniuses who brought us mortgage-derived securities re-directed their clients' money into $100/barrel oil and ran it up further.

And sure enough, it seemed like I was seeing
corn-stubbled fields further west than customary, not to mention in Virginia and Kentucky, and the two level fields in West Virginia. For my mountain cousins to be growing corn that doesn't turn into ham or hooch, why it's a shame.
I took a picture of some giant corn cribs somewhere in the multi-state run of corn on Day 3, but it was blurry.
I did get this shot of some alternative energy in Missouri, where most corn cribs are hidden behind giant billboards, all of which advertise websites, all of which have "mo" somewhere in them. Great state.

19 March, 2008

where i work

Here is my workplace.
Or at least the view from work, over the cubicle of a Hawai`i-loving guy. somehow right after I got there, he brought out a stone and put it on top of a cubi-wall. Then another guy next to him pulled one from his drawer. I let them accumulate for a while before bringing any pohaku. Today I brought the bowl that tapers down to a tiny pedestal, and it went over well.
Hawai`i-loving guy recognized pahoehoe when he saw it, and inquired whether I was right with the madame who made it. So I revealed my secret to choosing stone: go for road-kill. Taking a bulldozed outcrop frag and working it into something is ok.

But I digress. Here is another workplace photo. A place where my beard is no longer an anomaly. I am but a greenhorn with spikeless boots in these groves, but it's pretty damn fun.

The tree is a Doug-Fir. Nobody says Douglas Fir here. This one's even older and more girth-some than myself--I only have 43 rings.

So anyway, the forays have begun. We were at this place recording big cedars that had been stripped for bark to make everything from diapers to fishing nets. The fishnet-diaper itself was a short-lived phase.


16 March, 2008

Punctuated Travelibrium

A sojourner is someone who stops for a night, and moves on.

I wish I'd though about that a little more before naming the blog, because my movement seems to be big jumps, followed by years of root growth. This works for any fan of "punctuated equilibrium," the theory that evolution moves in sudden spurts, followed by millenia of relative stasis.

So I met my wife in college in DC, and we stayed in that city for 7 years. I majored in disequilibrium and it took 6 to finish 4 years of college. We worked low-paying jobs in a crack-maddened city, taxed but not represented in Congress, unwilling to spend another years inside the beltway. The colonies ain't pretty if you're not one of the gentlemen running them, and the American people had inexplicably re-elected the demonstrably criminal enterprise known as the Reagan administration. When in the wake of a raft of Iran-Contra convictions Bush I came to power, we moved about as far as we could without a passport.

Not completely to escape, because there's no getting away from something as grand as a New World Order. We had a kind friend in Hawai`i who would let us stay for a while, my wife could definitely get a job teaching. I had a BA in anthropology, and it's as easy to work off-topic in Polynesia as anywhere else. Turned out that we both got jobs on the same day, less than a week before we would have had to turn around and go home.

What happened after that will appear in later posts. But we stayed not the one or two years planned, but 11. Managed to ease ourselves into some semblance of comfortable equilibrium, had a baby and friends and parks and gardens.

Then my dad got terminally ill, and we suddenly knew we had to move back home. He died in less than 2 years, and we tried to make a go of it in Virginia. Had another baby. Bought a house. Planted more gardens.

But we found ourselves having lived in Virginia for 7 years, increasingly poverty stricken for life there, much less attempting a move back to Hawai`i. For most of the period, I had been what amounted to a well-paid migrant worker: fieldwork in Hawai`i for a month or two at a time, sometimes 6 months. Too much separation.

And suddenly, a series of doors opened one after another, and now I sit in the South Puget Sound watershed, 3,000 miles from the Chesapeake. From thinking about moving to getting a job to being here it took about 3 months. I'm guessing I could continue this blog from this room for years to come.

15 March, 2008

What's the Mojourner Truth?

Well, it sounds like "Sojourner Truth," don't it?

For more on her, because she's a hell of a lot more interesting:

I'm no Sojourner Truth. But I admire someone who would speak up when they're supposed to just shut up. Better yet, she was someone who walked off less than a year before a new law would have made her free; flippin' off the man in the penultimacy of servitude.

I got nothing to compare to that, but people call me Mo, and I journey. And I strive truthward, even if I don't always make it there.

Ergo, Mojourner Truth

From the James to the Puget

To begin, here is the entire cross-country journey as it appeared in the wildly popular email series, "Mo-trek." It's the story of me, a Ford, and an orange trailer heading on the modern Oregon trail.

On the 22nd of January 8th year of the third Christian millenium, a non-descript expedition set out from the low ridge south of Plum Branch of Deep Run, tributary of the james River by way of Tuckahoe Creek, in the Commonwealth of Virginia. One white pick-up followed closely by a U-haul trailer. Listed on the trailer manifest were some hundreds of books, the Mo-bile headquarters of Cultural Landscapes, a bedstead of fine quality, three chairs, several hefty bags o clothing, wood that would be carved some day, a WWI ammo chest of prized rocks, maps rolled in maps rolled in maps, and various forgetables and unmentionables. In the bed lay a couple dozen linear feet of fine cherry and walnut purchased from an Ohio barn in 1976, various Hawaiian woods in various stages of kalai, a jug of windshield wiper fluid mom had left the day before, shovels, stone, tow chains, and so on. In the cab was a small bag with medicine and clothes, CDs, snacks, more books and files, primitive navigational aids, cell phone, my dad's ashes, an alidade, this computer, various machetes, survival gear, and of course more forgetable and unmentionable crap. And then me an a merrily-glowing misindicator (I hoped) of a "Check Engine" light.

In other words, your typical covered wagon-full of modern redneck nomad. Minus the Bud cans and chainsaw.

Westward up I-64, the James of the modern traveler, past Mr. Jefferson's University in the first hour. Upward over the Blue Ridge, and cutting south through the Shenandoah Valley on I-81, where trucker traffic picked up markedly. Divers semis, carrying everything from frozen chicken to speedboats, with Wal-mart and Fed-ex well represented. I began to suspect that historians will understand late American capitalism as an age of hyphenated abbrevinemes.

Grayness gave way to misty noenoe, then to splattery rain, sleet, and snowy bits. The valiant Ford kept above 60 even on the increasingly frequent uphills as I veered west back onto 64. Thankful that I had skipped the moonshine stands of southwest Virginny, I gripped the wheel and pushed on, stopping only to fill up the truck's tank and empty my own.

Far in the west of what was still just plain Virginia, I rounded a bend to see Waits Mountain, which appears in numerous Chinese and Japanese inkworks:

Ripple of whiteness
Fringed with black bristles of trees.
Diachrome beauty.

And on into West Virginia, that mountainous region torn asunder from the motherland during the 1860s, quite contrary to the Constitution, whose writers' progeny complained not. And the wind it whipped, and the gray it deepened, and the ice it pelted. Wending up and whipping down, I steadily passed the bigger trucks. At some point in the afternoon, consultation of the navigational notes showed that I had 500 miles to go that day, and not the 350 or so that I'd somehow taken into my head. Regrets about a 10:30 departure would not help, and I passed through Charleston (Capitol #2, if you count Richmond) right when All Things Considered came on. There are a plethora of public stations in that state due to the terrain, and although keeping track of their frequencies was impossible while also paying attention to the road, just tuning in to 88.9 worked for most of the way.

Night fell, but I pushed into Kentucky. The I-64 entrance to that state crosses a river with a prominent view of some huge stinking smoky industrial complex. After which, it gets better, as far as I could see. By 7 or 8 PM, I slid to a protracted halt in the entry drive of a hotel in Frankfort (Capitol #3). Watched most of "Smokin' Aces," featuring perhaps the best quick-change-artist gang of nazi punk assassins ever to appear on screen, and then went to Applebees, where Kentucky was on screen holding its own against the higher-ranked Tenessee, which is pretty much the opposite viewing experience.

I walked to the restaurant, although this was clearly not the intent of the planners of this sprawlplex. Outer suburban interchanges are a boon to those who travel with trailers: big parking lots son that backing up can be avoided, fuel stations sating vehicles and people unconcerned by sodium, and a predictable melange of eateries and stores. I walked only because I craved outside air, but lack of crosswalks and presence of roads built to freeway specs made it risky. I crawled up an icy, recently sodded hillside before skating back across to the hotel.

And then sleep. 498 miles down,

Day, the Second.

Awoke, scarfed coffee and pastries in the lobby, checked email again, grabbed more coffee, and took off for St Louis (which is not Capitol #4, although I could bluff most fellow citizens by claiming so). Beautiful blue skies, even the road-cuts resplendent with limestone earthtone.

As hotel brochures had promised, there was a route called the "Kentucky Bourbon Trail." Late the previous night, I had dismissed this as a cruel hoax. What government would sponsor a network of roads whose sole purpose was to get people from one whiskey distillery to another? Kentucky, that's who. They atone, or at least achieve a semblance of balance, by also featuring religious attractions in tourist and hotel-room literature.

So, since I really did have a shorter day in store, I took the exit that said "Wild Turkey." Besides, the coffee had me in a mood to pee, anyway. More truly American than the eagle, I would have been a miserable citizen not to pay homage. (And besides, as some of you know, I had a run-in with a wild turkey at Reedy Creek one time, and it was time to exact my due.) At the foot of the off-ramp, indicators of the much-vaunted whiskey trail disappeared. I went left as is my wont, but after a few miles took advantage of a wide spot in a narrowing trace to turn around. Back north of the highway, a few more miles took me to an intersection where another official-brown sign directed me rightward toward a wildlife center and Buffalo Trace distillery. I like bison almost as much as turkey, so I lit out. And in a few miles skidded to a halt just past a sign indicating a wildlife exhibit and distillery. Looping back, I wound a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife complex, replete with Wildlife Education center (Closed for the Winter), but no distillery. Fed up with Kentuckian trickery, I peed behind the closed restroom, just behind the Live Bait vending machine, and fled the state.

Rolling hills gave way to the Ohio River Valley and then flatness in southern Indiana and Illinois (where I was not about to diverge just to hit more capital cities). In the latter, I stopped at Wayne City, Wayne County, in dad's honor. Found a place to eat, but no place to pee, so skipped it and got back on the road, because my atlas made it seem realistic to visit the vast native city of Cahokia before coasting in to my cousin's house west of St. Louis. Peed at a couple of rest stops along the way.

Nearing St. Louis, I stopped at the last rest area in Illinois to pee again and check a map (and pledge not to drink so much coffee the next morning), only to learn that Cahokia by the bypass south of 64 was not Cahokia the Mississipian city. Unwilling to detour north for an unsatisfactorily short visit to that site, especially since it would put me in rush hour traffic, I just headed cousin-ward.

He and I fought like steroid-dosed wolverines when we were younger, and although I had looked forward to a cage-match to unlimber my driver's shoulders, he had a bad back. So we sat in a hot-tub and downed a couple of beers while the sun set. Later, I unloaded a couple of family heirlooms, we shot much breeze, but not each other.

Eight-hundred and something miles down, and maybe only 2200 to go.

Day the third.

Since he had the courtesy and forethough to buy a house on a cul-de-sac, setting out that morning should have been easy, but of course I got confused by the sameness of neighborhood housing, and wandered a while before reaching the right road. The onto a tributary of a tributary of I-70, which now replaced O-64 os the westward artery. Exiting to gas up again, I explored another exurb when signage again failed me. Then onto the highway again.

The weather was clear and cold. 9 degrees with a wind chill of -10. The Ford shuddered, but started alright, and ran fine unless I idled. So I worked through rolling country into flat again. Crossed the Missouri, down which a thousand giant ice lilly pads were floating (wish I could have stopped, but no doubt would have stood mesmerized for hours).

Through Kansas City (not even in the eponymous state, so not the capital as some may believe), and into surprisingly hilly Kansas State. Stopping more to get a highway map than to pee, and picking up speed as the climbing sections became less frequent and far less inclined. Cruising through Topeka (Capital #4), where the worst of the Kansas traffic slowed me not. Stopping again at a road cut in the Flint Hills to grab a few nodules--my host in Washington is a knapper. And then into the great flatness.

Stopped one town short of Hays, out of fear that gas would run out and leave me hotel-less. Then cruised into another exit ramp hotel. It had never topped freezing that day, and the skies were still crystal clear. Even though I turned off the heat in my room, though, the ambient temp of the hotel kept it warm all night.

Had a bit easier time crossing the street due to sheer lack of traffic, only to learn that food at a Mexican restaurant called "Carlos O'Kelly's" is as disappointing as you would expect. Really nice all-white staff, though. They were just as nice when I went back the next morning to reclaim the credit card I left there. So I hit 70 again at nearly 11 AM.

1355 miles down, and nearing half way.

Day the Fourth.

I had trouble getting out of that Hays haze that morning. Cable direct weather interspersed awe at the depth of midwestern freezing with dire warnings of three storms stacked up to smack shut all the northwest passes. No beating the storms, so no need hurry into the cold, right? There followed more weather watching, gear checking and so on until the sun was high up over those Kansas mountains to venture out and pack the cab.

Cell? Wallet? Keys? Yep, got 'em all, so pay up and leave that hotel behind, never having gotten in the hot tub. What a waste.

Trailer hook-up still tight? Yep, but the wire's just hanging there unplugged. How many hundred miles did I drive without trailer lights? At least the Check Engine light worked the whole way, I'm sure of that.

So plug it in and get going, and all that's left is to feed 70 bucks worth of petrofeed to the beast of burden.

And my wallet comes out for maybe the 10th time already, but the credit card is gone. Has to be at Carlos O'Kelleys, whose blandness would actually work better for breakfast, but I eventually bang on a service door enough to roust a kid more on the O'Kelly side. He led me through the kitchen (still no Carlos's in sight, big surprise), and upon explanation, Manager O'Kelly opened the safe and handed me my card, and I skated back to the truck and took off.

Kansas flattened mile by mile, and what with the clear roads I left interstate behind and made my pilgrimage. Uncle Maurice lived just over the Colorado line, and though I didn't want to haul a traler all the way dow to a farm now occupied by a stranger, I did visit St. Francis, Kansas, where his wheat and specie were banked. Burger and fries and drink for under 5 bucks, and the manager-cook-waitress' brother was the guy who ran cattle on some of elder Maurice's land.

I left, unable to learn whether the new owner or anyone else had capitalized on Uncle's scheme to open a wild-boar hunting preserve. Fair hunting, because patrons could only use spears. If anything, odds slightly in favor of the swine, since he planned to limb up all the trees and prevent primate escape.

And after a twighlit mis-tour of Denver (Capitol #5) sprawl, made it to the next cousin, also a son of Maurice the Elder. Some Mexcellent food that more than made up for the O'Kelly fiasco, and much good kitchen talk after. As at his brother's, there were invitations to stay, but needed to hit Salt Lake the next day, and felt nothing but urgenter as Cascade snow totals mounted. Before me lay the choice of steepness and more snow, or less steep and more wind.

1722 miles down, and over halfway there. Or so I thought.

The Fifth Day

Smooth sails call for a teller of tales to pass the time, and a free and easy passage appears only in teller's tales as a foil for something more interesting.

My choice--steep icy climbs over I-70, or braving mid-winter Wyoming wind--seemed clear enough upon waking. The trailer was heavily loaded and (according to Carlos O’U-haul) “Aerodynamic,” and I’ve never tried driving uphill in Rocky Mountain snow. Just to help keep the truck from blowing away, we deposited a couple hundred pounds of cast iron and hardwood in the form of a dismantled cider press. A gift from Maurice’s kids to a cousin headed toward Washington orchard-land.

So north on the plain east of the Rockies. Blue skies and clear road to Fort Collins, where there's a rest area with hundreds of brochures and cool displays and real people. Nice people mantled in grey-haired experience, one of whom grew up in Wyoming. And they smiled nicely and didn’t second-guess my freedom to choose, but figured that sticking to the interstate would be less troublesome than trying the scenic Route 287 short-cut to Salt Lake. Then the guy got online and told me about the advisory for 62+ mph winds on I-80, but reassured me that the road was not closed. Yet.

And the Wyoming grandmother related to me how the interstate planners said they’d plotted the shortest way from point A to B, but locals told them better to give Elk Mountain some distance, and just follow old Route 30. Heedless, the feds just shot their line across the flanks of Elk Mountain. And it appeared that on this day, I thought, Elk would be shrieking mad. But they fortified me with Colorado and Wyoming maps, reminders that it’s a long way between gas stations, general encouragement, and a cup of coffee that I took. Because peeing be damned, I had a long and windy road ahead.

So I visited my last Colorado urinarium, and hit I-25 north.

Mid-day brought passage into Wyoming, and increasing winds. Every once and a while, truck and cider press and books and leaf springs worked themselves into harmonic sways, but all it took was a slowing drift to stop it. Ice would show up now and then, and it got difficult to tell if a road was just wet or frozen. To my right, soon into Wyoming, there was a giant bison statue on a hill. To my left, the jutting mountains petered out, but outcrops appeared. Big bold boulders that would look at home in labor union posters of the ‘30s.

Struck a glancing blow on Cheyenne (Capitol #6), and was past it before I knew it, flying west on I-80, which turned out to be almost entirely populated by semi-trailers. More with the “England” name than anything else, and of course fed-ex and wal-mart, and the flat-beds loaded with farm implements on previous days now carried giant mineral and gas extracting machinery.

Lunch in a Laramie Applebees. Snow and white folks as far as the eye could see.

After that, lots of exits were just to ranches, and even those “with services” were caked with ice. The Ford has 4WD, which worked, allowing me to eliminate that from the list of things that would make the Check Engine light so persistent. I filled up at a snowy, blustery hilltop, stopped to pee at a rest area on the most exposed knob for miles and miles in every direction, and gritted teeth on the downhill run, where I went into a real skid for the first time. Came out of it, and before long, we were in a “valley,” which is the local word for “vast plain, reputedly edged by mountains.”

Levelness does not translate to smooth sailing unless you are going where the wind wants you to, and it wanted me to turn almost 180 degrees. And the trailer it swayed, and the snow it blew (true, what they said about all it takes is a half inch of snow to hide the road when the wind whips up in Wyoming). And I just fell in with the train of semis in the right lane, and we all crawled when we had to.

Getting near Elk Mountain took a long time. And as we rose on the flanks so did the wind, powerful currents on either side of a ridge and buffeting turbulence on top. But, as we all should have learned in high school:
4WD x (25 mph + cider press + ton o’ books) = Traction

So be patient, listen to Miles play “So What,” and try to let loose the death-grip on the wheel now and then. It also helps to have one of those air-activated heating pads for your back.

But again, the downhill run had some bad ice, and every once in a while some other-trucker would come flying past everyone. Charmed vets of the 70’s glory days choosing just the line that gets you past 50 vehicles in a spray of slush, or just some guy with no brakes or sense? You never know until you pass the rig jack-knifed in the median.

I saw one whose back door had been ripped open and its cargo strewn through the snow. If I’d had a CB, I would have heard this exchange:
“I heard it was Injuns. They was looking for rifles, but ended up hitting a truck load of maternity clothes.”
“Dumbass. That wasn’t no Indians. They know a government mule from a clothes horse. It’s Mormons, dipshat, they dress up like Indians to fool dumshoots like you. Who the hell else would steal maternity clothes? Geez! You freaken kids get your CDL and you think you’re a trucker. You don’t know sh…”

But I didn’t hear that. In the side open spaces, all it took was a cell tower every hour or so to get reception, and I talked with family and friends. Meanwhile, I just stared at the truck in front of me, and the next wrecked semi, and told myself it was okay because I was nearing a town where I’d be able to get gas and news. And sure enough my little orange and white rig pulled into a station. Filled up and got cola caffeine, and found out that while I would not be totally through the wind and ice zone for about 40 miles, the road behind me was worse that the one in front.

I was about another mile down the road when I figured she was ignorant or malicious toward coasterners like myself, because the patches merged and we were all slogging across a sheet of ice. And no turning back. Despite snow barriers, the wind whipped snow across the road in ten thousand little snakes, making it hard to see tracks of the truck a length or so in front of my hood. The snow-blow whited out everything, but only up to about a foot off the ground. Above that, the wind blew away everything, and the sun shone clearly in our faces as this truck-train drove west. Fifteen miles at least, we were on solid ice, rarely topping 25MPH. Intermittent clearings showed up around dark, but I staid a right lane conservative until hitting Rock Spring well after dark, abandoning any plan to reach Salt Lake that night.

Ate Mexican food prepared by Mexicans, but that tasted what I ate 30 years ago, before suburban Gringos discovered that there was more than one kind of chili powder or tortilla. Then found what proved to be the most expensive hotel of the entire trip, but was too tired for the hot tub. Daily Show news and out.

Somewhere past 2,000 miles, but who keeps exact figures at times like that.

Day, The Sixeth

Up early and moving, because WWW and TV both say snow’s a coming into Utah. But I’m nearly through with Wyoming (to be sure, it’s about done with me also), And so I tank up the truck, but not myself. Because who needs caffeine when there’s pseudophedrine?

Last night, the Mormon leader died, by far the biggest news in these parts. He was ancient and revered, and now the church of Latter Day Saints has it’s first succession in the full-blown Media Age. But the relevant point here is ethnobotanical. Did you know that the real deal, the not-pseudo Ephedrine is a plant commonly called “Mormon Tea”? Hmm.
[Editor – Since moving, have been as isolated from news as was saturated in a wi-fi-cableTV hotel cell, and so consequently unaware of Mormon succession except that Romney fizzled as badly as Giuliani. Interesting too that Polynesians denied the Mormon church the right to taboo their kava drink. That is all.]

So since the highway was much better, truck and trailer easily slalomed into Utah, which had a rest area to rival Colorado’s. No displays, but a woman at some sort of 360-degree console. Thankfully, Utah is a map-giving state, and with that in hand I inquired about conditions ahead, and she showed me camera views on the computer, which looked a little grim, but not worthy of retreat. Explained that the snow would be in the canyon mostly, while a guy I took for a local leaned against the console and nodded. I stood off a ways, because you never know when somebody might be all hopped up on that M-tea, but the woman was clearly in control, and I worried not.

Spit out of the mountains north of Salt Lake, and heading up I-15 (this side’s I-25) to I-84, the terrestrial Northwest Passage. Running up through Ogden with mountains out the passenger window. Then further out an old building, sides-a-painted with welcomes to Nana and returning missionaries. Sweet people.
Then opening country, and before long, Idaho. Wending up valley plains, occasionally climbing small ranges, now and then buffeted by the wind. Roads often wet and sometimes icy, but so far less than the day before, it was just a drive in the park.

Some mountain shown in the first real sun of the day. Not snow-capped, but snow all the way down. I watched it for miles and miles.
Gleaming dogtooth wedge
Underbiting inky clouds.
They bleed sun-white snow.

Potato fields on either side, with these cool irrigation things that look like really long axles with a dozen wheels. And then I spotted pahoehoe, and immediately called a Hawai`i Island friend to celebrate. Kept crossing the Snake River all day, or so it seemed. Ate pizza at one of those everything-stations on a rural exit. Talked with family. Did not take the exit to see the Japanese internment camp from WWII, or the Owyhee Mountains. Swept past Boise (Capitol #7), and on to its western sprawlburb, Nampa, to a hotel in a field that had sprouted crops a couple of Springs ago. In front was a 21st Century strip-mall. Cabo-taco, cellular outlet, sub shop, and some even more non-descript places. Across a 6-lane road with no crosswalk was a Wal-Mart. So of course I walked over there later to provision for the next day’s mountain crossing.

And on the 7th day, I rested.

8th day, too, for that matter. Stranded so far on the edge of Boise that the cement hadn’t set on the sprawlburb. Snow was not so bad there, but was piling up by the foot in the Blue Mountains ahead, and I was not about to go play tourist with a trailer.

So Weather media confirmed that it would have been just as bad or worse to have struck south to hit the California coast. Besides heavy snow in the Sierras, there were repeated landslides headed up through Oregon, and the possibility of another lengthy shut-down of I-5 (which happened last in December, when I interviewed for this job). The Pacific just kept dumping on the Northwest, which meant snow in the mountains. Rumor had it that on Wednesday, the ninth day of my trek, there would be a lull between systems, and I might manage to squeak through the mountains and into the less frozen Columbia Gorge, which was trending to be no more than moderately windy.

I knew this because Oregon Dept. of Transportation has weather data down to like 10 mile increments. And time was plentiful. And one upside of the sprawlburbs is that the hotels have fast wireless internet, so that for a couple days I could go through the weather data and traffic cameras, getting familiar with I-84. That, and look for places to live.
Then brave forays into wind-driven snow and across the toxic tundra of a Wal-mart lot. And into the latest version of that chain. To get some food. Beer. Underwear and socks. Tire chains.
But mostly, just to escape hotel air. That, and to walk where walking was not intended. Which is either civil (engineering) disobedience, or symptomatic of white trash going feral.

Then each morning, coffee in the lobby to my heart’s skittery delight. (Somehow, this hotel sans restaurant came up with some variation of hot breakfast each morning. First it was scrambled eggs and sausage. The next day it was some sort of rubbery white discoid emblazoned with a yellow bullseye—eggish, but clearly not a yolk and albumen.) But always, decent coffee that I could drink cup after cup of without worrying that I’d have to pee on the roadside during a blizzard.

Then more road and weather watching, and watching yesterday’s comedy news shows, followed by Futurama. Occasionally some CSPAN, and the feeling of solidarity that comes from knowing that only you and a few dozen people are watching.

Then working through a list of apartments and rooms for rent. Arriving in Olympia during the 2-month legislative session and trying to rent a place is like trying to belly up to the bar at the annual Drunkards Convention.

The Ninth Day

For several days, it had been clear that this morning was the chance to get beyond mile 2,567. The last storm had passed late in the 8th day, and the next was not expected until afternoon. And so it was early out of bed, check and re-check the gear. Drinking coffee early, and filling up as much as I could stand of the breakfast.

And then back on I-84, the much-improved Oregon Trail. Leaving Nampa, a gloriously easy stretch of flatland ran to the border. Crossing the Snake River yet again, I set my sights on the Columbia homestretch. The less shiftless, cut straight through the frickin’ Cascades kind of river. Besides, the Snake turned into Hells Canyon if I kept on.

Also, the only open pass was I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge. Which I did not take lightly, but Oregon DOT’s milestone weather web showed mild winds.

No, the hitch would be getting over the Blue Mountains, where I would surely run into snow, and need chains. And risk sliding into or being slid into by the trucks that still dominated traffic outside the cities. And it turned out that I needed chains before then, hitting icy runs disappearing into fog-snow.

So pull off onto the chain-up area so thoughtfully provided, and put on chains. These places are on long straight uphill runs, which is good because the load of cargo careening out of control cannot get far uphill, and alert chainers don’t get crushed. I actually waited until the second or third place before putting on the chains, because my only companion on this trek was the fear that truckers I will never meet would think I was a wuss.

But I aint too stupid, and I put them on when iceless patches got rarer than Giuliani stalwarts. And then just after the next hill was a big melt, and my challenge was to not go over 30-mph with chains on, as per translated Chinese instructions on Wal-mart chains. I now aimed for the ice patches, hoping to conserve chainage.

No dice. Impatience and a warming trend forced another pull-off to remove chains. Next time I pushed it, on the principal that all safety messages are wildly exaggerated by attorneys in the liability department. (Like that Check Engine light, the one with the annoyingly resilient bulb.)

But not so. Even with no experience, this southern boy eventually figured out that the loud whapping was problem, and I removed a less intact set than I’d attached. Noticed gouges in the sidewalls, but no holes or leaks. And in this way made it to LaGrande, gateway to the Blue Mountains. Never have I seen so many trucks. Hundreds of semis lining the road and clogging the truck-stop lot. I filled up with gas, met incredulous Canadians who’d been told by the pump-monkey that “Chain Restriction” meant they’d need chains for their truck and trailer.

Then, walking into the station/store, I was just in time to hear the lady announce “All Westbound travelers: the Chain Restriction has been lifted.”

No coffee, snacks, or urinals. I was out the door and in the truck in a few seconds, yelling the good news to the Canadians on the way. We hit 84 and they passed me before long, but I felt no shame. Never did attach chains again. Worsening weather—“snowing hard and continuously” in Oregon DOT parlance—helped road conditions. A few inches of snow worked over by semis (many still chained) beats black ice any day.

I recognized Meacham, but didn’t see the traffic-cam, and then it was all downhill. Conditions improved rapidly, and soon the Columbia appeared. The road cleared. Truck herds thinned out at the I-82 interchange, and flat, iceless straightaways let me fly along Gorge-ward. Sunbeams and NPR beams lit the land.

The Columbia River Gorge scarps up on the Washington side long before Oregon lifts much above water level. But eventually you descend into the Gorge. Despite the spotty radio reception, increasing rain, and decreasing light, this too was a fun run. Waterfowl and riverboats, islands and dammings, and every once in a while a road slithering up some side canyon.

Downhill and in the dark on the north shoulder of Mount Hood is no place to be when a couple days of pent-up coast-bound truckers race downhill to Portland. After the driving behind me, though it seemed decidedly non-epic, just clench jaws and wheel, and run.

And in the western sprawl of Portland, I made camp for one last night. Ahh…sweet penultimacy.


Loading up one last time. Checking hitch connections and trailer door one last time. Eyeing tire pressure one last time. Filling up Continental style and snagging road coffee one last time. Peeing and paying one last time.

Veered north before Portland proper, racing into Washington near Fort Vancouver, a Hudson Bay outpost. There and at Kalama (big surprise), Hawaiians settled about as early as any other outsiders. Never met these Northwest Hawaiians yet, but it made me feel more at home already.

Sharing the road with more logging trucks than I’d ever seen, the last miles went easy. Again through mists and lilinoe, punturated by sunbeams now and then.

And then truck and trailer cruised into Olympia and to the U-Haul place. Stowed the contents in Locker 320 (which necessitated the first back-up in a couple thousand miles or so), unhitched, and arrived at Scott and Jama’s in the mid-afternoon. Their aloha since then has been epic, but that tale will come another day.

So that’s it. 3,085 miles and 10 days after starting, from Tuckahoe in the James-Chesapeake Watershed to Watershed Park above Budd’s Inlet of Puget Sound.

Those of you still reading deserve something better. An epiphany or at least an arrival at some pithy summary. Maybe a denouement. I could uminate and culminate, or just culminate. But I’m just a simple guy—not that bright (at least not without some more ruminating and editing), and not that French.