Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Christian Nation

Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

The sky was just beginning to grow light when I rolled open the rear door of my Ryder van at 6:00. During the night, a big rig parked right alongside my truck, with its engine running – very annoying. Awoke to a cold, desolate landscape. It was discouraging to view man’s impact on the land. Out here, the wind-carried litter scatters across the desert. Out of the northwest, a weather front is moving in.

On the highway again, the radio my companion, I listened to the “Pilgrim Radio”, which covers the West. Contemporary Christian music generally strikes me as lacking creativity. They are good imitators, but always seem a decade behind current musical trends. As I listen, I hear what sounds like the Christian version of Bono, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Cold Play.

In Christian fundamentalism, we have the opportunity to witness, in plain view, a cult brainwashing its compliant followers. (Having spent thirteen years of my life in one, the cult programming is fairly familiar to me.) Pilgrim broadcasts to Rural America, targeting a gullible and vulnerable population. Rather than listen to that crap, I decided to try singing (using my own god-given lack of talent.) It has been a while!

Among my initial impressions on this first full day of driving: Nevada seems like the armpit of the USA. At least along the interstate, the landscape is trashed, scarred and plundered. Mineral extraction is a huge industry in Nevada. As I have mentioned before, it seems to be the nation's quarry. During the last couple hours of the drive into Elko, I was growing sleepy, and caught myself drifting towards the shoulder.

In Battle Mountain, I had searched for a shop featuring giant cinnamon rolls. Henry had suggested it was well worth the stop. I asked a few locals if they knew of such a place, but they didn’t. With the truck, I was not about to ride around town searching. Perhaps Henry was mistaken about the location. I moved on. In Elko, I asked a young mother, and she seemed to know exactly the place I was searching for: Donuts ‘n Mor. She provided detailed directions. Just inside the door, I spotted giant cinnamon rolls. But a maple and pecan-covered doughnut caught my eye. Ordered two, and a coffee. Out in the truck, I tried them. Both the coffee and doughnut were terrible! Leaving downtown in disappointment, I approached the freeway and found a shopping center with a Starbucks. I chucked the remainder of the Donut’s ‘n Mor stuff.

Curiously, there seems to be a home construction boom in Elko, and a new and attractive Great Basin College campus.

Continuing on my journey, I listened to more Christian radio. (Guess I was bored.) Mythology, tribalism, divisiveness, greed and power. That’s what this brand of religious fundamentalism represents. They seek to separate and divide – believers from non-believers, us versus them. They speak of “the enemy”, meaning all non-believers. The station I tuned to is operated by CSN International. Their preachers attack Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, Agnosticism, etc. “There is only one way.” Their talk rings as true as a late night infomercial. The pseudo-authority demonstrated by the ability to quote chapter and verse from the Bible is just that - pseudo. They are merchants of mythology and false “profits”. Like all scammers, they are merely selling a product to the naive. All alternative views are excluded and condemned. Though their own Christ said “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” one minister attacks the government that “raises my taxes every year.” I'm sure his non-profit organization doesn't complain about their tax exemption.

On the eastern slopes of Pilot Peak, a huge lime mine (researched later) is dismantling a mountain with remarkable efficiency. This same process is occurring all over the globe. Do any of us have the foresight to project where this all leads? (I was absolutely dumb-founded by the destruction of the Andes at Antamina, Chile.)

Seeking further entertainment, I listened to the Sean Hannity Show. The guy peddles paranoia, (and coincidentally hawks over-priced gold as a secure investment against all manner of calamity.) He condemns the Obama Administration for not talking about the Constitution and rule of law in their first 75 days. He brands his movement “Conservatism in Exile”, though it unfortunately hasn’t left us at all. Its shrill voice is heard throughout the land. He rants about the rise of socialism and death of capitalism under Obama.

Eastern Nevada is much easier on the eyes. It's mountainous, with thin forests and grasses softening the harsh landscape. Crossed to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. Made an illegal u-turn through the median to cross over to the opposite side and visit a rest area for westbound travelers. (Out here on the Flats, a big yellow truck making a u-turn through the median is an easy target. But I was lucky.) The site provided an excellent vantage point onto the Flats. Traveling along I-80 west of Salt Lake City, there is a huge coal-fired power plant (“clean coal?”) and then an enormous mine – apparently Kennecott Copper. The landscape is being rearranged on a monumental scale. The “Wasatch Front” provides a dramatically beautiful setting for SLC. The news talked of snow moving into the area today, so I was concerned about crossing the Wasatch, and the Rockies of Southern Wyoming.

Taking inventory: so far, I’ve eaten a meal from In-N-Out Bruger, about 5 or 6 cookies, coffee, coffee cake, bread, fireballs, and a tangerine. A junk food kind of trip. (There's something about travel that, for me, says "indulge".)

Climbing the mountains beyond Salt Lake City, I’m amazed to see the development around Park City – custom homes cover the hillsides. Did Park City even exist when I crossed these mountains in 1970? (Back then, I crossed to the south, from Provo to Heber City, and wasn't even aware of the existence of a Park City.) In Utah, I see many police cars parked in the highway median. Across Nevada, I saw one police car (of course, it was night for 1/3 of the crossing.)

In Western Wyoming, a bitterly cold wind was blowing. A weather forecaster mentioned that Elk Mountain was the location of some difficult driving conditions, so I was apprehensive. It was still a couple hours away, and conditions were deteriorating. Near Fort Bridger, Wyoming I stopped to photograph the giant windmills, in my opinion, an ugly sight – a visual and psychological imposition that is being unquestioningly accepted across this nation (and around the planet.) It represents a "gold rush" for the developers of these monstrosities, but I have yet to see any complete environmental and economic analysis that demonstrates windmills generate more energy than is consumed throughout their life-cycle. (I have written to developers, asking for such information, but received no response.) California's Altamont Pass (and many others) are blighted by these wind farms, with many hulking towers no longer operational, yet left to stand.

Wind farm near Fort Bridger, Wyoming

On a local Wyoming rock and roll station, I hear a commercial for an adult video and toy shop. Well that’s different! Drove steadily, maintaining a fairly high speed, 70 to 80, with the Cheyenne area, beyond the Rockies, as tonight's target destination. Arriving after nightfall, the ride across Elk Mountain summit was a harrowing one. The climb is gradual and the road fairly straight, but the wind increased dramatically. When the snow came, it produced blizzard conditions. I knew the truck’s tires were well-worn, with minimal tread, so things could quickly turn dangerous. I passed numerous gateways which warn “Road Closed When Flashing”. The lights were not flashing, “but shouldn’t they be?”

The snow was blowing across the road between 25 and 50 mph. I was encouraged onward by a loose line of trucks up ahead. ("If they can make it...") But I briefly panicked when I could no longer see their tire ruts in the snow. I was constantly scanning the shoulders for escape pull-outs, should that become necessary. (“If I find a pull-off, I could pass the night in the truck.”) The road leveled out, and the snow eased. I came upon an illuminated interchange. I had reached the summit of Elk Mountain pass. On the eastern side, as I began a very gradual descent, emergency vehicles hurried westward in the opposite lanes. Maybe they were closing the highway? Once over the top, the storm quickly subsided and visibility returned. Soon, the pavement was clear and dry. Now my only concern was the cold. The overnight forecast for Cheyenne was 16 degrees. Not good for the wine I was hauling! I envisioned the wine freezing and bottles bursting. “I must keep moving, down from the Continental Divide, towards the Mississippi.”

I stopped in Cheyenne to refuel, and to try the Sonic Drive-In. But as I pulled out of the gas station, the lights at Sonic were extinguished. Damn – I was ten minutes too late. Well, there was a Burger King up the road. But it was the same story. They all seem to close at 10:00. Up the highway, I exited and followed signs for a McDonald’s, nearly 5 miles from I-80. But they were open. Over a chicken sandwich, fries and a soda, I chatted up the night manager. She talked of the crazy weather in Cheyenne, and said it never used to be like this. Without a doubt, she attributed the changes to "global warming".

“Classic rock” radio show formats all seem the same. Well, maybe not Western Nebraska’s KSID (“The Blast”). It advertises “the best in Rock and Roll”, but as I listened, no one seemed to be minding the studio. Programming was on auto-pilot. Out of curiosity, I listened for over half an hour, and heard the same weather forecast and KSID promotion over 16 times, over 30 commercials, and not a single song. Near Sydney, I made another illegal u-turn across the median to reach a rest stop on the west-bound side of I-80. I pulled up to the end of a line of trucks. Lots of noise, so close to the interstate, and from all the trucks idling. The Wyoming roads had been pretty good, but "bouncy", so opening up the back, I was pleased to find that my cargo had not shifted from the jostling. It’s cold! Here, it was forecast to reach into the low 20s.

In the cargo bay, I made up my comfortable bed, rolled down the rear cargo door and went to sleep after 1:30. 1,125 miles driven in the past 24 hours. sometimes it seems I do a lot of driving, but my life on the road is nothing compared to the miles racked up by most of these truckers out here.

A move to the opposite shore

I was at the Santa Rosa Penske Truck Rental at 7:00 a.m. As promised, Sergio stopped by to see if I needed help, but seeing I was being tended to, went on to his job. After searching throughout the Santa Rosa area for some sort of ramp that would allow me to load my motorcycle into the moving van, I had received permission from the Penske folks to use a small platform out front of their store. Apparently the concrete platform had been used to display cars.

An older employee assigned to assist me said they had a ramp out back that might work better, and took me to have a look. An ancient concrete ramp stood out in the truck lot. It looked like it might work. Then he suggested “why don’t we just put it on a lift gate?” A brilliant idea: use the lift gate of another truck to raise the motorcycle to where I could just roll it into my van. It turned out to be very simple.

Once loaded, I parked the bike on it’s sidestand, nose into the forward bulkhead, then used a couple tie-downs to secure it to bulkhead pad eyes. Next stop, "Anchor Storage", where it took about two hours to pile everything in the truck and close out of my account. Home to clean up, then out to “Flying Goat Coffee” to hold “office hours”. Over the next few hours, Jessica joined me during her break, then the Clevelands showed up bearing gifts of homemade chocolate chip and “M&M” cookies, dried apples and candied ginger. We moved into the sun outside. Rita and Stacey arrived, and they too had gifts. Rita brought a story she had written and Stacey gave me a “Starbuck’s” gift card. I laughed, and then told her how I looked forward to “Starbuck’s” when traveling cross-country, as much of the coffee "out there" in the U.S. is terrible. Giancarlo wished me well, and said he’d like to come out and visit, once he gets another motorcycle.

As I talked with Jessica, I suddenly concluded there’s no sense in waiting around for an early departure tomorrow morning. I was all packed up and I’d rather not deal with the morning commute traffic. At home, I loaded up the cleaning supplies, and gave the apartment a final vacuuming, then told the Moritas I’d be leaving tonight. They said they were not prepared to see me go. They inspected the apartment and were amazed how little there was for them to do. They were quite emotional. They said it looked perfect and that the next resident would be “blessed”. Left about 7:15 p.m., as Henry and Charlene waved good-bye, tears in Charlene’s eyes. Sonoma County roads seem terrible, the truck amplifying all the surface defects.

My mind focused on one final meal in California's Wine Country, I arrived at “Villa Corona” in Napa a few minutes too late. The “closed” signs were posted, and the last customers leaving. So I set my sights on the uniquely West Coast “In-N-Out Burger” in Auburn. Reached there at 9:50. Only 5 diners! This is almost unheard of for this popular restaurant chain. The standard meal: burger (a "Double-Double Animal"), fries and a chocolate milk shake.

Interstate 80 over Donner Summit is in horrible condition, the right lane deeply rutted from truck traffic. I haven’t seen such bad pavement since crossing the Andes between Santiago and Mendoza. Repairs are imminent, but it is shocking to see how far the rich state of California allowed conditions to deteriorate. It is clearly hazardous.

After refueling in Sparks, Nevada, I camped about 60 miles east, around 2:00 a.m. The night sky was incredible. It has been a while since I’ve seen such a starry sky. Hopefully, Vermont will be as clear and dark. Slept in the back of the truck – a bit cramped, but with my sleeping bag spread over the futon, and a full-size pillow, it was fairly comfortable.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Charlene and Henry, my landlords in Santa Rosa

Friday, March 27, 2009

Farewell to my humble abode of the past three years

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On a visit to Sonoma County's Don Clausen Fish Hatchery at Warm Springs Dam with my good friends Mike, Heather and Cooper Cleveland

Photos by Mike and Heather

Monday, March 23, 2009

My buddies Karla and Mathew at "1710 Coffee", Santa Rosa, my home-away-from-home for the past couple years

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Weekend at Morro Bay, California

Placing my life in the hands of others, I caught a ride with Sergio and Jessica in Serg's hot red truck.

Coastal Range west of Paso Robles, Morro Rock in the distance

Sergio and Jess sharing some olallieberry pie at "Linn's" in Cambria

Jess and Sergio pose beside the tiny tent in which they weathered the Storm of the Century

What's over the fence from our campsite? Morro Bay's sewage treatment plant!

THIS is my daughter!

The chefs roll up their sleeves in the kitchen

Nice doggie...

Walking the people

Pete, Cathie and Prana

Jessica, Jackie and Susan on the beach at Morro Bay

Sergio and Jessica at the "Top Dog Coffee Bar", Morro Bay

Elephant Seals at the Piedras Blancas rookery near San Simeon

Sergio and Jess, along California's Highway 1, south of Big Sur