Posts Tagged With: travel

10,000 miles running on empty


On Wednesday December 12 at 3:07pm PST, Catbird and I shared our ten thousandth road mile as we beat rush hour traffic into Portland on US-26 E. The escalation we experienced during our descent towards the Columbia River was wound with the celebratory feeling and guilt of accomplishment. Our millennial mile experience brought to surface the many contradictions at the heart of our journey:

individuality / cultural-cliche

autonomy / (co)dependence

achievement / privilege

sustainable city / fast food living

engagement / unfulfillment

I. individuality / cultural-cliche

Before departing on Oregon Trail 2012, I was well aware that I was participating in a multi-generational celebration of the American narrative of individuality and independence. (This American mythos has spanned centuries from the country’s beginning in an escape from religious persecution to the “frontier” that drew mass migration across mountains and deserts to the pursuit of spontaneity by the Beats and its admirers to the recent migratory patterns for millennials after the economic fallout).

However, as I experienced in Boulder and later upon my arrival to Portland, I felt less like a self-directed individual, and more like an obnoxious cliche. Rich suburban white person who loves traveling the world. Check. Over-educated young adult moving to Portland because he hasn’t chosen / doesn’t want a career path. Check. For every one of me, there were 10,000 more.

II. achievement / privilege

I also had no illusions from the get-go that I was free of financial, race, and gender privilege. Clearly purchasing a vehicle, smartphone, and equipment before a several month long road trip without any income and student loans is not an opportunity many people encounter in their 20s. As I traveled, these privileges either receded in my consciousness as I encountered fellow travelers or became glaringly salient as I found myself houseless in Portland yet not without a vehicle to sleep, travel, and commute in.

My Mom was amazed by my accomplishment of traveling thousands of miles across the US, backpacking in remote wilderness, and finding work in PDX. Friends found the trip inspirational. Yet, it became obvious that as tough as it could be, I had a safety net and I was in some way “playing” vagrant. On the one hand, this is a life I chose for myself, grounded in my values. On the other hand, it is a delusional attempt to shed the privileges I have access to for being a white, affluent, cis-male. Had I been trans or a cis-woman, I would not have enjoyed the psychological security from feeling safe living on the road, and had I been dark-skinned or driven a more conspicuous vehicle, I would have received as much leniency and disinterest from the police.

III. sustainable city / fast food living

Another irritating contradiction is moving to the pacific north west to be a part of more sustainable and socially conscious communities, but through surviving out of an automobile on a fast food diet. There is no essential mandate that comes with a car to eat out while on the road, but if one is a houseless employee who lives in a sprawling suburb and who doesn’t dumpster alone, fast food is very fitting.

Tucked away in the comforts in an unofficial sex-for-housing work exchange I had access to a masticating juicer, Vitamix, wicked food processor, a gas stove, and a spacious fridge. Living on the road I have a small Jetboil, can opener, spork, and unrefrigerated food storage behind my front seat. Fixing a meal on a backpacking trip in the privacy, warmth, and dryness of desert dusk is exciting, but cooking up Progresso lentil soup or Tasty Bite Chana Masala at night in the chilly rain in a public parking lot, not so much. The former is romantic and your only option; the latter can be humiliating (or at least conspicuous and invasive) and less appetizing than your alternative, picking up a hearty Chipotle burrito.

The cost to the environment from commuting to work and downtown via car may be high, but the cost to one’s bank account and patience is less. With the exception of rush hour, one can shave off an hour of transportation, and unless one is commuting from Hilsboro to the PDX airport in a Hummer, the $3.30/gallon is softer on the hemp wallet than the $5 roundtrip ticket. With no house in which to store one’s stuff, one carries extra weight wherever you go. With lack of food storage and a kitchen, one can’t reduce much waste from the necessity of packaged and ready-made foods. One tries to rationalize it by thinking one takes up less space and energy (from cooking and heating), and leaves housing options available to people who need them more, but by the end of that thought, one’s ego deflates and the guilt returns.

IV. engagement / unfulfillment

One means of diluting the guilt of privilege, unsustainable living, and hypocrisy is volunteer work. I joined a half dozen organizations ranging from hospitality for the homeless to conservation guide at a state park to board member of a vegetarian outreach organization. Filling every corner of one’s temporal existence left empty after being disposed of by one’s ex-lover gives one destinations to dart back and forth between. But as meaningful as those destinations may be, one can’t shake the empty feeling that returns to one when one arrives to one’s automotive companion. No matter how many admirable deeds and attractive people one does, the meaning is compartmentalized and lacks a larger framework to make one’s work and social life fulfilling. There is no cohesion of a narrative self, no synchronized relationship to a world that just fits.

V. autonomy / (co)dependence

Ultimately, my journey failed to inspire me, to attract love to a particular project, place, and/or person.¬†The more absent love, the more salient one’s dependence on another becomes, possibly the more one would like to escape that dependence in “freedom” and “autonomy”– which are really just code words for a narcissism that closes its eyes to its yearning and fulfillment through others. How often is the quest for self-sufficiency a quest to escape a human condition, to wind up on a treadmill of freedom from, never arriving at a for.

Oregon Trail 2012 may have been a success in many ways, but not in such a way as is most necessary. Without love, “I” am abandoned. I’m tangled up in my own thoughts and string like a strip of used tape that, once pulled apart, sticks to nothing else, that is essentially used up. Like tape, humans have the propensity to stick to things, to nestle their way into the folds of others and be apart of something larger than themselves, to share something with an other–whether human or nonhuman. It’s wearisome to be blown around, unable to stick, bouncing off those objects one might otherwise love. After a while, it becomes part of what you are–forever wanderlust for a sticky situation.

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Oregon Trail: List of Follies 2


I am not bear meat. Seriously, I made it out of bear country alive even after all my unbelievable blunders. Those bears will have to go hungry this winter, I guess. Poor bears ūüė¶

These last few days, I’ve felt so liberated. Not liberated in the ecstatic, transcendent, and joyous state of existence we normally associate with that word, but more “liberated” in the sense of being free of any sense of belonging and identity. Well, not quite, but I’m in the habit of brewing a mug of melodrama each morning I wake up along the cold, wet streets of Portland. It’s an existence that others would consider depressing, drab, and dangerous, but in many ways its not all that bad. I get to eat out a lot, spend time at the library, do a lot of walking around the city, live at a more leisurely pace, etc. It’s a bit exciting at times. More on this later.

How did I end up here, you ponder to your little self as you impatiently skim through this introduction for the “good part” in your pajama bottoms? I’ll tell ya’ eventually. In the mean time, my “List of Follies 2” is an excellent spark notes version for you internet-junkies. Consider it an instruction manual on how NOT to behave if you want to have slightly important things in life like a job, somewhere to live, and someone to love you.

What do you think: Did I fuck up more than I did during the first part of my journey? Have you made any of the same mistakes? Would you like to share or give your own two cents on the good life?

 

THE LIST OF FOLLIES:

  • Day 46: Touching the Oakland Inner Harbor without proper sanitary footwear
  • Day 48: Taking a beautiful, radical, poly chicana (who would later never respond to my friendly texts) out to an expensive organic vegan lunch.
  • Day 49: Buzzing around Berkley to find chili garlic sauce for the dinner I was supposed to make for my host in West Oakland two hours ago.
  • Day 50: Getting lost in the neighborhoods of Twin Peaks and subsequently killing my feet, freezing my ass off, and practicing my urine retention skillz.
  • Day 50: Not signing on as a “Sex Model” at Kink.com.
  • Day 51: While in a time crunch, taking two extra hours pondering life and justice at Alcatraz, an hour detour to Berkley for vegan ice cream, and taking the wrong exit/bridge back into San Fransisco during¬† peak rush hour.
  • Day 46-51: Driving up the curvacious CA-1 in sea mist at dusk (and well into the night) because of having miscalculated the free days I had in the Bay Area before spending two full days with an online friend.
  • Day 54: Passing up all the ancient forests of Redwood National Park because I became overly indulgent in the morning.
  • Day 55: Freezing-up in horror as a van engulfed in 10-foot high flames rolled in reverse towards Catbird and I.

The Era of Asshole-ness

  • Day 4/59: Freezing-up out of intimidation when my amazing date tossed my insinuated-kiss challenge back at me.
  • Day 5/60: Making up for the past night fuck-up by going with my heart (vs. ego or brain) to make a (successful) move on someone I would be living and working with for the next three months and hardly knew (even though I promised myself “never again” to living with a lover twice before)
  • Day 4-6/59-61: Polling friends on facebook for advice on and interpretation of my romantic life, (polling that reads a lot like obnoxious and inappropriate bragging and bro-ness)
  • Day 8/63:¬† Sleeping over at another person’s house less than 24-hours after sleeping with someone else for the first time.
  • Day 9/64: Thinking being open and honest would be a good idea.
  • Day 13/68: Inviting someone with whom I share mutual affection (a someone who is very insecure and also someone I cannot get a good nights rest with) into my bed to cuddle before going to sleep to wake up hours later.
  • Day 21/76: “Correcting” a sensitive someone by suggesting that she should use gendered pronouns for nonhuman animals.
  • Day 21/76:¬†Asking someone who liked me when she was planning on leaving my bed with her dog, (a dog whom had just snapped at my face in her bed).
  • Day 27/82: Absentmindedly shutting a dog into his crate while another was already inside.
  • Day 31-32/86-87: Immaturely withdrawing because of someone’s lack of faith in my knowledge about tick removal, escalating a mutually infuriating conflict to the point of no return (or so we thought)
  • Day 38/93: My grandmother slipping on a sidewalk, hits her head, and does not return (not my folly, but a very sad, unexpected death)
  • Day 46/101: Returning to a hospital with a reputation for having dickhead doctors for a medical checkup.
  • Day 2011: Taking on an extremely ambitious project, procrastinating a year, and moving somewhere 20-60 minutes from an available library whose resources I can’t access because I am not enrolled there.
  • Day50ish: “Accepting [a film review] with major revisions” for an academic journal from an author who is not fluent in English.
  • Day56/111: Snapping at that someone for “stealing my fan” from the communal/study space for her cabin.
  • Day 73/128: The first time ever telling a woman she is “being a bitch” for unproductively (hostilely and sarcastically) referencing everything I’ve ever done wrong while I was chatting with a friend.
  • Day 86/141: Selecting a Thai restaurant as the venue for a date, only to read that “No meals can be made Vegan” on the menu immediately after my date arrives.
  • Day 91/146: Poorly anticipating how much cleaning up I had to perform before leaving the sanctuary.

The End?

  • Day 56/147: Forgetting to print out a map of Crater Lake National Park (where there is no cell reception) before I arrived at night (when the visitor center is closed) with no available campsites, and no cash for the Wizard Island cruise
  • Day 57/148: Forgetting to submit my payment for my Lost Creek campsite and possibly having my tent confiscated.
  • Day 58/149: Relying on a flaky stranger (who told me before he went to bed that he’d kill me if I touched his daughter) to host me for a night in Eugene, OR.
  • Day 59/150: Taking home a drunk young woman covered in chocolate vegan pudding into my new car.
  • Day 60-68/151-59: Prioritizing sex over Portland job searches.
  • Day 65/156: (Too stupid to even mention) on Alberta!!!
  • Day 69/160: Dehydrated and ill-fully bumbling around southern Washington.
  • Day 72-73/163-64: Inefficiently purchasing food and materials for my solo wilderness Olympic NP trip.
  • Day 77/168: Impatiently speeding to the Hoh rainforest and barely missing a bobcat.
  • Day 77/168: Temporarily moving in with my present lover until I find a job (even though I promised myself “never again” to living with a lover three times before [see day 60])… Oh, the heartbreak.

To be continued…..

With Love,

Dean

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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: List of Follies


I am not bear meat. At least not yet.

Hopefully my month-long absence didn’t keep any of you up at night, peering suspiciously into the eyes of the childhood teddy bears you secretly hide beneath your beds, right next to the boogeyman and crocodiles. I haven’t had much down time and computer access to do much blogging since my work at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, UT. I left you on Day 3 and now I’m practically on Day 50. I have a lot to catch up on! The good news is that I’ll be settled next week for several months in southern Oregon. The bad news is that my activist-academic obligations have caught up with me so posting will be put on the backburner.

To wet your curiosities, allow me to a list several stupid things I’ve done so far on my trip (after thoroughly documenting my follies, I realize I’ve committed several baker’s dozens)!:

THE LIST OF FOLLIES:

  • Day 0: Putting up resistance to receiving a pair of trendy, non-scratched, properly prescribed glasses to take on my trip as backup to my contacts (which I haven’t worn since the first week).
  • Day 1 -present: Ingeniously leaving my laptop at home as if I would not waste hours on the internet on my smartphone, and as if I could actually blog from the shitty cellphone formatted wordpress page.
  • Day 1+: Daringly seeing how far I could go with my low gas tank (Seinfeld-style) before needing to refill.
  • Day 8-21: Assuming my digestion problems for two weeks were related to the Indian food I was eating, and then continuing to eat it in epic proportions.
  • Day 9-12: Flirting hardcore through texting with someone hundreds of miles away who I was never going to hookup with when I already was doing so with another person a hundred miles away who I was going to instead of catching-up on reading books and writing blog posts.
  • Day 15: Being stupid-late for a date because I wanted to see the Later Day Saints’ Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
  • Day 18: Parking a mile and a half away from my destination in Salt Lake City because of expensive, non-vacant two-hour parking spaces when parking was ridiculously-vacant and free. And then later forgetting where I parked, and realizing that I parked in a closed parking garage and had to make an illegitimate exit.
  • Day 22: Navigating Catbird into a four wheel drive-recommended campground in the blazing desert heat, and trapping myself in the coral pink sand.
  • Day 23+: Deciding I didn’t need sunscreen.
  • Day 25+: Commencing a four mile hike into the desert on a busy trail without stopping at the pit toilet first.
  • Day 25: Embarking on a solo backpacking trip down into the lair of a mountain lion 1,300 feet below on a primitive trail at sundown with an inadequate map.
  • Day 27+: Not once, not twice, but several times not making reservations at campsites, forcing myself to sleep in Catbird on pull-offs and rest stops… after sleep-driving.
  • Day 28: Haphazardly joining tours I know nothing about, and frustratedly sitting next to a bunch of naive tourists from Europe and Japan for an hour and a half.
  • Day 29: Purchasing non-synthetic oil to feed Catbird because I thought the auto-mechanic was pulling a fast one on me by telling me I should purchase the synthetic which costs three times as much.
  • Day 29: Arriving at Mathers’ campgrounds in the Grand Canyon without a map in the middle of the night.
  • Day 30: Walking the entire West Rim trail late in the day, and getting lost in the Grand Canyon for the second night in a row.
  • Day 32: Abstaining from refilling my water reservoir as I hiked 4,500 feet out of the Grand Canyon, running empty on water with a mile left on the strenuous climb in the merciless heat, and then discovering at the top that I had a filled Nalgene in my backpack’s side pocket.
  • Day 33: Reluctantly purchasing a beer from a hunting and fishing shop I accidentally walked into while wearing vegan propaganda, and then having nowhere to drink said over-priced beer except in an alley across the street from a poster condemning underage drinking.
  • Day 33: Clumsily staring straight into a solar eclipse above the rim of complimentary NPS eclipse-viewing glasses.
  • Day 35: On a whim, wading chest-deep through the Virgin River for several miles in trail runners without any water protection for my electronics, books, and notes.
  • Day 36: Swimming through the chilly waters of a slot canyon that also happens to be housing a wind tunnel for 30 mile per hour winds.
  • Day 24: Assuming there would be affordable vegan food in south-central Utah.
  • Day 39-41: Choosing Las Vegas as a multiple-day destination on my trip.
  • Day 39-41: Inviting family to hang out with me in Las Vegas.
  • Day 39: Only purchasing 6 vegan donuts to eat in one day from Ronald’s Donuts.
  • Day 40: Stubbornly ordering the ghost-pepper option on an Indian restaurant menu despite two waiters consistently discouraging me from doing so, and then signing a waiver confirming how stupid I am, and that the restaurant is not responsible for any injury I bring to myself.
  • Day 41, 42: Procrastinating to make a reservation for a Yosemite Park campsite the day before I arrive, and then waiting until¬† I’m driving through the Sierra Mountains (assuming I would have cellphone reception) to tell them I will be late so they would not give it away.
  • Day 43: Reading all the exhibits at the Yosemite Visitor Center and Anawahee Museum when I had to check-in and out for the night before to avoid being charged an extra $20.
  • Day 43: Deciding to continue a stroll up a strenuous trail around two massive waterfalls with tractionless-Teva sandals.

I hope you had more fun reading these than I had experiencing them.

With Love,

Dean

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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 Day 1.1


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

I. Preparation vs. Procrastination

Like the previous 20 years of my life, my road trip was delayed. I had meaninglessly busied my way around the internet during April 17. I intended to leave on the 18th because it was two days after my mother’s and dog’s birthday. This left me Tuesday to finish preparing. But I procrastinated. It’s what you do when you’re anxious.

I had several months to prepare for my trip, which meant several months “wasted.” I wanted to leave for the Pacific Northwest as soon as I returned home upon graduation, but I was naive about winter driving conditions in the mountains as well as access to National Parks. I decided to leave in April, but I still had many more decisions to make. Should I plan the trip or be spontaneous? Should I hang out with friends or strangers? Was I going to get a car or hitch hike? If I got a car, would it be a Honda Fit, Subaru Impresa, or Hyundai Accent? Should I buy a smart phone? Which one: an Android or an iphone 4S? How much should I spend on a tent? Should I get a better pocket knife? A gas, petrolium, or alcohol camping stove? Purification tablets, bottle filter, or ceramic pump? The list of decisions went on…

So much cautionary thinking and over-analysis hindered my preparation and enjoyment. I weighed the costs and benefits of each purchase. I made several visits to each car dealer, REI, and the AT&T store to become more informed. It was all so silly. I knew that whatever I got I would eventually be happy with, but I wanted it to be the right choice! (Eventually, I decided to go with a 2012 Honda Civic LX, a Samsung Galaxy SII, an REI Passenger 2 tent, a Jetboil Flash Stove,  and Portable Aqua purification tablets. I originally wanted to write a post about why I decided to purchase each of these, but that would be a little too neurotic, even for me). As I started to realize all the expenses and planning, I had burts of second thoughts. The closer my departure date, the more I felt in-over-my-head.

II. Goodbyes

The anxiety grew. There was so much left unplanned, but perhaps this was a good thing. I decided to let go in the last several days leading up to the trip. I fit in a few of the final hours visiting the grandparents. They were getting older and sicker. It was obvious they had concerns about their future. They were sad (yet excited) to see me leaving town again so soon after returning from 2.5 years in Texas. I also made sure to fit in some time with Duke before I left. I felt bad I hadn’t spent so much time with him in the last week. I would miss him more than anyone. He was my buddy, and he’d grown very attached while I’d been home. For the first time since my last visit he was taking 1.5 hour walks and playing with that darn remote controlled car in the basement. I felt bad about not spending more time with my other sibling, my sister. I had really intended to, but I got so caught up with my own projects and de-prioritsed her like many other important people in my life. It was a bad habit. I had become accustomed to going into “Dean-land,” as they called it, since I took refuge in my imagination from all the family conflict on the first floor above me.

The two people I spent the most time with during my time home were an old friend from college who had moved to Chicago months ago and a cute gal I met on an online dating site. We had made a date to camp in my backyard to test out the camp gear before heading off on my adventure. The Jetboil worked really well and the tent held up in stormy weather. I took her down Sheridan Road the next morning back to Logan Square on the 15th and then went on a final date with the other special lady in my life. We caught a bite at the Chicago Diner, a favorite of ours.

The next day I celebrated my Mom’s birthday at the Museum of Science and Industry, and on the next I went out shopping again–but in the afternoon. This included picking up my contact prescription with my aunt who was adamant that I replace my scratched-up 5 year old glasses. I told her I planned on leaving at 8am tomorrow, and wasn’t going to wait for them to be made. She said she knew I wouldn’t be reedy to leave by then and that she’d get them for me. Before midnight, I had a chance to say goodbye to my sister and grandma, but insufficient time to pack.

I realized I wasn’t going to make it out by 8am the next morning, so I went to sleep for six hours after spending couple hours finalizing my paper contact list and calendar (a backup). When I woke up, I also recognized that I was not going to be able to make it to Greeley, Colorado–a 16+ hour drive–in one trip. My trip was already getting off to a messy start and it hadn’t even started! I was adamant about making a video of my gear before I left so I spent a good a mount of time organizing it all on a coffee table in the den. Part for fun, part check-list, I made sure I had everything I needed accounted for. I wasn’t too surprised, but I was bringing a lot more gear (mostly clothes and food) than I had anticipated. To think I originally planned on hitchhiking and backpacking! Then again, I was planning on moving out there. Fortunately, it all fit comfortably in the trunk.

At about 11am, I took Duke for a final walk and filmed him running in the park. I could now watch the 12-year old guy thousands of miles away. We stopped by my father’s parents home to say goodbye to them and then ran back home. My mother had just returned home from picking the glasses up from my aunt as I was saying goodbye to Duke. Looking into his sad doggy eyes was almost enough for me to postpone the trip. But I was set in my ways and didn’t want to give my family any reason to think they were right about me not leaving that day.

At approximately 1pm, 5 hours after my original departure time, I turned on Catbird’s ignition and left for the West with a nearly empty gas tank.

III. Hitting the Road (Illinois)

Driving on the the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) was exhilarating. (Never thought I’d use the word “exhilarating in a the same sentence as “tollway” and Ronald Reagan”). Windows down, the crisp Spring air ¬†blew away any anxiety buried under my skin. I felt like a free man. The open road meant an open future. I was as much excited for the past I was leaving literally behind as for the plans I had before me. The West was a symbol of dreams to come. It was a direction. It was an experience.

I got a bit cocky. I pressed my luck, seeing how far I could drive the car with the little fuel I had. I hadn’t filled it up the tank the night before because I was in a hurry to get home, but in the morning I was even more anxious to get out of town. With a half a gallon of gas (22 miles of driving), I pulled off the tollway into Lombard to fill up–a $50 start on my road trip. Soon I hit the tolls. Over $10 in total to make it to Iowa. I regretted avoiding the tollway. A woman at the toll explained the fee doubled a few months ago from $1.80 to $3.60. I was glad I took the extra change my grandmother threw at me earlier. As I pulled money out at a later poll, I grumbled that I remembered when the tolls were $1. “You’re not that old,” said the toll woman.

I probably looked like a kid form the suburb moving into a University of Iowa dorm. My bag of gear and a stash of food (Fritos, pretzels, deluxe nuts, and dates) sat shotgun and my Nalgene accompanied my Galaxy SII under the armrest. Galaxy, in addition to Catbird, would be my travel companions: an electronic 140 horse-powered wagon and a jack of all electronic trades. Depending so much on technology made me ambivalent a week before. I didn’t like the environmental toll and fiscal expenses of having a car and I once despised the obnoxious use of smartphones as much as I had of cellphones a decade earlier before I came to own one. Now that I had a car for the first time in over 2.5 years, I felt empowered. I no longer had to worry about getting rides form others and planning my day around others’ schedule. The smartphone was a handy distraction, but an all-in-one tool. ¬†It took better photos and videos than my last stolen camera and it made texting and managing a list of contacts less of a chore. (More on my thoughts about this to come).

I was getting all too close to my travel companions too fast. Galaxy has become a mobile flirting device. A fine lady from Arcata who I met online invited me to spend a day with her before arriving at my destination of Sanctuary One in southern Oregon–she promised to make it a day I’d never forget. I wondered whether suggestive text messaging with voice command should fall under the category of phone sex–the PG13 version. Meanwhile I had teamed up with Catbird to maintain the highest mpg average won our cross-country adventure. We got off to a grand start: 42mpg! As we hit winds near Iowa, our average dropped to 38mpg. “You know you have a cool car when you’re disappointed it only gets 38 miles per gallon,” I told Galaxy. We were one small family on the road.

 

To be continued in part 2…

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Road Reflections: Sex, Death, and Love


Introduction:

The solitude of the open road can be an experience rich in thought and emotion. Being alone in on the rorad can be a meditative exercise. The zen of driving, if you will.

It’s sometimes surprising how many prematurely ended thoughts bubble up to the surface of consciousness during moments of solitude. Yet, people do not expect this and perhaps even fear it. I’m going to refer back to Sherry Turkle’s TED talk on being “connected, but alone.”¬† One excellent point she makes is that many of us in smart phone and facebook society are anxious to be-by-our-self. In this condition, people are afraid when they are not connected, afraid perhaps to think and reflect.

My first day on the road was not suffered with the boredom and exhaustion that others thought I’d experience. People were shocked that I wanted to travel alone over such long measurements of time and space. Driving alone seemed foolish to them. How exhausting! How boring! Iowa and Nebraska would surely put me to sleep. There was nothing around to look at and I had no one to speak with. Well, no one but myself.

I put my Samsung Galaxy SII to some good use by hitting the memo and voice command buttons to record short quips, and used the voice recorder to archive longer ones. The following “aphorisms” are more-or-less transcripts of I archived during those first eight hours and 500 miles:

On Insecticide and Responsibility:¬† As I drive through Iowa, my thoughts lead me to the concept of responsibility as dozens and dozens of insects splatter across my bumper and windshield. Can my road trip justify all this death? Is driving ever justified (if we take these insects into serious moral consideration)? Then again, isn’t death inevitable? Everything comes at a cost. These animals’ deaths seem excessive as I’m not even making use of their bodies, but I’m not sure if that makes much of a difference. In the end, lives are taken in the process of all lived experience.

Responsibility is thinking through that. When we want people to be responsible for killing animals, we desire that humans be social creatures and have in mind the consequences for other beings, which is itself an ethical relationship which is itself a social relationship. How do we inhabit the world with others without the same language? It’s a difficult question to answer. We are not able to talk with them in our language or relate to them in the same social manner as we do with other humans. Nevertheless, there is something already fundamentally social about the effort to empathize with and take others into consideration. Empathizing with animals requires a pre-understanding that we have a social relationship with other animals, but we disavow this at an early age. We don’t take this acknowledgement to its end as veganism. We want to feel good about our responsibility without taking it to its logical conclusion.

Thus, we say we care about animals, but without ever questioning where that care begins and ends. To “care” about animals without an effort toward veganism is mere rhetoric. It’s as if to say “I am human, thus I care… but I don’t care more because I am human and thus have a ‘personal choice’ of whether I care or not.” So care comes naturally as a byproduct of one’s humanity, but the negation of that care is even more decisively human because it’s an exercise of the agency of the liberal individual. Of course, this rhetoric is not “human(e),” because to care in such a way is inconsistent and obstructed by an illogical prejudice (specisism), which is a threat against reason which allows us choice and agency in the first place. In the end, caring-to-reason is trumped by rationalizations against caring, against thinking.

Meaningless Death: Death is just so abstract. How can one understand it? One can understand other things that seem incomprehensible, like the creation of life and life itself. They are pretty absurd, but at the same time we are living life. We see people born, and we can experience the miracle that life is, the unfathomability of chance is before our eyes. But we never live death. It’s never before our eyes. There is no reflection on death. One is just reflecting into the darkness. So maybe there is something profound there, realizing the inability of being able to comprehend death. People fool themselves into thinking they know what death is. There is an afterlife or we return to the earth. Spiritualism and materialism. But is there something beyond both those explanations? Is death incomprehensible beyond scientific and religious discourse? What’s difficult about death is the impossibility of making sense of it. And that’s why death is so threatening: it resists any attempt to make sense of it. It’s like yelling into an abyss. There is no answer, but only the echo of our voice whispering back in our skulls.

Love and the Proximity of Nihilism: I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of love. It seems like it has as much to to do with proximity to a person as their identity. Is that all it is? Is that meaningful? Isn’t our “love” different from the affection animals feel after being fed. We want something more transcendent and deeper, but what if that’s all it is? And maybe that’s what’s sad about it: maybe it’s my realization that that’s all it is and trying to make meaning of it without falling into cultural cliches of thinking “this is my mother so I must love her,” or “this is my mother and that’s why I love her”. There is the difficulty of accepting that if that’s what it is. But it’s very real. It’s not insignificant. Love is sharing one’s life with others. That’s who one is.

I think back to that post I wrote about my grandfather. My concern was that maybe I didn’t love people in my family because I didn’t feel how people are expected to feel as “good people”, and that if I felt anything it was because I could’t get past my narcissism–my sadness for myself that I cannot feel sad for them. But my perspective is changing today. Perhaps I’m afraid of expressing and experiencing that emotion, or maybe I do experience sadness in the face of another’s future death and its a very profound feeling. Perhaps, I understand death more essentially than others, as something more than the superficiality of an end of life. And if so, I shouldn’t assume I’m not capable of feeling love.

Motherly Love. Strangely, I’m prompted to reflect on my relationship to my mother as I listen to the soundtrack for the first Kill Bill. My mom went to see the first film with me, and she knew it would be violent and wouldn’t like it (in fact, she walked out at the beginning because it made her sick). Yet, she wanted me to be happy. She is almost always supporting me and doing everything she can. I would just hate myself if I didn’t appreciate all of it. But I don’t, and this insufficient appreciation is hard for me to accept.

What makes it difficult for me to appreciate is her babying me. You begin to resent someone who doesn’t let you be you. She thinks she always knows what’s better and safer for me. And yes, sometimes I mess up because I didn’t t take her advice. But I’d like be allowed to mess up. And I’d like to be able to discover things on my own and earn things on my own. So I think what I really resent is not her, but any felt dependency on her, the feeling of not being able to be my own person and that all the great things become spoiled by her overbearingness.

And that makes me think of my ex–how I gave her lots of advise and encouragement… like my mom… and could have been overbearing at times… and I feel really bad about it. This is a really profound and dreadful realization. It’s devastating because I was the culprit, and I played a role in obstructing my exes love of me, and now we can’t be friends anymore… And I can empathize with the last person I want to empathize with. What I realize now from all the pain I’ve experienced from my ex is that I need to treat my mom with more respect, so that I may be better (more responsible and empathetic) than my ex and myself. But it’s difficult to do that when someone persistently does not respect your integrity.




Sexual Dissatisfaction: Listening to the sexually vulgar lyrics on the final track on the second Kill Bill soundtrack, I reflect on my childhood and how much I wanted to have sex. My life was so focused around it. Much of it had to do with my identity as a male. I felt that a successful male was someone who had sex with lots of women. It’s now obviously how hetero-normative this narrative is and it’s inability to be relevant for all men. More so, however, I believed in that narrative because I was¬† really into “science,” especially evolutionary theory: having more sex meant more potential for offspring, which signifies that one is more fit, that one is a better person, that one has been chosen to have a stake in the future. So I felt like a complete failure within the evolutionary and patriarchal narratives by not having any sex.

Even to this day, I sometimes feel unsatisfied with the amount of sexual partners I’ve had. I think people place a great deal of value on their sex lives like I do because of¬† an insecurity with their self-worth. (So it’s not necessarily a masculinity issue. Today, women are judged for having too few and many sexual partners). So I think my high sexual drive is due to not only a desire for pleasure and experience, but also because of an insecurity with my self. Though, I don’t think these two things are so inseparable because I feel less valuable the more I “miss out” (i.e. the fear of missing out), the less “experiences” I have. But sex is different. It’s not just an experience, its about desire for another and their desire for you.

It feels so good to be attractive to a person you are attracted to and have respect for. It validates your self-worth. And when we discover someone slept with us as a means to an end and not because of the person we are, it feels “dirty,” or rather “meaningless.” We become so vulnerable in the act, emotionally and physically, that we open ourselves to hurt. We become even more humiliated because we feel not only undesired, but cheated and taken advantage of–duped into thinking that someone else thought we were valuable as a person, as a self.

I think back to that previous song on the soundtrack by Johnny Cash called “Satisfied Mind.” As long as I continually compared myself to others and understood myself through others, my satisfaction with life would be contingent upon circumstance and not with life itself. Having more or better sexual partners would never be sufficient. My worth has to be self-sufficient. And it’s that feeling of self-sufficiency that we call confidence, that quality which breeds sex.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Essay, Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vegan Wild West Tour


One important rule of thumb for vegan traveling is to research food options in advance. While there are usually some “accidentally vegan” options at fast food joints that populate the exits of interstate highways, finding substantial and delectable vegan munchies can be difficult when traveling in rural territory. In addition to logistics, it is a lesser known fact that vegans love to schedule their travel around food. Taking a detour on a road trip is game when a vegan bakery is a 20 minute drive away.

Last week I took a few hours to search various websites that list vegan(-friendly) restaurants in the various cities I’ll be passing through.¬† I’ve come up with some pretty awesome results and will be excited to review these joints, some of which are in places less well traveled by vegans.

NEBRASKA:
Omaha:

  • McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe (Sustainable: Blackened Tempeh Dinner)
  • McFoster’s is a vegetarian restaurant that serves free-range chicken dishes and fresh seafood. All our food are free of refined flour and sugars. We use organic produce from Tom and Mary’s garden and greenhouse, as well as other local and organic gardeners, whenever possible.
  • Jade Diner (Chinese)
  • Amsterdam (Middle Eastern)
  • China One (Chinese)

Lincoln:

 

COLORADO:
Ft. Collins:

  • Tasty Harmony (Kentucky Fried Freedom)
  • Tasty Harmony is committed to provide our community with healthy organic plant based cuisine. Most of our food is vegan and most of our desserts are wheat free and sugarcane free.
  • Avogadros (Tempeh Tacos & veggie chili)
  • Maza Kabob (Afghani)
  • Mugs

Boulder:

Denver:

  • Water Course (Vegetarian: Toulouse Scramble / Banana bread French Toast / Mesquite Tofu)
  • WaterCourse Food’s philosophy, like our food, is simple and accessible… We prepare fresh ingredients daily to produce incredibly satisfying vegetarian comfort foods in a welcoming environment served by a friendly and efficient wait staff for a reasonable price… By maintaining a completely vegetarian menu, we believe we minimize our environmental footprint and provide a welcome alternative to many restaurants in the city
  • Sputnik (Ethiopian Sliders)
  • Linger (Eclectic: Waffle Sweet potato fires / Mee Krob)
  • Govinda’s (Hare Krishna)
  • The Rebellion (Pizza)
  • Sweet Action (Ice Cream: vegan Carrot cake ice cream)
  • Beet Box Denver (Vegan Bakery)
  • Crazy Mae’s (Vegan Bakery)
  • Sunny Gardens (Chinese)
  • Vegan Van (Vegan Cart)
  • Atomic Tamale (Vegan Cart)
  • 27 Social Center

 

UTAH:
Salt Lake City:

Moab:

  • Peace Tree
  • Electrica Cafe
  • Love Muffin Cafe

 

ARIZONA:
Flagstaff:

  • Morning Glory Cafe
  • Macy’s

Sedona:

  • Chocola Tree (Veg Co-op: Sedona 2012)
  • ChocolaTree Cafe is 100% organic homemade with a delicious, diverse raw and cooked menu that‚Äôs entirely gluten and processed sugar-free..
  • Oaxaca

 

NEVADA:
Las Vegas:

 

CALIFORNIA:

San Fransisco & Oakland:

Arcata:

  • Wildflower Cafe (Vegetarian)
  • Bless My Soul (Creole)
  • Redds (Jamaican)
  • Tofu Hut

 

OREGON:
Medford:

Ashland:

Categories: Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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