Posts Tagged With: nature

Oregon Trail 2012 Greatest Hits


On October 3, Oregon Trail 2012 “officially” came to an end.

In 85 days (plus another 3 months of work at an animal sanctuary), I had journeyed west across the great plains from Chicago to the foothills of the Rockies; I rode the undulating mountain roads to a Krishna temple in the Mormon Utah Valley and dove south into the ochre slick rock of the Colorado Plateau; I backpacked into the depths of the Grand Canyon and replenished my body with legendary Ronald’s vegan donuts; in a day, I touched the lowest point in the country and ascended 9,000 feet to the top of Yosemite; I  trekked from an infamous prison in the San Fransisco Bay to a raunchy porn studio in the Mission district; I indulged my mind, body, and spirit with an outstanding human being along California 101 and an insecure, bitter one in the Rogue River valley; I found an amazing relationship with another woman in Portland and brought together old friends in a messy triangle in Seattle; I ferried Catbird to the Olympic peninsula and trailed up into the sub-alpine meadows of Sol Duc where I camped in solitude for four days. Now I face the toughest challenge yet: acquiring employment in the PDX.

Updating this blog was much more difficult than I anticipated during my adventure. With only a smartphone, droid app, and unreliable AT&T access to data and wireless for the first portion, and all my non-work time researching and writing a paper, keeping in touch with friends, and managing an interpersonal time bomb the second, I did not fulfill my original writing goals. I do plan on continuing my entries on my experiences and reflections in between job apps, although, not in the same detail as before. In the mean time, I would like to share with everyone my favorite moments and meals.

May I introduce to you, Oregon Trail 2012’s Greatest Hits!

 

EVENTS & ACTIVITIES

[0] Deliberating, planning, organizing, and coordinating an epic cross-country road trip (Chicago, IL)

[1-2] The optimism of the open road during the first two days leaving Chicago (IA and NE)

[3] New Belgium Brewery Tour (Fort Collins, CO)

[4] Hiking up to Nymph and Dream Lake through snow in sandals (Rocky Mountain NP)

[4] Listening to life insights and stories of my friend from Australia (Boulder, CO)

[5] Solo nightwalk through downtown (Denver, CO)

[6] Conversations about philosophy, love, and life with one of my best friends from college (Denver, CO)

[7] Reuniting with my best friend from childhood over a vegan potluck (Breckenridge, CO)

[8] Listening to Final Fantasy VII orchestrations while driving through the Rocky Mountains

[11] Meeting and hanging out all day with a local and total stranger (Salt Lake City, UT)

[12] Sunday Night Love Feasts at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple (Spanish Fork, UT)

[18] Researching genealogy at The Family History Museum (Salt Lake City, UT)

[20] Listening to Ennio Morricone while driving through Southern Utah

[20] Driving along the Colorado River on 128 (Moab, UT)

[20] Entering Arches National Park at sundown (Moab, UT)

[21] Delicate Arch and Devil’s Playground (Arches NP)

Solo wilderness backpacking in Syncline Loop (Canyonlands NP)

[26] Sunrise at Monument Valley (Goulding’s)

[26] Monument Valley tour

[28] Walking the West Rim (Grand Canyon NP)

[29] Camping at Bright Angel at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with lovely strangers

[30] Driving at sundown on US-89 from through painted desert from Sedona, AZ to Zion NP

[31] Lunar Eclipse at Glen Canyon Dam (Page, AZ)

[33] Angel’s Landing and The Narrows (Zion NP)

[36] Driving all night to eat Ronald’s Donuts after 8-years of waiting! (Las Vegas, NV)

[37] Making out in the Rainforest and Venice, Italy (Las Vegas, NV)

[38] Mystère (Cirque du Soleil) at Treasure Island (Las Vegas, NV)

[38] First official couch surfing experience (Las Vegas, NV)

[39] Bad Water the lowest point in the US (Death Valley NP)

[40] Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley (Yosemite NP)

[47] California fruit stands on CA-580

[47-50] Staying and chatting with my scholar-activist friend (Oakland, CA)

[50] The SF Armory Kink.com tour (San Fransisco, CA)

[51] Amazing home-made dinner, wine, and dessert date at Callie’s (Arcata, CA)

[..] Driving at sundown in The Rogue River Valley (Ashland, OR)

[..] Tossing hay in The Rogue River Valley

[65] BDSM make-up sex (Jacksonville, OR)

[..] Taking care of dogs, cats, horses, pigs, and goats at an animal sanctuary (Jacksonville, OR)

[107]Party People at the Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, OR)

[..] Listening to audiobooks for the first time ever and loving it (e.g. The Odyssey, America: The Book, Fahrenheit 451)

[129-31] A weekend of wooing a (potential) lover who drove 5 hours to visit me

[136] Witnessing a man who drove two 18-hour round trips to adopt a dog he fell in love with, adopt said dog

[148] Sunset from the Watchman (Crater Lake NP)

[150] Hanging out with an old vegan-feminist friend from college (Eugene, OR)

[151] Driving through the Willamette National Forest

[151] Chatting with a favorite former student (now grad student and teaching fellow) who is inspired by me

[151-59] A week of sleeping in and dining out with the lovely Annichka (Portland, OR)

[155] Public sex downtown (Portland, OR)

[157] Kicking ass at Crystal Castles and Pac-Man Vs at Ground Kontrol with Texas friends (Portland, OR)

 

[162] Reuniting feuding friends from a New York animal sanctuary (Seattle, WA)

[165-68] Braving bear country by myself for 3 full days and nights (Olympic NP)

* Top 20 “Holy Moments”

 

DINING OUT

Tofu Scrambler Plate at Eklecticafe (Moab, UT)

Chocolate chip pumpkin muffin at Love Muffin Cafe (Moab, UT)

*Yelow Curry at Thai Sapa (Springdale, UT)

Green Curry at Benja Thai (St. George, UT)

*Every vegan donut at Ronald’s Donuts (Las Vegas, NV)

*Taco Salad at Red Velvet Cafe (Las Vegas, NV)

Inferno Mysore Dosa at Mint Indian Bistro (Las Vegas, NV)

*The Latin’tude at Pura Vida (Las Vegas, NV)

*Southern Fried Tofu (Catfish gumbo) at Souley Vegan (Oakland, CA)

*Gourmet Spicy Chicken at Golden Lotus (Oakland, CA)

Yasai bowl and Moon Garden rolls @ Cha-Ya (San Fransisco, CA)

Cajun Scramble at Golden Harvest Cafe (Arcata, CA)

BBQ Veggie Burger at Grilla bites (Ashland, OR)

*Spicy Basil and Tofu at Thai House (Jacksonville, OR)

*Tempeh Fried Steak Combo at Cornbread Cafe (Eugene, OR)

*Combination Mung Pao at Van Hanh (Portland, OR)

Taco Salad at Papa G’s (Portland, OR)

Buffalo Bomber at the Veggie Grill (Portland, OR)

*Sweet and Sour Chicken at Bamboo Garden (Seattle, OR)

* Top 10 “OMFG!” foodgasms

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Oregon Trail: Boulder 1


Day 3: An Uncanny Self

Date: April 20, 2012
Journey: Fort Collins, CO to Boulder, CO
Total miles: 1,079 miles (39.6 mpg)

Continued from part 1

III. Age, Race, & Class

My time with Krista ended at the tasting room of the smaller, but still popular, Odelle Brewing Company. There I had the much talked about 90 Schilling (amber ale) and a taste of Krista’s $15 chemistry set of beers they called a taster tray. My personal favorite was one of the darker ones, but alas, I forgot.

Meanwhile, she, her roommate and I made some conversation over our beers. I had mentioned how much I liked Fort Collins so far, but that it felt almost too cozy. It was too white and affluent for me… what a thing to complain about! Her roommate was several years older than us and didn’t feel the same as Krista and I about wanting a more diverse home. She mentioned how she had already explored different cultural experience, had gotten her taste, had been transformed, and now wanted a comfy place to settle down. She wanted comfort and security, a home, a family, and maybe kids. Something didn’t jibe with me about the way she was addressing multiculturalism, and I had a feeling Krista felt the same, but Krista was a courteous, kind friend and a diplomat. I was a philosopher.

“I don’t want to live in a perfect bubble. I feel responsible to transform the world, and I cannot do that from a bubble. To change the world, we must work with, not for others, and that means dwelling with them. And who am I to advocate changing the world if I am not also willing to risk myself? Not necessarily my life, but my identity. I grow bored and sick with myself when I stagnate. I want transformation. I don’t see unsettlement as always a threat. Often it is a promise for liberation.” She patiently listened as she bit down on her artisinal cheese. Krista said she felt similarly. She wasn’t looking for security either. Her roommate said she used to feel the same way, but attitudes change as one gets older. Would we feel similarly when we were in our thirties?

By the time we returned to their home to pick up my car, I had a lot to drink, but my filling lunch tapered-off the affect of the alcohol. Too their extreme delight, more alcohol awaited us. Her roommate’s father from the Northshore of Chicago had shipped her two boxes of wine from his wine cellar. Thirty bottles laid inside each box, each worth–according to the roommate–an average of $30. Some were decades in age. I figured after the shipping, the whole shipment cost $1,000… just for wine. I was irritated, angry, and a little disgusted.

They were both so giddy with glee, but that’s not what scratched underneath my skin. It was the second day in a row that I found myself confronted with my class privilege and guilt. I was disgusted with myself, my situation. Back in Chicago and Texas I hung out with people from more modest means, but the people from my past were wrapped up in the same social networks of private higher education as I was. It was a revolving door one gets swept up into, but one is fooled into thinking one got inside because of one’s fine skill. It was not so much accomplishment though as it was privilege–the otherside of class oppression. My situation was inescapable, I knew that; but finding myself more aware than ever before of privilege made me feel guilty by proximity. I once lived with gleeful ignorance. I was like that. And now that I was a different person, what had changed. What had I done to bring justice besides “raise consciousness”? I felt just as guilty of the omission of action, more unaccomplished and fake. I couldn’t wait to leave for the next stop on my itinerary.

IV. Boulder: First Impressions on 4:20

I

Galaxy directed Catbird and I down CO-119. When we passed through a buzzing, affluent strip of a town, I thought I had arrived in Boulder, but it was actually another medium-sized city called Longmount. Fort Collins had already impressed me with its vistas of the foothills of the Rockies, but as I continued south-west, the foothills grew closer and larger. The higher-grade roads felt like roller coasters. Catbird accelerated down the slopes with ease, veering toward the sharp contrast in the horizon of puffy white clouds, deep blue sky, and green textured mountains. Entering town and taking a right onto Alex’s street, my lips curled into a smile. The grandeur of the beauty brought instant joy. I was in the mountains. I was in this legendarily awesome city. I was hanging out with awesome people and eating great food. Le sigh.

Alex welcomed me into her apartment. She had just returned from the campus square, eaves-dropping on the annual 4:20 celebration. I originally planned on arriving early to report on it and it’s history on campus as well as its contemporary suppression by the police, but I was bourg-ing on microbrews and I, as a foreigner, was not allowed on campus during the event. This year, Alex told me, was more dispersed. The loom of pot smoke wasn’t nearly as large as it had been in previous years. I hadn’t missed much. With that said, Alex took me to Pearl Street, a cosmopolitan strip of cute, locally-owned shops and restaurants. This section of Boulder immediately reminded me of Ithaca, a mountain college town in the glaciated hills of upstate New York along Cayuga Lake.

She was leaving in several weeks to start her summer job as a tour guide for an American travel company that took young Europeans and Japanese folk on an adventure across the American West through our National Parks. I had already planned my own trip and was doing it solo, but Alex had always been an inspiration and a bit of a trip adviser. If it weren’t for her, I probably would have passed through Page, AZ and Kanab, UT and missed out on their grand beauty. After she completed her summer, she had just a little bit of school left and then another 6 months or so “training” microorganisms to eat toxic and man-made chemicals in the southern seas around Antarctica.

If it isn’t obvious, Alex has pretty good taste and it was this taste that drew her to Boulder to attend school. Boulder: a city hording gorgeous people, shops, bike lanes, and foothills. It was almost too good to be true. Almost. My friend Emma who had attended school here was able to articulate my sentiments exactly: Boulder is a retirement home for hippies–white dudes in dreads in the haughtiest eco-fashion, women flashing their brilliant, perfect white smiles, and  children running around as free spirits without threat of any disciplining. In appearance, it’s as close to a utopia one can imagine a non-intentional community/development could be. The happiness was contagious, and although I wasn’t immune, I became adverse. Boulder had struck a chord. But why? Continue reading

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Oregon Trail: Greeley


Day 2: 
Date: April 19, 2012
Journey: Lincoln, NE to Fort Collins, CO
Total miles: 1,033 miles (39.6mpg)

Continued from part 1

V. Greeley, Home of the Factory Farms

But the idyllic ranches along I-80 was a thing of Nebraska. I was in eastern Colorado now: the land of factory farmed cows. Along my route down I-76 since entering Julesburg, I was witnessing the monstrosity of the giant feedlots for what would be the first time. I’d seen chicken and egg factory farms in Illinois, Iowa, other states, and even Israel, but not these. Every dozen or less miles was another  concentration camp. I was driving about 72 miles per hour and it would take me over a minute to pass up these bio-generators from end-to-end. (Check out Google Maps: A mile and 15 miles north-east of Sterling. A mile from the Brush Municipal Airport. A half-mile east of the Empire Reservoir.)

The largest of all was not a filthy, ugly, barren dairy cow factory (with hundreds of “replacement calf” shelters), but a “beef” feedlot–much like the one seen in the opening scene of Food Inc.–on US-32, one mile outside of Kersey. Google maps confirmed my mental note that these were “mile-long factory farms.” The shit lagoons alone were the size of city blocks in Chicago. From the satellite image, the factory farm not only has more bovine inhabitants than the entire population of humans in the town of it belongs to; it is also larger than the entire down town area. A city within a city.

According to my friend in Greeley, the people (in general) are quite proud of their agri-business. It’s not something to hide, but to embrace as part of their identity. (The local roller derby team name is Slaughterhouse). This was even the case several years ago, before legislation was passed banning the burning of blood at rendering plants. The smell and toxins under the right (or wrong) wind conditions  could fill the city for days and even reach Fort Collins, 20 miles to the northwest.

In addition to the questionable values that finance Greeley and the environmental are the social issues in town such as gang violence and sometimes racial tensions/competition/hierarchy(not unlike those described in the NYT article, “Somethings Never Die“. (Cities with factory farms have high violent crime rates compared to cities with other industrial job-bases). Greeley is about half white and one third Hispanic with a growing Sudanese refugee population which is protesting Swift & Co., the owners of the packaging plant they work at, for more rights (as they don’t have much protection from serious exploitation). My friend knows someone who works for Swift & Co. in Human Resources who is trying to mediate tensions from inside the company. At times she’s tempted to leave her job at Subway for the much better paying white-collar job at Swift & Co., but her values get the best of her. In some places, violence pays.

(See my videos filmed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for more on this)

VI.Silver Lining?


When I arrived in Greeley, I was surprised by how suburban it was–far from the rural image I had in my mind. besides being a major player in animal agri-biz, it was also a university town. My friend is majoring in sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and was presently learning a lot about the social injustices and questions of privilege. Even with some more progressive-minded people, I didn’t hear much about activism in town beyond the labor issues at the processing plants.

My friend wanted to show me that Greeley wasn’t all that bad. She had found her niche with some local entrepreneurs in town who owned a restaurants, bike shops, a local magazine, and a hair saloon on 16th street. The downtown area was a lot more developed than I imagine it’d be–a much cozier area to reside than many other small cities I’ve traveled through. Then my friend warned me about wearing certain colors in bars (of which many bars banned due to gang violence). Afterwards, I began noticing all the shoes hanging from telephone wires above the streets.

Originally, I had planned on staying the night before at my friend’s place and spending the morning together so I could get to Fort Collins by the afternoon or earlier. There was not much to do, it seemed, in Greeley, and certainly not any vegetarian restaurants. She said we could go to either Chipotle or a local place she’d order a customized sandwich at. I chose the latter. I wasn’t going to waste my food tourism opportunities (plus, I was sick of Chipotle). I hadn’t had a “real” meal in about two days, so I had my fingers crossed that this place would satisfy my appetite.

REVIEW: The Crvsh-Room on 16th Street and 10th Avenue, wasn’t quite a restaurant or a bar, but food and drinks were served there. A cute little place with some cool art, nonetheless. My friend’s partner recommended I try a local beer, Oskar Blue’s Brewery’s Dale’s Pale Ale. I’m not as fond of pale ale’s as everyone else seems to be, but I liked this one. (Sorry, it was over two weeks ago and I’m not a beer connoisseur so I’m not going to attempt to describe why :P). Based on recommendation (and hunger), I ordered the guacamole and mango salsa appetizer with my vegan panini. The guac and mango salsa were refreshing. Adding jalapenos created more layers and complimented the zest.  The chips, however, were off in taste and texture. Not quite crunchy enough for me. The panini was a delicious combination of veggies and spinach, but the bread seemed like something bought from a grocery store and as a whole it didn’t pack many calories (something most people don’t ever complain about). After all was said and done (appetizer, entree, beer, and tip), it was only $16.  <3 carrots out of 5>

The dinner wasn’t as intimate and enjoyable as I would have liked it to be. After my appetizer came out, we heard a loud dog yelp. We went out to the street to see what happened. A man was joking with some concerned citizens on the sidewalk in front of his car. “I didn’t see it!” he laughed. The small puppy seemed to be alright, but had trouble walking. We weren’t sure if he was a stray, but he had been hanging out on the block for a while. Evidently, the man had hit the puppy while he parked his car. “I slammed on the breaks as hard as I could!” He was still smiling.

Besides, the dog instance, I wasn’t getting much attention because my friend was preoccupied with her iphone. (I would have been more upset about this before I became guilty of the same thing after attaining Galaxy). I started talking to the waitress, a friend of my friends. She was originally from Colorado Springs, but had moved to Greeley for school. She never graduated but ended up sticking around because it was a super cheap place to live. She put her concerns about safety and health aside. The other folks sitting at the bar were the owner and his possees who owned the adjacent shops. My friend’s partner explained that this is how good business is done, local networks and mutual aid. They didn’t say much to me, and I didn’t say much to them. They weren’t my kind of people; no interest in social justice and philosophy. They wanted to have fun and make money, and that was about it. (Even my friend sometimes wondered about them. They were white trust-fund babies, she explained.) Was I being judgmental? Probably. Alienating myself? Certainly.

My friend hadn’t seen one guy in a long time and wanted to hang out with him. I felt short-handed given that I had just driven 1,000 miles and set aside a day to hang out with her. Her partner took me to a microbrewery he liked: Crabtree Brewery. They didn’t have his favorite stuff in, the Oatmeal Stout, so we ordered the Eclipse IPA. Meanwhile, we snacked on faux-buttered popcorn and a super spicy sauce. We chatted a little with the owner who had a lot to say about the microbrew bandwagon. “Everybody thinks they are going to open up there own brewery!” he said. He worried that corporations would appropriate the culture of microbreweries. Afterwards, my friend’s partner  and I talked about the root and cure for societal injustices. He wanted to know what he could do. I shrugged. “I’ve been reading the literature for years and I still don’t know. If we knew, we wouldn’t have to ask.”

We returned to 16th street to pick up my friend who had started to feel sick. I dropped them off at their trailer home and stayed to chat before I departed. We reminisced on Texas and got philosophical about animals and vegetarianism. Her mom had come home from work and it was probably the last thing she cared to hear about. She was clicking away on the computer at what seemed to be an MMORPG. I decided I wanted to make the most of my time in Fort Collins for day 3 as I was planning on being in Boulder before 4:20pm on 4/20/2012, so I did not stay the night in Greeley. I contacted my friend Krista who I studied with in Australia in the spring of 2006, and she said it was not too late to stay with her. So I said goodbye to my Texan friends–but not before dressing up in ridiculous costumes and taking photos– and drove westward into the foothills.

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Oregon Trail: Cattle Land


Day 2: Cattle Land
Date: April 19, 2012
Journey: Lincoln, NE to Fort Collins, CO
Total miles: 1,033 miles (39.6mpg)

I.The Next Morning

I woke up dry. Not a bad way to start the day. It hadn’t rained much the night before as had been forecasted, or if it had, it wasn’t evident. I seemed to be the first person up. It was 7:45.

If I was a dishonest son-of-a-bitch, I would have regretted putting money in the box the previous night. I probably could have gotten away without paying if I left early enough. The $20.75 seemed like a lot of money to pay simply to sleep in one’s vehicle–but I felt safe and I was not disturbed by cops or prostitutes, so…

I drove to the front to see if anyone was around to let me into the bathroom and sell me some fresh fruit. Before I had time to exit the car, a man came up to me with some change. “You over-payed,” he said. “Do you have the passcode  to the bathroom?” Thirty minutes later I was semi washed up, contacts back in. (They had been falling out in the morning because my eyes dried out). I went into the store and he and I had a little chat about traveling. He liked to travel every now and then since there wasn’t much offered in Nebraska. It also gave him an opportunity to meet people and get past the stereotypes he heard about (like those about New Yorkers being dirty and rude). That’s one reason I liked traveling to, I told him. He liked Lincoln better than Omaha because it didn’t have that big city feel. He like a lot of people I would talk to later, never moved far from their place of birth. This only recently became a primary topic of contemplation.

II. Entering Colorado

I was happy to be back on the road. I felt anxious being off it. The open road was a non-place–a space where  inhabited myself. Solitude. It was also a medium for adventure, something which I long associated as synonymous with “being alive.” In eight hours, around 4:00pm (due to a change in time zones), I would be in Greeley, CO. I hadn’t heard many nice things about it until recently when after my friend from Texas had moved there with her mom and boyfriend. I’d finally be able to pass my own informed (albeit limited) judgement.

After following the ever-important Platte River for (like the pioneers had) for several hundred miles, I arrived in Colorado early in the afternoon. I had remembered from a previous geology road trip–didn’t I mention that I’m a nerd?–that the east was pretty barren and flat. Barren, yes. Flat, no. I was in the foothills of the Rockies–if you’d even call them that. My gas was almost out, so I filled up my third tank in Julesburg. Luck had me at the one pump that I’d have to pay inside. I really disliked doing so. Was it the inconvenience? The human interaction? But this time it felt a little different because I was a stranger in town and it was an opportunity to meet a local.

The man at the stand was a large, thick black man with a stained white uniform. He was also the owner. I asked him, like everyone else I would talk to later, what he thought of his home. He liked Julesburg. In fact, he was born and raised there and had owned this business for about 35 years. He had family around, which was one reason he stayed, but that wasn’t the only reason. He, like the man at Camp-A-Way, would travel, but only as breaks from the everyday. He hit the clubs up in Denver. He liked that city a lot. We said our farewells, and I was back on the road. But now I could sense the mountains. I was in the West!

III. Ecocide

I really admired the horizons in Nebraska as I did Iowa and now Colorado. But at some point that day, I was hit by the obvious realization that I was not traveling on the same Oregon Trail as the original pioneers had. It was a different place completely. The place that once was, that was romanticized was for all practical purposes extinct. The fertility of the wheat fields were a distraction from the eradication of the mixed grass prairies, of which only 2% remain. People have much more sympathy for trees than grass.

This wasn’t just a product of the industrial revolution. The pioneers had brought the beginning of the end with them. An entire past and ecology had been erased from the flesh of the earth–the prairies and all their inhabitants: the peoples, cultures, meanings, stories, and languages, all gone. Well, not completely. Certain endangered languages, cultures, and species were being conserved by future generations, but in isolated pockets that were more like memorials, monuments, museums, and old-folks homes than sustainable and “restored” beings. I tried to imagine how different the horizon was for the pioneers and indigenous people before me and the century-old line of trees bordering the interstate. Was it lonely and populated back then, too?

IV. Thinking-Animals

Nebraska’s landscape along I-80, unlike Iowa’s, was populated with some animals. There were ranches. As always, I felt ambivalent passing them by. The cows had space, natural food, shelter, clean air and water, and families. It would not be a stretch to describe such beings as “happy.” Their was little direct human interference for most of their lives. Beautiful. I’ve long been struck by the beauty of large ungulate animals, especially bovines. Is it a prehistoric instinct of the time spent watching, chasing, hunting, and dreaming about them for tens of thousands of years of my human history? I loved the way they inhabit the land: in communities and with most of their time eating and resting. Maybe not so much for their sake, but mine. Just by watching them, I was becoming-cow. Ruminating on life, food, and the land.

I really appreciated being able to see them, to see animals other than the occasional bird, the road kill, and insecticide on the windshield. But someday soon, in a year or less, they would be “road kill” to. A semi with a livestock trailer passed me as I looked out onto the ranches. Inside were a couple dozen or more, some looking back. What was in those cows’ eyes? (I wondered if I had done the same in Iowa–taking a photo from the car–, if I would have been a potential target of the new ag-gag lawsuits that were made to threaten activists with even exposing illegal farming practices.) I wanted to see cows pigs and chickens, but not (only) in a context in which they were to be slaughtered and exploited. I wished to see them as I passed them on the road in healthy relationships with humans in which they were not objects to be consumed for profit.  I’d like them to be happy and free as possible in a way that is good for our culture and land and our so-called “humanity.”

A previous conversation I had with a friend suddenly became relevant: the importance of animal sanctuaries as a space for positive human-animal relationships. We had brought up the taboo: what if we did not spay and neuter rescued animals? What if we allowed them to nurture a new generation? Before we even answered, we imagined outrage at even the suggestion for “letting” more farmed animals in the world when so many needed rescuing and their were limited spaces and human and and financial resources. “Irresponsible!” I could imagine other activists yelling. Yet, do we hold ourselves to that same standard? How many children are suffering and need homes and resources, yet we (selfishly?) bear our own children? We call our reproductivity a right. Is this speciesist? Animal others are killed “humanely” when they are “overpopulated,” while poor and orphaned children are given a fighting chance, so there is a difference. I bookmarked the thought for a later time.

(Please comment if you have a position on this, btw. I’m curious.)

To be continued in part 2…

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Oregon Trail Day 1.2


Day 1: On the Road
Date: April 18, 2012
Journey: Chicago, IL to Lincoln, NE
Total miles: 529m (40.5mpg)

… continued from part 1

IV. Agri-Cultures of Animals and Machines (Illinois)

It had been a while since I had driven through western Illinois. I used to travel in this region on my way to and from college during vacations, but never this far west. Past DeKalb, were several egg confined animal feeding operations [CAFOs], or what people call “factory farms.” This would be the last I would see of land animal life in a long while. Animals were absent out here. I wondered how many drivers ever thought to notice. The replacement of companion species and wildlife by machines had become so common place, that this was once the home of other life besides humans and corn, wheat, and soy had been lost. It reminded me of Aldo Leopold‘s hard words on Wisconsin’s relationship with a prarie plant:

In [the cars] there must ride at least 10,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise.

Yet animals as a general class of beings ought to be a much more noticeable absence. We interact with them everyday at restaurants, grocers, and in the kitchen, but their lived existence has become all but part of a mythical past or never never land. One does not think much of animals until someone brings up an argument of their “rights,” and then comes out the argument that if we did not kill them, where would all the animals go. If only they got out to the country and witnessed that the animals are gone, stuffed into warehouses and feedlots, their wild cousins extinct or displaced from the land presently devoted to feeding “livestock” with unsuitable crops. The crisis between our relationship with animals is one of space and ethos. We no longer dwell with, amongst, or on them except in the abstract field of debate and internet memes.

 

V. The Poetry of Place (Illinois, Iowa)

Wind turbines stood like giants in the horizon. Were they the herald of a new age of sustainable technology or an ominous signpost of an age where the land would no longer be inhabited by humans and animal others? Their was something so foreign about them, as if they were artifacts of an alien civilization.They were so elegant, but also so sterile. The land looked even more efficient and productive under their whirling shadows.

Yet, even the tallest of the titans paled in comparison to the sea blue dome above. Was it just me, or was the curvature of the Earth clear as day under the concave sky? Outside of the city one could experience the vastness of space, the stretches of what was once a sea of prairie. It was humbling to drive through such an expanse. The churches seemed fitting. The mosaic of soft clouds above beckoned some form of worship or at least a moment of reverence. Compelled to narrate my excursion through analogies, I could not make sense of my experience otherwise. The open road has poetry at its essence.

The Ronald Reagan fed into I-80 like a capillary into a vein. The road is the circulatory system of modern America, part of “the American experience” and its commercial excellency. Capital circulated through this vast system, and so did people.

I popped out on the other side of the Mississippi. I was in the West–sort of. Often people bash Iowa. They say it is a bore to drive through, but they are probably just not paying attention, or perhaps I arrived during the right season. On I-80 there were not so much of corn fields in sight, but there were undulating paved roads banked by lush green fields and trees. Catbird breezed up and down as if it was her first flight on the road.

As the road conditions scrapped-off some of my car’s fuel economy, I thought about the interstate highway system. It’s designed to transport people and capital from point A and B as efficiently as can be. But was efficiency the ultimate value of an open road? They could have flatten out I-80 for a little extra dough to save that much more fuel. It would have perhaps saved money and resources over the long term, but it would have eliminated the geography and history of the land. The tides of traffic and and ebbs and flows of the road gave testimony to the land and its inhabitants. To iron out these inefficiencies would be to erase the land of its personality and the experience of place. Agriculture had already butchered the land up into a grid, each piece having become property, and not much more. The obstacles to efficiency was a reminder of the alterity of the earth, which prevented us from getting too caught up in our narcissistic narrative of our mastery over it. The winds and bombs forced us to look and perhaps even respect that we were traveling not only in between landscapes, but through a living history of meanings and beings.

 

VI. Half-way Stretch (Iowa, Nebraska)

At a rest stop before Des Moines, it had not been more evident that I would have to make this a two day trip.  And I definitely wasn’t going to make dinner at McFoster’s Kind Cafe (which i had been looking forward to reviewing for at least a week). It was at least four hours away from Omaha–the midpoint to Greeley from Chicago–, and I had just woken up from an accidental nap. I couldn’t just show up somewhere at midnight and expect a place to stay and I had made a rule not to stay at motels/hotels/hostels during my trip, so I searched for campsite on Galaxy and found one in Lincoln, Nebraska that got good reviews. They had spots open for cars and tents and would allow me to pay in the box when I arrived so I would not have to pay up front if I decided to travel any more or less.

Although the drive was beautiful, the repetition on the road offered a lot of time for self-reflection. In fact, I had so many during the drive about love, sex, and death (including my mass murder of insects) that I decided to dedicate a whole post just to them. There were, however, every now and then breaks from the common scenery such as the “World’s Largest Truck Stop” outside of Iowa City, equipped with a parking lot of spaces the size of semi’s and a gas station with several fast food chains inside. You’d think you were in Texas. I entered Des Moines after nightfall. The city was lit up and the Capitol looked beautiful. I had never been to Des Moines, but wish I had some time for a visit after seeing all the pedestrian bridges over I-80.

Nebraska was not as hilly and lush as Iowa, but had its own natural beauty… at least on the other side of the windshield. Then I rolled the windows down it smelt like beef jerky and burt tires. Omaha also looked like a cool city, or at least they wanted you to think that from I-80. It had a bridge decorated in giant heart art and an epic welcome sign three stories off the ground next to the beautiful engine train car. Outside of Omaha, I fed my second tank ten gallons of what might be called “corn oil,” the Midwest’s finest. It was also the first time I was excited to pay $3.50 for a gallon of gas–$0.60 cheaper than in Lombard.

At midnight, I finally arrived at my $19 a night site at Camp A Way, an RV campground in Lincoln, Nebraska. I bumbled my way around the office and bathroom in the dark to fill out my information and deposit my money for the night, but there were no such forms, no map of the property, and no access code for the bathrooms. I made do with the envelop and pencil I was provided and drove down to an empty site and parked there. I cracked open the windows for some night air and laid awkwardly on the backseats. Sleeping didn’t come quite so easy this time, but it felt darn good  to be on the road with such an extended period of solitude and a bright future ahead.

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Oregon Trail 2012 (a manifesto)


I. My Itinerary:
On the 18th of April 2012, I set sail on the “open road” toward the setting sun to the Pacific Northwest. This is the preliminary itinerary for the first part of my journey.


COLORADO (week 1):
April 18 – the Road
April 19 – Ft. Collins
April 20-21 – Boulder & Rocky Mountains NP
April 22-23 – Denver
April 24 – Breckenridge
April 25 – Dinosaur
UTAH & ARIZONA (week 2-4):
April 26-May 9 – Utah Krishna Temple (& Salt Lake City)
May 10-12 – Arches NP & Moab
May 13-14 – Canyonlands NP
May 15 – Navajo Nation
May 16 – Sedona & Flagstaff
May 17-19 – Grand Canyon NP
May 20-21 – Page, Pariah Canyon, & Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
May 23-24 – Zion NP
May 25-26 – Bryce Canyon NP
NEVADA & CALIFORNIA (week 5-6):
May 27 – State Parks & Lake Mead
May 28-29 – Las Vegas
May 30 – Death Valley NP (and more)
May 31 – June 3 – Yosemite NP
June 4-6 – SF Bay Area
June 7 – Napa Valley & California SR1 / US 101
June 8-9 – Arcata & Redwoods NP
OREGON & WASHINGTON:
June 10 – Sanctuary One
… to be continued …

II. Context Sensitive
Since I was a pre-adolescent I wanted to live amongst the lush green forests on the other side of the Rockies, sandwiched between sea and mountain. The wet, temperate climate, alternative culture, and radical politics appealed to my biophilic sensibilities. It was a long ways away form the arrogance, greed, and consumerism of the affluent north shore of Chicago. No doubt, the Pacific Northwest was the romanticized other–the opposite of everything I disliked about the domesticity of the suburbs.

I was a divided soul. Someone who loved “nature” more than humans, but who actively identified with machines. From youth until my college years I had praised emotional restraint, analytic objectivity, and functionalism over emotional expression, lived experience, and aesthetics. These are the values of the master mindset, the will to knowledge, certainty, control, and power. I learned these values from my father, but had never questioned their origins and justification. They were absolute. And they were daily validated in our misogynistic culture that assigned value to masculinity over and against the feminine. I believe these values subconsciously took such force because they constituted my assigned identity as male, and they had to be performed if I were to sustain what I felt was expected of me as a male. Yet, my desire for wildness was an excess that could not be repressed.

Although I wanted to go on outdoor adventures on rivers and through the woods, I felt isolated and took no initiative to do much beyond video games, Legos, writing, basketball, and homework. I spent my childhood pent up at home, unambitious and sheltered. My family had no interest in the more-than-human world with the exception of my grandfather who kept a hobby garden. My parents had no hobbies outside of their jobs, no love for art, sports, and recreation. Leisure time was devoted to observing new places, attending a constructed space for entertainment, or–what I disliked the most–shopping. These were all meaningless to me. I wanted adventure and wonder.

Years later, I can now recognize and appreciate the wild beauty as well as connect with people on social, moral and political levels in my own (sub)urban “backyard.” However, I’ve spent so long making compromises over what I want to do, where I want to live, with who and how I want to be intimate. After the abysmal Fall of 2011, I needed a moving horizon, I needed a future to go on living, to crawl out of the gravitational pull of Nothing. Pursuing one of my life interests–an outdoor adventure to my new home–is saying yes to myself, yes to a future I want, yes to life.

III. Counter-objections
The very idea of this journey has collected a number of objections. Here I am addressing these common concerns and criticisms not out of a need to justify myself, but to explain why they miss the point.

1. Now is not the time! (you are too old for this)
To this I must ask: when is the right time? How long must I procrastinate on what I really want. When will I not be either too old or too young? I want to live in the present.

2. Get a job! (your priority is to settle on a career and nail a job)
I’ve lived a rather stoic existence for someone from my means. Until the last few years I have drank little alcohol and had not experimented with any drugs. You can save a lot of money simply by not being an addict to drugs and alcohol, but you can waste a lot of time being overly-calculative. So I’ve been able to save some cash over the years, but at a cost to my flourishing and lived experience. No more!

I’m no longer going to feel guilty about spending money, storing away what I have to spend at some later time. The money I’m using on this trip is money I’ve earned since graduating from college. I may not be employed at the moment, but that’s all the more reason I should be doing something incredible. It’s no longer crystal clear what career I want to pursue. Rather than stagnate in a “secure” living situation, I’m seeking inspiration from adventure and experience, letting spontaneity be my guide (more or less).

3. Stop procrastinating! (you’re fleeing from responsibility because you don’t know what you want)
This is the whole point of the trip! I’m finally going to stop procrastinating and second-guessing what I want in favor of security and social expectations. This is what I want and is a better means at discovering myself and my country than slow, armchair contemplation. The adventure is not only an end in itself, but also a means to an incalculable end.

4. Don‘t go alone! (you need help and companionship to be safe and have fun)
When I was a child, I was anxious being with people. I preferred solitude. Since my first love, I’ve become anxious being alone. One thing I learned (again) over the last year is the insecurity of emotional dependency. I need to be able to define and value myself on my own terms without the expectation or constancy of support from friends. After the Fall of 2012, I realize a need to become more self-reliant, more confident in my ability, and more free in my being.

Yes, I’ve thought about how having a companion on my trip could make it all the more amazing. Having someone to share experiences with is validating and can make the experience even more meaningful especially in the future when reminiscing. Having someone along would also bring greater security as if anything bad happened we could work together and protect one another. On the other hand, being alone makes temporal space for more reading, introspection, observation of the more-than-human, and conversations with strangers.

In no way is this trip extreme. Ambitious yes, but Into the Wild no. I’m not Chris McCandless. I’m not seeking to free myself from people or to prove my vitality. Really, what I’m doing is rather tame, just large in scale. I have every intention of preparing myself and I don’t plan on doing anything “stupid,” I’m just not going to cower from life and the risks it presents. The journey is less about self-mastery than it is a course on vulnerability. Vulnerability is a condition we must all accept if we do not want to suffer. By placing myself into a situation where I may be killed and eating, I’m un-sheltering myself from the illusion of mastery and control technology creates. (see “The Uncanny Goodness of Being Edible to Bears“)

IV. Rules of Thumb
A list of rules I plan on keeping more often than breaking to make my adventure a bite more campy.

Existential:
1. No self-denial!
2. No regret!
3. Focus on the Beautiful, not the Bad!
4. Attune to the present with all my senses
5. Meditate every morning
6. Write every evening

Travel:
7. Leave No Trace Behind
8. Learn about a stranger each day
9. Take at least one person for a ride
10. Alternate between local radio & podcasts
11. Read the history of each place I visit
12. Avoid traveling the same route twice

Food & Shelter
13. Avoid sleeping in the same place twice
14. Sleep in a tent or on a couch (avoid hostels and motels)
15. Eat whole foods (avoid eating out)
16. Forage something from the wild in each state
17. Drink one local beer in each city
18. Eat at one (or more) veg*n (friendly) restaurants in each city

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